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The “New” Key to Writing Success: Productivity Over Prose

The “New” Key to Writing Success: Productivity Over Prose

by Mike Duran · 38 comments

The changes in the publishing industry have forced us to redefine what a “successful” author is. However you choose to define “success,” the growing consensus seems to be that successful writers are

  1. hybrid authors, publishing both traditionally and independently,
  2. who crank out the books.

But cranking out books is a challenge for many writers, for two reasons:

  1. Vocation — Most authors are not full-timers; we wedge our writing time between kids, day jobs, school, etc.
  2. Aesthetic ideals — We want to write well, produce great prose, and deliver fine craft

Which leads to the following dilemma:

You simply cannot write a lot of books without sacrificing some level of quality.

And if quantity is a key to success in the modern age of publishing, then to be a success, a writer must be willing to let their prose take the hit.

So if an author had to place a value on prose and productivity, nowadays, the “successful” writer will place more value on cranking out books rather than producing a smaller number of better written ones.
ScaleI’m seeing this phenomenon more and more. Hybrid authors with a large canon of consistently well-written books seem to be a rarity – emphasis on (1) large canon and (2) consistently well-written. I’m sure they’re out there. I just haven’t encountered many of them. And mind you, I’m not slamming the new hybrid author. Nor am I trying to be a literary snob. For the most part, the hybrid authors I’ve read who have a rapidly growing canon of novels are serviceable writers. They’re not bad. (But to be honest, I’ve also bought several novels that were so poorly written I could not finish them. This would include an author who is largely considered a self-publishing phenom.)

I’m not really bemoaning this reality as much as I’m just coming to grips with it. Readers nowadays want their favorite authors to keep pumping out stories. And the thing is, most readers seem willing to sacrifice prose for the sake of productivity. I know that’s true of me. The longer I’m in this writing business, the more I am willing to tolerate mediocre prose for a good story. In fact, as a writer, I am becoming more willing to surrender my love of good craft to publish more stories.

I spoke to my agent a few weeks ago and one of the things I said was, “It’s been over a year since I’ve published anything. I need to get something published.” (For the record, I have two projects that are virtually complete, awaiting beta-reading, editing, and shopping. Or self-publishing. But that’s another story.) Sadly, that’s the reality of this business. If you’re not cranking out stories, if you’re not keeping your brand in circulation, you will get swallowed up in the vast amorphous ever-expanding glut of more books and new authors.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that an author cannot produce lots of good, well-written, delightfully crafted, complex, transcendent books. I’m sure those authors are out there doing just that. But the hybrid authors I’m watching seem to reinforce these two realities:

You simply cannot write a lot of books without sacrificing some level of quality.

And if quantity is a key to success in the modern age of publishing, then to be a success, a writer must be willing to let their prose take the hit.

I wish it wasn’t so. But I’m afraid it is.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Shari January 21, 2014 at 8:22 AM

I’m reading one of those voluminously published authors right now for research purposes. In fact, I bought several books on clearance from BN to look at the craft of several writers, and the first one has shocked me. Literally, it is tripe. It’s not good, at all; yet the author puts out a book or two each year and makes money on them. So, I have to ask myself, is this the kind of author I want to be? And the answer is “no.” Yes, I would like to make some real money, but I don’t want to put out garbage.

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Erica January 21, 2014 at 8:50 AM

As a self pubbed author myself, I know for a fact I am no Stephen King or Nora Roberts, but I do have a story to tell and I would love to crank out my stories while they are fresh in my mind.

I am so jealous of authors books I read who are cranking them out quickly and I still haven’t published anything in a year. Ugh. Certainly quality means everything to me, but if its a good story then it is quality in my opinion.

Love this post!

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Heather Day Gilbert January 21, 2014 at 9:08 AM

Well, one thing I think you’re not taking into account is that some writers naturally write faster than others. I could see how a Hemingway could turn out several books a year, versus a Thomas Hardy, for instance. Totally depends on your writing voice. Writing contemp is easier than writing historical (I say this b/c I’ve written both…you still research for a contemp, but not as much). So I guess I’m saying I disagree.

The beautiful thing about indie authors is that we do NOT have to be held up with the traditional submission process, which, as you know, can take well over a year…and it WILL take well over a year just to get one book published. For those of us with a backlog of books, or who write shorter novels, or who just naturally write fast, it makes sense to self-pub. And I know some indies who take longer to get their novels out.

