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Some Ramblings on Quality vs. Quantity

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.

I agree...checkout Simon Sinek's video on Ted he talks a lot about the fact that people don't care "what" your product is but "why" you created it. The important aspects then is to let your passion, your "why" show through and let people who feel similarly connect with that.


Myth Weaver
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.


While I certainly hope this is the case, it seems like there are a lot of people on this site who have some degree of skill and aren't having a lot of success. Perhaps I'm misreading these forums, but it hasn't sounded to me like most of the people self publishing are doing all that well. The again, most haven't reached the quantity of books necessary for their work to take off.

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.

I appreciate this advice. I think I'm finally starting to reach this stage.

My rule of thumb is that you really can't make a living wage until you have at least 3 books released

I understand this. I'm definitely not going to give up too soon even if the first book tanks.

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.

I agree with you. In the quote in question, however, I was more talking about the fact that I think the time I spent on the front end getting better at the craft of writing has paid off for me.

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.

I really do appreciate your input. It's great to hear from someone who has been there, done that.

I think that a lot of us on this board (and previously me in particular) put way too much emphasis on getting every single word right. The original post is kinda a representation of my eureka moment where I started to realize that that approach is probably neither profitable nor necessary.

Thanks again!



Myth Weaver
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.

Good advice. Thanks.

As you stated, number 2 is definitely the hard part.

We had a discussion on the forum a few weeks ago on the "measure of goodness" of a new writer concerning how you know if your writing is good enough. You introduce a good measure here: if a substantial portion of your target audience would recommend your book, you're good enough.


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.

Bravo - I agree 100% Thomas Jefferson said:

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

We make our own luck by working hard, constantly improving, and never giving up. I find it amazing that people are willing to concede their success to efforts other than their own. Take responsibility for yourself...both your successes and your failures.


Michael J. Sullivan is like John McLane in "Live Free or Die Hard": he just shot a helicopter down with a car.

Rereading that line, I'm not so sure that my meaning came through, but thank you Michael for taking the time to read and reply with such great advice and in such great depth.

It was pretty badass.
I have been watching the indie scene for several years now.

I have seen a lot of writers do really, really well for themselves. Some wrote one book, broke out, and had amazing sales. These were the minority - the "lottery winners" who happened to both write a really good book AND get insanely lucky.

Most of the success stories I see are writers who simply Worked Harder Than Their Peers.
They produced more words per year.
Which meant they produced more books per year.
Which made their fans happy, so they retained fans and grew their fanbase.

Even the writers who start off fairly bad get good, eventually, if they continue writing more work, reading more work, and studying their craft.

The answer to writing well is to write more.
The answer to selling more is to have more good books out, which means writing more.

The problem isn't just Michael's #2 (write a good book). It's also that you need to do that, and then do it again, and again, and again, and again. And you need to KEEP doing it for as long as you wish to retain a career. The best, most successful (barring insane luck) writers today are producing 3-6 novels per year, every year. That's the "secret", near as I can tell.


The best, most successful (barring insane luck) writers today are producing 3-6 novels per year, every year. That's the "secret", near as I can tell.

That figure seems rather high to me. Six a year is one every two months.... Maybe three a year but that's a lot in and of itself. I'm genuinely curious how you came across these figures.
That figure seems rather high to me. Six a year is one every two months.... Maybe three a year but that's a lot in and of itself. I'm genuinely curious how you came across these figures.

That's not outrageous output for a full time writer.

Consider: work just 40 hours per week, with a focus on putting 80% of your time into producing new work. Say half of that time is spent revising (which is high; most of the pros I know recommend spending more time on new words than on marketing, production, and revision put together, but...we're newer, let's say our work requires more editing and such).

That means you're spending about 160 hours a month, or 320 per two month cycle. Of that, 64 hours per two months is spent on marketing, promotion, and production/uploading. Another 128 hours per two months is spent on revision. And the third 128 hours is spent on fresh words.

The slowest writers I know produce about 500 words per hour. The fastest do 2000 or so per hour. I generally average 1000-1500 myself. You do your own math for your own hourly rate, but given 128 hours to do the work, there's really no reason why a writer should not be producing 64,000+ words.

Of course, some of the more productive writers I know put in 60+ hours a week. Like most successful small business owners, they know that working extra hours early on in the business is essential to long term success.

Writing and publishing fiction is a business. The more hours you work, the more you produce. The more you produce, the more product you have to sell. The more product you have to sell, the better your odds of success everything else being equal.

The difference between a four book a year novelist and a one book a year novelist is generally that the four book a year novelist puts in four times as many hours actually working on stories. The four book a year novelist also gains new fans faster, makes more sales, and sees much better career progression.

