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Quality Writing Versus Quantity

In the last post we had some excellent discussion about whether one book a year is really enough to build a writing career. I loved hearing your varied opinions.

Writers who can produce two or more quality manuscripts a year will probably develop a larger readership than an author who only writes one book a year.

I can think of a couple of authors I love who only write one book a year. After I read their yearly book, I sit back with a satisfied smile, put it into a place of honor on my bookshelf, and drum my fingers, wishing I could have another of theirs to devour.

Those authors would only stand to benefit by producing additional books. They'd make more money, grow in popularity, and keep their name in front of reader's eyes.

Yes, they'd benefit. But at the same time, I don't think they're hurting themselves. Every time one of my favorite authors writes a new book, I read it, even if it's only once a year. They've got my loyal following no matter how many they write.

Number of books won't change my loyalty. But the quality of books could. If an author I like writes a book that doesn't jive with me, I can overlook one, maybe two like that. But if they continue to disappoint me, then I have a difficult time continuing to read their work.

I'm in a new place in my writing career. I'd like to strive to write more than one book a year. In the past I've taken approximately nine months to complete a book and that includes the weeks of pre-writing research necessary for historicals.

I'd like to challenge myself to higher daily word counts. I'd like to try to squeeze in additional concentrated writing time each week. If I do that, I might be able to finish a book in six months. However, as I mentioned in the last post, I won't have the luxury of devoting all of my writing time to my WIP (work-in-progress). I'll have to juggle the editing on my first book too.

So, what's my point? While a greater quantity might help a writer's career, a better quality WILL always benefit--without fail.

So, if we have to pick, quantity or quality, which should we be striving for?

It's easy to get caught up in the numbers game with other authors. When we're unpublished we compare how many books we have sitting in our drawers. When we're published we compare our totals per year.

We might have twelve books stuffed into the closet, but if we haven't grown in quality with each one, then what good are the numbers to us?

I want to be in the business of making readers fall in love with each of my books. What about you?

How many books a year do you strive to write? For fast writers, how do you maintain quality?

43 comments:

  1. As a writer with no deadlines, I put myself on the one book a year plan. I'm not sure if this would change once I got a contract. I think maybe I would start putting more pressure on myself to publish more....it's hard to say!

    I completely agree that however much we writer, quality will always win out over quantity.

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  2. at the moment I have a one a year kind of goal. that could change. I suspect some stories will want to be told faster than others. Quality wins though. Quantity isn't even in that race.

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  3. Unfortunately, the publishing houses determine some of that. Sigh. I have my next Myrtle Clover book for Midnight Ink ready, but my contract stipulates I can't even get it into their hands until 90 days after my last book was released ("Pretty is as Pretty Dies")I'm sure this is because they're gauging sales.

    Penguin books, on the other hand, releases books in a series 6 months apart. I have 3 books to write for them in a year's time...again, per my contract. Arghh! :) Let's hope the quality stays good.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  4. Jody,

    I share you concerns with quality. My work being its best is my first priority. One book a year sounds great to me.

    My opinions are still very limited as I learn this business, but like you there are authors I love who only publish one a year.

    I trail behind quality not quantity. That will be my focus in my own career.

    Happy writing!

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  5. Quality, most definitely. I think one book a year is enough while we learn what publishers expect. I hope that as we grow in our writing, we become more capable of producing quality books faster. I know that some writers do it quite successfully. We have to remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. And everyone is different.

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  6. Can't comment on this post as I'm not published novelist. But I can say that author's I follow are the one's who put out quality rather than quantity.

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  7. I'll cast my vote for quality over quantity, any day. Even if it takes two years for the next book, if the author writes an engaging, quality story, I'll be back for her next.

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  8. I'd love to have the dilemma you and Elizabeth are talking about--editing a book that is going to be published and having a contract to write others. But alas, I don't. So I focus on doing the best I can with the works in progress, one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter at a time and hope that at the end, readers will get something out of it.
    karen

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  9. I think my quality drops if I write more than 1,000 words a day. On the other hand, I like to edit, and I think I rarely push myself enough to get the BAD words on paper that I can later turn into GOOD words.

