Pointing fingers: Who’s fault is a bad book?

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Taken from Stephenie’s website, stepheniemeyer.com

There was a lot of hoopla on writer Twitter last week when Stephenie Meyer announced that she would be finally releasing Midnight SunTwilight only from Edward’s point of view. Twelve years ago, halfway through writing it, someone leaked it, and heartbroken, Stephanie didn’t finish it letting the half-done manuscript sit on her website.

The vitriol on Writer Twitter started immediately. I even saw someone make a parody of the cover of Midnight Sun which features a pomegranate. In the parody, the designer used a peeled banana. It didn’t take me long to get sick of the scathing remarks.

Coincidence, or maybe not, I saw on Instagram that E L James is starting to write the last 50 Shades book from Christian’s point of view.

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And a few days ago, someone on Twitter posted a poll: Who is the worst best-selling author among Ken Follett, Nicholas Sparks, and Dan Brown. It was an unnecessary and meaningless post. I told her so, and we got into a little catfight until ultimately she told me to grow up. I found that funny because I wasn’t the one tearing down best-selling authors in public.

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But all this mud opinion slinging, all these disparaging remarks, begs a question: whose fault is a bad book?

It’s easy to pin in it on the author. Readers take passages from a book to make fun of it, they make gagging noises when reading the Look Inside of a book on Amazon, they live tweet their reactions to books hoping to start a mob of dislike. (Public Twitter shaming is big in YA, especially if the topic of racism/race is involved.)

Is it always the author’s fault when a bad book is published?

In the indie world, it sure is. Whether indies don’t hire an editor because they can’t afford it, or don’t think they need one, or they hire one then ignore everything that editor says because it’s “their book and they can do what they want,” when an indie self-publishes, everything from cover to cover is their responsibility.

Some say it’s not really fair. Finding resources, resources that are affordable and trustworthy, is hard. I totally get that and it’s why I’ve stopped reviewing indie books. Sometimes no matter how hard an author tries, their book isn’t going to be good enough. When it comes to Stephenie Meyer or E L James, their best obviously wasn’t good enough for some people, either.

Though, when an author gets picked up by an agent, when that agent sells work to a publishing house who employs several editors, when does the responsibility shift from author to publishing house? Is there no differentiation? When you publish a book, your name is on it. It belongs to you. You’re responsible for the outcome, good or bad, and I guess when you’re a reader, you don’t stop to consider that a “bad,” traditionally-published book has been looked at by probably close to five sets of eyes–one belonging to an agent who deemed it sellable in the first place. Twilight was actually found a slush pile by agent assistant at Writers House who passed it along to a senior agent, Jodie Reamer.

If you get picked up by an agent, and she sells it, and an editor edits it, the house publishes it and puts a few thousand dollars at marketing it, are you that remiss in thinking that your book is good or that you’re a decent writer? Agents are gatekeepers after all, and it’s why some writers still query and never self-publish even if they never find an agent. They need the validation. They need to be told their writing is good.

And all these musings beg another question: When an agent, editor, publishing house says an author is a great writer, but the readers say she is not, who is correct? The house who pays the author an advance, or the readers on Twitter who tweets live what a piece of shit it is?

Is it the author’s fault they believe the agent, the editor, and the publishing house? Of course not. Is it the author’s fault the editor skimped on edits and pushed the book out to meet reader demand and take advantage of social media momentum like in the case of 50 Shades of Grey? I don’t think so.

So why all the finger pointing at the author when the book is taken out of their hands?

I mean, do you think E L James’s editor pulled her aside and told her to join a writing critique group? Probably not. Erika didn’t have time anyway, she was too busy rolling in money and watching Jamie Dornan strip on set.

The thing is, as writers, we’re bound to get better. I read The Mister and it was definitely a change from 50 Shades. She got better. Now, we’ll probably never know if she took some creative writing classes or read some craft books, or if that time around her editor took more time with her and The Mister went through more rounds of edits than 50 Shades.

I tell indies on my blog and on Twitter all the time–it’s not your editor’s responsibility to teach you how to write. If you get a 1,000 dollar editing bill from a copy editor, you’d be better off investing in two English/creative writing classes. Which do you think is the better investment? The classes that could help you for your entire career, or the edits from one book?

If you’re an indie and your editor highlights every single sentence because of grammar, punctuation, or it simply doesn’t make sense, you need to take the future of your writing into your own hands. Not every writer is going to have an MFA, but if you don’t understand tension, conflict, stakes, plot, and character arcs, you best figure it out or you’re always going to have problems and your books will never sell.

That’s a big difference between bestselling authors who use too many adverbs and an indie who doesn’t know how to plot–story. Stephenie’s and Erika’s agents knew a good story when they read one, and so did their publishing houses, and most importantly, so did their readers.

Maybe it’s not fair of me to blame an indie for their weaknesses and not a traditionally published author. In the case of a “bad” book, though, it’s not an author’s fault if their agent and editor tell them that their book is good. Those people are supposed to be in the know–and they didn’t end up wrong–numbers of copies sold proves that.

As Grace Metalious said of her runaway bestseller Peyton Place, “If I’m a lousy writer, a hell of a lot of people have lousy taste.” A sentiment I’m sure E L James shares, and a sentiment that brings the literary versus commercial fiction argument full circle.

You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily

If books like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are so offensive because of sparkling vampires, horny main characters, and typos so abundant that even the free version of Grammarly would meet its match, why do so many people read them? In one of my tweets to the writer with the poll, I told her she can read who she likes. No one is forcing her to read Nicholas Sparks.