(Six a year isn't that common; I only know a few writers, like Kevin Anderson, who are able to sustain that level of productivity. It's a lot of work; I have huge respect for the writers who can manage that. But moving forward? Now that the plug has been pulled, and writers are no longer being artificially limited in how much they can produce per year by publishers? Yes, we're going to see a return to the mode of the first decades of the 20th century, where the writers who excel will be those who can write GOOD books rapidly, to retain fans.)


What about time spent during the conceptual phase? Planning, outlining (if that's something you do), character development and backstory, these all take time as well even if we're discussing 6 serial works.

I'd agree that 6/yr is possible, albeit unlikely, for the vast majority of writers. I doubt that the vast majority could produce any sort of quality under those time constraints that would earn the fan bases you speak of here. There are always exceptions but I'd never use exceptions to make conclusions.
Yeah, I agree that six per year is pretty exceptional. I see 3-4 much more often.

But then again, when we're competing for view with tens of thousands of other writers, it's the exceptional that will tend to rise to the surface, right? ;)

My plan for 2013 is to release twelve new *titles* in the coming year. That's not twelve new novels, mind you. ;)

Serial novel, six episodes, three already written, two of which are edited. (6)
Compiled version of all six episodes after they're all out. (1)
Blackwell fantasy series short story, written, needs editing. (1)
SF near future novel, written, needs significant rewrite of second half (this was my first novel on getting back into regular fiction a few years ago; nice story, but I was rusty, and it shows, so redrafting the entire thing from scratch, half done). (1)
Historical novel, post-Roman Britain, written, needs editing. (1)
Blackwell fantasy series novel #2, half written. (1)
Something else. Maybe Blackwell book 3, which is already plotted, maybe another short story - something else. (1)

It's maybe 120k new words, and a bunch of edits. If I can get more original work done on top of that, great. But even if I can't, that's still a good stack of new titles out with my name on them. Keeping a work in the "released in the last 90 days" category is pretty huge right now, for fiction writers. Writers who can do that consistently (even if it's a novella or something shorter) are reporting significant benefits from doing so.


Myth Weaver
I do find myself wondering.

Once or twice a month I'll go visit 'Wattpad' and run a search on 'fantasy'. Something like 300,000 works pop up - about 100,000 of them in 'romance/fantasy', which is a real eye opener. Even in the niches my work would more or less fall into, there are still tens of thousands of listings.

Now granted, a lot of this is probably series or serial work. A bunch of it, I think is fanfic or 'amateur hour' material. But still...300,000 fantasy works to choose from? Including tens of thousands in my subgenre's? Where to even begin? It is pretty much all I can do to skim the titles, read the odd blurb, and maybe two or three pages of the tale in question.

For a work to rise above this sea of stories would take some serious doing.
Wattpad is *all* serialized stories. So a 20 chapter book counts as twenty "works" there. It's not QUITE as bad as it looks. ;) Plus, Wattpad is mostly amateur work - writers who don't feel good enough to publish their work professionally (although some pros are putting a few stories up there as well, hoping to hook some readers of their other work...!).

As I write this there are 1.8 million ebooks available on Kindle, your main paying market.
647k of them are fiction
51k of those are fantasy fiction
9.5k of them are contemporary fantasy
1121 of those contemporary fantasy were published in the last 90 days
391 were published in the last 30 days

And most of those will not sell in any significant numbers, because of some combination of: bad writing, bad covers, bad blurb, failure to follow through with more works.

Write a book, publish or submit it, write another, publish or submit it. Continue repeating. The folks who fall out and give up fail. The ones who keep striving, learning, and trying can generally succeed.


Thanks for the numbers there, Kevin. Really puts it in perspective. Makes me feel better about it, certainly. I guess the more books you have out, the higher the odds, too - going with the 9.5k contemporary fantasy you've listed, if you've got one book, that's 1 in 9500. Two books is 2/9500 or 1/4750. Three is 3/9500 or 1/3167. Four is 1/2375. The more books, the better the odds of being noticed. And the more frequent the publication, the better chance too - 1/391 for the 30 days thing isn't too bad at all, especially if you crop up there every few months and browsing readers keep seeing your name.
Don't forget that readers LIKE finding writers with multiple works out, too. It means better payoff if they try a book and like it. And avid readers will tend to just burn through everything a writer has produced, if they like one book by that writer. So having someone find one book in the new releases section and like it *can* mean that reader will also buy your other six books - and tell her friends about you, so some of them try your work...and so on.

