I’m reading Fifty Shades of Grey at the moment (oh yes I am), which has been widely derided for its subpar writing quality.
So far I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as I had heard people complain of it, but yeah, it’s not, nor do I think it’s supposed to be, Shakespeare. (I’ll write a full Fifty Shades post when I’m done with it).
I’ve long held the belief that the publishing industry cares too much about a certain level of writing quality, and I’d include myself in the camp as well.
The publishing industry is full of people who can tell “good” writing from “bad” writing, the definitions of which contain a certain degree of subjectivity but not endless subjectivity. Most people can tell Fitzgerald from fan fiction, and people within the industry can get very granular.
Sure, you need to be a good, or even great, writer for literary fiction, but what about commercial fiction? The list of clunkily written bestsellers is long. I’m unconvinced the majority of the reading public cares about “good” writing. They care about stories and settings and characters. Prose? I’m not sure I buy it.
We’re about to test this on a massive scale as the books that would never have made it through the publishing process in manuscript form due to subpar prose are out there ready to take off, sell a gajillion copies and prove the industry wrong.
But what do you think? Is the industry too wrapped up in “good” writing? What do you think about the public’s appetites? Should the industry still try to maintain the same level of quality of writing even if the public doesn’t care?
Art: Heinrich Heine on cover of Die Jugend
I don't think the industry cares too much, but I think there's a divide between the industry caring and writers being able to improve. Most writing how-to posts on line have to do with setting, plot, character etc., and not with improving prose. So, for authors that are primarily self-taught (ie internet taught these days) it's very easy to improve these skills and harder to improve others
A.R. Williams says
Writers are interested in good writing.
The industry is interested in what sells.
Readers are interested in stories that entertain them.
When something attains huge commercial success( Twilight, The Davinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey), it also creates a backlash of people who will say–"This isn't that good."
I care. A lot. I've often gone to read a best-selling, well-loved work of literary fictions and thought, "Really? People don't notice the bad writing?"
But I think my degree of picky-ness is rare; my friends seem to devour some of the same these things I consider sub-par. Still, I'm grateful if the so-called gatekeepers can help weed out at least some of the works I would rather avoid
Christine Nichols says
I do think that authors should have some accountability for quality.
However, I think that the publishing industry would do well to take lessons from other industries. Deliver what the consumer wants at the cost the market will bear.
Or – rest assured, that in this age of electronic delivery, the consumer will find it elsewhere.
A. R. Williams – Where's the backlash of people saying Harry Potter isn't good?
Melanie Fowler says
I think that most people don't know what good writing is. When a story is really good, they don't really notice the words. But I believe that if you want more people to like your novel it needs to be well written and have an awesome story.
Ha! I read the first two Fifty Shades books. I wanted to be one with the zeitgeist and see what all the fuss was about–at least that is what I tell myself. And I really don't like to be one of those people that complains about what gets published (cause I'm always happy that people are reading and we all have our interests), but damnit I really got mad at those books. I just wanted there to be some more characterization, I suppose. Is that like complaining that a porno doesn't have enough story? I don't know–I just couldn't care when all Anastasia (shudder at the name) could think was "He's so hot!".
Anyhoo, what were we talking about?
I think any time one thing is your primary focus, you tend to care about details that a layman won't notice. So, yes, I believe publishing gets a little too wrapped up in the quality of the writing and probably overlooks books that would sell well because the writing doesn't meet professional standards.
I suppose this is because the flawed writing distracts from the story if you are a professional connected with writing. It's harder to enjoy a book with sloppy prose.
The trick is to figure out how much your opinion of the technical skills is coloring your opinion of the story. I wouldn't suggest ignoring something barely literate, but turning down a book for too many adverbs and dialogue tags might be a mistake. Non-writing readers won't care.
I have to say that before I started writing, I didn't notice how something was written. Now, every time I read a book I notice myself looking at what I have been taught were flaws.
But as we look at what is selling and what readers are talking about, I too begin to wonder at some of the questions you've posed here. Truly I am starting to think that story, flow, and character seem to trump the rest. As long as a reader can become emotional invested in the characters and story line, then it seems to sell. Maybe that is due to what I stated above. Knowing now that as reader prior to writing I had no idea to pay attention to those things. Like head hopping. Drives me crazy when I read books that do this now. Before? Well I didn't really notice it, I just went with it.
