This has been an age-old question: is quantity more important that quality or vice versa?
Two things particularly have brought this question back into my sights. The first, the fact that I have 5 projects that I have in the waiting for revision with a 6th closing in. The second, was Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s latest Business Musing where she briefly discussed the idea behind a greater throughput for writers, a feature that independent writers could take advantage of. (I know I’ve been referencing back to her a great deal lately. Truth is, I’ve been reading her “Planning for 2019” series lately, and it is bringing in a lot of very good points.)
Why not publish 4, 5, 6, or more books a year? Who’ll stop it? There’s no publishing group or agent or editor telling me that it can’t be done. There’s no contracts to abide by. So why not?
Well… quality is what starts to enter into the question. According to Kristine, that isn’t as big an issue as we make it out to be, (or rather, that it had been in the past). Readers want more, faster.
There’s a part of me that agrees. Yet, there is another part that is nervous about going full throttle into that decision.
Now, I am certain that there is no presumption on her part that there is no editing or revising going on, just that maybe there is less of it, less worrying as to whether something is perfect. Less hang-ups while a manuscript passes by this agent, or that editor before going to print. Although, that is a something that I feel is also a bit contradictory. Because we all want to read something that’s good quality. Or would we rather just be entertained?
This goes back to the ideas of what a reader is after. What am I after when I read a book? Well, it depends on the book. Silly, I get it. This post is full of my wishy-washy approach to this topic. Given that I am completely unsure of how to approach this, it stands to reason that I would be jumping back and forth over the fence on this topic.
Anyway, my latest reading habits have been as such: two books at a time, one fiction, one non-fiction. On the fiction, I jump back and forth between something heavier (or unknown but possibly heavy) and then something light and quick. For instance, I had chosen “All Fall Down” by Ally Carter as one of my last easy reads, and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini as my current, heavier read. The difference between these two books is stark. I expect the former to be of a much lower quality than the latter. But is it lower quality, or just different? Even so, when I find errors or plot holes in any story, I tend to trip over them only then to shrug them off and move on.
With genre’s like science fiction and fantasy, the acceptance of “crappier” writing is much higher. What I mean there is that there tend to be a lot of Hail-Mary passes made in plot than with a lot of other genres. There’s a LOT of leeway available to both reader and writer for those genre’s. Doesn’t mean they can’t or are never written like a piece of high-brow literature.
Another way to think about it: if there’s for instance only 1 blatant spelling error in a 50,000-word book, that’s a 0.002% error rate. You’d have to have 500 errors to reach 1%. But that’s the engineer/scientist in me talking. The right error can pull you out of a story, and that could be harmful to the rest of it. In one of the readthroughs of Agnes Pyle, a beta-reader found about a dozen errors in what is an 88,000-word book. Then another reader found an additional 3. Added together, that’s still a 0.017% rate… not bad. Mostly, these were word choices, such as using “deer” when I should use “dear,” homonym mistakes like that that can sneak by on a review.
There’s a thing here about perception that I don’t think that many consider. It’d be interesting to see what the difference would be if we could perform a study where the same book, with deliberate errors placed in it, is presented as a work from a well-known author from a publishing house vs touted as one written by an indie writer. My hypothesis is that we’d see similar results to studies showing that wine experts couldn’t tell the difference between wines, making judgements essentially from prejudices the readers held based on what they were told about the writer. In other words, the very mistakes the would be cited as examples to the lack of ability of an indie writer would be over-looked for the other. Why? Because we’ve all been taught to expect that.
A two-fold dilemma presents itself given the above hypothesis. One, that it doesn’t matter what I write because it’ll be judged poorly since I am an indie writer. Two, that I can’t release something unless it is better than perfect because I am an indie writer and have to doubly prove myself. And age-old ideas of high output being synonymous with low quality abound.
Here’s the catch though, as Kristine reports herself, high quantity doesn’t inherently mean poor quality. Not anymore. One can write a great deal while maintaining a decent quality to the work.
