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What is Important?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by BWFoster78, Sep 25, 2015.

  1. Readers do care about quality, they just don't know it nor can identify the problems readily, until the problems reach a certain critical mass. When there are enough problems (shallow characters, poor sentence structure, etc) the readers will notice and put the book down.

    However, I do have to take exception with the definition of success being solely financial. Sure, that is a kind of success but it is not the only type of success. There are many ways that a person can be successful and be a writer. It depends on what you want to get out of it. If all you want is financial success then sure making money is the only objective measure of success. But what if you want something else? If you want money and a work you can be proud of and your standards of quality exceed that of the average reader your definition of success is going to adjusted accordingly. If you want to change the way people think about a genre, that too requires a different definition of success.

    Also, I am not sure writing purely for the sake of some faceless reader is the best for the craft or best for an individual writer. I write primarily because I want to write things that are interesting to me. I want to be financially successful as a writer. But I do not want to write what everyone else is writing. That is boring for me. I want to do stuff that's different enough to get noticed, but similar enough to get people to read it. I want to write novels that use property law as a basis for its magic system. I want to write novels set in a world that isn't your classic medieval setting. And dang it I want to write a story about magic terrorists and a kid trying not to be like that though by rights he should be. Writing the same old crap different day just doesn't sound appealing to me. May as well have fun, I have a regular job that'll be the same crap different day.
     
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Brian,

    I don't think that anyone tried to define financial success as the only type of success. Due to the fact that "success" means different things to different people, I was clear to define it specifically for this thread in the OP. Otherwise, we'd have people using the same word to discuss different concepts.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The way I see it, though, your choice means that you will likely face a less sure path to financial success than the path I laid out. Again, nothing wrong with that; I just think that we should all make those kinds of decisions with our eyes open and with the full understanding of the impact of our choices.
     
  3. Explicitly defined? No, no one did that. But that is the implication in yours and others posts. Besides, I feel like the discussion had evolved so far beyond the OP that the original question had been largely forgotten and the implication was that financial success was the only success. This is probably a result of the 9 pages, but that I suppose that doesn't matter.

    I don't think any of us are coming at this with our eyes closed. In fact, most of us seem to be pretty pessimistic about our chances of being financial successes in writing. We hope and dream but we recognize it's a long shot, hence why I have a career with a more guaranteed source of income.
     
  4. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    And how do you change the way people think about a genre? In order to do that, first you have to *sell books*. To win awards, to have critical acclaim, to have the book made into a movie - first you have to sell books. Even if all you want is one review from a stranger who likes the book, first you have to sell a book to that reader. It doesn't matter how proud you might be of your book, or how high your standards of quality are, if no one's buying it, then what is the point of publishing it?

    So at some very fundamental level, selling books (and therefore money) is a prerequisite for everything else.

    I'm with you in not wanting to compromise over what I write. My books are written for me, first and foremost, and if readers like them (ie they sell), that's a bonus. I do my best to encourage people to buy them, by presenting them professionally and promoting them, but I could sell a lot more by channeling my stories into a narrower genre-straitjacket. But - yeah, that would be boring. And money isn't as much of a driver for me as it is for many others (I'm lucky in not having a day job I'd like to escape from). Even so, I measure my *success* in self-publishing (such as it is) by numbers of books sold and money earned.
     
    Russ likes this.
  5. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Lord Denning and choses-in-action FTW.

    I would buy that.

    On the larger question there are different strategies in all fields that lead to different types of "success" and different ways to create financial success.

    I was going to talk about law, but thought that might be boring. Think baseball. If it suits you, you can be a patient hitter, hit a lot of singles and get a lot of walks. Not spectacular, or probably not memorable. Or, if it suits you, you can try to hit home runs, swing for the fences. A riskier proposition, with more strike outs and some great moments. Writing, I think, is similar. If you do either method really well, you can make good money. There are plenty of examples of each.

    But most people can't remember who was on base when Carter hit his walk off home run to win the World Series in 1993 for Toronto.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2015
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Brian,

    I don't know how I can be more clear than to say this:

    How much more defined do you want it than to say "commercial success?" Does that term not explicitly say that we're talking about purely financial success? If it doesn't, I don't know how to be more clear.

    To be clear, I'm not pessimistic at all about my chances. I think it's highly likely that, if I keep working hard, I'll be making a couple of thousand dollars a month writing. I just really don't think that's a high bar to get over if one is willing to put in the effort.
     
