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Taerak's Void
by M. R. Mathias

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Taerak's Void
(Book One of Fantastica)
A new series by multiple award winning author, M. R. Mathias

After finding a strange medallion and some maps with markings that no one in his village can understand, Braxton Bray decides to take it all to the Hall of Scholars in the kingdom's capital. But greed is everywhere. Braxton and a tough young female caravan guard named Nixy are forced to run for their lives, for someone else wants what Braxton found and is willing to go to great lengths to take it from him.

With a hefty, kingdom wide, bounty on their heads, not even the great wizards of the Sorcerious can help them. Left with nothing but each other, Braxton and Nixy have no choice but to get on a ship and go on an adventure that will take them places they would have otherwise never imagined. Elves, dwarves, giant gothicans, and trolls, treacherous forests on distant shores, love, death, terror, and magic all await...

Author Topic: What is a "Good" Book?  (Read 7581 times)  

Offline David Thompson

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #100 on: June 18, 2017, 06:24:01 PM »
OH NO! I can't stop myself!!

This is a good book: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2ER6EXZWU63GO

I'm sorry...it was just a joke. Honestly, I thought it might be amusing.

A good book is so subjective. I read two pages of Fifty Shades and thought it was rubbish. Sold well, though. Shows how much I know.

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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #101 on: June 18, 2017, 06:31:21 PM »
Exactly  :) I've discovered through learning about different ways to write books, that there are some things I seem to already know how to do. But I didn't pop out of my mother's uterus knowing how to do it, I read a lot of fiction for pleasure from a young age, something my dad encouraged because he's always been a heavy scifi/fantasy reader. I have no doubt the combination of my father's reading habits and being young helped me absorb certain things about 'good books'. But there are other aspects to writing and marketing I don't understand or do well, so I analyse what others are doing in an attempt to learn, to find a way to do it for myself.

Marketing is tricky.  There are so many possibilities, I think you have to find what works best for you. 

At least, that's what I got out of the long post in the other thread.  These things can all work.  Try them, find what you're good at and do a lot of it. :)

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Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #102 on: June 18, 2017, 08:14:30 PM »
I don't want to derail the thread or get into a debate on 'natural talent' (so I'll try to brief), but I can't help thinking that part of any 'pushback on systematisation' may be down to some people having internalised the process of building and utilising certain skill-sets, and therefore don't know how they do something, they just do.

Stephen King is probably a famous example of this. When you're devouring books and writing at a young age, or anything else which later in life can be transferred over to the business of writing, you're likely to be unconsciously internalising processes like structure, plotting, pacing etc. Later in life it is easy to attribute that as 'just write a good book' because doing so has become something that feels intuitive to that person. So they 'write what they feel.'

I liken it to driving a car in some ways. When I first started driving, I was conscious of everything. Check my mirrors, seat belt, start the ignition, put the car into gear, release the handbrake etc. But after a long time of doing it, I rarely even think about it anymore. The process feels intuitive to me. I instinctively know how much pressure to apply to the brakes and accelerator, how to turn the wheel in just the right way to go in the direction I want, when I can take a risk pulling into heavy/fast moving traffic and knowing how quickly my car can accelerate to catch up with the flow and not get in the way. Because I had a structure for learning how to drive, and I've internalised the process, I now get to enjoy the scenery and drive wherever I feel like it.

Some people have internalised the process of knowing when to accelerate or slow something down in their book, how to steer things to go in the direction they want early on. Some haven't, and find it useful to dissect bestsellers, so they can find a process for themselves. Some of us like to 'feel' our way through things, others like to analyse. I imagine a lot of us fall somewhere in between-we have already acquired some skill-sets, and need to break down others to learn them.

I don't know that there's any right or wrong way to learn to write a 'good book' or a book that sells, only that we should do it in whatever way makes sense to us. If it works, great. If not, back to the drawing board, try a different process.