Patience, multiple works, a steady release schedule that keeps your work visible, and a slow build of fans seems to be the most reliable route to success, from what I am seeing.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
I just want to say one thing on this thread, and I'm sure it's as important as writing a good book. I recently published two articles on this site. you can find them here: How to Write a Query Letter and here:How to Write a Synopsis

One thing people don't seem to be mentioning, is no matter how awesome your book might be, there are other factors which influence your potential career. Of course, self-publishing will be different, but this is something people need to think about. If you have a great novel, but fail to wow an agent or publisher, you're in the same boat as people with a book about mutant martians who turn earthlings into zombies with a death ray so they can steal the earth's supply of twinkies, and a resistance made up of zombie-slaying fanatical ex-cops all named Steve. I mean, if your query letter says, "hey agent, I'm a delusional ass-head who thinks I'm all that and a bag of chips. Want to fight for the privilege of representing my novel? My mom said it's the best book she's ever read." You won't stand a chance. I think this is where most people blow it, personally.

If you put yourself out there, to possibly have the door slammed in your face, at least make sure you have a clean shirt on, right? Nothing's worse than showing up looking a mess. It doesn't matter how awesome your book is if you don't write a good query. Now, I understand we're talking about self-pubbing here, and I can only say that this is directly translatable. You need cover art that looks professional, a blurb that is professional, and most of all, your conduct as a writer needs to be as professional as the other two things. If you have a good book, and you can manage the other things too, you set yourself up to succeed (not to say you will, but not doing those things are akin to writing a book blurb that says, "Read me, ass**le, I'm a good book.")

One of the things I think most stands in amateur writers' ways, is that they're looking at their books like some freaking Dali-esque works of art. It isn't a masterpiece, it's a product. One that you need to sell like it's a useless kitchen gadget that ought to be the next hot Christmas As Seen on TV gift. If you don't think of your book as a product, but somehow as some sort of brilliant insight into your complex psyche... no one's going to buy it, not an agent, not a discerning reader, not even your mom who said she loved it so well.

Words on a page... that's all it is unless you make it more. And frankly, there's a lot of talented people in this world, and they didn't make it. Applause for Rowling. I loved her books. They were inventive, creative, and amusing. In fact, in my life, I've spent more on her books than any other author. I've kept them and they have a special place on my bookshelf. She persevered where others dropped out of the race, and though no book can please everyone, she brought hours of laughter and joy to me and millions of others.

Now, this little rant isn't directed at any of the posters on this thread, but at all amateur authors who think they ought to be there already, but don't know what it takes to get there. We're lucky to live in an era where information is accessible no matter where we are, and no matter what we want to know. You only have to look for it. There's no excuse for stabbing blindly in the dark.

I can appreciate what you're saying Brian, about setting yourself up to succeed. I think that's the long and short of it. People need to set themselves up for success, and I'm hearing that echoed on this thread. But, too often, new writers are focusing on the wrong things. They think their book is good when it isn't, they think they're going to succeed over the thousands of others, based solely on the content of their manuscript, and they think that time spent is directly equatable to awesomeness of the work. It's a harsh and cruel world out there, people. Listen to those who would give you advice, having been there. Invest in some people, whether they be crit partners who will rake you across the coals and smile while doing it, or a crit group that helps promote each other. This is a really tough environment, and we need each other. As steel sharpens steel, so do writers supporting each other help all to succeed.

Thank you to all the people on this forum who have given me their time and helped me learn and grow. My journey is far from over, but I'm miles ahead of where I was last year, and I owe it to the people who pushed me, challenged me and supported me.


Myth Weaver
Wattpad is *all* serialized stories. So a 20 chapter book counts as twenty "works" there. It's not QUITE as bad as it looks. Plus, Wattpad is mostly amateur work - writers who don't feel good enough to publish their work professionally (although some pros are putting a few stories up there as well, hoping to hook some readers of their other work...!).

The 'serial story' bit does go a ways towards accounting for the sky high numbers on Wattpad. Still...I went and checked the site again after making my previous post in this thread, and the count for 'fantasy' works was now in excess of 400,000 ( and I could no longer get the itemized breakdown, which is a bit of a bummer). Even with the serialization and fan fic and authors with multiple works and utter junk taken into account...that must be hundreds, possibly thousands of fantasy authors.

That said, while many of the Wattpad authors are amateurs, a sizable percentage (judging from the few works I've peeked at) seem to be *talented* amateurs, people capable of telling a pretty good story in a readable format. While not properly published, some of these tales look to be as good as the stuff on the store shelve or digital marketplace.