    I need to improve my first-round quantity. I can always edit for quality later.

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  10. Maybe 1 and a half, but I write MG so thats only about 60,000 words. I'm in awe of writers who can write 100,000 word novels in a month or two.

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  11. Hey! I'm definitely more for quality!

    Right now I do one a year. Ideas for books don't come to me as readily as they might to others. I might walk around for two months with a single image in my head, trying to figure out where it goes. That's something I hope to change as I grow in writing. I'd love to be one of those people will so many ideas that are all written down so I can just move from one project to the next. Hmm...

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  12. Right now, one book a year is working for me. If I write more, great. But I'm not counting on it. I agree with you about quality beating out quantity.

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  13. I write at least one book every six months...at least that's been the pattern up till now. Since I'm currently writing shorter books, I can go faster.

    Quality. Staying true to my voice, writing stories that entertain me, and relying on my editors to help me really polish it till it shines.

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  14. I should for one a year. I agree with quality vs. quantity. Of course, I rewrite the one book about 3 times so that doesn't help speed of production, but hopefully assists in the quality!

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  15. Quality, quality, quality! I strive for that in every aspect of my life. It's hard, in this culture, but a book of quality will far outshine an author who puts out seventeen books a year that are just mediocre. Now...if I could just figure out how to write seventeen GREAT books each year :)

    Cheers!
    Jen

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  16. But Jody, nine months' gestation period sounds about right to me. :D

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  17. I've had an agent ask me to re-write the first book in my series (perhaps it was more a suggestion ;) she did say she would look at it again so there's hope, right? But, I cannot stop the momentum with my third in the series which is my official WIP, so I'm editing and writing albeit less words in my WIP. BTW, my prayer this morning was to be in Jody Hedlund's shoes and now I guess I am sans the contract and agent lol!

    Also, I'm curious, what is your typical word count?

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  18. Jody, intriguing column as always. Like you there are authors I like that I wait a year for. Because of the high quality, I don't mind.

    I think that a book a year is a reasonable goal. There may be some reasons behind your publishers' wanting you to do only one a year. They may have dealt with shorter deadlines in the past, only to find the quality had suffered.
    That sub-par quality will surely lose a following much faster than one book a year.

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  19. Quality, Quality, Quality...GOOOO Guality! :D

    With editing and hacking, one a year is about right for me. Just rough drafts, I average writing 2 per year.
    ~ Wendy

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  20. There's no question in my mind that quality is the desired goal. Pacing oneself to ensure there is adequate time to produce that quality is important. I suspect that experienced authors may be able to move at a faster pace but either way, each of us must find our own rhythm.

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  21. I am all about quality over quantity. I really don't know if I could write more than one book a year. Some writers are blessed with the ability to write fast and write quality at the same time. I'm not sure if I'm one of them.

    And I completely agree with you - when one of my favorite authors has a book come out - even if it is only one a year - I will read it.

    Interesting discussion as always, Jody!

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  22. Hi Jody -

    I vote for quality over quantity.

    I read a fabulous series awhile back and couldn't wait for the last book to come out. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It's like the author decided the last book wasn't important. Not so. It's the last book that whets my appetite for the author's next series.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  23. And that's the reason why i like blogging with you all! I started my first book 2 years ago, lost my motivation thinking "I'm no writer! What am I doing?" But you all have inspired me to keep writing... so thanks to all of you I've picked up pen (keyboard) again and have decided to finish what I started, even if it does take me a little more than a year.

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  24. I'd like to try for 1 a year and I prefer quality over quantity.

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  25. I'm on the book a year plan right now since I have a son in half-day kindergarten. Just when I get into the plot, I have to stop and go pick him up. Sigh. I hope that once he's in first grade I can raise the pace to two a year.

    That said, quality is vital. So, in addition to writing, I've planned critiquing, rewriting, and editing times too.

    I've heard of several authors who look at their deadline (real or self-imposed), back up a month (so they can turn it in early), subtract another month or two for rewrites/edits (based on their previous experiences), count the remaining weeks (minus vacations, holidays, etc) and then establish the necessary word count goals. And then stick to them. This plan gets the quantity done while also assuring the quality.

