Quality vs Quantity

Indie authors are often advised to “keep adding new content” by publishing three or four new titles per year, as well as writing frequent posts on their blogs and social networking sites among other marketing activities. There may be a commercial justification for this – “the more books you have published, the more you are likely to sell” – but is it in the best interests of the profession in the long term?

Few writers can really have enough talent, or time, to generate such a large output without compromising the standard of their work. The market is already flooded with self-published books, many of which are poorly written and edited and contain recycled material. As a result some of the more excellent and original ones, which deserve to be widely read and have the potential to become classics, are easily overlooked.

It’s wonderful to see so many opportunities for today’s indie authors to get their work “out there”, but the process is so easy and affordable that it is tempting to use it too casually. “Keep on writing” is certainly sound advice for those wanting to develop their skills, but “keep on publishing” may not be.

Having said all this, I admit that I published three books of my own in 2014 and have another coming out soon. However, they had been many years in gestation, and I won’t be continuing with this rate of production.

3 thoughts on “Quality vs Quantity

  1. *I am in favor of quality: better to Highlight one book several times than writing/publishing a lot of books during a short period of time.* *This week: The Blue Moon Bomber is a bestseller!*

    *Arby*

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  2. Without quality, the amount of quantity won’t matter. You can publish a hundred badly written books in a year, and nobody will buy them. Readers don’t buy bad books; that’s more true now than ever before, since readers today can sample ebooks, and even return them if they don’t like them.

    High quality storytelling is the bare minimum to even enter your hat into the ring.

    But quality and quantity are not terribly related, in writing. Or they are – but not in the way most people think they are.

    Suppose I write 1000 new words per hour – pretty typical speed for a writer. Some are slower, some are faster (I’m working on getting up toward a 2000 word per hour average myself, but I’m not there….yet). But 1000 words per hour is a nice round number.

    Suppose I am writing books of average 100k words each. So they take me roughly 100 hours sitting behind the keyboard to finish. When I finish them, I send them to the editor, who does a copy edit. Then I put another 20 hours into the revision, based on those edits. It goes out to the proofreader, and I spend another two hours managing the proofs. Two hours to get the book into print and ebook formats, another hour to upload to all vendors… (We’re assuming this hypothetical author is hiring a cover artist).

    So about 124 hours. If you outline, then you’d need to add a few more hours. Ditto if it’s a sort of book that requires some research, like a historical novel – you’d need to add maybe as many as a dozen more hours of focused research time.

    Now, if I am a typical author, I spend a few hours a week on the project, and it slowly takes shape over the course of six months or more.

    If I am a professional writer, then I put in 40 hours a week on this process, and it’s done in three weeks.

    The same amount of time was put in. The quality is the same; actually, the quality is better on the faster-produced product, because writing in bursts tends to produce better work.

    And the writer who is producing new words at a rate of 50k+ per month is going to improve their writing skills MUCH faster than the person penning only a couple thousand a week. Practice makes you better – and for writers, practice means writing more words. The writer producing 600k new words a year is going to improve roughly three times as fast as the writer producing only 200k words per year – all other things being equal. It’s basic art: the more you practice, the faster you improve.

    So quality is only loosely connected to quantity. If you’re cutting corners and making a crappy project, then you are relegating your work to irrelevance. Nobody is going to read it anyway, and it will sink into the depths of the Kindle Mire, never to be seen again.

    But if you’re simply spending more time, and thus producing more work? If you are approaching your writing as a thing you do every day, without fail, putting in the time and practice and work just like a professional dancer or musician must? Then congrats! You’re on the right track to a career.

    Because it doesn’t really matter precisely how many books you put out. But the person working six times as hard as someone else is FAR more than six times as likely to succeed.

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