12.04.2005

It's trash I tell you, trash.

Miss Snark,

I ran across your site for the first time this evening and look forward to perusing your archives to catch up. What a great resource for the legions of wannabe (gonnabe?) novelists like myself. Thanks, I get a kick out of your posts!

This is the second reference I've seen to the relatively tiny number of books that see even modest sales each year. I'm left with a burning question. Why is there so much crap published?

I go through a lot of novels, and lately it seems like half of the newer ones (cozy mysteries are a particular culprit) are simply bad. I realize tastes differ, but I'm talking poor diction, swarms of tacky adverbs, lame-ass dialogue....Really.

Why is there so much bad fiction out there? Is there money to be made in publishing it?
Yes.

And remember, you aren't the average reader anymore. You're reading as a writer. I have several friends who read "trash" and barely notice lame ass dialogue not to mention plot endings that resemble train wrecks of coincidence. They aren't reading this for anything other than pure escape. Think "Desperate Housewives" and "The Gong Show" between covers.

13 comments:

kitty said...

Oh God, every time I hear "The Gong Show" I think of poor Eunice fracturing that treacly song "Feelings."

MissWrite said...

But then, why does this make it seem like the endless conundrum?

Publishers know what the average reader is like, 'trash', if you want to call it that, gets published...

...but it's so damned difficult to get published unless you're work shines like a beacon admist a sea of drudge (or slush).

The whole thing is enough to frustrate the fingers off of a writer. I'm not talking the (pardon any exceptions here) highbrow literati who wish to dazzel the world with their 'new Hemingway' novels. I'm talking plain folks, like myself, who just want to entertain, and maybe even fancy that we do it well.

ARGH

Linda Adams said...

It's a very common writer fallacy. Every time a discussion comes up about a blockbuster, the writers snipe about why it's so successful when there are so many writing mistakes. I was so bad at this that I thought the general writing quality had gone downhill over the last ten years--until I reread one of those older books. Writing quality has actually gone up quite a bit.

Now I try to look at what's right with the book--what is it about this book that got it published, that made it a best seller when others didn't.

Bernita said...

"gonnabe"...
Hmmm.
Nice term.

Rick said...

Argh, indeed, Misswrite!

One thing to remember is that established writers are a brand name. Their readers mostly want (I suspect) a familiar, comfy tone - or even keep buying in hope that the author will recapture the magic that once drew them in. By his later years, Robert Heinlein could have published the Tashkent phone book and still hit the bestseller list; in fact, the Tashkent phone book would have been an improvement.

Think of how many authors' first few books were their best - back when they still had to fight for a place on the shelves.

The most sobering news I've ever read about the slushpile is something I saw in a blog (forget which one) a few weeks ago: that in spite of the hilarious slushpile horror stories, a large proportion of slush is "not bad." Just not quite good enough to climb out of the slushpile.

Remember that our mss are in a double competition - with the best few percent of "not bad" slush, and for the relatively small share of their bookbuying dollars that readers are willing to venture on a new, never-heard-of-this-one author.

kim reid said...

"Now I try to look at what's right with the book--what is it about this book that got it published, that made it a best seller when others didn't."

Linda makes a great point. As writers, it's pretty easy to scrutinize a book for problems, probably our inclination to do so. The test is reading a bestseller, knowing we don't get the hype, but taking lessons on what made it work for so many readers.

Writers' boards are filled with angst over Dan Brown's success, with no shortage of negative criticism of his talent. That energy might best be spent figuring what he did right - not imitating his style, but finding which universal elements of good storytelling were used and how.
A gazillion readers can't all be wrong.

kitty said...

Why all the fuss over Brown's book? Am I the only one who liked Da Vinci's Code?

Feisty said...

My cat liked it.

MissWrite said...

Of course, plain folks like myself ought to learn to use your instead of you're... kicking myself in the butt for that one. So sorry. :) Miss Write has duely chastised herself with a wet noodle.

Harry Connolly said...

As James D. Macdonald says, the-writing-stinks-but-it-sells-a-lot-of-copies is a genre all its own, and a particularly difficult one to break into.

If there're two things I've noticed about books in that category, it's these: the main character is an expert or otherwise highly capable, and the book has or gives the impression that the research is thorough and bulletproof. Brown's book gives the impression, of course, but it combines a thrill ride story with a journey into a part of the world that fascinates people.

Anonymous said...

Read 'On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile' at the 'Grumpy Old Bookman' blog. As Rick said, a large proportion of the slush pile consists of perfectly good entertaining stories that are every bit as good as (very possibly better than) the latest John Grisham/Frederick Forsyth/Danielle Steele/Insert Big-Name-Author Here bestseller. There are more of these perfectly good manuscripts - probably many times more, though I don't know the statistics - than there are slots in the publisher's list that aren't already occupied by established bestsellers, books under contract, and books by people with contacts in the firm. How does a hypothetical editor pick one out of the slush pile to fill the vacant slot? S/he'd like to pick the 'best' one from the slush pile, but what makes the 'best'? Everyone has their own definition of what makes a good book. Most of us couldn't define even our own preferences clearly - we say things like 'characters I care about', 'a page-turner', 'can't put it down', 'distinctive voice', 'a compelling story', 'I know it when I see it'. Insiders, at least when they are interviewed or write on blogs, tend to use much the same kind of phrases. All of these descriptions mean different things to different people. So the hypothetical editor picks the book that s/he likes best, and/or thinks (guesses?) will sell best. If the acquisitions committee doesn't veto it, some author has a deal and can break out the champagne. Good for them. But does it mean their book was necessarily any 'better' than the other 9, or 99, or 999 other manuscripts that got the form rejection letters? All of them? Every time? Who knows? But I rather doubt that even editors at publishing houses are that infallible. In at least a proportion of cases, it means the lucky manuscript and the lucky writer was just that: lucky. In the right place and on the right desk at the right time. It's a roulette game. Your number might come up. Most likely it won't. It doesn't necessarily mean there was anything wrong with your book. You can carry on playing the tables or not as you see fit, but don't see it as an arbiter of the quality or otherwise of your writing.
As Torgo, an editor at a publishing house, said recently on his blog, '[The system] works for us. But why should it work for you?' (http://honestcritiques.blogspot.com/2005/12/time-i-was-in-bed.html).
Kate

Rick said...

Kate, "Rats in the Slush Pile" is probably where I read that information, too.

For The Trees said...

Well, Kate, I haven't read "Rats in the Slush Pile," but your comment here probably sums it up well...

And thanks for the validation of my writing. Now I don't feel bad for self-publishing my books. I **KNOW** my work is good, I've been told by hundreds of people - including two professional editors. So I'm happy NOT to go tossing my stuff into a slush pile.

Because I don't want to gamble. It's too addicting. I'd rather self-publish (on Lulu.com) and self-promote - which I understand you have to do ANYWAY - than sweat bullets over someone's "might-choose-my-book" odds.

Thanks. I feel better.