How do terrible books get published?

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 1st, 2010, 3:26 pm

polymath wrote:Margo, Pork tenderloin provençal, pear butter toast points, and rutabaga, turnip, and potato mashers to go with those brussel sprouts?
Dangit, polymath, stop making me want to cook. It's not safe. It's not safe for anyone when I cook. The horror. The horror...
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 1st, 2010, 3:47 pm

I think there are two conversations going on here (3 if you count the culinary takeover---which I'm trying not to because it's making me hungry, though I'm relieved to see that for once it wasn't me who somehow turned a topic into a food discussion).

Yes, people have varied taste in reading material; no book is ever going to be loved by absolutely every reader.

Lots of books (probably most) have some aspect, whether a storyline or a technical detail, that many readers might have preferred to have had done another way.

Tons of books have great stories but perhaps the writing was less than extraordinary. Others have gorgeous, glorious prose but dialogue or characterization falls flat.

I don't think that's what this thread was intended to discuss.

I fully believe that books that become best sellers always (or almost always) are doing something very, very right---not necessarily everything, but something. I don't think that's what we're discussing either.

There are, sadly, many (MANY) books that get published that are really just, well, bad. They don't excel at storytelling or beautiful prose, they're full of cliches and often grammatical errors and typos, the plot is predictable and not all that interesting, the characters are stereotypes, the pov headhops so much you have to reread pages just to figure out what's going on or who's thinking what...and yet there they are, in print, for sale, and not even cheap. Sometimes the authors are famous for other works that (likely had tons more merit), other times they're first-timers. Those are the books that make you wonder WTF is going on here?

For the successful writers who publish the occasional horrid piece I think it's one of two things---either they really like the piece for some personal reason and manage to get it out because they are already well-known and therefore people will buy it just for name recognition/curiosity....or they're being pressured to churn out more books than can possibly be really high quality. Publishers are leaning on their top authors to produce more books, more quickly, because they see them as guaranteed sales. Readers are often more likely to be forgiving of an author whose books they've read and liked before, but at some point it becomes obvious to everyone if a writer is reusing the same plot over and over again or has stopped taking the time to make clear pov switches. Those are the kind of things that make it difficult to understand exactly how it is that that book has made it to the stands when others can't even find a publishing house.

It becomes that much harder to understand when the work comes from a new writer. I'm not talking about work that is not Pulitzer material or is not your personal cup of tea---I'm talking about stuff that is bad. Published books with a 1 star rating on Amazon, books that you read with a furrow in your brow because you can't believe they're in print, books with characters who are flat and lifeless, stories where you know the ending before you finish chapter one.

To use chick lit as an example, that genre evolved because women wanted fun stories about young women that weren't traditional romances and contained more sassyness and less cliche-filled bodice ripping style romance---"real" stories of what it was like to be a young woman dealing with the actual stuff young women deal with. It's a genre that has always existed, and always will, but once it became labeled chick lit, and defined as a hot trend, suddenly everyone and their sister was writing chick lit and it became even more of a cliche than the cliches it was originally trying to avoid. And these books, no matter how awful, kept getting published because it was the hot thing. Now the mere mention of the term is considered taboo and those people who are trying to (or succeeding at) fresh takes on the genre are having a hard time finding placement because the market is "oversaturated" and the genre is "dead". That's unfortunate, because in its early days I was actually a fan of the genre and I know there are some writers out there writing great new stuff and I worry that because of timing and negative connotations they may never get to print. (And no, I don't write chick lit so this isn't sour grapes or query grief talking).

Now will someone kindly pass me some food?
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Down the well » December 1st, 2010, 4:04 pm

cheekychook wrote:There are, sadly, many (MANY) books that get published that are really just, well, bad. They don't excel at storytelling or beautiful prose, they're full of cliches and often grammatical errors and typos, the plot is predictable and not all that interesting, the characters are stereotypes, the pov headhops so much you have to reread pages just to figure out what's going on or who's thinking what...and yet there they are, in print, for sale, and not even cheap. Sometimes the authors are famous for other works that (likely had tons more merit), other times they're first-timers. Those are the books that make you wonder WTF is going on here?
These would be the pork rinds of literature.

