Monday, April 13, 2015

Quantity vs Quality: The False Debate

Since I began researching self-publishing late last year, I've noticed a lot of people saying that in order to be successful at this, you have to increase your output. Having a healthy backlist means readers can find all the things they want to read of what you've written.  And putting another book out not too long after the last gives them a more immediate gratification.  All sound thinking, in my opinion.

But invariably, any conversation about increasing the quantity of your work leads someone to bring up damage to the quality of your work.  They assert that there is no way anyone could possibly write well when writing fast.  They assume anything put out quickly is crap.

Well, I guess that depends on your definition of quickly and your definition of crap. 

Agatha Christie wrote about 3 books every two years.  Not exactly speedy, but she was working on a typewriter and she wasn't exactly a spring chicken.

Of course, some people think mystery is crap, so they would discount her writing.

Barbara Cartland wrote 722 books and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most novels written in one year - which was a whopping 23, btw.  Nora Roberts has written over 200 books since she started and she's still going strong.

Then again, some people detest romance, so their writing would also be discounted.

Isaac Asimov put out 506 books between 1920 and 1992.  Seven books a year.  Not too shabby.  Especially on a typewriter.  Some would say he doesn't count because he wrote SF, but they'd have to shut their mouths because the man wrote across a broad spectrum of genres.  Still, he wrote a lot of shorter stuff, and even if he didn't the naysayers would find a way to ignore his vast body of work because it doesn't fit in with their supposition of 'quantity kills quality'.

Now, I'm not saying all fast work is good work.  Obviously, it's not.  There are writers out there doing shoddy work - and the market pretty much fixes their little red wagons.  (Except when it goes gaga over the work... but that's the way the market bounces sometimes.)  On the other hand, there are people who are putting out one book every five years and they're writing crap, too. 

My point is this: High quantity does not guarantee low quality anymore than low quantity guarantees high quality. 

Well, unless you're kind of pretentious. 

Anyway, there are plenty of quality writers out there.  Okay, maybe not The Great American Novel writers, but good, enjoyable work that doesn't make you want to rip you eyes out because - to paraphrase E.B. White - they've dragged you through "...a series of hazardous or grotesque syntactical situations."

So, like I said up there in the post title, the whole quantity versus quality thing is a false debate in my opinion.  The real thing we all should be thinking of is whether we're pleasing our readers.  They're the reason we write, after all.  And if the readers are happy, then writers should be happy, too. Right?


  1. And Nicholas Sparks doesn't write romance, he writes literary novels about relationships. Yeah, whatever, dude. Still, he's a NYT bestseller and I'm not. It's all in the perception. *shrug*

    I'm one of those who writes fast. I've been working on my craft chops for over 40 years. Just like with any job, experience helps. I write a cleaner first draft than I did even five years ago. Nora had to publish under a second name for two reasons--one, the In Death books were a departure from her "brand" but the main reason? Her publisher perceived that her readers would think she was writing TOO MANY books in a year and would believe--mistakenly--that the quality suffered. This is a woman who puts out at least four books--BIG BOOKS, often in hardback--a year, with the occasional anthology. She also does personal appearance, runs a book store with her husband, renovated a historic inn--twice because it burned once during rehab--and does all the things a busy woman/wife/mother/grandmother does in life.

    I have so many stories in my head that I have to get them out. There are days I wish I could write even faster. When the characters are talking, I'll scribble out 10K words in a day or two. Even when they aren't I average 2K. But then, I'm a genre writer so... *rolls eyes*

    All I'll say in closing is that penny dreadfuls sold more and created more readers than any literary tome published at the time. Now, I have more words to write to finish this dang story so I can edit, betas can read, editor can edit, and I can get it published. Cuz I'm just a word slut like that. :-D

    1. You tell 'em, Silver! And I totally love the term 'word slut' - because you so totally aren't. You're very discriminating about the words you put down. ;o)

  2. I can't comment on this issue from a writer's perspective, only a reader's and some of those "great American (and British) novels" are boring, wordy and totally pretentious, and some of the "trash" novels I've read have been absorbing and brilliant fun to read.

    I've read an awful lot of books over my lifetime, "literature" as well as novels and non-fiction and I've come to the conclusion that reading is just like beauty, it's in the eye of the reader. Back when I was younger I had a phase where I felt I should read some "classic" literature and although I enjoyed some of them, I hated others and with some I was completely out of my depth with most of the book going right over my head. I hate that. I don't want to have to work to understand the prose or try & figure out what the author means by deep & meaningful dialogue or story line. I just want to enjoy the story and feel invested in the characters. I love Nora's books and her In Death series is pure magic, even when they are about gruesome bloody murders, because you want to live there with them, you care about Eve & Roake and feel emotionally invested in them. I loved your book and the book I read written by Silver. I read to be entertained, to be taken out of my humdrum existence and to live vicariously through the story.

    Yes, it sucks to have to wait for the latest book in a series to come out when it's not due until the middle of 2016 but I understand (Iron Druid series). If you can write it quicker then why shouldn't you? I've read some authors who say that if they don't write it down, they'll drown in the noise from all the people in their heads. Who wants that to happen? Me, I say if you write fast, go for it and I get more to read. If you don't that's ok too. I can wait - and I get the fun of re-reading to refresh my brain.

    I'm currently on book 92 for 2015, 28 of which are re-reads. Some of these books have been novellas & some full length books but I've enjoyed every single one of them, so keep cranking them out. I can read them as fast as you can write.

    1. People like you are the reason we write, Fran, so your perspective is very valuable. And thank you for affirming my suspicions that the only people who truly believe - and push the idea - that 'quantity is the antithesis of quality' are pretentious. Good and conscientious writers all wish they could write faster to please their readers. (And so they can get the stories out of their heads faster.) For me, I wish I could publish 12 books a year, but I can't afford that yet and I think my fingers would fall off.

      92 books so far is awesome - re-reads or not. Writers need more readers like you. And I swear to do my level best to get books in your hands as quickly as I can. =o)