TGIF Book Talk–Quantity versus Quality in Publishing

Retro writer.There has been an interesting discussion going on one of my author loops about whether authors can truly write more than one book a year and have it be of any quality–some feel that isn’t possible. Since the average indie author makes between $1,000-5,000 a YEAR on book royalties and the traditionally published author on average makes maybe $3,000-15,000 a year–hardly a living wage in either case–writing one book a year is not an economic win for anyone other than an author who is supported financially by a significant other and has no pressure to actually make money in order to survive and keep a roof over her head.

Which is why so many authors either have a full-time day job or are stay-at-home moms/housewives/househusbands.

I tend to write fast (although it might not seem like it from the reader’s perspective) and write fairly clean, so if I wrote one book a year, I don’t think it would be better than any of the three a year I try to write. The year I wrote five full-length novels, however, I had a total meltdown in December,Β ended up sick and was unable to put a word on a sheet of paper for a couple of months. Not going down the 2014 road again, at least not while the day job goes on.

The general consensus among this group, Β however, seemed to be that the more an author writes, the lower the quality of the work. What do you guys think? I disagree; I think it depends on the author and his/her work style. Do you see a decline in the quality of work from authors (Christine Feehan comes to mind) who seem to have a new release every month or two, as opposed to an author who puts out a new book every one or two years? Are there authors (ahem, George RR Martin) you’d like to see speed it up a little?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

35 thoughts on “TGIF Book Talk–Quantity versus Quality in Publishing

  1. I believe I disagree somewhat with this. Quality to me is super important, so a writer should have to pay attention to that, but I think a quality book will always outsell a ‘lower-quality’ book. I don’t know anything about trends, but just because a writer has a series out, but they are all ‘lower-quality’ doesn’t preclude they are going to sell better/more than the quality written book. Obviously, if a writer can write well the first time and produce quality writing that’s a whole other thing entirely.

    • I agree totally about the importance of quality…although I don’t agree that a ‘quality’ book will always outsell a ‘low-quality’ book. I guess it depends on how one defines quality. If we’re defining quality as a book that is well written, tightly plotted, and has deep, rich characters, I can think of at least two blockbusters in the last few years that failed to meet that standard, at least when I’m wearing my editor hat.

      I do believe some writers can produce a high-quality book in three or four months (by plotting ahead, keeping nose to the grindstone, and having the technical skills to write clean) where another author might take a year to write the same book. We’re all different.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I really think it depends on the author. Some are super organized and have several books going at one time. Others (George R R Martin) don’t. As a reader, I want my authors to come out with new stuff all the time, but I also want well-written, good quality books. You walk a fine line there.

    • It is a fine line, indeed! I know people get on GRRM about the time it takes to write those books, but the level of detail and complexity of the world building is enormous. Plus, if you kill off all your characters, you keep having to come up with new ones–LOL.

      I think the readers need both 1) the deep, rich books that will take them a long time to read (yes, it did take me three years to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, but there were extenuating circumstances!) and think about and 2) the quick, escapist readers that will consume us for a few hours or a few days and let us escape our humdrum lives with our book boyfriends.

      Quality? It’s in the eye of the beholder. As I said, I couldn’t make it through a couple of the last few blockbusters because I thought the writing quality was poor. Yet those books apparently touched a lot of readers on some level, so more power to ’em.

  3. I like to see more than one book a year. But not at the expense of quality. Since I have several favorite authors that I follow I get behind in my reading anyhow. I end up buying more than I read, thus a huge TBR pile o’ books.

    • Same here, Roger. I’m behind on all of my favorite series and I’ve been asking myself: is it because I’m too busy, or have those series ceased to be “must reads” for me as they’ve gone into later books? Is that a quality issue or a change in my personal reading tastes? Or do I really not have much time for leisure reading? No idea the answer to those questions. They’re still “auto buy” series but no longer “immediately read” series.

