I’m sure I have other things to write about and I will, but the current discussion is all about quality in self-pub (and quality in writing in general, see discussion about whether Brandon Sanderson is a ‘good’ writer).
I’m sticking this post under Business, but it’s also a Craft post because, hey, it’s quality of writing.
For those who want a TLDR, here it is from my perspective – Everyone’s going to have different definitions of what is good or bad writing. The ONLY person(s) whose opinion of whether a work is quality is those who have given you money for it. Everyone else doesn’t matter (other than you but that should, I hope, go without saying. But here I am, saying it anyway. You have to be happy with what you write, because otherwise, you’ll just be sad and there’s no point being sad).
What is Quality
Let’s start with a question – what is quality writing?
What, in your mind, makes for quality writing? What, exactly, do you judge a story or book or writing as being ‘good’. Is there, in your mind, a difference between good story, a good book or good writing?
Because, on a granular level, I’d contend that if you sat a hundred people down, you’d get quite a different opinion about what is good, especially if you dug into it.
Don’t believe me? Here’s two reviews from A Thousand Li: The Third Realm which has an Amazon rating of 4.7. There a bunch of reviews calling it my best book in the series… and then you have these.
I’ve literally have had people call my prose (on the same book!) both prosaic, basic and – at best – serviceable, and others speak of it being beautiful and lyrical.
End of the day, everyone has their own reasons and own views of what is considered good writing. What people expect from a work will vary, all too much; and as such, you cannot take individual reviews to heart.
Just accept it, and realize that the people who are buying from you get to have a variety of opinions; but it’s whether those who have bought your work are happy.
And there are different reasons why they might be happy.
Plot Driven Storytelling vs Beautiful Prose
So, in SF&F in particular, there are two types of writing styles that dominate. Similar to my question about what makes a good story / book / prose; it draws an axis between plot and prose.
Some writers are more plot driven (most SF&F is actually plot driven); where the focus isn’t on ‘literary’ or ‘beautiful’ prose (and again, if you intend to get into an argument or discussion, make sure you get definitions of both and examples) but on telling a story, of world building and potentially invoking a specific feel.
Now, personally I break up a good story from a good book on top of that, because a work can have a fun story, lousy prose and be lousy as a book. I’ll point you to a lot of serials being released right now, which don’t have an ending, but the overall story is fun to read.
Are there works that are beautiful both in the prose and the plot? Sure. I’d count works like This is How You Lose a Time War and The Curse of Chalion among them. Though I think some might argue with me about both.
And even then, these definitions still miss out on a rather interesting question I’ve seen posed:
– is prose that is intentionally simplistic, meant to be so clear that you barely even notice the words bad writing? If a writer uses a cliché or a metaphor which is instantly understandable but also, not unique, is it then bad?
How can writing be bad if it is doing exactly what it sets out to do? It might not be to the individual’s exact taste, but if you’re doing what you set out to do, then you’re happy.
You might not, however, make your readers happy.
And the readers are going to be who pays your bills
I started by typing out that it’s the readers who make final judgment and who you should care about, but realized that might not always be the case or the point for some writers.
Figure out what you want from your writing. Whether it’s (maybe) being lauded in hundreds of years for your unique style and insight, even if your writing doesn’t sell immediately (or perhaps, never); or if you’re writing to make money. And if it’s the latter, you might have to compromise – because there’s a reason why the majority of mass market authors write towards a grade level and more simplistically, with generally faster and tighter pacing and lower amounts of description.
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