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Some Ramblings on Quality vs. Quantity

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BWFoster78, Dec 31, 2012.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I alternate a lot between being pretty discouraged - it's not realistic to expect anyone to buy my book as most self published authors seem to sell about 50 copies - and being optimistic - there are people out there that do succeed and, if I can make my book good enough, maybe I can be one of them.

    The fact is that, at my current work rate, I'm not likely to ever replace my current salary and become a full time writer unless I hit the writing equivalent of the lottery to become the next Rowling. Right now, I stress over every word. Is that phrase perfect? Could I express that better? Is that plot point clear enough and realistic enough?

    It seems like some of the people who are making it in the self publishing world are doing so by quantity. Book releases sell older books. More books mean more revenue streams.

    I think that it's important, in learning the craft, to go through the process I'm doing now. I've learned a lot about writing by trying to achieve perfection.

    Once I reach a level where I can produce something that isn't total crap, however, does it pay to edit as much as I do? Would a streamlined process - rough draft -> pretty it up for the second draft -> hire a proof reader and formatter -> publish - be so much more profitable in the end?

    I don't think I'm to that point yet. If I'd have stopped at the 2nd draft of my current novel, I'd have put out something that I would have been embarrassed to see my name on.

    At what point, though, does the pursuit of quality become too much of a financial burden?
     
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Interesting conversation.

    The way I see it is, at most, you'll could potentially put out 1 book every couple years (assuming you're not yet a full time writer) while ensuring the best possible quality you're capable of writing. Conversely, by streamlining the revision and editing process, and possibly allowing work to hit the virtual selves, that years from now you'd consider substandard, maybe 2-3 books every couple years.

    Extend those numbers (they may vary from writer to writer) over a decade and we'd have 5 good quality books (let's say 2 stand alone novels & a trilogy) or 10-15 books that are of questionable quality. Which do you think will sell more?

    Now, assuming like me, you're a writer for life let's look at 40 years of production. 20 really good books you're proud of vs 40 to 60 books, some of which you now really regret publishing because you're a much better writer at this point.

    The above is obviously hypothetical and may not represent your actual efforts but I illustrated that scenario to help make a point. When your name is on something you pour heart & soul into, when the number you can produce is so limited regardless of cutting corners, why not strive for ultimate quality?

    Personally, it wouldn't bother me if it takes 2 years from conception to completion, or 6 as long as the end result is a good novel. Quantity may win the game over a short span, however over the course of a writing career, quality should win the day. When you consider that most writers will never make enough to be a full time author anyway, why would you play for the short game (quantity) over the long (quality)?
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012
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  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    My first thought about your post is that you don't take into account that:
    1. The quantity path potentially brings me closer to full time writer status faster
    2. If I'm a full time writer, the number of books I can produce greatly increases
    3. With a greater number of books, my profit likewise goes way up.

    My second thought is:

    What, exactly, does the pursuit of perfection gain me? Can I write an entertaining book without putting as much time and effort into editing? I think so. Look at John Ringo. I enjoy his stuff immensely, and I wouldn't consider it remotely "polished." If I can get the tension, conflict, emotion, and story telling down, does the minutia of paying attention to every word do anything for me? Honestly, aside from other writers, will most readers even notice the difference?
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think, particularly if you're going self-published, you need the quantity. Even traditional authors, however, as pushing a faster release cycle, from what I understand. Unless you have and established following, I don't think a traditional publisher will be very happy with a two-year release cycle. Without a good deal of luck, that kind of release cycle seems like a good way to be stuck on the mid-list and then maybe fall off it.

    For a self-published author, it is both better and worse. On the one hand, if you already have a career and don't need to make a living writing, you have the freedom to do whatever the hell you want, when you want. If you want to quit your day job and make a living as an author, I think a two-year release cycle will be a detriment to you. Look at the number of self-published works and how fact readers consume the material. If they read your book and it's two years until the next one comes out, how many will have moved on and forgotten your series by then? Probably a lot. I know I've done that with any number of traditionally published books when the release cycle is too long.

    You can point to plenty of authors who can have a release cycle as long as they like, of course. But I think it is harder to get to that place these days, and if your release cycle starting out is too slow maybe you never get there. If you can build up a large, faithful readership, then you can slow down your production later.

    I think editing, re-editing, and then editing again, for repeated iterations, is the death of many an aspiring writer, though. Write a good story and get it out there. There is no perfect story, and odds are unless you're fixing a glaring mistake the reader will never realize, consciously or unconsciously, that you agonized for hours over a sentence.
     
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  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I understand your point fully. I suppose it really comes down to what you want and what you're willing to do/accept to get there. Let's not forget though, the vast majority of writers will NEVER make enough to replace a day job salary. Now, I know there a tons of variables that go into those figures. However, we need to be realistic & understand that commercial success will not strike for most writers.

    Because of this, I've adopted an outlook that I write because it's what I do. It's what I am. If commercial success occurs (and believe me, I strive for that success) then I can write full time. That's a main goal. In the meantime though, I choose to put forward my best & only my best. I'm writing for me after all. Why shortchange myself?
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yep. This is one of the first things you have to grok as an aspiring writer.
     
