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3 Areas That Suffer in Quantity-Driven Writing

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Once upon a time, most writers could survive by writing just one book a year. But in the changing landscape of the publishing industry, with lower advances and sales, writing one book a year isn't financially feasible for many.

With the ease of e-publishing, more and more writers are able to publish their books. But unfortunately the reading population hasn't gained as many new readers at the same rate as the number of new authors. Thus, among the influx of writers, the publishing pie has been cut into smaller and smaller slivers so that the majority of writers are earning significantly less.

As writers earn less, one of the solutions is to publish more with the hope of increasing earnings with each book out there. Obviously an author has the potential to make more money with five published books versus one.

In addition to hoping to increase earnings, writers are moving toward quantity writing because having backlists has become one way to maximize marketing. Many writers offer older books for a reduced price (or even for free) with the hope of gaining new loyal fans who buy current releases.

With so many authors and books available, it's all too easy for readers to finish our book and then find another author or book that catches their attention. Consistently having books to put into our readers' hands keeps our names fresh in their minds amidst the growing competition.

Whatever the case, the trend over the past couple of years has moved toward quantity publishing and long tail marketing. Among indie authors I know, it's not uncommon to see them releasing a new book every few months.

While the nature of traditional publishing may not allow for authors to put out books quite so frequently, many are self-publishing alongside their traditional book deals to allow for more quantity.

In this modern era of quantity-driven writing and publishing, however, there are a few pitfalls. I've had to be careful not to fall into the pitfalls myself.

1. Skimping on Research:

Research is an integral part of the writing process for most writers. Whether we write historicals, thrillers, suspense, or contemporary romance, we all have areas within our stories to research.

If we're striving to add some freshness to our story and move beyond the mundane of what most people already know, then we have to seek out new occupations, new locations, or new issues that go beyond the ordinary.

But of course, it takes time to investigate issues, interview experts, read research books, or even take trips to do more in-depth hands-on learning.

When pressed for time, research often suffers and consequently so does credibility, passion, and the thrill of unique and fresh material.

2. Skimping on Depth:

The age old question still arises: quality versus quantity? And is it possible to write fast and prolifically and still have stories that are well-plotted with characters that have clear arcs and settings that are full of sensory details?

Of course, I don't think fast writing equates poor writing. Many writers who have been using their creative muscles for a while, have honed them, learned writing techniques, and are able to produce large amounts of beautiful prose in short amounts of time.

But on the other hand, prolific writing doesn't always allow writers the time to reflect on issues within stories, to add more twists, to create more suspense, or to take characters deeper. In the rush to produce, writers may sacrifice the contemplation and mulling process that can take a story from good to great.

3. Skimping on Editing:

Often the first place writers cut corners on the road to publishing is with editing. Sometimes writers may not want to take the time to let the story have a resting period in order to gain objectivity. They may finish the writing and jump immediately into editing the book.

Usually our books need to be self-edited multiple times. One or two read-through's is never enough. But if we're in a rush, we may cut out some of the nit-picking or we may decide not to rewrite a troublesome spot.

Other writers may not want to pay the cost for a good content AND line edit. They may pay for one and neglect the other. Or they simply may be naive enough to think they can go it alone (or perhaps with the help of a critique partner or two).

My Summary: While there's nothing wrong with quantity writing, we all need a reminder now and then (including myself) not to sacrifice too much for the sake of getting our stories out there. In the end, quality still trumps quantity in building loyal and happy readers.

What about you? What are some of the pitfalls (or positives!) you've noticed about quantity-driven writing?

16 comments:

  1. Jody, You've voiced a concern I've had for a while as I consider how difficult it is to turn out a couple of books a year (which is my maximum). My hat's off to those who can produce books more frequently, but you've nailed the ways in which some of these fail. And self-publication, in which no traditional publisher acts as curator, makes it easier to skimp in these areas. Thanks for sharing, and for starting what I suspect will be an interesting discussion.

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    1. Good point, Richard! Traditional publishers can help diminish the possibility of the rush by acting as curator. But I have to wonder too, with all the changes in the industry, how many traditional publishers have had to cut back in the amount of editing and care that they put into books too?

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  2. I personally feel I can tell if an author is putting out multiple books a year versus one or two. The quality just doesn't seem to be there. Yes, it's true readers look forward to their favorite authors putting out their next book and you don't want too much time in between releases for them to lose interest. But I believe good, quality writing trumps everything. If you write good stories, the readers will always be there ready for your next release. And again, personally, if it's a really good book/author and I get excited about the story, I'm much more likely to tell my friends/family and encourage them to read the same book/author.

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    1. You make a strong case for writers putting quality over quantity, Shelly! Some of my prolific indie friends, however, are putting out multiple books and their readers can't wait to read their books. So, some writers seem to be able to write a lot and not seem to suffer for it (at least where readers are concerned).

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  3. It's true that in this busy world, we are all more likely to move on to the next shiny thing. BUT, sites like GoodReads, following blogs & signing up for newsletters, etc., and other techno-tools can help us remember who our favorite authors are, so we go back for more, even if there is a lag between release dates.

    Some of the authors who churn out many books so fast DON'T do a great job at it; the paint is still wet, so to speak, and readers can tell. Some manage it (how, I don't know, maybe there were a lot of ideas or research already stockpiled...?) IMO, a bad or meh book does more to damage the author brand than a long time between releases. If you disrespect me as a reader, I'm not going to respect you as a writer.

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    1. Hi Beverly,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I like your analogy to the paint still being wet.And while there are more authors and books competing for reader's attention, thanks for the reminder that authors also have better ways to keep in touch with their readers too (thru newsletters, blogs, facebook, goodredads, etc.).