Speaking strictly as a reader, I like a good story, no matter how it's told. (No, I haven't read Fifty Shades OR Harry Potter). However, I do tend to appreciate books more if the writing itself is good. *Those* are the books that make my favorites' list.
Krista Van Dolzer says
Publishers will always let the market determine most of their publishing decisions, and if the market doesn't demand so-called "good" writing, then publishers will stop supplying it. Those houses/imprints that are known for producing quality literary fiction will probably hold out, at least for a while, but we've already seen that publishers aren't willing to allow wildly popular self-published authors to make all the money by themselves.
"The public" comprises a very large population. Some of them will read horrible writing quite happily; some will not. I think even the most terrible writers who hit it big can still tell a good story. (I can't stomach the writing in Twilight, but the love story spoke to many!)
But John Green, who is a YA author is supposedly an excellent writer and is very popular, so they aren't mutually exclusive.
WARNING- totally subjective, unsolicited opinion–while I whole heartedly support the idea that good storytelling with strong, well-rounded characters, great plot and vivid settings are the most important, I don't believe readers can have all those without the work being well written. I love doritos, cupcakes, and coffee, but I'll have an early death if I feed on a steady diet of just that and nothing else. 50 Shades has feeble characters with no redeeming qualities to make us care about or root for them (unbreakable rule #1 in any writing), weak to non-existent plot, poor grammar, and meager 6th-grade-writing-like sentence structure. Disclaimer-I also greatly dislike Jonathan Franzen's work and can't figure out why ppl like him either, so I'm certainly no literary barometer; however 50 Shades, to my personal shock, has me more self-righteous, soap-boxey and whipped up than I normally get.
Whatever the publishing industry thinks (or doesn't think) it's been something of a closed shop for a long time, blessed and cursed all at the same time by its contents — bottles of the best vintage wine covered in the dust of long-dead bugs.
As to what happens when they chase off the wild bat and patch up the window, who knows?
I would argue the people buying the clunky bestsellers – anything by Dan Brown is a good example – are simply hungering for strong plots, which are often absent in literary fiction.
If readers could get BOTH a strong, exciting plot AND great prose, they'd probably buy more of that. It happens so rarely these days we just don't have a lot of examples.
Take Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." I actually read that, because I wanted to understand what on earth was the deal with this guy who sold so many books. It is truly awful – page after page of dry summary, awkward prose, 2 dimensional characters (I'd argue his main character really doesn't exist at all except as a reference point).
But the basic plot premise is exciting. The chapters each end on an exciting note that makes you want to read the next chapter. As self-indulgent, poorly edited, and terribly boring as parts of that book are, the characters actually DO something, and at the end of the next chapter you want to know what they do next.
In contrast, I read a "literary" novel by J. Eugenides recently (The Marriage Plot) and I could have cared less what happened next. I got a third of the way through the book before anything significant happened. Like Brown, Eugenides is self-indulgent, going on for pages about literary theory to the point that I sensed a desire to show off. And the author isn't fond of ending chapters at all, let alone enticing me forward.
Eugenides writes far better prose. Each sentence is carefully crafted, and the rhythmn of his paragraphs is perfect. He plays with deeper themes than dan brown, too. But, even though he's quite successful, he still sells far fewer books than Mr. Brown. What if they got together? (matter-antimatter joke here)
Bottom line: plot, and a progression of significant, noticeable events, is one of the most important elements of fiction. As writers we ignore it at our peril.
Look at it from this angle: milk before meat. People who don't enjoy reading would seriously struggle with a literary masterpiece. Those same people may read and love a book like Twilight, or a poorly written Indie/traditionally published novel. They have to start somewhere. To me, I don't care when a book goes big that is "bad." It's getting people to read who wouldn't otherwise. And those people, like my sister, sometimes discover a love for reading, and end up searching out other books, gradually refining their taste and growing in their expectations until they're ready for true works of art.
