Write faster or write better?

Are the two mutually exclusive?  That is the question.

I’m pretty much a fan of Dean Wesley Smith. He has lots and lots of interesting stuff to say about the publishing world.  He may be wordy at times, but he’s rarely boring.

I’m not 100% certain he inhabits the same dimension as the rest of us self-pubbers, but that’s okay.  I imagine he did live here in the not too distant past.

Sometimes I think he wants us to follow his lead, sometimes I think he would prefer we find our own path.  He shares words of wisdom when he sees a void, and plays the role of all around big brother/occasional head-slapper.  I don’t always agree with him, but he brings up an interesting issue… Speed.

He posted this back in February 2011, found it on Publitariat:

The New World of Self-Publishing:  Speed

An excerpt:

“Now, in electronic publishing, is when things get ugly for the slow writer. Especially the slow writer trying to break into this business now, in 2011.

“Same exact factors apply in traditional publishing and electronic publishing.  Exactly. Only things are much, much tighter and hard to get into traditional publishing now as traditional publishers go through all this flux and upheaval.

“For a writer to make any kind of decent money at indie-publishing, the author either has to have a lot of products selling at low levels, but regularly, or the author needs to hit it big like Amanda Hocking. And even she has more than one book.

“So an author writing only one book every few years would be much better served to never think of indie publishing. The chances of a bestseller are much higher in traditional publishing where there is professional help on everything from editing to packaging to covers to distribution.

“But that said, it’s very, very difficult these days for a book to get through the traditional systems, especially if the writer believes in the agent system. So the chance of getting a single book through the system and sold and then made into a bestseller are between slim and a few factors less than slim.”

Just a few observations…

1.  The last paragraph is right on.

2.  I imagine he’s not talking about cranking out a 600+ page novel 3-5 times a year.  Writing 3-5 300+ page novels would be a big undertaking.  Not only is it a major feat to complete a solid 300+ page novel, most of us self-pubbers don’t have the luxury of writing all day long – we work the day job and a lot of us have family responsibilities.  And occasionally we like to shower.

3.  Does speed = quality?  Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?  The above post was written over a year ago, but this is still the question of the moment.  I don’t know the answer with any certainty but I’ll venture to say this – one can complete and release a work fast, and the work may even be edited for spelling and grammar.  But what about content?  If the author lacks a singular voice, if the writing lacks authenticity and a well-crafted solid, convincing, engrossing story about unique characters…  all that speed doesn’t matter a lick.

Or does it?  Some authors who know very little about the craft of writing and publish extremely derivative work get snapped up, not only by the public, but by NY pubs.  Not passing judgment, but it’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it?  There is no answer to that riddle– right time, right place, right audience, right theme, stars in alignment…?  Who the hell knows?

Call me old fashioned, but as a consumer/reader I shop for quality.  Quality of the story, quality of the writing.  I’m not interested in crap so I won’t give you brownie points for speed writing if you put out crap.

As a writer I don’t expect brownie points for speed, especially if I put out crap.  I write at a pace that fits my lifestyle and the particular story I’m trying to tell.  In fact, speed has been my nemesis.  It’s been a blessing to get back the rights to some of my books so I can take the time to do justice to the story and the characters.  I’d love the opportunity to rewrite the end of my wonderful erotic romance, Pushing Her Boundaries.  The ending would be so much better if I hadn’t been in such a rush to get the book published.

I’ll close with this – every author needs to pace herself.  If you can combine a reasonable pace with reasonable quality, all the better.


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37 Responses to Write faster or write better?

  1. Mat Nastos says:

    I don’t think he’s saying to force yourself to go for quantity over quality. I “think” he’s just saying it’s easier for those who can write faster because more content is easier to sell than less content (most of the time). Look at Kevin Hearne. His “Iron Druid Chronicles” books are great, but do you think he would have made as big an impact if he hadn’t released 3 novels over the course of 2 months?

    If you’re only able to write one book a year, or a book every other year, then your chances of winning to bestseller “lottery” are tougher – you just haven’t “bought” as many lottery tickets as someone who cranks out 3 books a year. It doesn’t make their work better, just more available.