This is a really good point. When I first got serious about studying story structure, I'd then go back and look at a lot of the things I'd written and find out that unconsciously, I had already applied that structure. And it came from a lifetime of consuming movies, where structure is very important, in addition to books, comics, etc.

I think it is good for writers to study structure, though, so they can have the vocabulary to explain why a story works or doesn't. It helps immensely when plotting out stories and at least I've found that it helps speed up the process.

Thing is, most 'average' readers (i.e., those who aren't writers) don't always go into characterization or muddle plots or anything specific like that.  They may say "I don't like the FMC's friend," or "the coffee-shop story didn't make sense."  They generally mention characters and storylines in general, and not really in enough detail that the writer can learn something from it.  (When I write a review, I do try to be specific, and not just say "I didn't like it' or "I loved this story.")

Yes, you're right, not all reviewers will go into depth. But if you see recurring things criticized in several reviews, then it's something to take a look at.

Offline BellaJames

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #103 on: June 18, 2017, 08:47:30 PM »

Yes, you're right, not all reviewers will go into depth. But if you see recurring things criticized in several reviews, then it's something to take a look at.

Exactly.


I wish I had more faith in Amazon reviews. In some genres they seem totally gamed. Titles with a 100 five-star reviews on the day of publication (and not ARCs, which is another subject)? And they say the same thing? Something stinks there.

Yeah but that is a different subject that has been discussed on here and other forums. If you use Amazon a lot you will see this on reviews for books and sometimes for seller reviews. I noticed it on Fiverr too. The same review copied and pasted.

That's where you have to use your own common sense and look a little further. This guy on a forum linked to his new ebook and all the reviews were the same 'Great book, this is a stand up guy' and when I looked through the reviewers, they were all new members. He was told that the reviews looked fake and he was damaging his writing career by doing that.

I am talking about reviews for books in your sub-genre that are selling well. The reviews are spread over a few days, weeks, months. Some from book bloggers and top Amazon or Goodreads members. Reviews which explain what that reviewer liked and did not like. if you spend a lot of time on Goodreads, you will see short story length reviews from top reviewers and then dozens of comments from other reviewers. Some of those discussions reveal a lot about what worked and what didn't work.
I've seen some indepth analysis of books and things pointed out that I missed when I was reading the book.



« Last Edit: June 18, 2017, 08:55:34 PM by BellaJames »

Online Jan Hurst-Nicholson

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #104 on: June 19, 2017, 12:54:20 AM »
True, you have no idea if it's a representative sample. But if you get several reviews in a row saying that your characterization needs work or your plots are muddled, then that's probably something to take a second look at.

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Offline Dolphin

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #105 on: June 19, 2017, 01:36:11 AM »
One of the things that a good book should do is immediately establish the values at stake. I bring this up because I just looked at Game of Thrones, and GRRM has used the word "dead" nine times in the first seven paragraphs of the prologue. Then Chapter 1 begins with Ned Stark beheading a man.

How's Pride and Prejudice begin? "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

The Da Vinci Code starts with a mysterious albino assassin in a museum.

After saying "Call me Ishmael," the narrator of Moby Dick tells us how he always knows it's time to go back to sea when he finds himself lingering around coffins and funeral processions.

Mark Dawson starts The Cleaner with Milton caught up in a crunchy sniper field problem--we know who he means when he ends his first paragraph on a sign warning of hunters in the area.

Orwell only leaves us hanging till the end of the second paragraph of 1984 before his first "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU."

From the first paragraph of Along Came a Spider: "Shreds of misty fog touched the boy as he moved closer and closer to his first moment of real glory, his first kill."

Wool starts with Holston climbing, step after worn and rusted step, to the hatch.

Dr. Seuss tells us the Grinch hates Christmas and has a heart two sizes too small on the first page.

It's a small thing, but easily forgotten: start by telling your reader what the book is about. There's so many things like this that we can learn from our peers, and those who've come before.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #106 on: June 19, 2017, 03:57:18 AM »
Dolphin gets four thumbs up for an important reminder.

