More Is Not Better

No, more is not better. Better is better. More is just more. If it’s more of the same, and the same is boring or insipid or unimaginative, then how is more better? It’s not.

Yes, this is somewhat of a rant. Recently I’ve been reminded of some authors who are overly busy because they are putting out several books a year, some in different series and even for different publishers.

This means there is little, if any, coordination between when a manuscript is due and when the book needs to be edited or promoted. There’s also a question in my mind how well an author can write unique characters when she spends so little time getting to know them.

Experts say we only can have three or four close friends at any one time. So how many characters can a writer develop? Seems to me we should know our characters nearly as well as we do our close friends.

Consequently, I feel confident that more characters don’t make for better stories. More books of course require more characters, so it seems to me, every book an author puts out in a relatively short amount of time indicates less time spent with the characters.

There are exceptions, of course. D. Barkley Briggs, for example, is in the process of publishing three books this year. He published the first of a young adult trilogy with NavPress back in 2008, but weeks before the second released — a book that had already gone through the editing process — his publisher decided to end its fiction line.

When he recently signed with AMG Publishers, they reprinted his first book, then three months later published Corus The Champion. The third in the Legends of Karac Tor series is due out a scant three months after Corus, but this elapse of time is not a reflection of how long it took to write the books.

Apart from the obvious — the disadvantage a writer puts herself at by trying to create deep and realistic characters and a story that is fresh and well crafted in such a short amount of time — there’s also reader weariness.

Yes, reader weariness. What if the Harry Potter books all came out within six months of each other? Would readers have been ready to stand in line waiting for a midnight release when they’d done it just six months earlier?

Would so many readers have been clamoring for the next book, or would some give up the effort to be in the mix because after three books, they’d fallen hopelessly behind?

My point is, writers that believe more is better may actually be saturating the market with their own work. Readers either can’t keep up or may grow weary of the writer’s voice.

Not to mention that some writers sacrifice story structure for the more is better approach. The plot twists and twists and twists again in a meandering plot because the writer doesn’t really know where the story is going and is just hoping it all comes out in the end.

Some readers don’t care how convoluted a plot is, as long as there’s a spaceship battle in every chapter. Some don’t care how realistic the characters are, so long as there’s a good guy and a bad guy. I understand — I once watched western movies that had characters like that.

But make no mistake, those stores are not better. No matter how many of them a writer cranks out, more does not make them better.

15 Comments

  1. Reminds me of some romance novels and something I read in Jerry Jenkin’s writing for the soul. He also talked about story structure, lack of good character development, etc.

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  2. I think some writers might feel pressured into writing books so quickly. I think there might be the idea to strike while the iron’s hot. I think there may also be some financial pressure. If you’re not putting out books as fast as you can, you’re not making money. Having said that, I do agree that quality should not succomb to quantity. There are a few series I’ve stopped reading because the latest installments seemed to be much too similar to previous books in the series. I will stop reading a book very quickly if the characters aren’t fully fleshed out.

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  3. I think a year between books in a series is a good amount of time. It gives the author time to create the next book and readers enough time to read the book. Longer than 2 years and I think an author risks losing momentum with their readers.

    For example, my husband likes Christopher Paolini’s stuff, but its been 3 years since the last book, too long in his opinion. In a world that moves fast, losing momentum is not a good thing.

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  4. Nikole, sadly we could probably name too many books like this. The thing that stuns me is that some writers apparently don’t see it. They think they’re doing what’s good for their career.

    Becky

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  5. There are a few series I’ve stopped reading because the latest installments seemed to be much too similar to previous books in the series.

    Carol, I think that’s the truth about a lot of these books. In the examples I came across recently, I saw the Amazon rankings drop, the number of reviews drop, and I’m thinking in all probability, the overall sales are dropping. So putting out more of those doesn’t see like the way to make money, even.

    I may be living in La-La-Land, but I can’t help but believe a better product will actually make more money. Why won’t more people want to buy better books?

    Say 10 people read the first book and 5 love it, but 5 decide to pass on the next one. So book 2 has 5 fans, but when book 3 comes out, one of those decides she’s had enough. So book 4 comes out and only 4 are buying. So in six months the author puts out another one that those 4 die-hards buy. Now to sell ten books, the author must write three.