    In my opinion, the best thing to do is to write at the speed that works best for you and the level of quality you want to maintain…and lets you keep it fun.


  2. I fear some folks are hearing the message about writing faster and miss the point about quality.

  3. I can’t disagree with you, Mat. However a lot of authors take these challenging words to mean it’s a race to the finish line, quality be damned. Of course, the market place will usually take care of that. Here’s the important message – write more and write better.

  4. Yes, Marie. This is my point. Exactly.

  5. Amber Skyze says:

    I agree, writer’s need to pace themselves. If they do write fast I suggest sitting on the book for a bit before editing. Go back with a fresh eye.

  6. Penelope says:

    The folks who are totally golden are the ones who have 7 old WIPS (of decent quality) hiding under their “beds” and can now self-pub them in blitzkrieg fashion. And for the rest of us….we need to pace ourselves.

  7. Casey Wyatt says:

    My vote is for quality. I’d rather wait for a well written book than read one that was slapped together and thrown out there.

  8. Katalina Leon says:

    The market will settle down. So many big changes came at once to the publishing world it was bound to get shook up. When it’s all said and done, everyone will still want a entertaining, well-told story and something memorable they can learn from.
    XXOO Kat

  9. Thank you for this post. It seems like there is soooo much pressure on nowadays for writers to write fast, and produce at LEAST one book, if not three, per year. And I do know several indie publishers who do sacrifice quality for quantity. DWS has said this before as well–people will pay for a good book, so don’t price your stories as if they were junk (which implies that people might not pay for a bad book). I think the important thing to remember is that people for the most part want a good story, and they do read the samples before buying to see if your writing is good. And they will leave reviews judging your work. Speed may be important, but if you have 50 volumes of junk in your “shop,” I honestly don’t think it will help you. Whereas if you have a couple golden nuggets there, word gets around, and you might sell more. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have fewer sales from people who greatly admired my work than a ton of sales which gave me a reputation for writing junk. BUt again, everyone is different, and has different goals.

  10. Jaye says:

    Not being a particularly speedy writer, I always suffer a twinge of panic when someone advocates writing faster. I don’t know how.

    But here’s the thing. For years and years publishers have ascribed to the scarcity notion and held many writers back with an artificial schedule. It became ‘common wisdom’ that good books take a long time to write and anyone who was publishing more than one book a year was a hack. I call shenanigans. Some writers write swiftly, others write slowly, and writing speed doesn’t have anything to do with the quality. Except, of course, in the cases of publishers who were insisting on books being ‘churned’ out before their time.

    Writing quickly does have its advantages. No question there. Slow and steady has its advantages, too. I try not to spend too much time looking over my shoulder and despairing over what others are doing. I am what I am and it is what it is.

  11. Margaret Y. says:

    ….and all it takes is one slap-dash book to turn off a reader. Even if you have ten books of stellar quality, you will be known for the bad one.

    I have stopped reading a series I enjoyed simply because the author started cranking out inferior novels. A writer must never take a reader’s good will for granted.

    If you can write high-quality books quickly, then please do so! As your reader, I will be pleased. (Yayyy, more books!) However, the moment the quality begins to suffer is the moment to ease up on the throttle a little bit.

  12. Mat Nastos says:

    On the flip side, tho, isn’t the romance side of the industry one of the biggest? Aren’t books put out fairly quickly there? It’s the same as pulp fiction in the 30-40s, and the mass market paperbacks of the 60s/70s. Once you get a reader hooked on an author/world/series/whatever, you have to keep them “fed” or they move on to the next thing.

    DWS was speaking strictly from the business side – he was looking at it as a marketer/salesperson. And it is a valid frame of thinking, but it’s not the only one.

    I’m new to the prose publishing side of things. Up until now I’ve been a writer for TV and film, and we have to write fast. The SyFy Channel stuff is generally done in two weeks to a month. The Phineas & Ferb material is even faster. The quicker I can produce quality (well, produce-able – “quality” is matter of opinion) material that fans enjoy, the more work I get. It was the same for the two novels I ghost wrote for Penguin.