(But to muddy the waters, I'll say I like slow starters, too....if I'm in the mood for them. Many readers don't want to spend the time to get into a book that doesn't set the challenge, right at the start.)

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #107 on: June 19, 2017, 04:07:04 AM »
OH NO! I can't stop myself!!

This is a good book: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2ER6EXZWU63GO

I'm sorry...it was just a joke. Honestly, I thought it might be amusing.

A good book is so subjective. I read two pages of Fifty Shades and thought it was rubbish. Sold well, though. Shows how much I know.
I don't think anyone would accuse Fifty Shades of being a good book. It has 5,000 odd reviews on Amazon.com alone declaring how very badly written it is and that is why I resent it so much. Were it well written, I would wish it and James all the best, but to know that good writers can get nowhere while someone with no skill whatsoever can do so well, is heartbreaking.


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Offline Laran Mithras

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #108 on: June 19, 2017, 06:27:06 AM »
I don't think anyone would accuse Fifty Shades of being a good book. It has 5,000 odd reviews on Amazon.com alone declaring how very badly written it is and that is why I resent it so much. Were it well written, I would wish it and James all the best, but to know that good writers can get nowhere while someone with no skill whatsoever can do so well, is heartbreaking.

She was force-pushed. Oprah shows: "have you read Fifty Shades yet?" "What everyone is talking about!" Advertising to put multi-billion dollar companies to shame. It's an age-old sales trick: sell the sizzle.

The customer begins to think, "I better buy that so I'm not left out."

That's how you sell a crappy book into a bestseller. Indie authors don't have that avenue.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #109 on: June 19, 2017, 06:40:38 AM »
She was force-pushed. Oprah shows: "have you read Fifty Shades yet?" "What everyone is talking about!" Advertising to put multi-billion dollar companies to shame. It's an age-old sales trick: sell the sizzle.

The customer begins to think, "I better buy that so I'm not left out."

That's how you sell a crappy book into a bestseller. Indie authors don't have that avenue.
Back in 2003, we went on holiday to California. On a mini bus tour of Beverley Hills, there was this awful woman from Chicago, who insisted on telling us where she had been in Hollywood, who nattered all the way through the tour until I told her we had all paid $27 to hear what the tour guide had to say, not what she had to say.

Then she started telling everyone how she had been on the Oprah show, telling the world and his wife about the row she had had with her sister. Then she told everyone how easy it was to get on there and started giving out the phone number to all and sundry. They were all more polite than me, but now you've said that, I wish I'd taken that number! :)


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Offline WHDean

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #110 on: June 19, 2017, 08:44:44 AM »
Even doing that, even knowing what readers are enjoying, doesn't necessarily help.  For example, I looked at reviews of my bestselling book (which is not a bestseller, only my bestseller) to see what readers enjoyed about it and also studied critical comments as to what they didn't enjoy.  I incorporated what I had learned into writing another book, trying to focus on what readers enjoyed and fix or eliminate the things that they didn't.  I apparently failed because the resulting book is in strong competition to become my worst seller.

And . . .  My bestselling book outsells my better written, planned and plotted book with characters that actually experience some degree of growth from the beginning to the end.

Granted, even knowing what readers want and buy isn't going to guarantee you can replicate it, but one would hope that knowing and incorporating that knowledge into your books would, at the very least, increase sales for those books as compared to other books where you didn't do that.

The small sample is only a small piece of the problem:

1. Way more people were exposed to the book than read it. Why? Maybe the audience is small for the genre. Maybe the covers are wrong for the genre. Maybe it's miscategorised. Whatever the case, the biggest barriers took effect before anyone read it. 

2. Even a large number of reviewers saying the same things may mean nothing because reviewers imitate other reviewers. As soon as someone says grammar or characterization, everyone after piles on so as not to be thought ignorant. You see this pattern on every book with a lot of reviews.

