Quality vs. Quantity

Quality vs. QuantityA 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 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.

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, 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.

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14 comments on “Quality vs. Quantity

  1. dayya says:

    It’s definitely an ongoing battle for writers, especially if you’re trying to make a living writing. There are writers, a few I think, who are prolific and excellent, but quality often loses to quantity, even among the best.

  2. Lewis Brooks says:

    As writers, I definitely don’t believe that we can objectively pick and choose our best works either. Our words are often simply too dear to us, but on the other hand I think that this is important. Focusing on money to the extent where quality is sacrificed is sure to leave a bad taste in our mouths afterwards. As always this was a great post, thanks.

  3. I agree with the bit about releasing the stories and let the readers decide whether it is good or bad. Your keeping the story becomes one-dimensional because you are the only who is critiquing it. The releasing of the story to the public is very risky but for your own good and for the story to be enjoyed or rejected can only be made after it’s release. Enjoyed it Cristian.

  4. Eliza says:

    Something I think about is how I would feel if I published something I wasn’t overly proud of and it became a blockbuster best selling money maker. If course I’d be happy to have the funds to keep writing, but I’d probably feel weird about it. Weird but grateful.

  5. This Romanian writer must be independently wealthy—most people can’t afford to wait five years and then publish.

    However, I do find it interesting that when I read great authors bios, they don’t seem to publish nearly the quantify that modern authors do today. Why is that?

  6. You are right when you say there is no universal answer, Christian. My take on this is that all you can do is believe in your work, make it as good as possible, and know when to stop. Then get it out into the world. One mans meat is anothers poison, who knows what will succeed.

  7. Philip Ogley says:

    There is good writing and bad writing. That I agree on. But how good is the good and how bad is the bad? That is the question. I recently read Wuthering Heights and didn’t enjoy it at all. Dreary novel. Yet, it is a classic. I always enjoy Auster novels yet my friends think he’s dull and predictable.

  8. Bre Faucheux says:

    The very idea of choosing among my stories which are the best to publish…I would never put anything out there. I know some of my work is as you said, “mediocre at best,” but if I didn’t summon the courage to get it out there, it would stay in a folder forever.
    I agree with your take on this completely.
    We are in an age of devouring a product and then the inevitable question, “What’s next?” So writers, particularly self-published, are having to constantly create so that wheel keeps on turning.

  9. Pluto_ says:

    Great post! I agree it’s not possible for you to choose your best work, and if anyone should try it would almost certainly be the which is the most personal, or the one which they took the longest or shortest amount of time, it’s really all about perception

  10. Erik Conover says:

    Own what you do, what you put out there. Cream Always rises to the top, no matter how many cups of coffee you pour.

    http://erikconover.com/

  11. dianelunasea says:

    Nice post! Thought provoking. Thank you for following my blog. Kind regards, Diane

  12. Some writers can churn out many great novels essentially crossing off quality and quantity but in reality its the reader that will decide this. One man’s King is another man’s Steinbeck… and I’m not saying which end of the scale each author is (o;

  13. simon7banks says:

    For most poets there is little choice but to select what they think is their best stuff, taking into account other people’s reactions, including, for a poetry book, whether the poem has been accepted or rejected by magazines. Most poets write far more poetry than is ever going to be published, at least in hard copy. That’s still true if they go down the self-publishing route. Poetry books are slim unless they’re collections of famous poets’ work.

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