    But what if book 1 was so good that instead of losing 5 readers, the original 10 told their friends and brought 5 more. So when book 2 comes out, there are 15 buyers and they love it and tell their friends. By the time book 4 comes out, there’s a natural increase rather than a convinced and dedicated few.

    Which of those models will actually earn more money?

    Because the author is selling 10 copies of one good book in the same amount of time that it takes to sell 10 copies of 3 bad ones, it seems clear to me that the publisher would make more money on the good book, and the author would be less stressed. If I’m right about the telling friends part, the author would probably end up making more money too.

    There’s just no model I can envision when it comes to books, that more ends up being better.

    Becky

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  6. Morgan, the momentum issue is an interesting one. I do think there is a bit of a media focus that can help sell a book. Whenever someone turns around, if people are talking about a certain book or author, then they start wondering what all the conversation is about. Some people will buy a book simply out of curiosity, to find out what the big deal is about.

    That momentum isn’t going to last too long — unless you have a product like J. K. Rowling. She’s generating an incredible amount of talk and it’s been how many years now since the last book? The movies, of course, have kept the books alive, and then there’s the theme park. So books with product or movie tie-ins would seem to do OK with a longer interval. For normal writers, I think one to two years might be right. But I still think it depends on quality. What if it was three years and the quality was out of sight? Wouldn’t that quickly generate momentum again?

    I’m thinking it would, but I’m only going on what seems logical to me. Not sound science, that’s for sure. 😉

    Becky

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  7. I have agree, Becky.
    In fact, I’m going to be proposing to AMG that they release my next few novels one per year, instead of three in a year.
    A series needs time to write, time to market, and time for readers to spread the word . . . if its success is to be maximized.
    Great post!

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  8. Wow, great rant. It always surprises me when some of the authors who crank out stuff that all looks like the first book, which wasn’t all that good to begin with, keep finding publishers. I suppose the publishers are making money, or they’d quit publishing the books.

    I think that the authors and their publishers are playing it safe, maybe, trying to copy books that worked the first time and keeping authors that sold the first time (even if the subsequent books are not good) instead of taking a chance on new authors. It’s too bad. I think Christians should be the most wildly creative and the most willing to take huge risks. (Think of the risk the poor widow took, as she put in the offering box all she had to live one!) Knowing that God is our strong tower and the one who guides us—knowing he loves us—should drive out fear. We should be happy to dance on the high-wire without a net, because God is sustaining us. But sometimes Christians act pinched and careful as if they serve a God that is a mean taskmaster. Sometimes they bury their talents, afraid to take a risk, afraid to invest.

    Your points about not taking the time to know the characters and about overwhelming readers with too much too fast are good ones.

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  9. Becky, I think you have some sound math in your reply up above. Makes more sense to put out quality that takes time to produce than quick pushing out semi-quality and lose readers over it.

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  10. Scott, that’s a bold step. I hope your publisher sees the advantages of having time to establish a book and build a fan base as well as providing the author time to work on books to make them the best they can be. Especially fantasy, I think. Our books tend to be longer than many, and it seems especially hard to turn out another in a short period of time.

    Becky

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  11. Sally, you said

    I think Christians should be the most wildly creative and the most willing to take huge risks. (Think of the risk the poor widow took, as she put in the offering box all she had to live one!) Knowing that God is our strong tower and the one who guides us—knowing he loves us—should drive out fear. We should be happy to dance on the high-wire without a net, because God is sustaining us. But sometimes Christians act pinched and careful as if they serve a God that is a mean taskmaster. Sometimes they bury their talents, afraid to take a risk, afraid to invest.

    Mostly I just wanted to re-post that because it is so good! 😀 Thank you. What a great reminder that we don’t go it alone in this writing venture. We can trust God to do what is best with our writing and with our career. Wonderful thoughts.

    Becky

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  12. Thanks, Morgan. I wish I had a real life example to point to. I can reference authors that were mid-listers that broke out, but because of the content, not their writing ability. Apparently they came upon a premise that resonated with the public and sold really well as a result, even though their writing was … not award-winning.

    I suppose that’s something to factor it: does the author have a story the public wishes to read? If so, the next question is the one I’m asking, aren’t more people likely to read it if it is well crafted?

    Not everyone can come up with a block-buster premise like Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code or Left Behind (yeah, that wasn’t LaHaye or Jenkins’ idea either 😉 ). But if the execution is excellent, I believe good premises can become books that sell well — or at least better than books which aren’t well crafted.