3. Reviewers can probably tell you about quality issues (e.g., typos, formatting), but they're a poor source of high-level criticism about writing because all they can tell you is what they think the problems are. I've been editing for years. If I get a book or paper with a directive, the directive is always the same, "There are some grammar problems here." Yet these texts rarely have more grammar problems than the papers that I don't get. Invariably, the actual problems are structure, usage, style, etc., not grammar. But when people find something hard to read, they zero-in on the grammar problems because those are the things they recognize. In short, people are good at seeing problems, but they rarely have the knowledge to characterize them accurately.

4. Sturgeon's Law applies collectively and individually to how-to-write-a-bestseller books: 90% of all these books are crap, and 90% of the okay books are crap.

 


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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #111 on: June 19, 2017, 08:50:32 AM »
She was force-pushed. Oprah shows: "have you read Fifty Shades yet?" "What everyone is talking about!" Advertising to put multi-billion dollar companies to shame. It's an age-old sales trick: sell the sizzle.

The customer begins to think, "I better buy that so I'm not left out."

That's how you sell a crappy book into a bestseller. Indie authors don't have that avenue.

Exactly. Few people want to acknowledge the importance of social factors in creating bestsellers and bestselling authors. There's little to learn from them because there's little to differentiate them from writers who aren't bestsellers.

 


Offline P.J. Post

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #112 on: June 19, 2017, 08:55:03 AM »
She was force-pushed. Oprah shows: "have you read Fifty Shades yet?" "What everyone is talking about!" Advertising to put multi-billion dollar companies to shame. It's an age-old sales trick: sell the sizzle.

The customer begins to think, "I better buy that so I'm not left out."

That's how you sell a crappy book into a bestseller. Indie authors don't have that avenue.

Is that what the data is suggesting? And what is this "sizzle"? I mean specifically; what exactly were they selling? A book? An experience? Inclusion? Maybe...

The reality, to me, is that FSOG is an amazing book, even if it falls short on the literary side of things. Advertising and massive distribution did not account for the phenomenon, not by a long shot. The popularity came first. There's a lot more going on under the surface; it connected with people fiercely, especially the target demographic, just like Twilight did. To dismiss either as poorly written books that simply benefited from advertising is to miss the lessons these books have to teach. And, to be fair, that's the toughest aspect of reading for research - what is the lesson here? In this case, from a product design perspective, I'm going to contribute the success to super vulnerable honesty and an almost conspiratorial "dear diary" voice. However, the product wasn't released into a vacuum. Not only was the audience massive, but it was experiencing social change, a shift in agency was taking place throughout the demographic, regardless of age, education, employment, race or nationality. I think some predisposition to gossip and subversion played a role, as well.

Indie authors do have the ability to be honest and to write compelling prose, remember that FSOG did not begin life as a novel - it was fan fiction. But a FSOG phenomenon is always going to be rare by its nature. Change comes slowly. The last time I can think of this happening over a novel was in 1956 with Peyton Place.

One of the things that a good book should do is immediately establish the values at stake.....There's so many things like this that we can learn from our peers, and those who've come before.

Totally agree. And your list shows there's lots of ways to go about it. The Handmaid's Tale does it extremely well, but not in an obviously linear manner.

ETA: Technology was changing as well, which massively benefited FSOG - ebooks/readers.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2017, 08:57:26 AM by P.J. Post »

Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #113 on: June 19, 2017, 09:08:53 AM »
The reality, to me, is that FSOG is an amazing book, even if it falls short on the literary side of things. Advertising and massive distribution did not account for the phenomenon, not by a long shot. The popularity came first. There's a lot more going on under the surface; it connected with people fiercely, especially the target demographic, just like Twilight did. To dismiss either as poorly written books that simply benefited from advertising is to miss the lessons these books have to teach. And, to be fair, that's the toughest aspect of reading for research - what is the lesson here? In this case, from a product design perspective, I'm going to contribute the success to super vulnerable honesty and an almost conspiratorial "dear diary" voice. However, the product wasn't released into a vacuum. Not only was the audience massive, but it was experiencing social change, a shift in agency was taking place throughout the demographic, regardless of age, education, employment, race or nationality. I think some predisposition to gossip and subversion played a role, as well.