I've been hearing about plans to add porn scenes to literary classics (Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, Wuthering Heights) because it's thought doing so will get people to read them (as opposed to getting people to read the porn and ignore the rest which is more likely to happen).
In the education system standards have been set where kids practically can't be failed and held back no matter what, it might hurt their self-esteem. Tests and homework can't be to hard and reading lists have to include books like "Twilight" because a book like "Wuthering Heights" might be to hard. Then people stand back and wonder why America's education system is lagging so far behind the rest of the world.
It's because instead of setting a bar and expecting people to rise to meet it we've thrown out the bar and erased standards entirely.
So, no, I do not believe we should allow poorly written books to be published. People say, "I can't", or "I don't wanna", and instead of the response being "well, that's why you need to push yourself and try", the response is "oh, that's okay, we'll make it easier for you, and easier, and easier still". When do we finally stop making it easy and expect people to step up? When do we finally say, "there is a standard for this and you need to meet it"?
People like to complain that the younger generation is lazy, unmotivated and expect everything to be handed to them. How is that a surprise when all they have to do is complain to have things made easy, and watch others succeed with little to no effort? We've already sent the message that subpar is just fine, are we now going to start saying it's extraordinary?
I don't care how well a book does in the mainstream media, it should still be written well. The message should be "work hard and be good at what you do and you'll be rewarded", not "work hard and be good at what you do and watch people who put zero effort in to the same job be rewarded over you". We're teaching those who don't try that they'll be rewarded while simultaneously teaching those who do try that all of their hard work meant nothing.
Matthew MacNish says
I can only speak from my own experience, but the agents and editors I've submitted to (and been rejected by, ahem) seem to care much more about storytelling than writing. I'm often complimented on my writing, or prose, if you will, and yet still rejected for elements related to story.
I know that's not what you mean, not exactly, but I'm just trying to say that from my experience, story trumps prose. That can obviously be in both good and bad ways. Mostly good though, I think.
HERE! HERE! Agree 100%. Please appoint this commenter about the state of our current public education system the Secretary of Education. RIGHT NOW! PLEASE!!!!
Megan Mulry says
Wow! Such a great post. Yes, this is happening as we sit here. Trad-pub is looking to self-pub and indie-pub saying, "Okay, show us what sells and then we'll print it and distribute it for you." I think readers of fiction, and genre fiction especially, want to feel alive, to feel their heart pound when they read a book–whether it's a romance or a thriller. Sometimes that happens with great prose, sometimes with a rollicking pace, sometimes with unique characters. Only very rarely do I find all three in the same book, nor do I expect to. I'm happy to find one or two of those components done really well to consider it a 'great read.' Also, what many readers consider "good" writing tends to be highly crafted (Ishiguro) and that level of high-polish doesn't necessarily lend itself to a fast pace (Lee Child). I don't necessarily want to feel the need to read a beautiful sentence ten times over when Reacher is about to throw someone off a helicopter or Christian is about to take his shirt off. Thanks so much for a thought-provoking post.
Claude Nougat says
As always, Nathan, your posts (and questions) are spot on.But this business about a best seller being "badly written" is truly a recurrent gripe and not only on the American scene – it happens in France too (I follow the French literary scene too since French is my mother tongue).
Bottom line, the readers win. They want a good story, a hot sexy one? There you go, 50 Shades and who care how it's written? Certainly not the publishers who are making money from it!
Isaiah Campbell says
Ah, aesthetics. The same argument that surrounds the works of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, or that befuddles listeners of Charles Ives and Stravinsky, also applies to literature as well. What is the value of art? Is it intrinsic or extrinsic? Who determines it?
Essentially, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beyond that, we don't always seek beauty. Sometimes we seek a thrill, or a laugh, or and nightmare. Literature, like painting or music, is a medium that can be employed to mystify and have us marvel at the wonders man can create. Or it can be employed to distract us, or titillate us.
My personal view is that, whatever the intended purpose of the art is, if it accomplishes that purpose, it has value.
And, since publishers are purposed to print valuable writing, perhaps they need to be more open minded to the possibility that works can be less than excellent from the perspective of beauty, but be highly valuable in accomplishing its goals.