Seems to me there’s some kind of false dichotomy going on here–that if you write fast, you aren’t a quality writer. That’s just not so. Some people are plotters, some pantsers. Some agonize over that perfect turn of phrase, others drop those phrases straight from their minds to the page.

Also, I could name some indie authors whose writing is chock-full of beautiful prose, well-edited, and, to be honest, more invigorating than many trad. pubbed authors. Yes, you have to look for them. But indie/hybrid authors aren’t going away, and it seems I’m reading more and more blogposts trying to slam them and sweep them under the carpet as if they’re not valid. Dude, indies are authors. Yes, there are some that are pumping out the books…isn’t that like mass-market fiction? And weren’t Dickens/Austen the mass-market fiction of their day? Now they’re classics…

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Kat Heckenbach January 21, 2014 at 9:28 AM

Heather, I think you have a valid point. Some authors do naturally write fast, and there are some really good authors that can crank out novels. But I’d wager to say that MOST fast authors are mediocre at best. And the problem is that THEY are setting the bar for the definition of “success.” What is frustrating to me is that the message is “your quality of writing doesn’t matter, so long as you’re pumping out stories.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t quality stories that come out quickly–there definitely are.

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Heather Day Gilbert January 21, 2014 at 9:34 AM

That’s what I’m saying. It seems a bit elitist to say, “I write slowly, therefore, my writing is better.” I’m sure we could research the writing processes of many classic authors and find there were plenty who wrote quickly and produced several books a year. Conversely, I’m sure there were plenty who took longer. I’m just saying that because someone is prolific doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t know how to write.

I think we need to encourage ALL authors to make the MOST of their abilities. If you write great stuff fast, by all means, put out several books a year. If it takes longer, by all means, take your time.

Seems to me, though, that indie authors have all KINDS of freedom in this area–we determine our timeframes for publication. So if we write slowly, we don’t get several books out per year. If we write quickly, we can get as many out as are READY. I just feel there are so many indie-bashing posts these days, which discredit all indies across the board. Truth be told, there are plenty of indies hitting the writing mark and even raising the standard for trad. pubbed books.

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Mike Duran January 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Those are fair points, Heather. And again, I want to be clear to say that being a fast writer does not guarantee poor prose, nor does being a slow writer automatically equate to good writing. I especially like your observation that one advantage to self-pub, and one reason an author CAN publish more volume, is that they “do NOT have to be held up with the traditional submission process.” In theory, a publishable story could be hung up in acquisitions for YEARS.

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Jill January 21, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Mediocrity will always be the rule. It always has been. People are very comfortable there. There just happens to be a glut of books on the market right now. Most books I read are B-grade. Many books that rise above the crowd a little still annoy me with their bad editing and confusing fragment sentences. Welcome to idiocracy. Yeah, I’m a snob. And I’m unrepentant. I don’t like having to reread paragraphs over and over to figure out who is doing what to whom or what is doing what because it isn’t clear from the strings of sentences that are lacking either subject or verbs. People have been using short phrases and fragments for emphasis for a long time. Now it seems editors don’t know the difference, which is why confusing groups of words have become the exception rather than the rule.

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Kat Heckenbach January 21, 2014 at 9:23 AM

Yes, I agree. It is something that has been haunting me for the past couple of years. Not that I think I’m writing at a literary genius level, but I can’t just crank out books, and that fact is getting me really down. When I’m constantly told, “Hang in there and just get more stuff out there and eventually you’ll get noticed!”…well, all that says to me is, “You can NOT possibly become a success for a VERY long time.”

It feels completely futile to me these days. Why bother even writing another book because by the time I get it out there, all the other stuff I have out already will be forgotten.

Not to mention, I don’t see how having a slew of low-ranking novels is suddenly going to grab readers’ attentions. If they are bombarded by ads and whatnot for big press books that are actively marketing with big budgets, and or sticking with authors they know, how is me having MORE unknown and bottom-of-the-list books going to help readers find me?

I also think that many of the self-pub phenoms are from the age in which free ebooks actually gained attention and got read. Now EVERYONE can publish and put their books up for free and 99 cents and it’s no longer enticement. I don’t think solely self-pubbed authors are going to hit it big like they were there for a while. And the hybrid successes seem to be authors who are already established in trad pubbing and can use the power of their name to drive sales of their self-pubbed books.