  7. Brian,

    I read these pages over the course of a few hours so please forgive me if I forgot what the OP said. However, as I stated in my prior post I feel like the conversation had evolved beyond the original question presented and the posts implied that there is but one success, financial. If I missed my guess it's probably because I'm skeptical that financial success is likely, in large part because there are too many factors that depend on other peoples' choices. Of course this can be mitigated by higher production, but that in turn has its own costs. It could turn a labor of love into a chore. It could also tend to a person pumping out a bunch of just okay books. That again can be mitigated by ones own actions. So, perhaps I am just trying to be a counter so that our eyes can truly be open when we choose what path to take.
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I understand, but I don't agree. The conversation was clearly expressed from the beginning that we were discussing what was important to achieve financial success. Therefore, it made sense that the conversation then centered on financial success.

    I reject this opinion in its entirety. Vehemently.

    (For clarity: Remember that I'm defining financial success as a relatively modest goal of consistently reaching a couple of thousand dollars a month. I am not talking a Ferrari for each day of the week and Lamborghinis for the weekend.)

    The fact is that there are a lot of people succeeding as indie writers. The vast majority of people on this board have the ability to succeed as well.

    There is no mystery to it. Simply write a series of books, drop the price of the first one, and promote the heck out of it. Everything is within your control. If your writing is good enough and you've written something that people want to read and you put the books in front of readers, they will buy your book.

    The only variables are: did you write well enough and did you write something that people want to read?

    That doesn't depend on other people. That, imo, depends solely on you.

    Making money from writing in the way that I describe is work. You have to put your butt in a chair and put words on a page even when you'd rather be doing other things.

    Ideally, one still finds enjoyment in the work, but it's work, not fun.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your concerns are valid.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    To be completely clear about the purpose for me starting this thread: I am a newly self published writer who has a goal of making money with my writing. I wish to figure out what, from a writing standpoint, my focus should be to help me achieve this goal.

    I do not think that I have any answers. I am merely in the process of thinking through my options. If my initial thoughts on the subject are incorrect, I'm open to being proved wrong.

    I am finding this process very useful, and I hope others who are in a similar situation feel the same way. An example of the usefulness - this thought came to me today:

    The strategy I'm following to achieve financial success involves writing a series. I think that, psychologically, people are inclined to buy the next book in a series because they're driven to find out how the story ends. The strategy takes advantage of this characteristic.

    When talking about quality, then, the minimum level (when pursuing this strategy) has to be: My writing has to be good enough to compel some percentage of readers to buy the remaining books in the series.

    If one isn't pursuing this strategy, the minimum level has to be: One's writing has to be good enough to compel some percentage of readers to buy all your other non-series books. (Or, even harder, to be so good that you attract massive quantities of readers to your limited catalog of books)

    That's a much harder bar to achieve. Truthfully, I'm just not at that second level yet. I think I've reached the first level (Time and sales data will tell :) In the meantime, I have this from someone on this board - "My assessment is that 'Mages' is good, probably on a par with some of the print fantasy novels in the stores, but could be better." I think that assessment is fair.)

    Obviously, the ability to compel readers to buy all your books, not just the ones in a series, is a game changer. How long does it take to reach that level? How does one reach that level?

    I don't know. All I do know is that I've been working hard at learning to write for four and a half years, and I'm not there yet. So I'll continue to be open to improving my quality, but honestly, I don't think that should be my priority.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Turning back to the OP is a good idea. I think that, yes, commercial success was the focus; but, no, the four items listed are not as stringent or extreme as many of the following comments would indicate.

    On Craft

    So far in this thread, no one has established what that minimum level is. I don't know that we can establish it. But this statement seems accurate to me.

    I would note that craft can apply to various aspects of storytelling–pacing, plotting, character development–as well as syntax, grammar, word choice (vividness, showing vs telling vs showing-and-telling, reading level), etc.

    I agree with Brian Scott Allen and T.Allen.Smith who have said that although many readers may not be able to pinpoint precisely where a work of fiction fails in craft, a problematic work can reach a critical mass affecting enjoyment negatively. But this issue relates to the "minimum level of competence."

    Also, I think that merely keeping readers turning pages should be considered a sign of competent craft. The issue is: What is the minimum level of craftsmanship? I am sure that level falls well below what our top favorite authors do.

