Write well or write fast? Can you do both?

In recent years there has been a trend building around writing fast. The idea is to finish a book as quickly as possible, publish it, and start immediately on the next book. You quickly end up with a decent sized catalog. Each release creates new opportunities for marketing, so you are constantly able to promote your works.

This trend seems to be more popular among indie authors, since traditionally published authors are contractually obligated to go through the longer process that many publishers require, which includes multiple revisions of the work and carefully timed publication dates. I’ve seen indie authors publishing books as fast as once a month, but many are putting out a book every three months or so. They’re writing pretty fast.

Writing that fast is not a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea either.

Writing Fast

For the past couple of years, most of the books I’ve bought have been self-published, and some of them have been very good. The difference in quality between self-published and traditionally published works is decreasing with each passing year as indie authors learn the craft and the trade. Plenty of self-published books are even better than their traditionally published counterparts.

But I don’t think self-publishing has reached the same quality that traditional publishing enjoys, universally. I found that I didn’t finish more than two-thirds of the self-published books I bought whereas I finished almost all the traditionally published books I purchased.

A Case Study

Recently, I picked up a book by an author whose blog I’d been following. The book was in the fantasy genre, and my expectations were very low because it had been written and published in less than four months. I’ll be honest — I couldn’t see how a decent book could be made in such a short time. Maybe a full-time author could pull it off, or maybe a story in a simpler genre could be written in such a short time span. But this was a pretty thick tome, complete with a large cast of a characters, an intricate world, and a detailed magic system, and the author wasn’t full-time.

I was pleasantly surprised when I read the book and found it quite good. Good — not great. In fact, I would say it was average but had the potential to be a five-star novel. There was a major plot hole, which was glaringly obvious, and a few big speed bumps where there were problems with inconsistency and inaccuracy. These moments yanked me out of the story. But I couldn’t get over the book’s potential. And I found myself thinking, If this author had set the work aside for a couple of weeks and revised it with fresh eyes, and if they had used beta readers, this book could have been truly great. Maybe even a breakout indie hit.

The author in question had been in a hurry. I remember following the writing process on the author’s blog. This person’s goal was to publish as many books as possible as quickly as possible. While I think this can work for some authors, I doubt it’s the best career path for most. If books are written quickly and published before they’ve reached their full potential, readers will be less inclined to review and recommend those books, let alone buy other books in the author’s catalog. And in the grand scheme of things, taking a couple of extra months to polish a book that is then going to generate revenue for the rest of your life is probably a smarter career strategy.

Writing Well

On the other hand, another author I follow wrote and published an excellent work of science fiction in about the same amount of time. But there were some notable differences. The science-fiction author had more books under their belt and was therefore more experienced. This author was also writing a sequel in a series, so much of the world-building and character development was already done. And this person was already a full-time author. It’s easier to write well and write fast when you have all those things going for you.

It’s a given that if you put a little more time into a project, it will get better. A couple of extra revisions, beta readers, or hiring a developmental editor will cause the project to take longer, but these actions will also improve your book tremendously.

Some authors can write fast and turn out high quality work, but I think these authors are rare. They tend to be full-time, have plenty of experience, and know what they’re doing; many of them write contemporary fiction, which means less world-building. It takes more time to write a book when you have to create a world or do a ton of research. So if you want to use the write-fast career strategy, maybe simpler stories are the way to go.

Write Fast or Write Better?

Ultimately, every author has to find his or her own artistic vision, business plan, and career path. Writing fast has worked for some indie authors, but many who write fast are sitting around wondering, where are the readers?

What you do think about writing fast or writing well? Do you think one strategy works better than the other? Do both work? Which is more important to you as a writer?

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