Like 50 Shades does in making us all blush.
ghost writer says
When it comes to the fickle public one statement to cover everything is very had to come by. What one person looks for in a book will not match what others look for, therefore "good or bad" writing is a very subjective thing. The publishing industry has had a choke hold on what the public sees and reads for a very long time, and that is hard to give up and loosen to the new demands of a changing world and public.
These days many new writers are self publishing. Good or bad for the industry is irrelevant, it's here and happening and will not disappear anytime soon. With that you will see a whole lot of both, writers that think they can and this is the only way to get published; and writers that are pretty good.
As far as Fifty Shades goes, yes I have read the trilogy. The writing in the first book is sometimes hard to follow, however by the third book it is much better. I could list the things I didn't like about the writing but the fact is that I got past the flaws and enjoyed the story and the growth of the characters. The book is not just about the sex, but about two people who challenge each other to change and grow. It is this development that will keep the reader engaged until the end. After all, isn't that why we read books of this sort, to lose ourselves in the lives and world of others. To engage in a dream world that we don't exist in but one that makes us happy to think about. If what you read does this for you, and keeps you wanting to go back to that world, well then, in my opinion, the other has succeeded.
I haven't read all the comments.
I ditched "that book" after 16 pages with a "bleargh" reaction — because of the writing.
Do the publishers care too much? Some do.
Do the writers care too little?
Clearly, some do!
I think that's the bigger point. The writers who throw just about anything out there, unedited, and hope to make millions.
I believe if the subject matter of 50 Shades had been anything other than bondage — it wouldn't have been anywhere near as popular.
(Romance novels as slammed as "bodice rippers" but apparently it is perfectly acceptable when the hero gets a kick out of inflicting pain on a woman, because he's rich and "hot". Really?)
Never mind that though. That's not the question here.
I think authors should have to uphold a certain degree of quality, or in years to come we'll end up with books riddled with errors — and the next generation will be just a little dumber because of it.
Basically, I think readers should demand a better standard.
50 Shades would have been just as popular if it had been written better. Sex sells, after all.
A lot of people I know read the first book and didn't bother with the next — even though they'd bought it.
Most of the time I hear "Wish I hadn't given in to the hype."
Yes, there is always a backlash of people saying "It's rubbish."
But in this case, the writing really is juvenile. I wondered if the author is 16 and lacking a decent education.
"I'm unconvinced the majority of the reading public cares about "good" writing. They care about stories and settings and characters. Prose? I'm not sure I buy it."
Here's the thing – stories and settings and characters are part of what comprises good writing. Prose style will determine whether a book is put in the 'literary' or 'commercial' sections but it is arguably subjective and readers often don't care if the story is good. Story structure, characterization, etc. these are things which can not only be objectively assessed, but can be taught and learned, which is why doing them badly (and not improving between projects) is the difference between a "real writer" and a dilettante – however the work is published.
Of course I'd miss a crucial comma in a post about good writing!
"readers often don't care, if the story is good."
As a general matter, I'd say no. There'a a huge market for commercial fiction with less than quality writing. Several prominent authors who may fit into that category have already been mentioned in the posts. And the large majority of those books are babies of the publishing industry.
The issue I've encountered is more of a barrier to entry. Like any profession, in publishing there seems to be a desire to keep a clear line between those that get it and those that don't, those that are in and those that are out. This often gets lost in translation. In my opinion, insisting that a writer is not up to par because he/she uses too many adverbs and dialogue tags or, my favorite, uses the word "that" too much (although usually gramatically correct), is simply another way of saying the writer doesn't yet know the rules of the game. It's a shame, because these issues can be easily fixed at the editing stage. Loosen the rules . . . the more people who play, the better the game for everyone.
Julie Daines says
I think the general public is more interested in a good story more than excellent writing. Bestseller lists prove that over and over again.
Sometimes, I think that's how it should be.
As an author, I pay attention to the writing and if it's bad, I have a hard time loving the book. How sad is that? There is nothing so wonderful as losing yourself in a fantastic story.
The real magic of books is where good writing and good story meet.
Really awful writing, however, is a different story.
So many times, I've heard my writer friends mourning a favorite book, revisited after they've begun their journey as writers. Books they adored, that changed their lives, that made them want to become writers.