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  26. This is a great discussion. I've written two this year, but one was category length (55k), so that helped.

    I have seen authors hit success and then rush out the sequels because of the pressure, only to give stories that aren't nearly as strong as the first. So I would rather my fave authors take the time they need to write the book they want, then release it. I'll wait if it means I get a quality book to read.

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  27. I'm pretty sure no one actually sets out to write a mediocre book, regardless of how quickly they write. :-) Who knows what's going on with an author in any given year? It isn't always quantity that creates a lack of quality.

    Two books a year is my goal - and I certainly wouldn't mind writing more if I were ever given the chance to quit my day job (not happening soon). I want it all - quantity and quality...and there's no way to know what I'm capable of unless I at least *try*.

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  28. It all depends on the muse. I actually wrote a novel in 2 months once. However, it still needs edited before I can send it off. Others can take months. I think it all depends on when and how the story strikes. Sometimes it is a slow meander in the mind and other times there are a bunch of characters hounding me constantly to get them down on paper.

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  29. I vote for quality, although some authors can produce quality books like pancakes--one after the other. Our gifts are not all the same. I get in trouble when I try to comapare myself with others. I must continually ask God, "What would YOU have me do?"

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  30. Honestly, I'd be happy with 1 book a year. My current lifestyle, as a mom of young boys & community volunteer etc., dictates how much time I have to write with quality. When my boys are older, my writing time will increase. After that, we'll see if one book will be enough. :)

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  31. With all the learning I've been doing and thus a whole lot of editing, I haven't tracked my novel writing time really. Guess I should take a look at that at some point.

    But quality is far more important to me than quantity hands down!!

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  32. i'm not on a "plan," unless it's the "write-whenever-you-can" plan. :) i started writing seriously in 06...and i have 3 books...so i guess it's roughly one a year...but i just hadn't thought about it b/c i'm not at that stage, i guess, that i felt i needed to. perhaps i should think it through more...be more diligent.

    jeannie
    The Character Therapist

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  33. I'd love to write two quality books a year. This is why I like writing urban fantasy. Because I like to believe in the impossible. ;)

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  34. I've written three full novels and am in the middle of two more in the past year and a half. Two a year would be a reasonable target for me (approx 70-80K words per book). That's what I plan to keep doing.

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  35. As many times as I think I should be more concerned with quantity, it keeps coming back to quality for me. And I know I couldn't do more than one book a year, if even that! (Although future deadlines may affect that a wee bit. :)

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  36. Ugh. I read all that and longed for the ability to write ANYTHING! At the moment I feel stuck in a rut. Not sure what I want to work on. I have the writing blahs. However, when things are going well, I am a pretty fast writer. I can probably crank out two or more books a year but of course it depends on the subject of the book. If there is a lot of research involved, it will take longer, as you know. It's not the writing that takes up the time for me, it's getting it right. I spend a lot more time editing and revising than I do writing the thing. I'm not sure a writer ever feels 100% satisfied with the finished product. Without a contract I feel lucky I don't have to rush the whole process. Okay now that said, I'm going to try to actually WRITE today! Thanks Jody.

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  37. With the rewrites I always need, one book a year is all I'd ever be able to do and do well.

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  38. This issue is a kind of personal agony for me right now, as you know.

    I was fascinated by Michael Hyatt's post on beta testing.

    It's an idea which might change the pace of writing, speed things up, make it more like a conversation between readers and authors.

    But still. How lovely to have an author whose sterling quality makes each new book feel like a gift.

    I'd rather write like that, too.

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  39. Hey Jody! I definitely prefer quality over quantity! Just curious: I'm sure most writers are pretty self-motivated. Does anyone out there have an accountability coach to keep them on track? I know that taking classes and being spurred on to complete assignments helps me to maintain focus. Any thoughts?

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  40. I am lucky enough to poodle along at my own pace. I do hope to have at least one a year completed.

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  41. I think juggling edits, promotion, and writing is a lot for one year. I see some authors that write two or three books and am amazed they can keep up that pace.

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  42. It's funny, because for most people they spend a long time on their first book, maybe years and then they have to write a book in a year. Hopefully I've learned enough through the process of writing my first book that it would only take me that long to write a second.

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