What Do Readers Want More: Quantity or Quality?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently I took an informal poll over on my Facebook Page. I asked readers this question: How many books a year would you like your favorite authors to write? Is ONE enough? Or would you like to read MORE than one per year?

Many writers are feeling pressure to increase their production to earn more as well as to remain in the public spotlight. Thus, many are tackling multiple projects. Some authors I know are writing 3 to 4 books a year. Others are writing two and supplementing with epublished novellas or short stories.

Let’s face it, epublishing is changing how writers do business. Because of the ease and faster pace inherent in publishing a manuscript in e-format (versus the long process involved in traditional publication), self-published ebooks can naturally hit virtual bookshelves at a much faster pace.

And now that self-published ebooks are coming out at a quicker rate, the pace has affected all authors (including traditionally published). Authors everywhere are putting pressure on themselves to keep up and to find success.

However, the real question is—what do READERS want. Do they really want more from their favorite authors? Or are they satisfied with one book per year?

As I said, I asked that question over on Facebook. And I was a little surprised by the answers I received.

Plenty of readers said they would love for their favorite authors to write more than one book a year. The majority of those wanting more, said “At least two.”

This was especially true of books in a series. Readers felt that waiting a year for the next book in a series was just too long to go between books.

One reader said this about waiting for a series book: “It sort of 'cools' off the reader when that happens. I would have bought that next book right away if it had been out. I wonder why the publishing company doesn't postpone the books in the series so they come out closer together.”

Another reader said this about series: “When too much time lapses it is hard to keep up with the people in the book and remember what is going on, especially if you are a big time reader.”

Other readers mentioned that while they would ideally love to have more books to read from their favorite authors, they understood how complicated the research and writing process are and know they have to be patient and realistic.

But . . . amidst all of the comments about wanting more, I found that a large number of comments mentioned that they would much rather have one quality book from an author they love, then multiple books that aren’t really up to par. Here were just a few comments:

“Too many books too soon results in poor writing. I've read some of the commercially popular authors, and I've been disappointed more often than not. If an author has a good story to tell, and knows how to tell it well, I'm willing to wait a little longer.”

“I would rather an author take whatever time is needed to make the book the best it can be, than be pressured to produce books too quickly that fall short of their best effort.”

“If it depended on the quality of the book I would rather have one good one than two decent ones.”

“I’d rather wait then have higher frequency but lower quality. I'll consider not continuing to read an author for poor quality, no matter how many books they've written, but I won't stop reading just because they take longer to write.”

My Summary: From what I can tell quality is much more important than quantity. Writers can spit out several books a year—if they really want to. But if we’re beginning to compromise the quality of our writing and story to keep up with the frantic pace, then we’re only hurting ourselves.

In the race to keep up and produce, we can’t lose sight of the fact that ultimately readers want a well-told story that they can fall in love with. The STORY still trumps everything else.

Side note: The quality of writing depends upon many factors. Fast-writing doesn’t necessarily equate poor quality any more than slow writing means the book will be good. However, I think it’s true that fast-writing can potentially lead to sloppiness.

Whether we crank out numerous stories per year or just one, readers aren’t going to care about our books unless we reach deep inside them, grab them tightly, and refuse to let go. If we don’t grip them, then it won’t matter whether we publish one book a year or ten—because they won’t buy any of them.

So, writers, don’t lose focus of the main thing. Tell a riveting story. That’s what readers care about most.

"Quality is not an act; it is a habit." ~Aristotle

What’s been your experience? Does your quality of writing go down the faster you write? What do YOU prefer from an author—quality or quantity?

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  1. Good Morning! :)
    I'm a bit happy right now-and surprised- that I'm the first one to comment!
    This really interesting Jody, thanks!
    I agree with the reader who was mentioning that sometimes when you're reading a series and have to wait a year to get the next book, well, sometimes you forget what was in the previous one , which can complicate things. And then again, there are times when I'm reading a book and I feel as though the author really didn't know what else to write (mostly towards the end) - I hope I'm not the only reader? All to say, that quality matters really, so I guess it's worth the wait. And one last thing, I think that if an author published too many books in a year, I would sort of loose interest really...
    Not sure if I'm making any sense//smiling// but thanks for the post.
    Have a GREAT day, Jody!


  2. I, too, would rather writers put out the best book they can rather than quantity but I also understand that demands are being made of them to increase the product, so to speak. Being a writer, I hope to put out my best effort, and I don't want to get so fast-paced that I shirk that responsibility: to give the reader a good read.

  3. Oups, that was supposed to be : I would 'lose' interest.


  4. Quality. Julie Klassen publishes one book a year, but it is always worth reading.

    Other authors pump out four a year, and they feel like pulp.