  4. Writing speed is so individual that I don’t think any author should be judged on it. For example, two of my favorite UF authors are Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews. Ilona and Gordon typically manage two books plus a couple of novellas a year (although Ilona has a tendency to seriously overwork herself). Patty Briggs on the other hand never manages more than one book a year. Both produce quality product every time but are writing at very different speeds. Another author that always produces good quality, but writes at least two or three books a year is Jennifer Estep. Finally, Jennifer Ashley is one of my favorite authors in multiple genres (historical romance, mystery and PNR) and she somehow manages to put out 4 or 5 books a year without seeming to strain herself because for whatever reason, she’s just a fast writer.

    On the other hand, there are many authors that churn out a book every two or three months that are like candy – okay while you are reading, utterly forgettable once you are done. After reading a few of them, you just get bored and don’t bother reading any of their new stuff because it’s always the same. Because of the self-publishing explosion, these authors are currently being rewarded for their ability to write fast, but I think their incomes will drop as more and more of these “quickie” books flood the market.

    As for romance authors like Nora Roberts and Kristen Ashley, they are in a class by themselves. I don’t know that I would call their books “quality” writing, but they have found a formula that works for them and their fans, they are very prolific, and they are smart women, so they stick with it. I’m not a big fan Nora’s but I love Kristen Ashley and the fact that she writes at least 4 or 5 books a year (many of which are at least 300 pages long) doesn’t seem to matter in terms of the way I connect with her books.

    • That’s my take on it too, Jen. It’s apples and oranges because there are too many variables and differences between authors and how they write–and what they write.

      There are some great indie books out there, but I think the bubble is on the verge of bursting. Maybe already has. There’s just SO much out there now that being “discovered” is very, vary hard (and that’s just as true for trad published as indie). I think there are a few indie breakouts and there are established authors with backlists (like Ilona and Gordon) who are able to do well with indie publishing because they already have an audience. Everyone else seems to be floundering in a sea of new books, and paranormals seem to be the biggest group.

  5. I agree that it depends on the author. Some are able to write several books a year in multiple series and produce quality books. Some to forever to get the next book out. As a reader, I always want the next book ASAP. But I don’t want it written poorly.

  6. I agree that it depends on the author. Some are able to write several books a year in multiple series and produce quality books. Some take forever to get the next book out. As a reader, I always want the next book ASAP. But I don’t want it written poorly.

  7. It depends on the author. Personally, I love it when authors publish books faster.

  8. hum i have to disagree with that being a general rules. it really depends on teh authors, yes somes seems that they can’t write more than once per year or teh quality disminish…but other( like you) keep teh same quality or even improve… i think each author has its own limit depending on his/her writing styme and what is happening in his/her life

    That ebing saidf; i do prefer to wait and let the author write at teh rythm that works for him/her instead of pressuring them and get a book of less quality

    • I agree. I also think some books come more easily than others, even for the same author. Some of my books have come really easily, and others haven’t. I suspect it’s more my state of mind/health/attitude than the book itself, however πŸ™‚

  9. I think that authors have different writing habits and some can produce faster than others. I would imagine that it also depends on the type of book. That said, I do think that there is a limit to how many can be done in a year with outstanding quality. Most of my auto-buy authors that I am willing to pay full price on their books don’t produce more than two or three books a year.

    • Yes, I consider myself a pretty fast writer, considering the day job and other obligatios. But 2-3 a year is the absolute max. Even writing full time, I’m not sure I could put out more than 3 and maybe a couple of shorts without them becoming formulaic…which is the LAST thing I want. πŸ™‚

  10. I agree that it depends on the author. My boyfriend likes Stuart Woods’ books but I stopped reading them when he started cranking out two or three a year. To me they became low quality novellas that aren’t worth my time. On the other hand there are some authors who turn out two or three books a year in different series and are able to keep the quality of the books up.

    • I admire authors who are able to work on multiple books at a time. I can’t do it, or either the book or I would fall flat. I get so immersed in my worlds and my characters that I can’t pull my head out of one world and pop it into another without some decompression time in between. I haven’t read any of Mr. Woods’ work, but in long-running series…right now, I can’t imagine how to keep a series fresh for 36 books, which I think is what the Barrington series is at.