  7. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I don't entirely disagree with your point here either. I guess the difference lies in the quality level. Are we talking about a good story that could always be made better & endlessly improved, or are we talking about a substandard work that truly needs improvement? I suppose, if you're talking about improving each word/sentence under a literary microscope then you're in the former category. If its the latter, and you're publishing a work that's not ready, then you wouldn't likely gain readership anyway. If it is a good story and the only thing holding you back is the pursuit of some perfection ideal, then yes...no novel will ever attain that ideal.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes. I'm talking about someone who can already write well. This person can put out a decent first draft and end up with something salable after maybe a couple of revision/editing cycles. I think Brian's example of John Ringo is as good as any. He writes well and his stories are fun, but they are by no means perfection.

    If what you've produced is just bad and would be a detriment to your career, then I don't think you can publish it as-is of course. You have to improve it, and if you can't then you discard it. But the fact of the matter is most of us are going to be putting out mass-market commodities for the general consuming public. It has to be good enough to meet that standard. If you're interesting in creating "literature," the next Moby Dick, or Ulysses, or something, then maybe you take a decade working on it.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Believe me, I get that. I really, really get that. The fact that I do get it depresses me to no end.

    I take a different approach. My thinking process is: What gives me the best chance to be one of those that succeed?

    Here's what I've come up with so far:

    1. Get good at writing. Yes, some people who aren't very good at all somehow managed to attain success, but I have to think that better skill, on some level, equals better chance for success.
    2. Find the most efficient ways to market and promote your work.
    3. Publish. Publish. Publish.

    Even the best plan in the world coupled with good work isn't a guarantee of success in this endeavor, but I have to think that anything that I can do to increase my chances is to the good.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    It's better than the alternative. I know too many people, either from online groups, friends, or in-person writing groups, who didn't really 'get' this fact and ended up pretty bitter and disillusioned about limited success. I think they've all stopped writing at this point, unfortunately.
     
  11. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I would counter this by saying that when you write for yourself, and do so with honesty, you ARE giving yourself the best chance to succeed. I don't feel there's any formula for success outside of that pursuit.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Is that quantifiable? I wonder, if you went back a decade or more, and Stephanie Meyer or even J.K. Rowling posted writing in this forum, would we be saying "oh, yeah. These will be the writers who make it?"

    Of the factors that contribute to likelihood of success, I think quality of writing is probably 4th on the list, behind (in no particular order) ability to tell a story, concept, ability to create an emotional connection with characters, and luck.

    EDIT: I think you can look at most of the biggest literary phenomena this way. If Suzanne Collins posted part of Hunger Games in here, pre-publication, we might enjoy it but it would be nit-picked to death. What about Dan Brown? Have you read any of his work? Whatever the key to success is, having perfect writing technique isn't high on the list :D
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012
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  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    In answer to both T.Allen and Steerpike, I'm not talking about statospheric, become a billionaire as my definition for success. We don't have to look at JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, here. I'm talking about attaining the success of all the writers out there who make a good living at it.

    It's certainly debateable what gives the best chance for success, but I'd think that my list is a good start (assuming you define getting good at writing to include storytelling so we don't rehash that debate).

    I'd more than welcome other opinions on what improves likelihood for success.

    Personally, I don't think that "being true to myself" is going to do much for me.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Even the writers who make a 'good' living are limited in number in comparison to those who try. I don't know that the factors are much different than they are when you look at Meyer, Rowling, Collins, etc. Their success is a matter of greater degree, and timing and luck surely have something to do with that, but I'm hard-pressed to think of many writers who are doing very well where the explanation is technical quality of writing. Michael Connelly may be a guy who consistently puts out high-quality writing as well as engaging stories with character you care about, but even in his case I think the factors other than technical quality of writing are what drive his sales.

    Maybe I'm more on the cynical side, but I don't the ability to write in a technically perfect way has much bearing on success, and looking around at authors from bestsellers to consistent mid-list names seems to bear that out.
     
  15. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

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    I'm a complete rookie, but I'd like to reply with some probably-not-even-relevant, rambling opinions.

    As someone who managed a Barnes & Noble for 5 years, I've learned you can't stack well written or "good" books high and watch 'em fly. On the other hand, some books which are total crap (from a writing, plot, or execution standpoint) sell like hotcakes. This leads me to believe that there is no "right way" or "silver bullet" to sell enough books to make a living as a writer.

    Honestly, I believe it comes to marketing. I think you need to look at your writing as a product, and market it like any other product. If I manufacture a widget and list it on Amazon, I might sell a few, but I won't get rich. If I manufacture a widget and put it in front of them, actually put it in their hands, engage them, and REALLY CONNECT with them to get them talking about it you will have more success.

    I think social media is a great tool to use for this, but most people go about it the wrong way. I follow authors (both big and small) on Facebook, Twitter & Google Plus, and I can't help but shake my head at the small time authors who spam links to their self pubbed book five hundred times a day with some silly blurb and wonder why people aren't buying it. "Oh hey, I'm new to google plus, but here is a link to my book" doesn't sell books.