Indie authors do have the ability to be honest and to write compelling prose, remember that FSOG did not begin life as a novel - it was fan fiction. But a FSOG phenomenon is always going to be rare by its nature. Change comes slowly. The last time I can think of this happening over a novel was in 1956 with Peyton Place.

From passages I've read, I think FSOG is pretty damn awful, but there's no denying that it connected with a lot of people for reasons beyond Oprah pushing it. As PJ correctly pointed out, when FSOG was just Twilight fanfic, it was still massively popular. She then rewrote it as an original work and published it online before self-publishing it as an ebook. And its continued popularity is what led to traditional publishers to come calling.

Offline Shelley K

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #114 on: June 19, 2017, 09:15:45 AM »
It's a mistake to chalk up too much of 50 Shades' success to things like Oprah. Yeah, that didn't hurt, but it was always going to do well. It broke out before the media made an issue of it. And yes, she had followers from fandom that helped make it a success, but those people were fans because she wrote a story they wanted. Sure, it was fanfic, but a lot of people read fanfic because it's the only place they can find the types of stories they want. You want to know what the next hot trends are going to be? Watch fanfic. God, BDSM has been a thing in fanfic for decades, and it really ramped up over the last decade. Readers were ready.

The evidence that readers were simply ready for books like this is how many books with similar themes and heat levels sold buckets afterward, and how many people launched six-and-seven-figure careers writing similar stuff. If there weren't readers clamoring for those stories, that wouldn't never have happened.

She hit a vein, and good for her.

It's pretty clear evidence that the emotions the reader experiences, the things the story makes them feel, are king. Skillful prose, pacing, good dialogue, all sorts of things writers think are most important are somewhere down the list. If you're good at those things, it's a lot easier to make your readers feel, but it's absolutely no guarantee that they will. You can write a million carefully crafted words and still not tell a satisfying story. She wrote a couple hundred thousand pedestrian words that, IMO, needed serious editing, and told a story 'good" enough that it propped up an entire genre.

(50 Shades was never self-published after the Twilight was scrubbed off. A lot of people think that, but it was a small Australian publisher who did fanficcy things, as I recall.)
« Last Edit: June 19, 2017, 09:22:37 AM by Shelley K »

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #115 on: June 19, 2017, 09:20:45 AM »
The reality, to me, is that FSOG is an amazing book, even if it falls short on the literary side of things. Advertising and massive distribution did not account for the phenomenon, not by a long shot. The popularity came first. There's a lot more going on under the surface; it connected with people fiercely, especially the target demographic, just like Twilight did.
...
Indie authors do have the ability to be honest and to write compelling prose, remember that FSOG did not begin life as a novel - it was fan fiction. But a FSOG phenomenon is always going to be rare by its nature. Change comes slowly. The last time I can think of this happening over a novel was in 1956 with Peyton Place.

FSOG is one of the worst books I've read, ever. The writing is far below the quality of Twilight, and compared to both Twilight and FSOG anything by Dan Brown is of near Shakespearian quality. These books are defective in everything except the romance and the romance itself is regressive, conservative and right-wing despite the smut these books superficially contain. It, the romance, hit the concurrent zeitgeist 100%, and the book came with an inbuilt fanbase. Add the "it" factor WHDean and others described and you have that sort of bestseller.  That also explains why it is hard to reproduce at will.

If you believe that the last time this happened was in the 1950s you need to look more closely at bestsellers. In the USA people like Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Suzanne regularly produced similar bestsellers. Robbins and Collins even refined this to a near-formula, which only became unglued with the general advent of colour television and finally the internet. James profited from the internet quite directly. All that doesn't mean FSOG is a good book.

4. Sturgeon's Law applies collectively and individually to how-to-write-a-bestseller books: 90% of all these books are crap, and 90% of the okay books are crap.

This.

Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #116 on: June 19, 2017, 09:25:15 AM »
(50 Shades was never self-published after the Twilight was scrubbed off. A lot of people think that, but it was a small Australian publisher who did fanficcy things, as I recall.)

I thought it was a vanity press, but looks like I was wrong. My mistake.

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #117 on: June 19, 2017, 09:38:48 AM »
I thought it was a vanity press, but looks like I was wrong. My mistake.

It was snapped up by an indie/small time publisher after it achieved a considerable following as fanfiction.

Offline sela

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #118 on: June 19, 2017, 09:45:26 AM »
FSOG is one of the worst books I've read, ever. The writing is far below the quality of Twilight, and compared to both Twilight and FSOG anything by Dan Brown is of near Shakespearian quality. These books are defective in everything except the romance and the romance itself is regressive, conservative and right-wing despite the smut these books superficially contain. It, the romance, hit the concurrent zeitgeist 100%, and the book came with an inbuilt fanbase. Add the "it" factor WHDean and others described and you have that sort of bestseller.  That also explains why it is hard to reproduce at will.

If you believe that the last time this happened was in the 1950s you need to look more closely at bestsellers. In the USA people like Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Suzanne regularly produced similar bestsellers. Robbins and Collins even refined this to a near-formula, which only became unglued with the general advent of colour television and finally the internet. James profited from the internet quite directly. All that doesn't mean FSOG is a good book.

This.

This is the problem I see with trying to define "good". It's a matter of taste and in matters of taste, there is no debate.

You can tell readers who loved Fifty Shades that it's crap -- regressive, conservative and right wing, etc. but that doesn't matter to them. I can tell consumers of chicken nuggets that factory farmed chickens are treated inhumanely and are unhealthy, that chicken nuggets are pink slime and that they will develop heart disease if they eat a steady diet of chicken nuggets and fries all their lives but -- they don't care. They know what they like and they will or won't buy it if they want chicken nuggets. Until their tastes change, chicken nuggets will rule the fast food menus.

Fifty Shades may be crap in terms of writing. There may be many reasons to criticize it. What none of us can deny is this: Fifty Shades spoke to something in millions of readers who loved it. There were millions who only mildly liked it. There were millions who hated it and hate-bought it just to see for themselves how bad it was. Thousands hate-reviewed it.

That happens with wildly successful books, movies or songs.

What is the lesson of Fifty Shades for the rest of us?

Quit concerning yourself with the merits of successful books. The only thing that matters when a book is successful is that a whole whack-load of people bought it. That's one measure of commercial success. If you want commercial success, you have to write books that a whole whack-load of people want to buy. PERIOD.

You won't know you've done that until you try.

If you don't care about commercial success, or if you care more about "quality" then do your utmost best to write what you consider to be a "good" book and put it out there. Do the best you can and see where it goes.

This is a market. Market forces, not some objective sense of "good" or "quality," rules and determines what is purchased.

The sooner people accept that reality and govern themselves accordingly, be clear about what matters to them, the happier they will be.




Offline Perry Constantine

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #119 on: June 19, 2017, 09:54:11 AM »
This is the problem I see with trying to define "good". It's a matter of taste and in matters of taste, there is no debate.

You can tell readers who loved Fifty Shades that it's crap -- regressive, conservative and right wing, etc. but that doesn't matter to them. I can tell consumers of chicken nuggets that factory farmed chickens are treated inhumanely and are unhealthy, that chicken nuggets are pink slime and that they will develop heart disease if they eat a steady diet of chicken nuggets and fries all their lives but -- they don't care. They know what they like and they will or won't buy it if they want chicken nuggets. Until their tastes change, chicken nuggets will rule the fast food menus.

Fifty Shades may be crap in terms of writing. There may be many reasons to criticize it. What none of us can deny is this: Fifty Shades spoke to something in millions of readers who loved it. There were millions who only mildly liked it. There were millions who hated it and hate-bought it just to see for themselves how bad it was. Thousands hate-reviewed it.

That happens with wildly successful books, movies or songs.

