Quality vs. Profit—Is it a Choice?


Why not Both?

Jack Eason posted an interesting article recently entitled “Profit or Quality” (click the title to check it out). While that post analyzed this in the context of video games, it got me thinking about this in terms of self-publishing.

You might be wondering whether or not it’s really a choice. Shouldn’t lesser quality result in lower profits in the long-term? Shouldn’t better quality be favored in the long run?

Well… to an extent.

You could spend an outrageous amount of money publishing a book in the highest possible quality:

  • First off, how about a nice textured hardbound cover with full-color images. If the book costs over $100, you might not sell any. So much for profit! Suppose we restrict ourselves to e-books and inexpensive print-on-demand publishing.
  • Well, you could spend thousands of dollars on formatting and editing services. If you aim for the highest possible quality (not necessarily given by the most expensive service), you might not make any profit at all even if you sell a thousand books.
  • A few writers claim that you should spend years honing your craft, perhaps you should even pay good $$$ to develop the skills you need. Invest hundreds of dollars and wait a few decades and surely the quality will be better, right?

Okay, so going to great lengths to make the quality extreme might not lead to any profit at all. It might leave you considerably in the red.

Let’s look at the other extreme. Suppose you spit out a new novel per month. You’ll have a platform of dozens of books on the market in no time. You’ll always have a book in the Last 30 Days new release category, helping to give exposure to your previous books. Assuming you succeed in drawing in readers, your fan base will grow, so that when you release each book, there will be more and more people waiting for it.

But how much quality can you provide spitting out a book per month? Won’t the ideas, storyline, editing, and more suffer greatly?

The best solution probably involves some compromise:

  • Achieve the best quality you can at a reasonable cost.
  • Invest extra time to significantly improve the quality. I’m not saying to hold off publishing for years. But if a few months could greatly improve the quality, consider that your book might be available for decades. Those few extra months could greatly improve sales over those decades, and the sales of other books that you haven’t even published yet.

Each reader has expectations. Some are higher than others. The higher the quality of the book, the more likely it will exceed those expectations. When it doesn’t, that leads to no sale or no recommendation (maybe even a bad review).

Quality is important for the long-term. Exceed a reader’s expectations and you can gain valuable word-of-mouth referrals in the long run. You can build a fan base that eagerly anticipates your next book. But don’t rush that next book out for all your enthusiastic fans, or there may not be much anticipation for the next one. Once you create high expectations, you must work to deliver on the promise.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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9 comments on “Quality vs. Profit—Is it a Choice?

  1. Quality is critical when you know you are slow – and are not going to produce quantity, even at your best. ‘Know thyself’ is always good advice.

    I have to aim for highly professional quality – it will take several more years to publish the rest of the trilogy – but I don’t think it has to be expensive. It just has to have a lot of added value.

    You can get a template from Joel Friedlander’s website, for example, and have most of your work done for you. You can learn to do decent covers – or get your daughter the designer to cough up one (she says mothers get free service).

    You can up your own writing skills constantly, get input from beta readers, learn to write blurbs and cover copy and descriptions and to fill out your Amazon, etc. author pages and keywords and categories properly (hint: go look at the big boys’ books in your genre).

    You can educate yourself – and spend wisely and carefully. I don’t have the energy to deal with a publisher – and the loss of control. But I DO have the energy to make sure everything is as good as I can get it, one tiny bit at a time.

    I have people like you educating me – I wouldn’t want to fail my teachers.


    • Definitely, taking time, learning, and using available resources are inexpensive ways to improve quality. It needn’t come from $$$ (and that won’t necessarily result in quality).

    • I think of the price of editing or cover design in terms of how many sales it takes to break even. It’s hard to invest in either until you’ve had a couple of successful books (while at the same time can affect the chances for success). It’s a little easier to risk a loss focusing on the artistic merit of the final product and the potential impact once you have several books out (and much harder when it’s hard to put the investment together), but still there are no guarantees.

  2. I think it’s very important to aim for both, but I tend to lean more toward quality being the bigger goal. Especially early on, the quality of one’s story sets their reputation. So the churning out of monthly stories runs the risk of developing a reputation as a low-quality author. As you said, a higher quality can create long term profits. Something that comes to mind is how many fantasy authors take a lot of time between series installments. This is to achieve a high quality of writing, but it also makes the author appear more professional. There’s a sense of careful crafting when such time is put in. Though, you tend to get people yelling at you if you wait too long.

    • I’ve got a juvenile sci-fi story I’ve been working on for years. One of these years, I hope to be satisfied with it. As you say, it will set the tone for any other fiction I might write.

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