Lastly, I agree TOTALLY about some of the massively self-pubbed authors, and those phenoms. One self-pubbed YA fantasy series I read that has become a HUGE success is some of the most atrocious writing I’ve ever read. NOT saying all self-pubbed work is bad–I’ve read some that is amazing (Anna and the Dragon by Jill Domschot being one of the top for me), but they are not by authors that value quantity over quality.

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Kat Heckenbach January 21, 2014 at 9:54 AM

I need to say this, too. Apparently, short fiction doesn’t count. If you go to my author page on Amazon, you’ll see I’m listed as an author for 17 works. Only four of those are completely mine (two novels and two novelettes), and thirteen short stories in anthologies. Yet, having that “body of work” listed on Amazon doesn’t seem to be helping me get noticed.

Truly, the thing I understand about the idea of having a lot of stuff out there is that each work may reach different people, and each person that tells someone about you as an author is a spark that can potentially spread.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 21, 2014 at 9:29 AM

I agree with Heather, somewhat, in that I don’t think it necessarily has to be an either or, but to not sacrifice on quality or quantity, the writer has to be very skilled. My writing is coming along much faster these days, and it’s only because I have more practice under my belt and I have a better understanding of basic story components. I came into this gig all prose and no plot. It’s the plot I’ve been struggling with the most all these years, but once I accepted that there are some fundamental plug-and-play elements to plotting, even plotting literary fiction, my writing process sped up considerably.

For me, as an indie author, my main hold up is that I am my own editor (and proofer…and…). I have to let my manuscript simmer for several months in between edits so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Even so, I think I could comfortably start cranking out a novel a year (of good quality) after the initial glut of backlogged novels that I’ll be releasing this year (3 in total, if all goes well).

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Jessica E. Thomas January 21, 2014 at 9:42 AM

p.s., I consider one novel a year for a part-time (quarter-time?) fiction writer to be fast.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 21, 2014 at 9:49 AM

*Sigh* In case the first post sounded like bragging, let me add that p.s.s. I’ve been working at writing for a loooooong time. When people tell me they started writing ‘five years ago’ and finally got a traditional contract, I either want to laugh or cry hysterically.

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Heather Day Gilbert January 21, 2014 at 9:52 AM

Jessica, I’ve been writing for six years…hee. And I NEVER got a publishing contract. But now I have a book out and readers who are hungry for more. I thank God every day for steering me into the indie world. My waiting days are over, which brings more peace of mind than I can even start to express.

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Jill January 22, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Six years is nothing. It was 20 yrs for me before I decided to go indie. And I wouldn’t exactly say it’s been a success. It’s been fun and enlightening, and I’ve learned a lot. That’s about it.

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Heather Day Gilbert January 22, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Well, I’d have to respectfully disagree, Jill, that six years is NOTHING. That was six years of my LIFE spent waiting, crying out to God for ONE acceptance from a publishing house, six years of hanging on the line, checking emails every day. Six years of not QUITE fitting in, of being represented by agents, but not making the cut. I can’t really put it into words…but it was like six years of prison. A prison in which God didn’t seem to hear my cries, yet listened to the cries of everyone around me. For me, indie freedom means success in this: I have readers. That was all I ever wanted, anyway.

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Jill January 22, 2014 at 2:17 PM

All I’m saying is that multiply those 6 years times three, and that is how long I’ve been crying out to God and trying to get work published and find an agent with no results at all (not even an agent). That’s how long I’ve felt like I was in prison. I didn’t mean to belittle your time of distress. That wasn’t my intention at all. I was just surprised that somebody would consider six years a long time, but I suspect it’s all relative. Six years of anguish is still six years of anguish. I remember going to writers’ conferences after six years in the game and believing that God had a plan for it all–that he had a plan as I sat in those terrifying meetings with agents or editors. And I was still asking the same questions 14 years later, asking if I was delusional or untalented or fill-in-the-blank. Maybe I should have self-pubbed earlier on and released myself from the prison. It was highly stigmatized back then, however. So I kept on trying for traditional until I finally gave up.

