Sunday, January 28, 2018

Quality Versus Quantity

I've been having a debate with a few author friends recently, and it basically boils down to how often and under what circumstances a writer should publish new books.  One friend is of the opinion that writers, especially new writers, should put out as many books as possible as quickly as possible in order to create an inventory that can start making money.  The thought there is that flooding the zone creates more opportunities for people to buy your work, so give as many as possible.

The second school of thought is that while creating an inventory is nice, quality matters more since people aren't like to buy your inventory if what you write is crap.  In other words, don't publish unless you're certain that you have something of quality that everyone will like.

Some writers are extremely prolific.  Even as prolific as they are, they still manage to write wonderful books that demonstrate a remarkable degree of talent.  Others write wonderful novels but only publish every few years.  They meticulously go over every detail until it's just right.

I think I come down somewhere in between.  I've written four novels that are in serious need of rewriting.  Yes, I could publish them now and increase my inventory, but folks would then likely skip more of my work since really good stuff would be intermixed with absolutely horrible stuff.  In my opinion, bad stuff is so damaging to a reputation that it's hard to overcome it with good work.  People get skittish about picking up one of your books since they have no idea if they'll get a diamond or a mound of compost.

As a parallel, many people love the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.  Back in my day - you know...eons ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth - people couldn't get enough.  However, the strip's creator, Bill Watterson, was adamant about rewriting poor work so that the quality was high.  Despite demand, he felt that poor strips would turn people off and reduce his audience.  I feel the same way about putting out lower quality work.

That's not to say that writers can just sit back and await perfection.  Although some writers strike gold on their first foray, and can thus afford to be more selective, most of us will acquire a small but loyal fan base.  And since that fan base isn't large enough to bring us to the NY Times Bestseller List, we need volume to create a steady stream of income.
(on a side note, if you're retching right now because you think that the "art" should be done just for its own sake...grow up.  Most of us have funny needs, like "food" and "heat," so actually selling our work is sort of a big deal)

I think that once one achieves success, it then becomes easier to take larger breaks between works.  However, especially at the beginning, we have the double burden of needing to be both prolific and good.  Just don't sacrifice one for the other.


  1. Seems to me that it will always boil down to why you write. Only you can answer which you should focus on. That said, if the quality of your work suffers as a result of the pressure to produce quantity, then never the two shall rise. Knowing you as I do, I doubt you'll cave to the pressures of writing simply to produce. Many of my favorite authors often taken a prolonged period to produce their succeeding works; on the other hand, George Martin and Robert Jordan both lost me over the years because they couldn't finish their work.

    1. Great points, Jimbo. Producing quality is important, but it's meaningless if you never finish. Martin is one of the chief violators of this rule.