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Some Ramblings on Quality vs. Quantity

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
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.

At this point, I think I'm pretty much where I want to be technically (though I think I'll continue to learn and improve for the rest of my life). I spent a lot of time getting there, and I think the people on this board helped a lot by patiently (mostly anyway) answering my questions and debating me. I had to go through that process to move on.

At this point, I'm more focused on what I think you would consider story elements - making the characters relateable, injecting (hopefully) the right amount of emotion, adding tension where it's lacking, etc.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
Look, selling 450 million books cannot be a matter of luck.

If I'm to accept this premise, I'd have to accept that, out of the millions of tomes languishing in obscurity, there are none (or at least few) who measure up to these success stories in terms of being something people would want to read if they were exposed to it.

Sorry. I just don't buy it.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
At this point, I'm more focused on what I think you would consider story elements - making the characters relateable, injecting (hopefully) the right amount of emotion, adding tension where it's lacking, etc.

Yep. That's what I'm trying to do as well. I read a lot, looking for those books where I really cared about the characters and absolutely didn't want to set the book down (few and far between, I think), and then I try to figure out how the author did it. We'll see if it gets me anywhere :)
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
Yep. That's what I'm trying to do as well. I read a lot, looking for those books where I really cared about the characters and absolutely didn't want to set the book down (few and far between, I think), and then I try to figure out how the author did it. We'll see if it gets me anywhere :)

Good luck to you!

Speaking of which, I'm reading Confessions of a D-list Supervillian (on recommendation from Terry Ervin's blog) and I'm finding it thoroughly entertaining. Very character driven plot. I second Terry's recommendation.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
Good luck to you!

Speaking of which, I'm reading Confessions of a D-list Supervillian (on recommendation from Terry Ervin's blog) and I'm finding it thoroughly entertaining. Very character driven plot. I second Terry's recommendation.

Thanks, you too. I will take a look at that one. I'm not familiar with it, but the title sounds like something I'd like.
 

danr62

Sage
Good conversation!

One of the things I keep hearing is that one of the best ways to sell books is to put out more books.

Of course, it goes without saying that they need to be good books, otherwise people won't touch your next book with a 10 foot pole. For instance, I read the first two and a half Shannara books before deciding I never wanted to read Terry Brooks again. It could be that he's come a long way since then, but I don't want to invest the effort or money to find out.

Sadly, the fear of this happening to me is something that holds me back a bit.

Anyway...back on topic. Here's how a lot of the SP authors who make good money do it (from what I'm seeing):

  1. Write a good book.
  2. Put a good cover on it.
  3. Write an enticing blurb.
  4. At the end of the book invite the reader to review the book and join the author's mailing list.
  5. Go back to step 1.

Often times they mix in "do free runs with Select" or "make the first in the series perma-free" with those others.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Brian...at this point, instead of self publishing right away, what do h=you have to loose by sending your masterpiece off to the conventional publishers? At worst, they hold onto it for a while and say "no", though some might also explain WHY they're saying 'no' - which should tell you what reficions are in order. If they all say 'no', then go ahead and self publish. At the absoluite worst there, you'd have released something which is

A) well written, and

B) should let you go to a movie or buy dinner somewhere.

Me...I came here with the intent of seeing about properly finishing some tales I'd written long ago. A couple of these have eaten great chunks of my time since then, shrinking to novella length in the process. So I started looking at publishers which accept novellas. Turns out with this internet thing, novella's might be making a bit of a comeback: most aspiring authors seem to jump straight to full length novel, but there are a fair number of publishers accepting novella's...and apparently fewer authors submitting such (going from the commentary in the 'submissions' section.

Since getting into the challenge stories on this site, I also started taking a peek at the magazines, online and otherwise, which accept short stories - generally under 5000 words. Turns out at least some of these outfits, for whatever reason, are buying quite a few short stories.

At this point, I'm seriously contemplating cutting the so called novel length works I'd intended to write down into short story and novellete sized tales, linked together but standing alone.

Then again, I don't see this as a way to make a living...more of a sideline.
 

PaulineMRoss

Inkling
Look, selling 450 million books cannot be a matter of luck.

If I'm to accept this premise, I'd have to accept that, out of the millions of tomes languishing in obscurity, there are none (or at least few) who measure up to these success stories in terms of being something people would want to read if they were exposed to it. Sorry. I just don't buy it.

I don't buy it either. Selling 450 million books is down to 2 factors, I think: 1) tapping in to some popular idea/style/premise ahead of the crowd; and 2) pitching it to appeal to lots of people, otherwise known as the lowest common denominator. Factor 1 is perhaps partly skill, but it's mainly luck, I would say. Factor 2 is something that producers of Hollywood blockbusters and reality TV shows have almost perfected, and (I think) can be at least partially defined for books too - nothing too edgy, or literary, or complicated, or difficult to read. That's why IMO YA books are so big just now, and not just for their target demographic. I recently had a look at some of the best-selling self-published fantasy ebooks, and the common factors seemed to be - lighthearted, straightforward, linear storytelling, often of standard tropes (people love the familiar).