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Heather Day Gilbert January 22, 2014 at 3:15 PM

It’s okay, Jill…I think we each experience varying levels of pain in the waiting process…mine was just extremely high–the thing that could break me, if you will. But thankfully, God meant it for good. I can definitely see that NOW. But then, not at all.

And you’re so right–there was a major stigma against self-pubbing in those early years. Getting an agent was “the only” way to go. I’m just thankful good authors can get their work out faster these days, without submitting and waiting endlessly.

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Jill January 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

I understand the breaking point. I was there this past December. Now I’m resigned to continue waiting–for what, I don’t yet know.

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Heather Day Gilbert January 22, 2014 at 4:59 PM

Will be praying for you, Jill! I know all too well what you mean. All I know is that God always has the best in store…even if it doesn’t look anything like what we thought. Prayers coming your way.

Jessica E. Thomas January 22, 2014 at 2:02 PM

15 years for me, although I knew I wanted to be a writer as far back as second grade. I never pursued a contract in earnest, not in this decade. Meaning, I never sent out loads and loads of queries, but I did A LOT of the ‘why me’ thinking, and still do at times. Maybe that’s just a writer thing. However, in hindsight, I’m glad God didn’t open writings doors for me early because it forced me to learn a skill that people will actually pay me for. Heh.

I’m glad you have found peace, Heather. I’m definitely at peace with my indie decision. After all the hard work and editing, that baby’s all mine.

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Richard Mabry January 21, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Mike, Interesting that we both decided to address this today on our respective blogs. Last week, James Scott Bell guest blogged for me to discuss the changes in the publishing industry, and they are significant. Like you, I struggle with the balance between productivity and good writing. When you get the answer, let me know, because the more I look into it, the more I decide that maybe I’m not going to survive in this brave new world of publishing.

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Tim George January 21, 2014 at 10:04 AM

And there is the rub – a novel a year will not gain the momentum needed for an author to grab the attention of this Amazon bestseller generation. A multi-published author who has come to realize his series cannot gain any long-term traction for sales recently approached me about co-authoring with him. The opportunity for me is immense, but I already feel the pressure of producing a quota of words for which I am not accustomed.
Then I read that one of my favorite authors (Dean Koontz) is a serial re-writer. He does not plot and often rewrites a page 30, 40, and even 50 times. Like Stephen King, Koontz is a prolific writer who also wrote under at least six pen names early in his career. I dare say, were Koonz starting out today, he would be forced to change his approach drastically. Even so, waiting a year and a half to read his new one, Innoncence,, does illustrate the value of the time he takes.

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Mike Duran January 21, 2014 at 10:27 AM

Tim, you said: “a novel a year will not gain the momentum needed for an author to grab the attention of this Amazon bestseller generation.” I tend to agree with Jessica above that for a part-time author, one novel a year is fine. So I’m interested, what kind of ratio do you think is minimally necessary for an author to gain momentum?

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Tim George January 21, 2014 at 10:59 AM

It really depends on the genre. Sci-fi, dystopian and such have hard core fans who tend to read series in fast succession. Romance is the same way. Hugh Howey, the Amazon sales wonder, produces three full-length novels a year. Genre fiction, in general, requires at least two new titles a year to keep a self-pub or indie author on the top seller lists and that is what drives Amazon sales. I am not a lover of the 800 pound gorilla, but it is wise to be friends with and respect his klout.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 21, 2014 at 12:08 PM

“And there is the rub – a novel a year will not gain the momentum needed for an author to grab the attention of this Amazon bestseller generation.”

I don’t buy this, and no offense intended, but it’s this kind of talk that has led to me shutting my ears to much of the advice being thrown around about what today’s authors *should* do to get ahead. Instead, I’ve decided what I want to do and what I can reasonably do without burning myself out and sending myself to the ER. I understand some readers may be like wolves, but I can’t cater to that, I’m a mere human being with one brain, two hands, and a full time job. What I’ve decided to do instead is focus on quality and reasonable speed. If I look back in 20 years and have 20 books under my belt–books of quality that will (hopefully) stand the test of time–then I will be in good standing (I think) professionally, and dare I say, financially. (I’m not expecting riches, mind you, but a second income stream. Also notice, I’m thinking longterm, not focused on a get rich quick scheme here.)