    As a guideline for new authors who want to become commercially successful, this #1 is good in the "don't sweat the small stuff" way. For one thing, ignoring conscientious crafting altogether isn't going to reach that vague "minimum level." Check. For another, most of us will naturally improve in our craft, however incrementally, the more we write, particularly as we experience our own try-fail cycles in the marketplace. (Or even merely as a response to our own inner critics. But also: Don't sweat the small stuff.)


    On Focusing on the Reader

    Focusing on the reader is actually very old advice, depending on how you view the topic. Isn't craft intimately related to an ability to write for the reader's enjoyment? For instance, knowing when/how to foreshadow, or use a cliff hanger, or create an interesting and sympathy-producing character? Is this a paradox when considering the advice in #1 above?

    The controversial part:

    2 & 3 seem to say that an author's passion is irrelevant. 1 warns that passion might be relevant–in fact, a detriment!

    These are odd, given this statement not long after:

    I suppose we could try distinguishing between mere interest and strong passion; but, I don't think that's necessary. The more significant guideline is what follows:

    Note that many of the discussions following the OP have focused on the idea that "focusing on the reader" means writing in a popular subgenre in a common way with common tropes...i.e., deciding what to write on the basis of the kinds of things that are already selling.

    But here, the OP is clear: "all they have are my words to create that interest." In other words, an author's words can create interest for the reader in whatever is written, rather than first finding an existing interest and choosing to write to that.

    More importantly, here there is a recognition that an author's passion/interest preexists regardless of the text he is going to write. The job of prose is to interest the reader.

    Based on much of the discussion that follows the OP, I am guessing that the intent behind this guideline may well have been to say: Find the readers' preexisting interest, and write to that. Even in this case, the job of prose is to successfully fulfill those readers' expectations.

    This guideline might work in tandem with the first, on craft, in this way:

    • Fulfilling the expectations of a preexisting reader interest may be the best course of action if one wants to focus less on craft (while still using minimally competent craftsmanship)
    • Interesting a reader in your personal passion may require a much higher level of craftsmanship–if, that is, your passion is particularly odd or a-typical. But succeeding in this way is riskier, even assuming that you have a very high level of craftsmanship.

    But in tandem, the two pieces of advice seem crafted to serve as an "out" for those who feel they haven't reached the level of craftsmanship they would like to achieve, or who don't have the time to hone their craft to that level. ("Sell soon, sell often.") Or, for those who doubt their passionate interests will ever be shared by a large number of readers.

    My personal opinion on this matter: As long as readers are pleased, and an author is happy, why should I care which route another author takes?

    Also: These are not stark dichotomies. With adequate craft, one can "write to reader interest" while also inserting creative flourishes or modifying the standard formulae according to one's own passions.

    Whatever is done, your prose must interest readers if you want to be commercially successful.


    On Story

    Readers read novels for the stories. However the actual prose might improve or hinder reader enjoyment, the point is still the same: story is king.

    "Figuring out how to write stories that compel your readers" –Again, this is craft-related and related to creating interest for your reader. I'm not sure this guideline is much more that the first and second, above, combined.

    When considered in tandem with the above guidelines, the question here seems to be in whether you first seek out a specific, preexisting demand and then create a supply; or, seek to create a demand via your craftsmanship without worrying overmuch about preexisting demand.

    I personally believe that some consideration of preexisting demand is necessary, if only because considering one's audience seems an integral, almost instinctive step for me in the writing process. Merely looking at the words on my page often induces that "internal critic" which, let's be honest, might have its roots in my understanding that there will be external critics.

    I believe this guideline, if it's to be considered useful beyond merely being a reiteration of the first two, should point toward a consideration of the whole work rather than just the individual parts of the work. Craft's purpose is to create a story, after all, and not merely to be minimally adequate or particularly....crafty.


    On Writing a Lot

    This seems a truism. Diversification of one sort or another can be a very good strategy. Or, not putting all of one's eggs in a single basket. Hedging bets, and all that.

    I think there might be something of a continuum for the strategy. Let's suppose you shoot for and succeed in writing three novels a year that sell adequately but not as well as you'd like. Do you try for a fourth novel in your third year? But then, what happens if one of your novels in your second year absolutely blows up the market and you get a movie deal; would you then focus on your dream project and not worry about putting out a novel for a year or two? Of course, that would be one of those ideal situations, the sort you don't want to rely on financially.