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  4. Jody, I've felt the pressure to write faster. But I'm not a fast writer. I'm still going to take my time. Now...will I focus more and not waste time getting sidetracked? Yes!

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    1. Hi Julie,

      Great point! Even if we're not a fast writer, we can still learn to be more diligent and waste less time. I think it's been all too easy in recent years to let the internet distract us from writing. I've become much more self-disciplined with the internet (and perhaps the newness has worn off a little, which has helped too!). :-)

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  5. I've noticed a slip in my sales, and it's made me want to slow down. I strongly dislike feeling forced to do anything. So I am now writing for the joy of it, because working harder for less money isn't appealing to me. I will continue publishing, but am content to do two books a year rather than strive for three or four as in the good old days.

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  6. My goal is to reach four books per year. But that's primarily because I have so many stories I want to tell, I'd just get frustrated if I could only tell one a year!

    Of course, I have to build up to that. I've got two due out this year, and it's a lot of work.

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  7. Great post, Jody. I completely agree that quality simply takes time. How much time depends on the genre, of course. A story like a thriller that relies more on the fast pace of the read takes less time to craft, perhaps, then a character-driven novel that relies on the reader getting to know the people in the story. But the three areas you note -- research, depth and editing -- most definitely suffer when a writer rushes to publication. Me? I'm super slow. I'd love to be able to write even one book a year. But I've come to terms with my process. It takes as long as it takes. Your last line says it all to me. "In the end, quality still trumps quantity in building loyal and happy readers." Thanks for the reminder!

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  8. Jody, while I agree with you on quality over quantity, I have to take issue with your stance on editing. Some writers (including myself) can't afford to hire a team of experts to produce our ideal project. We're lucky if we can find critique partners who made not be pros, but know our genre enough to provide useful feedback, versus any random soul who's never read what you write, even if they're a better content editor or copy editor than you are.

    And it's WAY HARDER to find competent freelance editors for fiction versus nonfiction, especially when you consider the various types of editing any given book needs. No one person necessarily is a content editor, line editor, copyeditor, and so on...

    It's lack of money, not the will the pay what quality work is worth, and I'd appreciate a future blog post that addresses this.

    There's a BIG difference between can't and won't that I fear any writer is in danger of forgetting when let professionalism be an excuse to never take chances and sometimes passion has to win out over professionalism within reason.

    Can't isn't always a negative/derogatory word. Sometimes it's the nicest way to say something isn't possible with the budget, time, and frankly mortality involved.

    Understand I say this from a sane and nuanced place.

    This was a big part of why I avoided any kind of indie publishing, because I knew I couldn't afford to all aspects at a pro level, but with traditional markets being ever harder to break into, I finally opened myself to the potential of indie publishing.

    Recently I released my first e-publication, and I had be my only editor, that said I did have years of distance from when I last worked on it, and could see it fresh, but I can't do that for every project, and since I could afford to hire a cover designer, I made my own, something we're often advised not to do if it's not our primary skillset, but I did the best I could, and I chose a platform that's new and less risky than if I went straight to Kindle and elsewhere.

    That battle between backlist and quality isn't easy to navigate. Especially when you have a tight budget and work slower than you'd like.

    Sometimes as writers we need to take chances and

    That's an issue I feel more seasoned writers don't always respect or understand, especially if they're used to the traditional markets doing the things that authors who indie publish have to do themselves or (if they can AFFORD it) hire out, such as cover design, multiple editors, illustrators (a BIG DEAL in the Children's market where I hang out), etc.

    All that said, here's the video I made for my first e-publication-
    http://youtu.be/O_Qghl6ooo0

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  9. EDIT: Recently I released my first e-publication, and I had be my only editor, that said I did have years of distance from when I last worked on it, and could see it fresh, but I can't do that for every project, and since I couldn't afford to hire a cover designer, I made my own, something as writers we're often advised not to do if it's not our primary skillset, but I did the best I could, and I chose a platform that's new and less risky than if I went straight to Kindle and elsewhere.

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  10. Hi Jody,

    This was an excellent post and I really appreciate the points you made to watch out for when we publish in quantity.

    I always like to look at a book or an eBook as a product. We want to release the best possible product we can, and therefore proper editing is a stage that mustn't be missed.

    Thank you.

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  11. Thanks for addressing this topic, Jody. It's frustrating to find authors whose work I enjoy, only to have later books no longer measure up to expectations. Books that follow templates for their plots -- you know... only the names, occupations and settings change; the general plot is predictable -- are disappointing. There's nothing original; it feels like they're being churned out, and they probably are. The other thing that troubles me is when books from an author I like suddenly take on a different voice, and I realize they're now co-written.

    In both cases the writing may not be bad, but an author I've liked has resorted to some new tactics in order to cut down the time it takes to produce additional books, and the resulting differences turn me off as a faithful reader.

    For those who say they can't afford to get their books professionally edited, I have to respond that when I read a book that obviously hasn't been well prepped for publication, I won't likely ever pick up another book by that author. That should matter to a writer.

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  12. I was thinking recently about what I call 'trend' publishing- that is books written to cater to popular demand for a certain subject. At the moment in the UK there has been a big resurgence of interest in the Wars of the Roses (c1455-1487) and Richard III in the last year or so, and many new books fiction and non-fiction titles have been or are to be released on these subjects.

    As someone historically trained I like the idea of people being interested but I wonder if some of the new books are actually any good, whether writing to cash in on popular interest is resulting in so much chaff amongst the wheat, so to speak.

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