    All I know is that fans (readers, buyers, whatever) don’t care how long it takes for something to be made. If they like it, they’ll buy it regardless of how long it took., and the more you have, the more they’ll buy. To fans nowadays, neither slow nor fast automatically means quality in their minds. If it is something they enjoy, all they want to know is “when does the next one come out.”

    DWS was speaking to that “what have you done for me lately” attitude of fans and buyers. He’s not saying a slow writer necessarily loses sales, just that they miss out on the sales a faster quality writer has the potential to reach.

    What the reality comes down to is: you do what you can. Forcing yourself to do more can hurt your work and your audience. Don’t let DWS push you around just because he has a shiny leather cowboy hat.

  13. anny cook says:

    Huh. Quality is not based on speed. It’s based on how much TIME you devote to it. If you have eight hours a day to write, you will likely produce more than if you only have four hours–or two hours. The important thing is not to panic when some other author is banging out a book a month (and yes, some of them are).

    Also, as Penny pointed out, some of those authors may be polishing up old WIPS rather than producing spanking new work. Or as in my case, I’d waited so long for the opportunity to write that I couldn’t seem to stem the flow of stories when I finally started writing. I’ve kinda slowed down now…averaging two a year if I keep my nose to the grindstone.

    Having said that, I agree with the original premise. More books available = more income.

  14. Damn you Mat! Damn you Jaye! Now I have to put on my thinking cap in order to respond. First Mat – here’s the thing about television – it involves a learning curve plus innate ability – first you must be able to multi-task. Second you must think quick! Third, you must be able to produce quality work regardless of time constraints. Sometimes a looming deadline kicks the brain into high gear and you work better AND faster. If you can’t produce quality work quickly chances are you won’t have the work for long.

    I get DWS. I did read the entire article and I realize he’s addressing the business side of the issue, the reader side of the issue and us. Yes, we all love serials – hence the popularity of certain TV shows (like the old radio shows- Only the Shadow knows….) – and the loyal viewers – but when the quality of the writing drops off, we loyal viewers notice immediately and if lack of quality persists, we start bitching and pretty soon we stop watching. It’s like a romance series… You can tell when the author has burned out on the series, the story lines, the characters – and the books become DNF regardless of previous passion for the series.

    The writers who have a leg up are those with a large back list who own the rights to said back list. Just having books out there, even if they are with a publisher, has been of great help to me in terms of attracting readers. An author has more street cred if he or she has more than one book. Authors who are surprised when their ‘one’ book doesn’t sell well surprise me with their naivete.

    DWS does release work frequently, some of it is little more than a form of flash fiction, IMO. However his readers appreciate this. I know I could write 5-10K short stories and probably release a work every 2-4 weeks. Who knows? One of these days I may do that. But still, one must edit and format and create an attractive cover. It takes time to put out the kind of work that pleases me. Believe me, I do want to please my readers, but first I must be satisfied that any particular work I release is the best it can be.

    In closing (LOL cuz I’m speechifying here) some writers can produce good stories quickly. It’s a gift. Some need more time. I’m criticizing the overwhelming urge to get something out there, anything, regardless of quality, the feeling of… OMG! If I don’t get this book out now I’ll fall behind and lose out.

    Well, I do love Lewis Carroll. The faster I go, the behinder I get.

  15. It’s true, Anny. More books = more dough. But I’ve noticed that you set a certain pace and you seem to stick to it, producing on a regular basis. Works for you!

  16. I agree, Margaret. That’s a good way to put it. I like it – “the moment the quality begins to suffer is the moment to ease up on the throttle a little bit…” Perfect way to say it. I’ve done the same thing, stopped reading authors I was once passionate about because speed did not equal quality.

    It’s like a restaurant. One awful meal can turn me off the restaurant for good. That’s what we authors need to keep in mind.

  17. Hi Melanie! I think in the long run, quality serves us well. And we need to be looking down the road. Cranking out a book as fast as we can and uploading it as fast as we can may be counterproductive if the work is crap. A lot of readers will never come back.

    Plus, if I write a short work, which is about all I could do on a monthly basis, I wouldn’t feel right charging any more than $.99 or maybe $1.99. So… The beauty of self-publishing is the ability to set my own time table and write exactly what I want to write. I don’t care how long or how short it takes me.