  11. Since one of my favorite authors is Seanan McGuire, who is both crazy prolific and an award winner (she says she doesn’t sleep), I would be a hypocrite if I said one can’t write both quickly and well. I think it’s probably a comfort to those who don’t write so fast (and I’m one of them) to think that quicker writers are sacrificing quality for quantity, but that isn’t borne up by the evidence.

    That said, I have read some novels seemed to be rushed to publication, indie published without the benefit of critique partners or any sort of feedback beyond an editor/proofreader, if that. The grammar is clean, but there’s info dumping, POV lapses, or the plot doesn’t make any sense. In that case, the problem isn’t that the author put out 4 books in a year, but that they skipped an important step in ensuring they produced a quality story–having their work looked at by another set of eyes.

    • Love Seanan McGuire, and yes, she’s incredibly prolific!

      I think more indie authors are becoming aware that getting developmental edits and professional covers are important, or at least I don’t seem to be seeing as many cross my inbox that have grammatical errors in the blurbs or poorly done covers. There will always been some who will rush to publish, however, and some of those will invariably hit one of those lucky breakouts.

  12. I’m ok with one a year. Diana Gabaldon averages 3 years, but publishes 1000 page masterpieces, so she is forgiven. My peeve is authors who have awesome series (looking at you, Jim Butcher!)that neglect them for less interesting series. Codex Alera was good, Cinder Spires is ok, but neither approaches the fantasy noir genius that is the Dresden Files. I’d like to see Harry’s secrets revealed in my lifetime. If not, I may have to haunt him so I can read over his shoulder as he writes. LMAO.

    • I’m right there with you (looking at you, Jim Butcher). I haven’t read the other series, as I’m not a huge fan of either epic fantasy or steampunk, although I’ve read examples of both I’ve enjoyed. The gap between Dresden novels does seem to be groooowwwwwwing, however, right?

  13. i agree that it depends on the individual author as so many factors can influence the outcome — ie: day job, word count/size of books involved, the process (not just in initial writing but in editing, rewrites, etc as well). I’ve read some authors that their work did seem to slip in quality as their output increased but others routinely put out multiple books a year of high quality. when things slip it is sometimes the storytelling but sometimes it feels more that there wasn’t a thorough editing/review resulting in poorer quality. those that put out more books also seem to put out or go to shorter books. While waiting a year for the next book can be annoying waiting multiple years while the author puts other books out in other series instead is even more so. one of my fave author tends to be a slow writer and its couple years btwn books (she isn’t writing other stuff other than maybe a novella for antho during that time). I admit I wish she wrote faster but also know I’ll get one of my fave books that year when it finally releases.

    • Yes, there are a lot of factors that go into how many books an author produces–definitely!

      I’d like to address the issue of waiting multiple years for a book in one series while an author puts out books in other series, because I’m in that boat–and not from my own choice, really. You might or might not have been referring to me, but since I defiitely AM in that boat, I want to talk about it. (As a best-seller, I don’t think Mr. Butcher is in this particular boat, so I’ll continue to glare at him along with Patti.)

      Let’s talk Penton and Sentinels.

      It’s been a big long gap in the Penton series because my publisher was not interested in completing the series (although I’m asking again)–but they ARE interested in my bayou series, which I really want to write. So I have a choice of being paid for a series I’m excited about, for which I’ll get editing and cover and marketing support, or spending months on a book that I will have to pay for editing and cover and marketing support out of my own pocket with no guarantee of ever making my money back. I DO plan to write Penton5–in fact I am working on it now and hope to get it out this summer–but it has had to be a financial decision as to what came first. That said, I know there are a LOT of you Penton fans out there who, I hope, will support it when it comes out.