    I think there has to be some showmanship to it, some effort, some dedication to want to reach out to people and genuinely touch them. I'd never heard of Mike Wells before, but I can't stop hearing about how great his newest book "Lust, Money and Murder" is from the authors and writers that I follow on Twitter. Is his book better than the other five billion I see linked on Twitter? I don't know, but I do see him genuinely interacting with his readers and showing appreciation for people reading them.

    The same goes for John Scalzi, Peter V. Brett, Michael J. Sullivan, Neil Gaiman (not that he needs it). I see them on Twitter genuinely interacting with people.

    I read a terrific book about Social Media marketing by Gary Vaynerchuk called "The Thank You Economy", and it's all about genuinely connecting with your audience to sell your product; not trying to force your product down their throats. He's very funny and inspirational (check him out on YouTube).

    I also think that selling a product is about the person behind it. People buy things from people they like. Will they buy a great book from a faceless author? Perhaps. Will they be more willing to buy from someone they "like"? I think so.

    These things are the difference between people who stand out and people who allow their product to fade into the white noise of the internet.

    TL:DR - Having a great product isn't always enough. You've probably placed HUNDREDS of hours into writing a terrific book which you want people to read, how many hours have you placed into getting it in front of them?
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    According to a lot of blog posts I've read, there are authors out there making decent money, a lot of whom I've never heard of. I obviously agree, however, that this number pales in comparison to those that try.

    When I'm feeling more positive about life in general, I like to think, however, that a lot of those "trying" just aren't ready yet, either from a marketing or technical standpoint and that, maybe, I'll be different. Not sure how much of that is self delusion :)

    I agree that technical perfection doesn't seem to have much bearing on success, but, in this marketplace, something has to draw people to your work. I'm going with the assumption that the best way to get readers is to have people read your book and have them recommend it to others. For that to happen, they've got to like something about it. Trying to get my writing to a level where people will actually like it is the main part of my effort at the moment.
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    This is good experience, and I'm glad you're sharing it with us. I think that we all agree with that last sentence of yours. I can't help but hope, however, that there are at least some things we can do to improve our chances.

    I agree; I'm just not sure that social media is really the way to do it. I think we're all looking for the best marketing techniques. The best advice I've heard so far is to be aggressive about getting your book out there. Send it to bloggers until your hands bleed from typing. Ask for endorsements from everyone.
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I guess we should make sure we're talking about the same thing (as you said, there are threads on this). From the standpoint of technical proficiency, your writing is there. It's ready. If you spend a lot of time making sure you have the perfect world, or adjusting sentence ever so slightly to see if they can't read better than they already do, I think you're spinning your wheels, personally. You may disagree. But I still look at story-telling a bit differently. How do you put together the sequence of events in your story; how do you make the reader actually care what happens to the reader; how do you make the reader get to the end of a chapter and instead of going to bed say "OK, one more." Those things are the keys, in my view. To mention Connelly again, he's a master at it. You don't want to put his stuff done. Same with Robert Crais, who also writes detective-style stories set in Los Angeles.
     
  19. Goddammit. I get tired of hearing this.

    Look, selling 450 million books cannot be a matter of luck. I cannot accept that as statistically feasable. People like Rowling or Meyer or Collins did not "win the lottery", they wrote books that millions of people actually enjoyed reading, books that publishers decided to invest money in because it was their professional opinion that people might like them. They don't offer publishing deals on random goddamned whims, neither do millions of people randomly decide to read the same book. If I was a best-selling author and someone told me I only got there because of luck, I'd punch them in right the face! That's one of the most insulting things I can imagine saying to a writer.

    True, it's often unclear what makes a story popular, so it's not something you can easily achive deliberatelly. But to attribute it to luck is just the rest of us trying to feel better about ourselves by marginalizing the monumental achievements of others: "Oh, I may not be a great success as a writer, but that's not my fault; it's just random chance. One day, if the stars are right and the right person flips the right coin the right way, maybe I too can single-handedly save a whole generation from literary oblivion!"

    After all, if we admit these authors actually did something right, we must also admit we are doing something wrong. We may have to take actual responsibility for our own lack of success. We may have to actually think about what makes a book popular, as opposed to simply good. We may have to aknowledge that we can't just write whatever we want if we wish to move crazy units. We may even find ourselves forced to (God forbid) change our writing style to something more mainstream. It's so much easier to say that Rowling just won the lottery, even if it makes us a little bit smaller every time we repeat it.

    Well, I'll have non of it. No more excuses. If I don't find any success as a writer, it's my own fault for failing to move the human heart, period.

    Or we are missing something important - something more powerful than just "well written" or "good." Just because we can't immediately identify the reason a book sells well doesn't mean there isn't a reason.
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I don't think anyone is discounting the fact they did something very right (well, some people do, mostly aspiring writers, but I think that's jealousy as I've said before). All of these writers, Rowling, Collins, Meyer, Brown, etc. wrote books that engaged and grabbed readers in a way so effective that the vast majority of writers will never come close to duplicating it. Still, I don't discount the idea that factors like luck and timing enter into the equation as well.
     
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