  18. Sometimes I think yes, Kat, sometimes no. The problem with self-publishing right now is that all of us are quite often lumped together. Someone uploads a POS and somebody reads it and says – All these self-published works are crap. And they avoid us like the plague.

    I swear we are held to a higher standard. NY pubs put out plenty of crap. But nobody says… Oh, I read this lousy book from St. Martin’s Press so I’m never ever buying one of their books again.

  19. Me too, Casey. Always!

  20. I agree, Penny. Lucky them! Or we can be like Anny and write all the stuff that’s been floating around in our heads for years!

  21. Amber, after I finish a book I feel drained. I have to let it sit for a couple days. Feels like all the words have been sucked right out of my head!

  22. Mat Nastos says:

    The one thing that keeps being said that I don’t agree with, tho, is that slow equals higher quality, because it’s not true. It just depends on the author. Just like you shouldn’t be forced to write faster, an author shouldn’t think they need to write at a slower pace to achieve quality.

  23. I do agree with you, Mat. Slow does not necessarily equal quality anymore than fast equals non-quality. :) I do believe every writer must find his own happy place. Whatever pace works for you is, well, yours.

    I think problems occur when authors who can’t write fast feel pressured to produce fast. That’s when quality is either nonexistent or drops off. There’s a place/pace for all of us in this world.

    I’ve read your work. You have no problem with pace.

  24. Mat Nastos says:

    The funny thing is, I’m dead slow when it comes to my own writing. If I’m given a deadline for a film or novel, I can go fast. But my own work seems to take forever. My first “me” novel has taken me almost a year to finish. One side of me says I shouldn’t have taken so long, but the other side realizes that just how long it was supposed to take. I enjoyed taking my time on it and had more fun than with most of the “pro” writing I do.

    I found a pace I was comfortable with and stuck to it in spite of the urge to speed up just for the sake of speeding up.

  25. There you go, Mat. Perfect.

  26. Ciara Knight says:

    It is such a delicate balance. Some authors can pump out quality reads quickly, but are they cookie cutter books? We have to be careful to take the time to write unique and well crafted books. That being said, time is an issue if you are trying to break into the business, or at least a back list.
    Great post!

  27. I agree with the comments…I think people are so in a hurry to put out book after book that the quality is lost along the way. I think you need to learn to write and with quality..

    Readers want quality…

  28. A back list is a great tool, Ciara. But for 99.9% of us it’s hard to break into the business regardless. Some authors are quite talented when it comes to cookie cutter books and their fans appreciate that. I just can’t do it.

  29. I agree, Savannah. I do think most readers want quality.

  30. Evie Balos says:

    The pressure to write/produce quickly is always there regardless of what type of publishing you’re in. Producing books keeps your name alive in the industry. And if it’s your only source of income, it puts bread on your table, too. Unfortunately, many (if not most) of us aren’t bionic writers. My personal rule is quality not quantity, because one bad book could hurt you. I think it boils down to finding ways to keep your muse active.

  31. It’s a tough road, Evie. I’m happy walking it though.

  32. Nina Pierce says:

    *raises hand* Hello, my name is Nina and I write sloooowly. And yes, I feel the pressure to produce faster and faster and you know what it’s done for me … shut me down. Like completely. You can’t make money if you don’t have product. And I’ve got no backlist. It’s write new or don’t publish. I’m trying to take a deep breath and push the panic off my shoulders and just write without worrying that some of my counterparts are putting out a book every 8 weeks. I remember when I used to have fun sitting at the computer. I want to find that again.

    Great post Julia.

  33. Oh, Nina. A book every eight weeks. Might just do me in. My hand is up too.

  34. Tom Stronach says:

    So, I’ve written two half finished chapters in a year, wonder when then I might finish …. LoL

  35. I’m editing a nonfiction cancer-survivor’s memoir for a charming older gentleman who, on writing/editing days, wears this T-shirt his son-in-law had made just for him: “I Write Faster Than Anyone Who Writes Better, and I Write Better Than Anyone Who Writes Faster…I’m Superman and Faulkner with a Smile and a Pen.”

  36. Very cute and quite appropriate, Marilyn! :P

  37. Well, Tom, I certainly hope you finish in my lifetime. :P

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