Suddenly, they can't ignore the headhopping, flagrant abuse of -ly, or plot inconsistencies. The book they read until it fell apart is ruined. That's a shame.
You can be an excellent writer, and fall short as a storyteller. You can be a writer other writers tear apart, and still keep the reading public turning pages. We *headdesk* and bitch about how money trumps quality, while the public laps it up. It's the same disease that brings a knowing sneer when someone says "fiction novel," a club most readers care nothing about.
Katheryn Wallis says
I haven't read 50 Shades yet, but I did read all the comments above, which are fascinating. 🙂
One thing that might be useful, though, is to step back and actually define "bad writing". 1) Is it a mechanical thing – poor grammar, spelling mistakes, continuity errors? 2) Is it a structural thing – insufficient characterization, lame plot, no action? 3) Is it a matter of somehow crafting sentences that are not just functional, but beautiful – turning them into literature instead of just mainstream? 4) Or is it a matter of message or thematic content – the book isn't about anything, is about something stupid, or sends a bad message to/sets a bad example for readers? I'm seeing each definition used in the above comments to argue different things about different books.
Take the Twilight series, for example. Whatever her faults, Meyer knows her spelling and grammar, so she's not a bad writer by my first definition. I think you could argue my 2nd definition both ways in her case. But she fails according to the 3rd, and especially the 4th definitions: the Twilight books are not literature and, as Stephen King has famously said, are merely about how important it is to have a boyfriend.
I think the "quality of writing" is judged differently by different people because each of us cares more or less about different things that all get subsumed under this label. I don't give a crap about #3, for example. If a story is mechanically sound and has an interesting plot happening to characters I care about, and the story/theme makes me want to live in that world, at least for a while, then it works for me. In fact, I find lofty, artsy writing really distracting.
But #1 is a total dealbreaker for me – if your story is riddled with grammatical errors, I can't finish it no matter how intriguing the premise.
Last point: maybe no one is complaining about Harry Potter because it nails 1, 2, and 4, and does a perfectly serviceable job with 3?
So far I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as I had heard people complain
Really? I had to stop reading it because my face hurt from laughing so hard.
Nathan Bransford says
It's hokey, but on a sentence-by-sentence level it's far from the worst thing I've read.
I read 50 Shades and liked it for what it was. I know a little bit about D/s culture, but I'm not an expert in BDSM lifestyle and I wasn't expecting a literary classic.
I also think the general public fails to realize how much work goes into releasing a book like 50 Shades…or any other book for that matter. It's a long involved process that isn't taken lightly.
Yolanda Renee says
I hope the money I've spent on editing is appreciated. But this generation of tweets and texting — language is changing, most can't remember the correct spelling. Which is good for those of us who struggle with grammar. However, I don't want what I write to be judged poorly written because I over used a word or forgot a comma, therefore it will always be important to me. The irritation with the Shades series is that she was an unknown and made it big, real big. But which one of us doesn't want that?
Laraine Herring says
Another great post, Nathan. Have you read (or read about) Lisa Cron's new book: WIRED FOR STORY? It addresses the neuroscience of stories and why they matter to us at a biological level and how they are evolutionarily essential. She also talks about what techniques authors use that compel readers to dive into their stories at that biological/neurological place. It's a very interesting read. And her take is that good writing matters, but not as much as story to a general reading public.
Kim Batchelor says
Having finished the first installment of FSoG, I theorize that it was the relationship more than the bondage that attracts people to the story. (Okay, the bondage part is always in the background because there really wasn't that much of it going on in book one.) If readers care about the characters, they over look the questionable writing; e.g., 21 instances of use of the word "hitching" in relation to breath. I believe that the industry should maintain good writing standards so that the writing doesn't detract from the story, if at all possible. There are other bigger problems; i.e., how they determine what's marketable and what's not.
Kat Sheridan says
I learned to write from reading. I read everything, good, bad, indifferent. And eventually I taught myself what was beautiful (to me) and what was dreck, what resonated and what fell flat. I learned by example. If the day comes when the only examples out there are dreck, and there's no one to say "This is bad and this is why", then expect more of the same. There's lots of self published "good stuff", but when crap rises to the top, as with 50SOG (shuddering!) it's hard to locate the good stuff. It's not just the writing that's bad with that book–it's the unwholesome message sent to ypung women that a creepy stalker abuser is a "good deal" and that "love can make him stop hitting me".