But somebody somewhere must like them, as polymath earlier attested to. Don't you think? To a writer's eye these books seem like horrible publishing mistakes, but to the casual reader on the subway or in the dentist's office who doesn't dissect the plot and dialogue, who doesn't care about cliche and POV, they must entertain on some level. Yes? No?
Last edited by Down the well on December 1st, 2010, 11:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Mira » December 1st, 2010, 4:15 pm

Cheeky - Chick lit is dead? Why on earth? I'm starting a new thread about this. I LOVE chick lit. When done well, it's hilarious and fun.

In terms of how debut authors get very bad books published, I think that's a holdover from the old referral system. Someone knows someone who knows someone......and they get a book published. Or they wrote on the right topic. Or they are especially charming and happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Nowadays, and I hate to say it, but it might come from social networking. I recently read a debut book because the author is a delightful social networker (no, I'm not talking about Kriestan White - loved her book). Well, the book just wasn't ready - it should not have gone to print. It's a shame, and that author lost me as a reader unless she goes bestseller in a future book. People are in such a rush to publish. I really don't ever, ever want to publish a book unless it is well and truly ready.

We have to be careful. It's not just on the publisher not to publish a book that's not ready, it's on the writer too. Don't put your book out there - in public - until you are sure it is good. Whether you have pressure from the publisher, a drive for success, limited time, want to be published before something happens, doesn't matter. Don't publish a book that isn't good.

Which is why every writer needs a few people who will tell them the absolute truth. And not someone who has read it from the beginning - that reader will lose their objectivity, people often start to like what is familiar. That can, unfortunately, happen in critique groups. Once it's done, it's a good idea to find new eyes. Someone who will read the completed product and will tell the truth to the writer.

Luck should never be a part of being published. The only reason to be published is your book is ready for publication. This may become more and more a part of things too as e-publishing becomes the standard.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 1st, 2010, 6:06 pm

Down the well wrote:
cheekychook wrote:There are, sadly, many (MANY) books that get published that are really just, well, bad. They don't excel at storytelling or beautiful prose, they're full of cliches and often grammatical errors and typos, the plot is predictable and not all that interesting, the characters are stereotypes, the pov headhops so much you have to reread pages just to figure out what's going on or who's thinking what...and yet there they are, in print, for sale, and not even cheap. Sometimes the authors are famous for other works that (likely had tons more merit), other times they're first-timers. Those are the books that make you wonder WTF is going on here?
These would be the pork rinds of literature.

But somebody somewhere must like them, as polymath earlier attested to. Don't you think? To a writer's eye these books seem like horrible publishing mistakes, but to the casual reader on the subway or in the dentist's office who doesn't dissect the plot and dialogue, who doesn't care about cliche and POV, they must be entertained on some level. Yes? No?
No, not for the books I'm referring to---I'm talking about books that even your most run of the mill reader would declare poorly written. The vast majority of my friends are not writers, but many of them are active readers and read a wide range of genres. I'm not talking about plots that aren't nuanced enough or writing that's commonplace---to be honest I truly enjoy a light, trashy read---the books I am wondering about are the ones that are just plain awful. These are books that my friends will say "Oh my God I can't believe someone published this." And many of them don't know I write, so it's got nothing to do with that.

I have nothing against pork rinds, real or literary. The books I'm discussing taste more like the bag. That's what I don't get.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 1st, 2010, 6:24 pm

Mira wrote:Cheeky - Chick lit is dead? Why on earth? I'm starting a new thread about this. I LOVE chick lit. When done well, it's hilarious and fun.