    But I do agree on the series - if you have a trilogy, plan to release all three within a year (e.g. March - September - March). Otherwise we readers do lose the plot, as we have read so many books in between.

  5. Goodmorning Ganise, Traci, & Iola! Thanks for sharing, ladies!

    Ganise, I'm with you on losing interest if an author is publishing too many books a year. I think I'd lose that sense of anticipation and excitement for the author. It would be kinda like having Christmas every month. The specialness of the holiday/book release might begin to wear off.

  6. I like that : "writers, don’t lose focus of the main thing. Tell a riveting story. That’s what readers care about most." It's so true I would rather read quality over quantity:) Didn't realize that people would like to have a series close together...I guess that makes sense. I do tend to forget the characters and the story if it's over a year until the next book. I guess I better make sure I'm writing the next book here soon :-)

    thanks, Jody...great post as always!

  7. Yes!!!!! I quit reading the books of two best selling romance authors because they were churning out books too quickly and there were too many mistakes. It felt like no one edited or copy edited them. And we're talking big mistakes, like characters who weren't in the scene are suddenly talking and other characters are talking about themselves in third person. And then there was the book where the love interest is wearing jeans in one paragraph and leather pants in the next. He managed to change while sitting at the dinner table.

  8. The quantity of books a writer can put out in a year depends on genre.

    Nonfiction--where facts have to be straight, people interviewed, sources found, etc., will take longer. Historical fiction will take longer, as you know, Jody. Urban Fantasy can take the least amount of time--most of it is coming straight from the imagination. Contemporary whatever is next,as well as horror.

    Another thing to consider is some authors can crank out quality and quantity work--they are just gifted that way.

    I think each author should just focus on what s/he is capable of doing regardless of what another author is able to produce. I think we'll be happier. There's always someone who can do things quicker, better, with more polish and a stronger reach...

    Another thing: Some authors may be revising old work, such as short stories from college, or prompts or even their first novel, or even the eleven they hadn't finished yet! Blessings!

  9. This is great to hear. I'm always happy when quality is more in demand than quantity. That said, I do agree about waiting a year or more (particularly for books in a series) - and how that's a bit long. As a writer who LOVES writing a series, I'd still want my readers interested and anticipating the next book without feeling like it's not worth waiting that long.

  10. The two little typos in your post are an example of what I find can happen if the process is rushed. (don't waste your time searching; effect/affect and then/than--too common) I switched names of a minor character in a recent book, probably because I had been thinking of both names at one time. I think artist/writers need to fight against being too market-driven.

  11. I'd much rather have quality than quantity - nothing is sadder than discovering a new book by a favourite author is significantly lower in quality than their previous works. (Though, conversely, I don't mind reading early novels that aren't as good as later ones by my favourite authors, not least because I can see how their craft has developed and that's useful to me as a writer).

    I think authors are under too much pressure nowadays to be commercial - the pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap philosophy that has taken over everything from clothes to wine in the past few decades. You find some bargains, but the majority is terrible quality.

    I'd much rather wait longer and read a better book. My tastes are more literary than commercial, (though there's a lot of overlap and I don't automatically reject 'commerical' books - good stories are good stories).I feel incredibly spoilt this year, since so many of my favourite authors (Anne Tyler, Toni Morrison, Hilary Mantel) have new books out. But even if it was a 'dry' year, luckily there are plenty of great authors and new favourites waiting to be discovered!

    For my own writing, writing quickly can produce good drafts, but I will always take time to ensure that I make my work as good as it can be at that point in time. Sometimes I can produce a good story relatively quickly; sometimes it takes ages. I think it probably all averages out.

  12. Loving your thoughts so far this morning, everyone!

    And Cynthia Washburn, I think I need you to copy-edit my posts every time! ;-) Thanks for the heads up on the typos.

  13. I would say quality over quantity.

    But for me, I don't necessarily have favorite authors. Just because I loved one book of theirs doesn't mean I'll love them all anyway. So I'd prefer to have them concentrate on that story and make it the best it can be, rather than pumping out too many that aren't worth my time.

  14. So happy to see your follow-up post, Jody. And so pleased to hear the results of your oh-so-scientific poll. :-) I've always been a believer that quality is what matters. It's why I'm such a perfectionist when I write.

    Each author has to find the balance that works best for him/her. Be aware of the market trends but don't be so obsessive about "keeping up" that you fail to take into account how much YOU can do well.

    If it ain't worth doin' right, it ain't worth doin'.

  15. I think it was Jodi Piccoult who said it takes her just as long to write a book as it does to 'grow' a baby...9 months. She just doesn't write any faster. I would prefer quality over quantity. As a new writer I am tempted to rush to self publish but I know that isn't a wise decision.