OK… I can get on board with that… BUT…
This is all on me. I am unsure how to proceed. I know that I am not a phenomenal writer. I believe that I am good, sure. Moreover, I am growing as a writer. Am I good enough right now? How much work do I need to put into this endeavor? How perfect do I need to make my books before I click “publish?” Can I publish a larger number of books and get away with some of the same mistakes I’ve made in the past? Will my lack of beta-readers or editors be of that much of a detriment?
Being indie and of such low sales as I am currently, the reality is that I can publish whatever I wish to without harming sales. I mean, can’t go lower than 0!
In a recent post, Purpose and Goals, I was examining what I am after in my writing. The very idea of putting stories out more rapidly, so long as I was happy with them, even if they have errors or issues with them, was what I was thinking of doing. How important is the quality of my work to me? How important is quality to readers? And what does “quality” mean in art?! It’s like this word we throw around to try to justify our own opinion.
To be clear, I know what was meant by Kristine’s mention of quantity being now preferred over quality. It doesn’t mean for a writer to just hammer their fingers against the keys to get high word counts while ignoring plot, grammar, structure, spelling, etc. However, it does make me wonder. With runaway hits like “50 Shades of Grey” and the Twilight saga in the recent decades, each panned as having been abysmally written (I have not read either, so I do not know either way, I’ve linked articles on each above), I personally wonder if that was indeed the case or if it was like the statement above, of those assumptions of it being bad writing only being thrown about to preserve someone’s ego.
The fact is, it’s hard to capture EVERY error in a large book… no matter how many times it’s looked over. I recently read a book from an author I respect a great deal who had a small passage that was out of place. I had to pause and look over the last few pages because an out-of-scene character suddenly cut in, stating a line that I could swear should have belonged to an in-scene character. Then the out-of-scene character vanished again, never again referenced until chapters later. I’ve also read books from the Big 5 where there were some VERY obvious errors. At least they were obvious to me.
But perhaps I am hyper-sensitive to these things, being so scared to work through my 5 projects because I am so afraid that someone will see errors in my work, judging me accordingly.
Reality is, although many of these errors I see in books gave me pause, none of them harmed my opinion. There was not one error that ever pushed a book from being good to being bad. I was either enjoying the book or not, errors be damned. I’ve also enjoyed plenty of books where plot was more like a four-letter-word than a concept the author wished to abide by… and I enjoyed them yet!
Then I focus that lens back on me and my work. This is where negative biases take over. One error in a million screams out to me as though I am a failure. For reasons obvious to anyone but me, I cannot seem to forgive myself when something slips by similar to errors I’ve spotted with authors I consider better than me (or in real terms, all other writers I believe are better than I am – gotta love impostor syndrome!).
This presents me with a real issue. When I was huffing along in my daily word count, I was at a pace that would have given me nearly 400,000 words written in fiction for a year, all while working a full-time job and being a husband and father. That’s eight 50,000-word novels, or four 100,000-word novels, or some greater number of short stories, or some mix of them all. Even with the stall that occurred at the last quarter of 2018, I wrote 275,000 words of fiction. My issue is that when I consider it, all 275,000 words are crap, and I’ve been convinced that my “quality” is terrible, by either perceived words from the bastions of the old way that say that indie writers are not worthy or by my own insecurities.
Where does this leave me? Other than getting thicker skin or more confidence that is…
Somewhere I have to come to terms with the idea of doing the best I can and going from there. I have to rely on the resources I have now, hoping that what efforts I put into the work will yield me enough to further improve my resources, to pay for editors and the like. What I can’t do is continue down the path as I am, where I allow my own fear of errors dictate that my projects get stuck in some weird limbo, never clicking publish and never giving the works a chance to stand on their own.
Does quantity mean more than quality? Depends on who you talk to. For me, I’ll have to figure out a way to deal with it, because I know that I can certainly push out a high quantity. I only need to come to grips with whatever quality that is.