Natan–Remember, Nathan Bransford used to read slush. I'm pretty sure the worst writing he's ever read far, far outstrips anything the rest of us have…
Andrew Leon says
The "public," on the whole, can't tell "good" writing from "bad." Actually, many of them may have a difficult time with "good" writing, because they don't read at that level. Readers do, but, statistically 50% of people (in the US) will never read another book in their entire life once they are out of school. 50% of the ones that do continue to read will not read more than 1 book in an entire year. Those people don't read "well-written" books so much, because the language is too complex. They want stuff more around the level of "see spot run." Okay, yeah, I'm exaggerating a little but I don't think by as much as I wish I was.
Slightly different topic:
I think there's a huge double standard on "good writing." People will complain a lot more about the so-called writing when they didn't enjoy the content or story. Example: Twilight. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Meyer's prose is on par for YA readers.
Meanwhile, I hardly hear complaints about Suzanne Collins' writing. However, her prose is boringly simplistic and she provides the minimum in imagery and sensory detail. Her language is not rich at all. Her main strength, IMO, is her mastery in tight pacing. But mainly, I think people respect her "writing" more because Hunger Games lacks the obvious derisive qualities of glittering vampires.
I didn't think the publishing industry cared enough about writing quality, but I was thinking of books like 50 Shades of Gray. So maybe I'm wrong.
Lucky Mid-Lister says
I think the quality of writing in books that were Self-Publishing Success Stories, and then become traditionally-published bestsellers, tends to be exceptionally bad.
Haven't read 50 Shades of Grey and don't intend to, but am thinking of several other examples, each of which I started but couldn't finish.
As for caring about the writing too much, I think it's like popular music. I assume the stuff I like to listen to on the radio offends the ears of those folks who can distinguish a quartertone when they hear it.
Taylor Napolsky says
Screw off to all the people who deride 50 Shades when most of them haven't read it and the others were nauseated and quit after "only sixteen pages."
It's not exactly a tough read. People should at least be able to finish the first book before they make their judgement. People can watch reality shows until their brain is rotted but they are too highbrow to read fifty or a hundred or two hundred pages of 50 Shades. These are the same people who probably read one book a month, maybe.
The thing is, a book gets super popular and then it's hip to revile it.
A.C. Tidwell says
I think that the publishing industry has a rich history of setting the bar of what is considered posh and what is considered subpar. I also think there is something to be said for writing that qualifies as high quality (tight prose, language, requires something from readers, thought provoking, cerebral) and something that is low quality (uses tropes and not for satire, follows a paint-by-numbers structure, reuses character-types from pop culture or Mary Sue archetypes, poor prose, abundance of dead metaphors, plot heavy). One affects you long after you put it down. The other is easy. So, I actually think that the publishing industry is an excellent buffer against most subpar writing. With mass media, internet, and indie publishing, there is a large amount of mediocre to poor writers out there. The market is oversaturated. But this doesn’t reflect the industry, per se, it reflects our society. In America, in particular, we ask very little from our literature, television or film. Instead we want to be entertained in a non-thought provoking way. This is a symptom of our times and the stress of recession. Art generally falls by the wayside in terms making us thoughtful consumers. We want escapism and safety when we have to worry about unemployment and food. It’s why we’ll read the same type of romance or sci-fi story over and over, knowing exactly how it will end, the only difference being character names and slight alterations in plot. Our reading standards decrease, because, hey we’ve done this before…I know how it ends…and that is one less thing to worry about.
I haven’t read Shades of Gray but I do remember when Twilight came out. I couldn’t simply dismiss it so I had to do research. So after reading the series I asked my students what appealed to them. It turns out it was a romance they’d heard before, written in the same type of wish-fulfillment fantasy that Hollywood makes large profits on. They were never really concerned with the outcome. Instead, the story gathered all the filmmaking and gothic romance tropes together in one place. It was icing. The sweet part without the cake.