To address the original question: the successful self-publishers (as in, those able to make a reasonable living out of it) seem to be those who have multiple books for sale (4-7 seems to be the trigger point), all in the same genre and often featuring the same characters, with the first either permanently free or discounted. They market intelligently, but without aggression, and they present a likeable public face, while always remaining professional. They keep fans on board by publishing 1-2 new books a year, plus shorts and novellas, and involve fans in the process - helping to choose covers (and even titles, in one case!), encouraging fan art, posting snippets of the next book, posting extra background - maps, backstory, etc.

But good writing is not the deciding factor. To sell books, you only need to be able to write well enough.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
For instance, I read the first two and a half Shannara books before deciding I never wanted to read Terry Brooks again.

Dan,

I agree completely that this is a worry. Obviously, a certain minimum standard needs to be reached. However, I think that minimum standard is far below the point where you stress over every single word.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
Brian...at this point, instead of self publishing right away, what do h=you have to loose by sending your masterpiece off to the conventional publishers?

Thinker,

The main thing I have to lose is time. I have to wait for them to get to reading it and respond to me. If, by some miracle, they choose to publish me, my understanding is that it could be years before they actually publish it. Those are years in which the book could have been earning me money.

The question I ask is: what do I have to gain by going the traditional publishing route?

Usually, a first time author gets a $5000 advance and almost no support. Frankly, 5k doesn't do much for me, and, if the book does well (which would be more through my promotional efforts than anything else), the publisher makes a ton of profit on it while I make peanuts.

That being said, I am entering Amazon's contest, mainly because it eliminates some of my time concern (I'll hear feedback by a certain date) and, if I win, we're talking 15-50k instead of just 5.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
To address the original question: the successful self-publishers (as in, those able to make a reasonable living out of it) seem to be those who have multiple books for sale (4-7 seems to be the trigger point), all in the same genre and often featuring the same characters, with the first either permanently free or discounted. They market intelligently, but without aggression, and they present a likeable public face, while always remaining professional. They keep fans on board by publishing 1-2 new books a year, plus shorts and novellas, and involve fans in the process - helping to choose covers (and even titles, in one case!), encouraging fan art, posting snippets of the next book, posting extra background - maps, backstory, etc.

Pauline,

This is good advice. Too bad I'm not following any of it at the moment as I have four books planned all in different genres...
 

PaulineMRoss

Inkling
Pauline, This is good advice. Too bad I'm not following any of it at the moment as I have four books planned all in different genres...

LOL... Well, you must write as the muse takes you, Brian :)

It does make it easier to sell your work if it's all in one genre, or even sub-genre. One of the first books I read after I got my Kindle was 'Dragon Stones' by James Viscosi, which wasn't perfect but it was a very entertaining piece of fantasy. He had three other books out, and if they'd been in the same line, even if not a series, I'd have bought the lot. But one was horror, one was vampires and one was an urban/paranormal thing, and none of them appealed. They're all broadly in the fantasy/speculative fiction genre, but they really weren't my thing. After that, I never bothered to look him up again (until today, for this post, and I see he's now written another straight fantasy, so I might try that - but you see the problem - once you lose a fan, you may lose him/her for ever).

On the other hand, it's not impossible to genre-hop. Lexi Revellian is one of my must-buy authors, and her 4 books to date are a modern mystery, a sci-fi thriller, a post-apocalypse and a YA fantasy complete with dragons, but the connecting factor with the 3 adult books is a strong romance element. She's sold over 50,000 ebooks so far, so it seems to be working.
 

BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
LOL... Well, you must write as the muse takes you, Brian :)

It does make it easier to sell your work if it's all in one genre, or even sub-genre. One of the first books I read after I got my Kindle was 'Dragon Stones' by James Viscosi, which wasn't perfect but it was a very entertaining piece of fantasy. He had three other books out, and if they'd been in the same line, even if not a series, I'd have bought the lot. But one was horror, one was vampires and one was an urban/paranormal thing, and none of them appealed. They're all broadly in the fantasy/speculative fiction genre, but they really weren't my thing. After that, I never bothered to look him up again (until today, for this post, and I see he's now written another straight fantasy, so I might try that - but you see the problem - once you lose a fan, you may lose him/her for ever).

On the other hand, it's not impossible to genre-hop. Lexi Revellian is one of my must-buy authors, and her 4 books to date are a modern mystery, a sci-fi thriller, a post-apocalypse and a YA fantasy complete with dragons, but the connecting factor with the 3 adult books is a strong romance element. She's sold over 50,000 ebooks so far, so it seems to be working.

There do seem to be advantages of genre hopping, however. A lot of readers cross genres; I'll read just about anything if it sounds good. Each genre is marketed to a different audience and thus has the chance of reaching a different set of readers. Hopefully, some of them will stick around for my other works.

I do plan to make two of those projects into series. One is nonfiction, which takes a lot less time to write.

