Quality or Speed

There is an old saying among people who produce goods: consumers want things done cheap, done now, and done well—but as a creator, you can normally only supply two out of the three. When you try to put out high-quality goods quickly at a low price, you almost always fail.

As writers, we don’t get to boost the prices of our books very much. I can’t say to the buyers, “My book is so much better than everything else out there, I’m charging a thousand dollars a copy.”

But if you’re one of those rare writers who can come up with great ideas quickly and pen a novel in a few days, editors at traditional publishing houses will love you and pay a premium. For example, if you can put out a movie tie-in novel in a month, you’ll soon get a reputation in New York, and you’ll be asked to do quite a lot, and the pay can be very generous.

I’ve seen writers like Isaac Asimov, Kevin J. Anderson, and others get lucrative deals for this reason, often getting advances that are double or triple the going rate for other authors.

It seems that everyone wants to be a fast writer. Right now, many new Indie authors are trying to write their series at a breakneck pace, turning out large chunks of a novel every few weeks. Now, writing a good novella in a month is pretty doable. The problem arises as the authors try to market the things. It seems that Amazon changes its marketing algorithms on a daily basis, making it impossible for the writer to keep up with the latest trends. The same happens on other social media sites.

So the authors find themselves spending more and more time trying to market their books, always searching for some new way to generate customers.

The result is that most Indie authors, even if they are quite successful, find that they burn out in a few months, and since their books are on a “virtual bookshelf,” once they slow in their writing, the book sales come to an abrupt halt.

Traditionally published authors have an advantage, by having hardcover books on a bookshelf at a store. Since the books will stay up for four months, they tend to have stronger sales. As one publisher put it, “The best advertisement that an author can have is to have a beautiful book, well displayed in a bookstore.” People see the books, and even if they don’t purchase the physical book, they typically will scan the cover and buy an e-book, if they so desire. For this reason, when you look at the bestsellers on the New York Times list, they tend to be from authors who have big books in hardback. The traditional writers tend to get good sales even while the Indie authors are sleeping.

Ideally, every book will be a great read and will be written in such a way as to move its readers, but it seems to me that writers who focus on high quality tend to fare better in the marketplace. Their books get nominated for awards, win high critical praise, and get that all-important word-of-mouth out on the streets, so that they are long-remembered.

So, you will find as an author that you will often need to switch gears between projects. You might want to get one novel in “Now!” while you consider another carefully and work on multiple drafts. Each tactic has its advantages.

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