  16. I concur with quality over quantity. If the story is compelling enough and well written, anticipation builds up toward the second book and so on. The Harry Potter series provides a perfect example. Superbly written, I couldn't wait for release day of each one.

  17. I agree, quality far surpasses quantity. If I love an author, I don't mind waiting - I loved the analogy of Christmas! We're a fast paced, instant gratification society and we don't want to wait for anything anymore - but there is something special and magical about the wait - the anticipation only makes the experience more gratifying. I have quite a few favorite authors and I wait eagerly for their new releases, but thankfully there are hundreds of other authors I can read while I wait.

  18. As a reader, I'd definitely go for quality. There are so many books out there to read in between, so I'll always check back for my favorite authors.

    I'm not a big series reader precisely because I've found the quality to diminish as the series continues. Somehow, the pressure to keep a series going, even when there is nothing more to tell, tends to dampen my enthusiasm to read further. The first book usually has the freshest ideas, the most deeply layered plot and the careful characterization. Usually subsequent books bore me, and I'd rather the author wrote something completely new and unrelated than wade through another episode of the same old characters.

    That goes with movies too, even famous ones. The most contrived plot device I see is leaving it hanging whether the villain is alive or dead. Of course, I know he'll be alive so the studio can milk another movie from it.

    I guess this is a long-winded way of saying I'm not necessarily waiting with bated breath for the next installment of a series if it isn't completely fresh and new and takes off in a different direction. So don't rush. Take your time to let the work stew, let the flavors mingle and be absorbed so readers can savor a truly original and intriguing work.

  19. The fact that readers prefer quality can become an opportunity for authors. Find out which other authors' style and themes are like yours, and let their fans know that while they are waiting for so-and-so's next book, they might like to try yours in the interim.

  20. Quality, quality, quality. All the way.

  21. It's interesting from the author side of things. I find my motivation to produce more quickly is often fear based. My worries come from not having a title yearly or being forgotten by the public, when really I want to build a career and do my best work.

    To those of you who can write a lot, I say hats off. I'm not there yet, and may very well never be. That's okay, too. There's room for all of us.

  22. Quality rules. I like to think that even if our books come out at a slower rate that the readers will think it's worth the wait. Also, with a trilogy, I'd expect that new readers are found all the time. So eventually all the books are available right away.

    That will be the case for me in January when book 3 releases. The series will be complete and all the books available as the readers want them.

    I love the Aristotle quote. Great post, great information. Thanks Jody.

  23. Great post. In my opinion, quality is always better than quantity. And though many readers may want two or more books a year, and it can get confusing with remembering plots for books in a series, if it's a really good book, I do sort of enjoy the suspense of waiting for the next one.

    ~Gina Blechman

  24. Jody...thanks so much for posting this. For my part, a really well written, thoughtful, riveting book can nourish me for quite some time. Certainly for a year. I recall my favorite parts; ruminate on the deeper meanings; ponder the life applications; speculate on the character's futures. I go back and re-read my favorite parts again, and sometimes even the entire book.

    So I am more than willing to wait a year before the next one comes along. In fact, it heightens the anticipation for me, much like I wait with delicious excitement for the next Narnia movie, or the third National Treasure film, or the next project from Sherwood Pictures.

    And like you, I expect and want each subsequent book (or film) to be excellent in quality, and that's not going to happen if the author's focus has been derailed from writing an excellent story, to instead keeping up a frantic pace. Not only will their work suffer, but so will other areas of their lives. It's not worth it.

    ~ Betsy

  25. In regards to letting the excitement cool off, I actually completely disagree. Look at movies that are released in a series - such as Harry Potter - the excitement didn't die off at all. If it's a really good author, and a really good series, you can spend an entire year looking forward to the next one and anticipating it. Just like when your favorite T.V. show airs its season finally, you don't move on over the summer, you wait expectantly for the following season premier. - And I'm sure everyone here knows that books are always better, so that makes them even more worth the wait.

  26. Sometimes it does seem to be obvious, unfortunately, when an author has a multiple-book contract and they are just churning them out. The quality and depth does seem to suffer, as well as basic craft things that you would have hoped their editor would pick up. It's so frustrating - it feels like the whole team is just rushing the product to market without really caring about the readers.

  27. “I’d rather wait then have higher frequency but lower quality. I'll consider not continuing to read an author for poor quality, no matter how many books they've written, but I won't stop reading just because they take longer to write.”

    I find the above comment very reassuring! Not published, here, but I've been working on my first book for a year, and I'm nowhere near finished. I expect future books to go a bit faster, but I think I'll continue to be somewhat slow. My quality goes up with more time. At least, I believe it does!