What is the lesson of Fifty Shades for the rest of us?

Quit concerning yourself with the merits of successful books. The only thing that matters when a book is successful is that a whole whack-load of people bought it. That's one measure of commercial success. If you want commercial success, you have to write books that a whole whack-load of people want to buy. PERIOD.

You won't know you've done that until you try.

If you don't care about commercial success, or if you care more about "quality" then do your utmost best to write what you consider to be a "good" book and put it out there. Do the best you can and see where it goes.

This is a market. Market forces, not some objective sense of "good" or "quality," rules and determines what is purchased.

The sooner people accept that reality and govern themselves accordingly, be clear about what matters to them, the happier they will be.

All this. Ever since I was a kid, people have never shied away from telling me that the superhero comics I've always loved to read are terrible, infantile, they devalue storytelling, etc. I still hear those same arguments today, over twenty years later. Know how many of those people I've listened to?

Not. A. Damn. One. I still read superhero comics, and I read a lot of them. And I love it.

You can keep talking about how awful books like FSOG are. But you're not going to change anyone's mind and the book is still going to sell better than yours, so might as well just let it lie and focus on writing your own books and reading books you enjoy.

Offline BellaJames

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #120 on: June 19, 2017, 10:16:48 AM »

What Sela and Perry said   

Why continue bashing FSOG? It is what it is, a mega huge success which entertained a lot of people.

Many of the fans who love it say the writing is not that good but the story is so entertaining it kept people up all night reading it. Some readers could not wait to recommend it to their girlfriends. I have work colleagues who hardly read books anymore, who are now reading again.
 I have Goodreads 'friends' who went crazy over it. Many of the fans interviewed have said that they had not read a book in a while and FSOG has got them reading again. Many of them have gone on to buy books similar to FSOG. Don't you think those authors who wrote similar books are happy that FSOG had that much influence.

I can admit that the writing is not that good but I read the ebooks and listened to the audiobooks. There is something about it that is so alluring. No it's not the BDSM (as the media like to focus on). It just held my attention and I enjoyed it.

E.L. James did her job, she wrote an entertaining book that entertained millions of readers.


Offline P.J. Post

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #121 on: June 19, 2017, 10:17:38 AM »
The evidence that readers were simply ready for books like this is how many books with similar themes and heat levels sold buckets afterward, and how many people launched six-and-seven-figure careers writing similar stuff. If there weren't readers clamoring for those stories, that wouldn't never have happened.

She hit a vein, and good for her.

It's pretty clear evidence that the emotions the reader experiences, the things the story makes them feel, are king. Skillful prose, pacing, good dialogue, all sorts of things writers think are most important are somewhere down the list. If you're good at those things, it's a lot easier to make your readers feel, but it's absolutely no guarantee that they will. You can write a million carefully crafted words and still not tell a satisfying story. She wrote a couple hundred thousand pedestrian words that, IMO, needed serious editing, and told a story 'good" enough that it propped up an entire genre.

Yeah, I think the tools we use are in service of the feelz, from sad to jubilation. I also agree that the reader experience is what matters, however we get there.

If FSOG had been edited and polished and "normalized" by New York, I don't think it would have been nearly as big as it was. There's something about the prose, as is, that connects with the demographic - in this specific book/series.

If you believe that the last time this happened was in the 1950s you need to look more closely at bestsellers. In the USA people like Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Suzanne regularly produced similar bestsellers. Robbins and Collins even refined this to a near-formula, which only became unglued with the general advent of colour television and finally the internet. James profited from the internet quite directly. All that doesn't mean FSOG is a good book.

I said it was an "amazing" book, and I think it is. And I also said, "the last time I can think of this happening" - not, the only time it ever happened. However, although Collins and Robbins were sensationalist and bestsellers, they were not social critics or phenomenons as I recall, not like Peyton Place was; and they were certainly not representative of feminist ideals about sexuality, identity and empowerment.