I think the publishing industry should keep their standards and perhaps make them even more rigorous. I know that is disappointing to hear but take it with a grain of salt because it’s all relative. Having said that, I think that indie publishing is the place for fanfiction to grow. Everyone wants to be a writer. I’ve seen an explosion in the amount of students queued for my classes. It’s good for the market as a whole as it brings in new readers. I also think that big publishing should be hesitant to jump into that pool completely. For one, it will delegitimize the industry, something that will only be realized in 20 years when they look back at the current trend and say, “Oh right. How could we have thought The Bachelor could win us an Emmy?” But don’t shun it either. Hold writing contests with submission fees and award small publishing prizes for amateur fan fiction writers. Recognize the group and make a profit too. But at the same time, publishers have to realize it’s a temporary niche market. Very few people will quote Shades of Gray in twenty years. Remember to leave room for the other writers who we will be talking about. When our society no longer just wants to sit down and let a low quality book just wash over them, I can only hope we don’t ignore the next Fitzgerald simply because he/she didn’t sell an extraordinary amount of books on Amazon. We just can’t let that dictate greatness. Sorry for the long post.
Sommer Leigh says
Readers care about great storytelling. They want to be transported by the stories they read.
But isn't it our job as writers (and the publishing industry as a whole) to supply great storytelling that is also well written? Why does it have to be either/or?
I read the 50 Shades trilogy. It's really very awful writing, but clearly it's got a story that people want to read about. But wouldn't it have just hit it out of the park if it could have also been written really well with a plotline that doesn't wander aimlessly?
Carmen Webster Buxton says
Count me in the camp that says good story telling trumps good writing. To me, the single most important thing that makes a book "good" is that the reader cares what happens to the characters. That said, there is a basic level of competence that I feel a story should have and if it doesn't, it makes me flinch to read it.
The difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction is something that I have thought about off and on for several years. I blogged about my realizations last October. To put that in a nutshell: People who prefer reading literary fiction focus on how the story is told eg the prose. People who prefer reading commercial fiction get pulled into the story and don't notice those things that drive the literary peeps crazy. Those are two different ways of reading a book. Neither way is right or wrong. Neither way is better than the other. They are just different.
People who prefer reading literary fiction don't seem to get that same visceral feel that readers of commercial fiction do. When I am reading Harry Potter, I am right there with Harry seeing Diagon Alley for the first time, battling a troll, confronting Voldemort and so on. I do not notice how Rowling is telling me this, because that gets in the way of me experiencing the story. To notice the overuse of adverbs and the words was and were, I have to turn off the reading for enjoyment part of my brain and turn on the analytical part of my brain.
I think this is true for all bestselling novels. They are bestsellers because they pull people into the stories and don't let them go until they get to the end. If you're not one to viscerally enjoy reading a book, then it will be hard to understand why Twilight, The Da Vinci Code, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc. are so popular.
It is not easy and requires a lot of skill to write compelling prose that will pull people in and give them the a great ride.
Mary Mary says
I think it's all about what sells, and not much else. Those subpar books that have become bestsellers all have one thing in common: they took a daring, and at times out-there idea, and wrote a story around it. There's a big difference between good writing and writing something that will sell.
Renee DeAngelo says
Everything in the writing world is pretty much subjective. I think a story has to both be well-written and have good development to it. But different elements are more important to some than others. 50 Shades, (Love that you're reading this by the way…can't wait to hear your thoughts)from this writer's point of view, does develop into a great story. Is the writing the best,it's up to the reader to decide now that its published. Judging from the amount of buzz it gets, I would say readers at least are willing to give stories with an interesting plot a chance if it can grab interest and give them a great story. The industry should focus on making the readers happy.
Peter Dudley says
I'm unconvinced the majority of the reading public cares about "good" writing. They care about stories and settings and characters. Prose? I'm not sure I buy it.
I totally agree. Reading really good prose can be tiring and requires undivided attention due to wide vocabulary and subtleties hidden among the words. Today, however, people read while cooking dinner or waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice or standing on the train. Popular fiction gets read at these times because it's easier to consume. Or rather, prose that's easier to consume is more likely to be read at these times. Probably a better way to say it.