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D.M. Dutcher January 21, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Koontz has written a lot of crap recently though. His Frankenstein books were mediocre at best, and Breathless was something so bad that it shouldn’t have been published. Even he suffers when he is forced to crank out content, and it’s telling that people who publish original works tend to just stick their name out there and let people ghostwrite for them.

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D.M. Dutcher January 21, 2014 at 1:23 PM

Koontz suffers though too; his Frankenstein books were mediocre, and Breathless was surprisingly bad. Even pro writers can’t seem to do this; they wind up just selling their name and rely on ghostwriters to actually do the books.

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D.M. Dutcher January 21, 2014 at 1:24 PM

bleah, double post, sorry.

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Suzan Robertson January 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Most books I read (I read most genres in all markets) fall into the “average” category, (in my opinion) whether the author labors over a novel for years, or for weeks. And that’s okay. It’s rare to find true gems these days in the fine arts. But that’s according to my personal taste. I’m not passing judgment on the art creators.

Russell Blake is the author recently written up in the WSJ. He writes very fast. I downloaded one of his books. The writing is mediocre. I don’t care for that genre or that writing style. Some would judge his work as poor or mediocre, some undoubtedly think his novels are brilliant page-turners. I guess he’s competent enough for thriller author Clive Cussler, since Cussler asked Blake to co-write a book with him. (I’m not a Cussler fan but I’m acquainted with his work.) Russell Blake has a professional editor. He apparently tells a compelling story. He’s sold over 400,000 books. I doubt he cares whether you or I brand him as a mediocre writer. He’s doing what he loves. He’s self-publishing, and he’s making a living from doing what he loves. Kudos to him.

Sure, there are some truly horrible books out there, but most people are smart enough to recognize extremely bad and extremely good stories.

But mediocre or average novels? Average is pretty subjective, don’t you think?

I recently read a book that I thought was awful. I figured that most would consider it mediocre. Then I read a review of that book on Goodreads. The reviewer said it was the BEST BOOK THEY’D EVER READ. Overall, the book has mostly 4 and 5 star ratings. I still think it’s an awful book. I don’t care if it took a year or a month to write. It stinks.

“There’s no accounting for taste. To each his own, don’t judge by your standards,” my mother used to say.

I would venture a guess that about 90% of the books I read, whether self or trad pubbed, are MEDIOCRE.

If a writer wants to write a book in a month because they enjoy writing and want to make an actual living from their writing, he/she needs to hire a good editor and cover designer, a few beta readers, and tell a decent story. Then put it out there via trad pub or self pub.

Maybe their book won’t be the next *** (insert whatever brilliant novel floats your boat) but so what? If they’re selling books and have faithful readers – somebody thinks they’re a fabulous author. Good for them.

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Lyn Perry January 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM

1000 words a day will produce a 90k word novel in 3 months. I’m a slow writer – 500 words an hour or so. Can I give up one hour of Good Morning America and one hour of the Bachelor on either side of my day to produce four novels a year? It comes down to discipline, pure and simple.

And like Jessica said above, practice. I can assure you, none of the middle school orchestra students where I teach are ready for Carnegie Hall. Maybe one in ten thousand will be ready in ten years. And yet think we can write one book and find success? Guys, I’m still in Jr Hi when it comes to my writing. But what indie publishing does allow is a feedback loop opportunity similar to student recitals – with every performance/publication I’m learning and growing. Maybe one day I’ll hit Carnegie Hall. Probably not. But it’s a heckuva fun ride.

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D.M. Dutcher January 21, 2014 at 1:16 PM

That will get you a first draft though. You have to factor in the time planning, researching, editing, and post-production stuff like e-book formatting. It would have to be something like 2 weeks planning, one month at 3k words a day writing, 2 months editing (because editing really is the most time consuming part for most writers) and 2 weeks post production. That’s a hardcore schedule for just about anyone, and you don’t have any luxury to shelve a project once you start because its not working out.

Maybe you could block it out over the year to reduce fatigue; plan for all four novels in a go, write the first drafts one after the other, and then use most of the year editing all of them in a batch. But it’s a really tight schedule to get 3-4 books out a year if they are at 50k and up.

For me, Triune took about three weeks to write the first draft, with planing time being about two weeks, and I believe editing a month. Post production a month too. However I didn’t do a good job editing; I didn’t have any real contacts or beta readers, and tried to go it alone. I think I did a lot better than expected for both a first indie novel considering this, but this was a middle grade book at 50k words that had been percolating in the planning stages of my head for months beforehand.