  28. I adore Jeanette Windle's work. She will build and build andn... you know it's's coming...then BAM! It just gets better and better. Total quality, every single page. I want to be like her when I grow up.

  29. I don't think I could write more than one book a year, unless I didn't do any revision. And THAT would just be madness. :)

  30. In a series, I think more than a year between books can be a risk. I know I like being able to count on the next book in a series coming out on a regular schedule, otherwise I'll lose that connection to the characters.

    Outside of a series, I don't have too much of a preference. There are so many authors I want to read that I won't begrudge one a break if it means I get to check out someone else's work.

    For myself, I would happily write four or five books a year, but that's just because I get hooked on telling a story. If I could write full-time, I could probably crank out a whole series in a year or two. The main reasons I haven't tried that are because work and other committments eat into my time, I'm still new to the industry and don't want to rush into a writing schedule I can't maintain, and I'm also pretty sure that if I wrote ten books in 2 years, they'd be drivel!

  31. I think it would be tragic to sacrifice your skills to satisfy a quota of books to put out. Writing is artistry. Creating a story is takes talent and hard work, but a beautiful well-written story is worth it.

    Would I like my favorite authors to put out as many books as I could read? Sure, who doesn't want more of a good thing? But if doing so means that my favorite authors are putting out books that don't satisfy what made them my favorite authors in the first place? I would absolutely sacrifice quantity for quality.

    Multiple books is great... but I'd rather have 3 or 4 great books than 10 so-so ones.

    In Which We Start Anew

  32. Jo - Yes, yes, yes! There are already more good books than I can read. I often discover authors when they already have a backlist out, so I can read those while I'm waiting for the new ones. Nothing worse than feeling that a favourite author's quality is going downhill. I can wait. :-)

  33. Yay! I'm so glad to hear that the overwhelming response is in favor of quality! Now, readers just need to make that message clear to publishers of all types of books!

  34. Quality is paramount but the idea that a year is the optimum time to write a quality book is a false notion many readers have. It results from publishing schedules and non-compete clauses. Many of our favorite authors have long written more than one book a year, but did so under a pseudonym or as a ghost writer. Others could have written more than one a year, but did not bother to do so. Yes, some writers and some books take longer, but most writers complete drafts and revisions in a surprisingly short period of time. The rest of that year interim is consumed by waiting for the editor to even look at the book, waiting for edits, waiting again after the next draft, waiting for copyediting, waiting for galleys, and then waiting until a release date that the publisher feels will not cause the book to cannibalize sales of the author's previous work.

  35. I realise this is quite an old blog post, but hopefully you don't mind me leaving a comment.

    I self-published a short story three months ago. I still haven't published anything else. Numerous stories have been abandoned, one of them 5,000 words and probably nearly complete in rough form. I have high standards, because if I didn't, I'd have carried on and published them.

    However, as much as it pains me to say this (though part of it is because I want to take advantage of the last two promotion days on my short story), I'm currently working on a story to publish before the 18th, so I feel like I'm rushing it. Still, if it's not ready, it's not ready. The reason why is because sales have been non-existent for the short story practically, despite a few good reviews, and I look around the Kindle store only to see authors pumping out 3 or so books a month that are each 30,000 words. I cannot imagine how little editing has gone into them and as I do freelance editing myself, I know I can catch most typos, though everyone needs an editor (with rare exceptions I guess). I just know they'll be better edited than what others pop out and they claim to have an editor. The books are selling too, even if they're not hugely popular, and writing errors are mentioned in some reviews. (The author I'm thinking of doesn't know that a full stop is meant to go inside the dialog tags, yet the author puts commas inside the tags. It's a small thing, which doesn't make much difference to the reading experience, but it shows the author doesn't know much about grammar and it's not the only problem going off the reviews.)

    Then I take a look at erotica where a character's name is spelled 'Stephen' then switched to 'Steven', as an example, and the book sells very well. Well enough to get a big six publisher and dominate the Kindle charts. It was the author's first book too.

    Anyway, I guess I'm jaded with the whole process, as I feel taking a very long time to write is not the best way to go about things, as I have financial difficulties, if I want to earn a living after seeing what people put out there and what sells. So, I'm really not sure that the masses want quality stuff.

    It helps though that what I'm writing now is a bit niche at least in that it's a 'choose your own adventure' type book.

    1. I hear what you're saying. A riveting story really does trump a few mistakes we might make in our manuscripts. If our story grips our readers they usually won't care too much about the rest. As a writer, if I had to choose quality techniques over quality of story, I'd definitely choose story. Thankfully we don't have to choose. We can still make sure we put out the best of both technique and story.

      And I believe it's possible to have quantity as well. It just takes a lot of work and dedication to make it all work and do it right!


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