I agree, however, that it's probably not the best plan.
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
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

My thoughts are that it depends on the writer. I think both approaches can work. Perfection, tempered perfection, is like a sniper rifle shot. Nail it and the target's dead. Quantity is like a shotgun blast. You hope that not only do you hit the target, you hope you do enough damage to kill. I'm not sure either is a better way. It's just which is a better way for you.

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.

I think there's that line between writing prose that's not good enough and writing prose that's good enough. To me, being able to see that line in regards to your own work is key. Assuming that you've nailed the plot, figuring out when you've gotten the prose polished enough so it conveys what you want to the reader is when the story becomes good enough for me. After that point, the time spent editing and polishing results in diminishing returns. For me I do one more polishing edit after that point, and to me the story is completely finished and done unless I find a huge plot error or the story gets bough, and the editor tells me to edit it more. The latter has never happened so... shrug.

One last thing in regards to luck. Yes, the writers mentioned like Rowling, Brown, Colins, Meyers etc. wrote books that some consider imperfect, but those book did some things incredibly well. They earned every inch of their success through hard work. It wasn't an accident. BUT luck does play into it. Have a book that fits exactly into what a publisher is looking for at that time and you'll gain a leg up. It's no guarantee of success but it's still and edge. Having a book that the audience wants at that exact time.... well that can turn an average book into something more in terms of sales.

Timing is key, just like it's key to many things in life. Some days you get up late,miss your bus, but the next bus you take is where you meet the love of your life. Luck played into this meeting but, the love you still had to earn.
 
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BWFoster78

Myth Weaver
After that point, the time spent editing and polishing results in diminishing returns.

Exactly. I think this is one of my problems.

I need to ask myself, "Have I conveyed what I wished with the scene?" Not, "Have I conveyed the scene in the absolutely best manner possible?"

They earned every inch of their success through hard work. It wasn't an accident.

I don't think the success of these books were luck as much as the phenomenal success of the books were luck. I just think there's no way to figure out in advance how to catch the waves these authors rode to tremendous commercial success.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
I just think there's no way to figure out in advance how to catch the waves these authors rode to tremendous commercial success.

Except, arguably, the editor who paid unknown and unpublished author Meyer $750,000.00 in advance for a first novel did just that, which is somewhat amazing.
 
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.

That 50 copies (or 100 copies or 500 copies - all of which I hear quoted so often) is misleading. It is because it takes into consideration anyone who self-publishes even those who are doing so for something very niche, just for friends and family, and those that are just aren't up to quality standards.

If you have "what it takes" and can produce a well written book then you can sell thousands (or even tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands) of books even through self-publishing.

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?

Most writers are this way. Part of shifting from "hobby" to "professional" is to realize that changes are necessary and at what point you are just rearranging words on a page that won't effect either sales or how people think of your work.

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.

My rule of thumb is that you really can't make a living wage until you have at least 3 books released and that doesn't matter whether you are self-published or traditional. In fact the number of books required is usually higher in traditional - I know authors who did't quit their day jobs until they had published 10 - 15 books traditionally.

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.

Don't confuse "spending a lot of time" and "perfection" - each author is different and there are those that can write very quickly and still produce quality work. While in some cases more time = better product - it is not always the case.

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?

Impossible to tell. It really depends on how quality the work is. Some may require years of editing to get something worthy of publication, whereas others may spend a few months doing so.

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.

Having something you are proud of is of course a minimum requirement.

At what point, though, does the pursuit of quality become too much of a financial burden?

Again - it's going to vary from author to author. Keep in mind those authors that sell well (whether self or traditional) ARE producing quality or they wouldn't get the repeat buys. Quantity without quality is useless because the trick is in repeat buyers and word-of-mouth recommendations. You have to have quality first.
 
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.

There is no such thing as "perfection." I don't think there is a single author who can re-read their published work and not find things that they would changed if they had the means to. But at some point you do have to say "good enough" because there is a point of diminishing returns where changes make something "different" but necessarily increase sales or word-of-mouth recommendations.
 
I'd more than welcome other opinions on what improves likelihood for success.

If you are looking purely to earn and make money from writing then the formula is quite easy.

  1. Pick a genre that has a substantial fanbase which is easy to find/market to.
  2. Write a really good book (and by good I mean one that someone enjoys so much that they recommend it to others, or would buy copies for friends and family as gifts) that is in a series and in a genre (from #1) above
  3. Until you get 3 books out spend 90% of your time writing and 10% of your time marketing. Once you get 3 books you can shift that to more 50% / 50%
  4. Once you have three books concentrate on promotion to get a core number of people to know about the book
  5. Keep marketing until the books start to gain a following independent of you.
  6. Once you have an audience, shift your writing/promo time back to 90% / 10% because at this stage it's about how much content you have to keep feeding the hungry fans

The problem of course is that doing #2 is not easy - not everyone can write a good book but for those that can't there is nothing that can be done to get any substantial success.
 
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