If I could do it again I would have budgeted a lot more time and cash for it. In many ways it was a proof of concept for me; that I either wrote a book or gave up on the desire completely. But I think it shows the dangers of having a tight schedule in writing; you tend to underestimate how much after-the-first draft work you need, and this isn’t even considering marketing (which I didn’t do at all.)

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Mir January 21, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Not that I’m talented enough to be a National Book prize or Nebula contender, cuz I”m not, hahahha, but there’s always been crap and tripe (relative, fine, but from my POV tripe and crap) published and successful. I can think of several crappy CBA authors who sell a lot (crappy, again, as a subjective IMO thing). And I can think of oodles of crappy ABA authors with rabid followings. Some of these authors put out 3 or more books a year. And they sell to trad publishers with advances and royalties. So, just cause it’s self-pubbed doesn’t mean squat. Quality was never the end-all of being published. Marketability and an audience matter. Trust me, and editor would pass on the next-great-novel if it was only going to sell 5k, in favor of the ‘oh, this fits our line perfectly and there are 30K who will buy it within 6 months cause it has X doing Y to Z in a setting of A and B with a sidekick of C. And just enough hot sex scenes, too.” And I say that cause I’ve heard editors say very similar stuff. If it’s gonna sell, we buy it, even if we have to turn down something written much better that doesn’t fit our reader needs.” Bring on the runaway bride and cowboy with the secret baby and 2 hot bedroom scenes for the 40 millionth time. :)

I do agree that the mantra now is productivity. Get it out there, get it out fast, and build a following in your niche, and then deliver to them on a timely basis once you’ve nabbed/identified/found them.

If a writer wants to make a living at it, not just make art, then yes, crank it out. And I have no issues whatsoever with that. I see that as the BUSINESS of writing, and separate from the ART of writing. Just as I can see some generic quickie design for a buyer as the business side and the bold and meaning-drenched stuff in some small galleries as the art side.

The same folks who may cast a critical eye at such will likely still shop Chinese “will fall apart at the second wash” cheapo clothes at Walmart or K-Mart and not think twice. If mass-production is fine in other areas of consumption–ie, one isn’t looking for quality and craft and time-consuming effort in one’s furniture, clothes, shoes, plates, cups, pens, burgers, pizza, perfume, bedding, etc–then it’s fine to supply disposable and less artistic fiction, too :D

Maybe it’s the new hackwork, where instead of an outside buyer commissioning a work of lesser quality, a writer commissions it for himself and lives with the lesser end-product in order to, you know, pay bills. Self-publishing as the new Grub Street. Hey, some writers who did hackwork were able to finance higher level work doing so, just as some did to-order pornography in order to pay bills and let them live on to write their classics. Maybe self-publishing the lesser will end up giving our future society the higher art-one financing the other.

The blessed ones: And writers who write well can also be writers who write fast. :D

I would love to write ART. Have it move the heart and intellect. But you know, that’s probably just me thinking above myself. If push comes to shove, I’d rather make a living. I’d rather write so-so and make 50K + a year than write art and make bupkiss to enough for a cuppa joe. I think I lost my idealism. :( It might be back next week, if my mood improves. Never know. :D

I imagine the next key will show up in some years as this shakes out. For now, productivity and hybrid are the things one hears the most for making a living out of this. And the torrent of self-pubbing will be there to test it…

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Mir January 21, 2014 at 1:34 PM

I so wish I had proofed that.

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Grace Bridges January 21, 2014 at 3:54 PM

It’s a tricky dichotomy. The lucky ones are those whose first drafts resemble someone else’s third edit – and yet, if the first draft is that good, it probably took far more time and agony to complete. I believe it’s partly a question of lifestyle and priority. Are you a storyteller brimming with ideas, just wanting to get tales on paper as quickly as possible? Or are your ideas scarcer, and you are in love with the polishing of the words? It seems there are plenty of readers for both types of story, but the unfortunate reality is that quality does not equal more sales. Those who wish to write for a living may have to view it as “just a job”, while those who aim at high quality may never be able to give up the day job as easily as those who gain a following by sheer output. This is a hard choice. My first drafts are generally OK, so I might experiment with fast publishing for some work – but for the books of my heart, I won’t settle for less than the best.