In terms of how debut authors get very bad books published, I think that's a holdover from the old referral system. Someone knows someone who knows someone......and they get a book published. Or they wrote on the right topic. Or they are especially charming and happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Nowadays, and I hate to say it, but it might come from social networking. I recently read a debut book because the author is a delightful social networker (no, I'm not talking about Kriestan White - loved her book). Well, the book just wasn't ready - it should not have gone to print. It's a shame, and that author lost me as a reader unless she goes bestseller in a future book. People are in such a rush to publish. I really don't ever, ever want to publish a book unless it is well and truly ready.

We have to be careful. It's not just on the publisher not to publish a book that's not ready, it's on the writer too. Don't put your book out there - in public - until you are sure it is good. Whether you have pressure from the publisher, a drive for success, limited time, want to be published before something happens, doesn't matter. Don't publish a book that isn't good.

Which is why every writer needs a few people who will tell them the absolute truth. And not someone who has read it from the beginning - that reader will lose their objectivity, people often start to like what is familiar. That can, unfortunately, happen in critique groups. Once it's done, it's a good idea to find new eyes. Someone who will read the completed product and will tell the truth to the writer.

Luck should never be a part of being published. The only reason to be published is your book is ready for publication. This may become more and more a part of things too as e-publishing becomes the standard.
There have been countless articles about how chick lit is dead. It's not really. The term is dead, that's all. It's taken on a negative connotation and the market put out too many similar books in too short a time period, so now the term is taboo. There will always be a market for books about young women. There always has been. It's not going to change. It just isn't referred to as "chick lit" by most people anymore.

Luck is, however, a part of any subjective business. Whether you're playing music, writing, making movies, baking cakes, running a restaurant, painting portraits...whatever...different people will like your work to varying degrees. If the right person who loves your stuff comes into contact with it you'll do great---if the wrong person who isn't so crazy about it or outright hates it or is having a bad day comes across it, it can ruin your chances. New restaurants can tank after one lukewarn review. Bands have been signed after years of going nowhere gigs because one random night some producer happened to catch a show and like them. Sure talent and hard work come into play, but they're not guarantees like they are in other areas of life---luck plays a very big part of success in any field that requires someone to "like" something.

I agree that writers shouldn't send out their work until it's as ready as they can possibly get it, and I agree that that takes countless readings by as many people as you can get, preferably some of whom have no emotional attachment to you whatsoever, and better still if they're really harsh with a red pen. Even then your work will likely benefit from the eyes and thoughts of a professional editor and that's something a writer should be able to depend on a publisher to provide. Writers do a lot to get their work to that place, the publisher, editor and agent have to share the responsibility in varying amounts for what the final product looks like.

The books I'm referring to for the purpose of this thread are books that publishers put out that weren't ready or weren't that great to begin with---those books are encouraging people to self-publish before they're ready because they're setting the bar so low. At least that's my take on it.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by polymath » December 1st, 2010, 6:36 pm

An issue I have with "chick" is its derogatory connotations. At one time in merry old Elizabethan England prostitution was legal. Licensed streetwalkers were required to wear a bird of some kind on their apparell to advertise their wares, live, stuffed toy, applique, etc. That's one source of "chick" as a slang term for a woman. "Bird" has similar connotations.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by cheekychook » December 1st, 2010, 6:42 pm

polymath wrote:An issue I have with "chick" is its derogatory connotations. At one time in merry old Elizabethan England prostitution was legal. Licensed streetwalkers were required to wear a bird of some kind on their apparell to advertise their wares, live, stuffed toy, applique, etc. That's one source of "chick" as a slang term for a woman. "Bird" has similar connotations.
"Chick" can be used in a derogatory manner. It can also be used innocently or as a compliment. Women often have a weird sense about things like this. Although the word "chick" isn't contained in this bit of dialogue, I'm going to quote from a FRIENDS episode to describe what I mean:

PHOEBE: So, I figured it out.

JOEY: What?