This is the point I'm making about FSOG: its a sociological thing, a tribal thing, an empowering thing that goes far beyond anything as banal as copy editing. Neither FSOG nor Peyton Place were planned - they just sort of happened - perfect storms.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2017, 10:23:34 AM by P.J. Post »

Offline Dolphin

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #122 on: June 19, 2017, 11:37:08 AM »
(But to muddy the waters, I'll say I like slow starters, too....if I'm in the mood for them. Many readers don't want to spend the time to get into a book that doesn't set the challenge, right at the start.)

That's fine too, for example: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Barely scratches the surface, but it does a good job of setting the tone for all 800-odd pages of Anna Karenina.

The Lord of the Rings is half again as long, and essentially a thriller, but Tolkien barely gets us started on the actual quest in the first third. The Fellowship of the Ring starts with a prolonged examination of hobbit birthday observances. We know there's more to this thing, an epic struggle of good versus evil, because he's already set the stage with his epigraph about "One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."

And secretly, hobbits are the entire point of the trilogy. We're tricked by all of the pageantry of Gondor, the mysticism of the elves, the menace of the Two Towers, but it really, truly, is "largely concerned with Hobbits."

Reviewers can probably tell you about quality issues (e.g., typos, formatting), but they're a poor source of high-level criticism about writing because all they can tell you is what they think the problems are.

Of course, but that's the most important feedback to get from a layman. They're going to read our books, so we gotta ask whether the books work for them. Yes, or no? If the answer is no, then experts--writers and editors--should be the ones providing the fixes. That's why we make the big bucks.

I don't think anyone would accuse Fifty Shades of being a good book. It has 5,000 odd reviews on Amazon.com alone declaring how very badly written it is and that is why I resent it so much. Were it well written, I would wish it and James all the best, but to know that good writers can get nowhere while someone with no skill whatsoever can do so well, is heartbreaking.

P.J.'s right: FSOG is a great book.

I'm sorry, but marketing isn't that good at putting lipstick on a pig. Not to the tune of a runaway, world-beating book and a Hollywood franchise. And like Shelley said, I don't see Oprah pushing many unknown, indy fanfics. It was successful before it became a phenomenon.

It's a mistake to allow legitimate concerns about the craft fool you into thinking that the book has no redeeming qualities. It does. You can find commonalities between Pride and Prejudice and Fifty Shades of Grey if you set aside your feelings and dig into the work.

Even if you do think that marketing sold the book, we study that too. Learn from the marketing if you can't see any merits in the writing. Ask why it was possible to position the book so successfully. Sooner or later, you're going to have to ask why people keep reading the thing after buzz and disapprobation get it into their hands.

We only make it harder on ourselves when we take this stuff personally, or become so blinded by snobbery that we can't pick out lessons. Every success can teach us something. Heartbreak is a useless, self-pitying takeaway.

Many of the fans who love it say the writing is not that good but the story is so entertaining it kept people up all night reading it. Some readers could not wait to recommend it to their girlfriends. I have work colleagues who hardly read books anymore, who are now reading again.

I have Goodreads 'friends' who went crazy over it. Many of the fans interviewed have said that they had not read a book in a while and FSOG has got them reading again. Many of them have gone on to buy books similar to FSOG. Don't you think those authors who wrote similar books are happy that FSOG had that much influence.

Yeah, man. This speaks to me.

We should all be happy when a book inspires people to read.

Offline GeneDoucette

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #123 on: June 19, 2017, 11:44:28 AM »
I've decided it's a Law of the Internet that all conversations about writing, if they go on long enough, will bring up FSOG. It's inescapable.


Online Jan Hurst-Nicholson

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Re: What is a "Good" Book?
« Reply #124 on: June 19, 2017, 11:47:23 AM »
Trying to figure out what makes a good book is as pointless as trying to figure out what makes a good marriage. Often couples who appear to have the perfect marriage end up getting divorced, and couples who don't fit any ideal of the perfect couple stay together because they have that certain something going for them that defies explanation.

Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition.
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Change 'love' to 'write good books' and that says it all  :)

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