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R. L. Copple January 21, 2014 at 4:17 PM

Who’s definition of success? How is that defined? Making a certain income? Some level of sales? Getting published? Being able to live off the money? A literary award in the pocket? A bevy of five-star reviews on Amazon?

Then quality is another definition. I think we could mostly agree that typos, grammar errors, readability are basic quality markers, and the number of books one puts out a year, to a point, has little bearing on that in most cases. A good editor should catch most, if not all those issues. While the editor’s editing, you are still writing.

But issues like plotting, characters, dialog, world building, descriptions, poetic prose, etc., can be a bit more squishy. It takes time for an author to develop those skills, multiple projects which may be nothing more than practice in the end. Likewise, what one person perceives as quality might be trash to another. One person values a good poetic turn of phrase, another only gives it a passing thought, only caring about characters, or whether the author breaks their favorite writing rule or not.

I think what it boils down to is that once the gates to self-publishing opened up, all those rejected manuscripts deemed to be low quality went up for sale. And by doggies, they’re actually selling. Some of them really well. The perception that the general public demanded quality or nothing went out the door. Maybe it is that which is troubling you.

But I agree with others. In some cases, indies rush their product out before it is really ready, and it shows. (Moon People, anyone?) But writing fast, however that might be defined, isn’t a predictor of low quality, depending on how that is defined.

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Mir January 21, 2014 at 9:43 PM

This is on topic: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=9789
Snippet: “The myth of writing slow to write better actually hurts writers.

There are two sides of our brains. The creative side and the critical side.

The creative side has been taking in stories since the writer started reading, knowing how to put words together at a deep level. The critical side lags far, far behind the creative side, learning rules that some English teacher or parent forced into the critical mind.

The creative side is always a much better writer than the critical side. Always. It never switches, no matter how long you write.

Long term (20 years and up) professional writers have learned to trust that creative side and we tend to not mess much with what it creates for us. Of course, this lesson for most of us was learned the hard way, but that’s another long chapter for another book.

A new writer who believes the myth that all good fiction must be written slowly and labor-intensive (called work) suddenly one day finds that they have written a thousand words in 35 minutes. The new writer automatically thinks, “Oh, my, that has to be crap. I had better rewrite it.”
- See more at: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=9789#sthash.8WDCawj6.dpuf

(And why is my first comment still awaiting moderation???) :D

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D.M. Dutcher January 22, 2014 at 5:33 PM

You will almost always rewrite what you make, the point is more “it’s better not to rewrite as you write the first draft.” Even if you know its crappy, set it down and keep going for your writing goal. Then, you can fix it once your first draft is done. Writing is like moving a heavy rock; once you get going it gets easier, but once you slow or stop it takes serious effort to get going again.

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Thea van Diepen January 21, 2014 at 10:21 PM

For my writing, I try to follow a baseball analogy that I originally heard applied to practising math. When learning how to pitch, first you work on speed. Then you work on accuracy. If you try for accuracy first, and then you do speed, you’re going to find that the habits you learned for being accurate while pitching slow will need to be changed in order for you to pitch as accurately as you used to anyways, so you might as well just avoid that frustration.

Of course, the *very* first thing you’d need to learn is actually how to pitch, what you’re trying to do while pitching, and what a good pitch even is (so you know what to work towards), but that’s generally not in the analogy because it’s assumed that everyone just knows how baseball works. :P

I’ve gone through that first step of learning how to pitch, and now I’m wanting to work on my speed. This isn’t to say that my accuracy is crap, because I wouldn’t let myself publish something that I thought was crap (I’ve been realizing lately that I kind of have perfection issues…), but that I’ve got what I consider to be a serviceable start, and now I’m ready for the next step. After I’ve got used to the pace that I want to write at, I’ll be able to focus on upping the quality of my books even more, while I keep publishing them at the speed that I want. Even if I continue to misappropriate sports metaphors while I’m doing it. :P

So, yeah. Speeding up might mean that your prose will suffer. That just means you know exactly how to tell once you’ve adjusted to the speed. :)

(Although I wouldn’t suggest speeding up unless you’re sure your prose is good enough that it can survive taking a hit without descending too far from your standards. You still want to be publishing good books during all this.)

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