    Also, if one isn't concerned with earning a living writing exclusively, now, then 15 books on the market after 15 years (one per year) could end up being adequate by that 15th year, especially if you can keep putting out a new book each year.

    There does seem to be a conveyor-belt automation assumption associated with the idea of mass producing books in the hopes that small sales figures for each book can multiply overall earnings to a desired level. Also: a bit of pessimism which I don't particularly like–even if, I will stress, it's realistic. But if it works, it works.
     
    Ankari likes this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    BWFoster said
    >On the other hand, it's hard to get a handle on exactly what "quality" means,

    Robert Pirsig wrote a whole book on this very topic. Spoiler alert: it drove him crazy.
    (love that book)
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    OTOH, there is some evidence, I think, for quality being a criterion for longevity. Longevity is here defined as "making sales even after I'm dead."
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >For me, the main criterion is that my readers enjoyed it.

    I think you are dodging an important question here, BW. (I hope it's okay to call you BW)

    *How many* readers?

    That is, if two readers enjoy your writing, is that success? I'm guessing not. I'm guessing that you mean, at the very least, enough readers to cover my costs of publishing. Or, more ambitiously, enough readers to let me quit my day job. But more than two.

    So, how many readers do you require to make it a success? I think this is an important question because it may affect your consideration of "what my readers want".
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Russ makes a valuable point. While it may be difficult to quantify the importance of high quality, it's pretty indisputable that *low* quality matters. Specifically, a crappy cover, badly-written summary, and lousy copyediting in the e thfreely-readable first 10% (or whatever) of the book will cause me not to buy. Every time.

    I'm finding this is a reliable rule everywhere in the writing business. Few can say what to do, but nearly everyone can say what *not* to do. Maybe that's true in other fields as well, but it's awfully frustrating.

    But I also want to echo Russ' comments about subjectivity. Numbers are overrated. Just because you can quantify something doesn't mean it's important or that you've understood it. In fact, my personal mantra is that only the trivial can be quantified. Which is pretty much what Russ said.
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >It's hard to judge the quality a reader demands by the standards of a writer.

    70% of everything, sayeth the sage, is crap.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Here's my question, BW: if commercial success is the only consideration, why are you writing fantasy? If you want to write what the readers want, why pick this niche?
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Obviously from the context, enough readers to achieve what I've defined as commercial success - consistently hitting a couple of thousand dollars a month.

    A. I don't understand how something so obviously answered via context could be considered "dodging."
    B. I'm not sure how that impacts what my readers want.
     
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think that quality of the pitch and cover is ridiculously important, much more so than I ever would have thought or believed until very recently. I've really left out those considerations in this thread because this is the "Writing Questions" forum, and the importance of pitch and covers seems to venture too far into the publishing and marketing areas.

    Here's the thing, though: Go find some posts of people whose books are selling well. Read the samples. There is no way in heck I would ever buy most of those books. IMO, they're dreadfully written. Yet, they're selling.

    Let me repeat that.

    To my best ability to judge from a brief sample, these books are horribly written. Yet they're selling.

    Horrible writing. Selling.

    Even if you wouldn't buy any of these books and Russ wouldn't buy any of these books and I wouldn't buy any of these books, readers are buying these books.

    How can I draw any other conclusion for this data than that quality isn't nearly as important as I thought it was.

    Simply put, it does not appear that one has to approach the quality level demanded by Big 5 Publishers in order to get readers to buy a book.

    If I had to make a guess based on what sounds logical to me, I'd say that sales go up as quality increases. If you were to come up with a curve showing that, however, and superimposed that curve onto a graph containing the learning curve, I think that you'd find that spending huge amounts of time and effort to improve quality would not be your most efficient way to improve profits.
     
  19. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Fantasy is actually considered a pretty darn good niche for people who want to self publish, not on the level of Romance, but still pretty darn good.

    I'm dabbling a little bit in the fantasy romance market, but honestly, I think I have a much greater understanding of what the fantasy reader wants than I do the romance reader.

    Additionally, most advice on the subject of pleasing readers is to find the intersection between what you want to write and what the readers want to read.
     
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I don't think there is any doubt about your first statement. But your speaking of curves has me wondering. I wonder if there is a ceiling or threshold beyond which poorly written books are highly unlikely to rise. Does it effectively cap your top end and consign one to the low middle? It strikes me much more likely for a better written book, or number of books, to produce a breakthrough for one's writing career than ones written of lower quality.
     
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