Today I’m being roasted by the good people over at BookRoast (medium rare, I’m told), so please stop on by! Find out my strategy for escaping awkward lunches, the super-secret “First Word” contest, and how you can win a Thai statue (or at least $25 in cold hard gift card).
So why DID I ask the question yesterday about whether you think you’re a better writer than the average reader of my blog? Some found it divisive, some found it provocative, some found it a no-brainer, and some found it an excellent opportunity to leave horrendously written SPAM (now deleted). So… why?
Well, there’s one word floating around out there that really got me started on the path to asking this question. And that word is: “trash.”
No, not your writing. Your writing is fine. But I’ve been seeing the word “trash” so much in the writing Internetosphere lately, even in the comments section of this blog. Not in reference to one’s own writing, but rather in reference to other people’s writing.
As in: “My book is so much better than the trash I find on the bookshelves.”
As in: “The publishing industry only publishes trash.”
One Oregon parent recently complained that National Book Award winner and seriously incredible book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN was “trash” and had it removed (thankfully temporarily) from classrooms.
I. Loathe. This. Word.
A few months back, JA Konrath addressed this very topic. The Internet has made everyone a critic empowered with the ability to leave scathing Amazon reviews, and some wield their power to ill effect, leaving 1 star reviews and tossing around some extreme language. As Konrath writes, “The reality is, most movies and books don’t suck.”
And they don’t! The vast majority are quite good, actually. Setting aside the occasional celebrity book that sails through the publishing process, which, hey, if you don’t like them don’t read them, books have to get through an insanely challenging gauntlet to make it to publication. Not just one person has to believe in a book: literally hundreds have to think it’s worth publication before it winds up on your shelves.
Konrath attributes the rise of “this book is trash” reviews to “haters.”
That may be so, but I was thinking… maybe there’s psychology at play. Hence my experiment.
The vote now stands at 65%/35% who think they’re a better writer than the average reader of this blog. That’s obviously a statistical impossibility. I think.
Naturally people feel that they can write better than others. It’s just human nature. People want to feel that they’re good at something they spend so much time on, even when that might not be the case, and, as scientific studies have shown, particularly in the absence of accurate feedback (thanks to reader JohnO for the link). Ergo scathing reviews since an author thinks “I can do that” when, actually, not many people can?
Or maybe there’s subjectivity involved. You know the saying: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Maybe they’re just forgetting that what you might call “trash” might be my favorite book in the world.
Or maybe it’s a mix of both. Reading is subjective. But there’s also a part of writing that is definitely objective. When I have my contests and include publishing professionals in the judging, we always end up with roughly the exact same list of finalists. Does that mean that we’re right and there are people who just can’t recognize good writing? Or does it mean that we’re just reflecting a certain taste that happens to be what the publishing industry collectively decides is “good,” but which the reading public might not agree with?
I don’t know why people reach the point of calling books “trash,” but thought asking yesterday’s question might help shed some light.
What do you think?