PHOEBE: Why Scott doesn't want to sleep with me. It's 'cause I'm not sexy enough.

JOEY: Phoebe, that's crazy. When I first met you, you know what I said to Chandler? I said, "Excellent butt, great rack."

PHOEBE: Really? That's so sweet. I mean, I'm officially offended but, sweet.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Aimée » December 1st, 2010, 9:44 pm

Margo wrote: The horror. The horror...
Haha. The Heart of Darkness is my favorite book ever.

Oh, I love broccoli too. Delicious!

There are are only three books I have ever started to read but could not finish. One was Ramona and her Mother. Squirting the toothpaste in the sink was such a waste to me that my 12 year old self couldn't take it! The second was a horror thriller about a girl babysitting, and I just so happened to be babysitting while I was reading it, so obviously that didn't turn out well... And the third fit into this category of so awfully written that I couldn't stand to read the next page. The author just dragged on and on about one measly incident. I think it was like the main character doing karaoke for about fifty pages. I wanted to rip my eyes out. And it was a bestseller! It got movie rights and everything! The movie was great though... One of my favorites. I'm not sure if I should name the book... I don't want to be rude. Or at least blatantly rude anyway.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 1st, 2010, 10:41 pm

Aimée wrote:Haha. The Heart of Darkness is my favorite book ever.
Speaking of a book some people love and other despise. One of my faves as well.
Aimée wrote:I'm not sure if I should name the book... I don't want to be rude. Or at least blatantly rude anyway.
I know the feeling. Lately I've been keeping it vague if I'm being critical of a book and naming it if I'm praising the work.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by sharla » December 2nd, 2010, 1:44 pm

I was at a conference last year and was so excited after a class given by a relatively famous author, that I ran out to the table and bought two of her books. Never read her before, but the class was fantastic, she was fantastic, of course her books would be fantastic. Right?

Wrong.

Having spent so much time critting, and being critted, I found myself unable to even get into the story because of all the WRONGNESS! It was like reading amateur hour. I would have critted it to death.

And if I would submit something like that, it would be butchered. But she is 6-7 times published.

Go figure.

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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 2nd, 2010, 2:12 pm

sharla wrote:And if I would submit something like that, it would be butchered. But she is 6-7 times published.

Go figure.
The fact that she is already many-times published is indeed the reason why she can let her quality slide. The rules are different once the author has established an audience. The good part of that is they're allowed to experiment a little more. The bad part of that is they're allowed to refuse editorial direction. Ideally, they would only exercise the good part and not the bad, but for some that is just not the case.

Maybe if more authors refused to let their work slide, the others would find they had to hustle to keep up or lose their readers to better writers.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by polymath » December 2nd, 2010, 2:29 pm

I feel writers with near-term proven publishing success too easily detour into digressive territory. Once they've made the grade they bring back the shortcomings they tediously excised in order to break through. Not so much from laziness as a wont to reimpose their preferred unique stylistic qualities on their writing that readers have difficulty accessing. The backslide isn't on quality, per se, but how readers are able to respond. Many a promising author enjoyed stellar ascendance only to languish soon thereafter on backlists.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Fenris » December 2nd, 2010, 2:46 pm

I think Poly's got the right idea here. Once an author is published, if they're smart, they're not going to sit back and say "Okay, now I don't have to work as hard." However, their newfound fame and following may go to their head, increasing their faith in their own infallibility. It's not so much "I don't have to work hard" as it is "They loved my writing before, so they'll love it again, right?" Except that they forget that "their writing" was, by publishing time, more of a conglomeration of theirs, their agent's, their editor's (or editors'), beta readers', and critique partners' input. As humans, once we're in the limelight, we tend to try and hog it.
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Re: How do terrible books get published?

Post by Margo » December 2nd, 2010, 3:01 pm

I think the truth behind bad fiction from an established author probably runs the gamut from laziness to self-indulgence to sincere but failed experimentation.
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