    Becky

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  13. You’ve done it again, Becky.

    It’s also good to apply this to other industries that use manuscripts(film, stage, etc.). One of the latest advertised films, “Friends with Benefits”, has caused an uproar because it has the same plot as “No Strings Attatched”(Now THOSE films are good points for this article!!!!). Unfortunately, readers put up with “more is better”. 😛

    I like your math and reason there, Becky. Better is better, therefore find out what better is so you can use it.

    God Bless,
    Karl

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  14. On the other hand … some writers’ mileage may vary. The advice you advocate here (and in the followup) seems to me very good for epic-length multi-volume series, but that is hardly the extent of the market.

    Heinlein advocated never making any revisions other than what an editor or an agent demanded. Correct any mistakes you see as you make them, sure, but don’t go back and revise; instead, send the story off to your markets and start on the next one. If you know that you’re going to make a second draft, he argued, you’ll let yourself write sloppily on the first draft because you can correct it in the next draft. Instead, you should just write it properly the first time. This worked for him, apparently—though he started as an above-average writer, and improved with practice—and can be good advice for short fiction (and every category was shorter then!), but holds up less well for longer kinds of fiction.

    While the market for an author’s work in that author’s name may indeed become saturated, if her “hack” work is better than her slower, more polished, competition, selling under a pseudonym or waiting until she hits a dry spell is unobjectionable, in my opinion. And if the author’s writing is sufficiently good that the books don’t slip into oblivion, you end up with what might be market saturation anyway—look at Dick Francis (to take an example of, at least in my parents’ opinion as I haven’t read any of his mysteries myself, high-quality fiction) or Piers Anthony’s Xanth books (to pick one example out of many fantasy series that arguably began well but then kept churning out sequel after sequel, not even all that fast).

    In decades past (when my dad was a young adult; I get the story mostly from him), the magazine Analog had a reputation for only publishing the best science fiction stories (and paying top dollar for them, including a bonus based on a reader vote), but sometimes had two or three stories (though this often included the month’s part of a three-part (or more) serialized novella) in any one issue under as many different names.

    Really, “more is not better” is true, but if the work is consistently “better” the reader always want “more” with varying degrees of impatience. If I become exhausted with an author, either I was consciously putting up with some flaws for the sake of getting the author’s ideas, or I’ve become exhausted with fiction altogether.

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  15. Jonathan, I don’t know as I’d want to take the writing advice of someone who wrote thirty years ago. Writing has changed so much over that time. I wouldn’t follow a Lewis or Tolkien “how to” craft book, either. It doesn’t matter who the writer was or how good. The competition is different today because of the number of writers but also the advancement of movies and TV as avenues for story.

    In any case, I certainly wasn’t thinking of any epic book series. I was thinking of particular novels, some in fantasy, some in women’s fiction, some in YA. In other words, I’ve seen writers lose steam (and audience) in a variety of genres, in a large part, from what I can determine, because the books don’t improve in quality.

    In fact, I’ve seen some second or third or fourth books fall short of the initial offering. Why? Perhaps because the turn around from manuscript deadline to release date hasn’t allowed for a thorough editing. Perhaps because the author had too much to do to promote the first book that the second one didn’t get the care and attention it needed from the author before turning in the manuscript. Or perhaps because the fast turn around doesn’t allow for any feedback from others.

    I know from my own writing, whether short stories or novels (or even blog posts) that I can come back a week or a month later and always (ALWAYS) find ways to make the work better. Time puts distance between me and the characters I love or the scene I’ve envisioned, and I read it more nearly as an actual reader would. I can see flaws I was blinded to before, places that are confusing or language that is awkward and words that are repeated.

    Time makes stories better. It just does. I think it would be the rare exception when this is not true. But some writers have no idea how much better their writing could be because they’ve never worked with a critique group; never set a manuscript aside for a month, then come back to it; never revised for sentence rhythm or image enrichment.

    Quality writing shows and I think sells better than top of the head work. But quality writing takes time because it is work. It’s not simply slamming out a story using the words that first come to a writer. It’s being willing to dig for the unique, the fresh.

    OK, I’m getting a little carried away. But I do feel passionate about this and at the same time feel saddened that there might be writers who think revising is an unnecessary step. I think it’s not only necessary, but it occupies the biggest chunk of writing time … or ought to.

    Becky

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