There are a lot of ways a book can be “bad.” The story can be well-written but more boring than hell. The author may not know her grammar and punctuation, or subject-verb agreement, or maybe she has a crutch word issue like the girl from Tik Tok pointed out making fun of Stephenie’s use of the word “chuckled.” (An editing failure, in my opinion.)

We all aspire to write “good” well-written novels and we chafe when we do so (or we think we have) and we’re not recognized. That’s luck and what’s hitting the market at any particular time, and you’e not proving anything to anyone showing off sour grapes because an author you deemed “not worthy” has found that luck and niche in the market.

What can you do besides wasting time with useless polls?

Work on your craft. Read books that won’t offend your high-society taste. Query your heart out or learn marketing because, honey, that’s the only way your book will see the light of day.

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So, who’s fault is a bad book? I suppose after such a long blog post hashing out the question, we can determine there are no bad books written, only bad matches between book and reader. The only difference is some readers are more vocal about their unhappiness and some aren’t.

I wish Writer Twitter weren’t so vocal about it. It’s not like a lot of those writers have anything to brag about. Sometimes I find the reader who complains the loudest is only making themselves feel better because their books fall into the same camp they’re trashing online.

I wish Stephenie all the success in the world with Midnight Sun. And I hope Erika’s critics never stop her from writing.

There are books out there for everyone. Read what you like and leave the rest of us alone.


Resources I used for this blog post:

The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers


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EL James has written another book! (And why does anyone care?)

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Photo taken from iD Boox. Click here for the article.

There was some big news in the book world last week: EL James has written another book!

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I heard about it in a few Facebook writing groups I’m in, and Publisher’s Weekly had to mention it in one of the newsletters I subscribe to.

The thing is, I don’t understand why anyone cares, and so passionately, it seems.

Well, I understand. Her 50 Shades of Grey took the romance community by storm and sold a record number of books. The trilogy was turned into movies, which, in turn, made E L James a household name and millionaire. It’s what any indie writer, or any writer, for that matter, dreams of.

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She was a so-called “overnight success” (though her fanfiction of Twilight had been online for free for years prior) and the inventor of what is now called “Mommy porn.”

But why is it such big news that she’s writing again?

Even if you didn’t like 50 Shades of Grey, you have admire a woman who could write a few books that captivated so many people. Regardless of how well, or not well, they were written, James told a great story. If you want to read about what made her trilogy so intriguing, read The Bestseller Code. The authors of that book break down what James did (either purposely or by mistake) that made her books so un-put-down-able.

I didn’t read her books. I bought the trilogy a long time ago from a thrift store, and I flipped through the other two in a Target while my kids looked at toys. But I didn’t buy them.

I did, however LOVE the movies. I own them and rewatch them all the time. And yep, I paid to see them in the theatre. If the movies followed the storylines of the books at all, I can see where people would be intrigued.

But in terms of the indie community, I don’t understand the derision aimed at poor Mrs. James. I mean, if you’re going to roast her over an open flame for the bad writing, what are YOU doing to improve yours?

christian grey had his tools. do you have yours_

I’m glad that EL James has written another book. I’m glad she had the courage after being treated how she was by the writing community (proving once again that writers are not readers. READERS purchased her book, and it was the READERS who lined her bank account.) I’m glad she wasn’t intimidated by her own success.

I think this is an opportunity for writers to support other writers. What can we do to support other writers?

  1. Stop tearing each other down.
    EL James wasn’t fully responsible for her book being what it was. She was a first time author, and her publishing house could have supported the editing process more than it did. Instead they pushed out her book to make use of her popularity online. It paid off, but I’m not denying her book could have been edited better.
  2. Leave positive feedback. 
    Even the most horribly of written books can have positive things you can say about them. And if you feel you can’t be nice about anything, just don’t say anything at all. Sometimes silence really does speak louder than words.
  3. Don’t read outside the genre of your preference.
    The thing that made the most angry were the people who were dissing 50 Shades of Grey weren’t James’s target audience. 50 Shades was a New Adult, possibly Young Adult novel, and if you couldn’t appreciate the book for what it was–Anastasia Steele trying to find her place in the world while falling in love–then the book wasn’t for you to begin with.
  4. Learn from James’s mistakes.
    Instead of laughing at the kind of book 50 Shades is, take a look at what you didn’t like about it, and learn how to avoid those things in your own writing. Did she not pull off 1st person? Too many adverbs? Was her book too wordy? Were there plot holes? (The movies indicate there were.)
  5. But also realize she did SOMETHING right.
    She had to have, otherwise no matter how much marketing she had behind her, her books never would have taken off to the extent they did. What did she do right? She’s a good storyteller. Christian Grey was notably, romantically flawed. He was everything a reader wants in a romance novel hero.
  6. Be careful what you wish for.
    Success comes with people who will be jealous of you, and who will want to cut you down just for the fact you made it and they didn’t. To be ostracized for success isn’t something anyone wishes for. And while James seems to have had all the luck and success in this world, you want people to keep your books on their shelves–not donate them to a thrift store.
    This isn’t the kind of reading nook you want people to build with discarded copies of your books.

    50 shades fort

 

Congratulations to EL James on her release! Let me know if you plan to read it. 🙂

The Mister is on pre-order until April 16, 2019. If you want to preorder it, click here.

Thanks for reading!