      Re: Sentinels. I just flat-out don’t have any options there. Belle Chasse was turned into the publisher in January of 2015; it will be published in November of 2016–almost two years. I have no input into schedule or price, nor can I write urban fantasy for anyone else while that series is active. That is why Suzanne is such a slacker–because “she” wants to write urban fantasy and has all kinds of ideas piled up. And it’s why Susannah came into being to write other genres. There will be one more book in the Sentinels series after Belle Chasse (although I’m not ruling out spinoffs), and I do not yet know who will publish it, or when. Again, at present, it’s out of my hands.

      So….more than you guys ever wanted to know about the behind-the-curtains of series publishing!!

      • sorry , i wasn’t taking a shot at you honest πŸ™ I understand that the author can be subject to the whims of publishers and even her own muse. for me as a reader it the uncertainty of if & when that next one might come that can get a little frustrating (as I’m sure it does for you the author when you aren’t the holdup & have to listen to us b*tch) πŸ˜‰ when you go to the author’s site & it says there’s another coming/planned in the series but after a couple years there is no sign of it have to wonder if I need to keep watching or not for it, did they just not update their website when the publisher killed the series? in the situation I’m thinking of (and again it wasn’t you) the author shows there is more coming in 2 of her series I enjoy but no details it’s now been 2-3 yrs since the last one in the meantime she’s put out books on an older series, another series started about the same time as the ones i was reading & started a couple more new series (with multiple books) and still continues to say she plans to more in my series. at this point i’m not sure i can remember the books I had read. it’s the not knowing if i’m being “lied” to or “strung” along after all this time that makes me sad πŸ™ when I see another new book in some other new series. of course I keep going back and looking to see if there’s any news on mine yet πŸ˜‰ of course there is another author that writes several series all of which i read & love so i don’t mind as much when I have to wait longer periods btwn her books within a series as i only have to wait few months till there’s a book out by her that I’ll read too πŸ™‚ it’s all perspective i guess πŸ™‚

        • No apologies! I didn’t think you were referring to me, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to address and it gave me an opening–primarily the issues with those two series. :-). So thanks for reminding me that I’ve been wanting to talk about that. LOL.

          I have favorite series that just ended. I’ve sworn I wouldn’t do that to the readers who’ve entrusted me with their time and loving my characters. So that’s why I’m working on Penton 5 now regardless of who publishes it or how it gets published, and will do the same with Sentinels.

          And then I do think Jean Lafitte and his “business partner” Rene need their own book, I really do. πŸ™‚

  14. I guess it depends on the author- like James Patterson, I know he releases a lot of book per year and in the reviews on GR, people are complaining that his books are getting worse. So maybe there’s a reason authors only usually release one book per year- the agony of waiting though. I’m pretty sure most of us want the next book in the series immediately πŸ˜‰ (guilty of this). I’ve read a trilogy though where it took the author 2 years to release the sequel.

    • Now, James Patterson is an interesting case. I might be wrong, but I’ve read this in multiple places. He outlines book after book after book, then hires coauthors to actually write the book, then he takes it back and makes sure it meets his approval. So he could literally have several novels out per month, working that way. You’ll see his name on the covers really large but there might be some other little author name somewhere else. I think that actually might be an interesting thing to do (writing from one of his outlines) should the opportunity become available. But he does put out a HUGE number of books, and that’s how.

  15. I hadn’t really thought about it before. I think that the style of writing would often dictate how many books an author writes each year.

    Not so much a matter of how many words – or books – but the quality of them.

    Having said that – hurry up George RR.

  16. It totally depends on the author.
    I know authors who’ve written and published 2 or more books a year and have high quality.
    And it’s the same as any other task: the more you do it, and the more discipline you apply, the faster you get without damaging the quality.

    That being said: if I truly love an author’s work: I don’t mind having to wait a bit longer for the next book.

    • Good point about discipline and practice…and some people just write faster than others. It will be interesting to see, when I enter the frightening ranks of full-time writers next spring, if my output or quality increases…or if I’ll just sleep more πŸ™‚

  17. I definitely think it depends on the author, I really don’t think slowing down if that’s not natural to you would make the writing any better. I think doing what feels right is the way to go. I have to say I don’t like waiting for new stories, so if a writer wants to write faster, I’m all for it. πŸ˜€