A couple of days ago I read an article by a Romanian writer, in which he said that the way we perceive certain foreign authors in Romania is different than how they are perceived in their home countries. The reason for this is that only their best works are available in Romania, thus readers have a distorted perception.
Somehow, this idea that a bad novel can counter-balance a good one makes sense. It’s something that often happens with prolific writers: some of their stuff is good, some great, but a lot is also mediocre at best.
But the writer of that article said that the key to all this is to write for a couple of years on a collection of poems, short stories, or a number of novels and then only choose to publish the best of them. This solution is something I disagree with.
First of all, because it’s damn near impossible for a writer to objectively pick and choose his best works. And then, I ask one question: who in this world has the necessary expertise to do that? We’re talking about a very random game. Publishing houses don’t know what might sell, what next year’s trend might be. It’s all a gamble.
A lot of bestsellers, a lot of the novels that have won major literary awards have been rejected by publishing houses. And even though it’s hard to prove, I believe that a lot of what some writers felt as being their best works have been rejected by the public and/or critics. Much like the way Steinbeck felt about his East of Eden, a novel that even today garners mixed reviews.
Picking a “best of” from a pile of papers is easier said than done. Beta-readers can only help you as far as quality is concerned. But quality does not guarantee sales. And beta-readers are not the same as the general public.
Yes, I agree that some of our stuff shouldn’t leave our houses. Some of our stories are just bad. And we should either fix them or just discard them. But then there are stories that we feel are just good, just functional enough to find an audience… and often, as an irony of fate, the public loves those.
In the end, I believe that the only way of finding out if your story is good or great or just mediocre is to release it. And see if readers love it or not. If it can become a bestseller.
Writing for five years on a hundred short stories and picking the ones you believe to be the best is not a good way to go at this. But there is one great advice to follow. Time.
In this battle of quality vs. quantity, when so many writers are just trying to release at least one title each year, when audiences are growing so hungry (see G.R.R. Martin and his A Song of Fire and Ice series), the answer is time. It’s something all writers should think about.
Whether or not they’re willing to spend more time refining a certain piece of work. To tie up all the loose ends, to make the writing really shine. It’s also a question of whether they’re willing to spend 3 years working on a novel, only to enjoy moderate success. Or no success at all. It’s hit and miss, actually.
That’s why I understand that some writers might focus on quantity, trying to deliver anywhere between 1 to 4-5 novels per year, hoping that sales of one book will take off, while others focus on quality, publishing a novel every 5 to 10 years.
As with a lot that has to do with either writing or publishing, there is no universal answer. Every writer has to find his own answer, whether he’s capable of delivering a good enough product every 4 months, whether he can sacrifice enough of the quality, just so he can hope that one novel will become the next Great American Novel.