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Authors' Forum => Writers' Cafe => Topic started by: ♨ on June 17, 2017, 12:00:25 AM

Title: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: on June 17, 2017, 12:00:25 AM
The oft-touted piece of advice for selling lots of books is to "write a good book" but that advice can be so subjective and rather vague as to be almost useless.

For what is a "good" book?

Sometimes the answer is that it's not necessarily a well-written book but one that tells a "good story" which is another bit of advice that can trap us in the same near meaningless loop once more since that too can be subjective and vague.

What is a "good" story?

It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

So I am left to wonder if it's just me.  Are those books not bad?  Am I too easily bored?  Have I become too picky to read modern books?

To me, a good book should draw you into the story.  You can see it playing out in your head as you read along.  Each page compels you to turn to the next.  Each chapter becomes the second to last chapter you want to read before putting the book down.  Eat?  Just one more chapter first!  Drink?  You can refill your glass later.  Mother Nature's calling?  Well, there is that empty glass . . .  The bottom line is that you cannot put the book down.

That's a good book.  That's the kind of book you want to emulate.

There is often debate over show vs. tell but I wonder if the real debate should be over push vs. pull.  Perhaps we need to ask of each paragraph we write if it is compelling the reader to keep going or giving them an out to put the book down.  It's not whether you are showing or telling but whether each line of your story is pulling the reader in or pushing them away.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic on June 17, 2017, 12:30:48 AM
I'll start with that my lavatory looks a bit like this:

(https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/0f/b4/5d/0fb45d54e6d8a5d2fcc5b6f30181e2fe.jpg)

I agree with most of your statements, though I'll add that in my opinion a "good book" can never be less than well-written to make the cut. A book which sells on the story, rather than its entirety, has a good idea and a good story behind it, but isn't a "good book". I think the problem starts with the assumption that books which sell more than others are necessarily "good books". That's like saying Big Macs are excellent food.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 17, 2017, 12:36:35 AM
I'd definitely watch the youtube videos of Brandon Sanderson's college lectures on writing if you need it broken down into something more concrete. He goes over everything you'd need and is a great, free resource.

I can say that most tell passages are boring because they tend to read like someone's diary and they don't let you get into the head of the character where you can see the emotions churning. Today I went into the woods to visit my mother's grave vs I slushed through the wet, fallen leaves and wrapped my sweater tighter when the stone monument came into view. "Mom, why did you leave me?"

I'm in the middle of a book right now that started off great but hit what Jim Butcher calls the Great Swampy Middle where stories tend to sag a bit. In this case the author set themselves up for a little failure by having a person who needs to train up their kill the evil goddess abilities but without any real problems except boy doing these pushups is hard. If there is no conflict of any type, the story feels boring.

There are also various levels of good for me ranging from I can put this down but I like the journey to Food? What's that? Different readers want different things from their story. It sounds like you want a lot of description in your story. However, I felt Robert Jordan went too far in that direction. I mean boy, I could build that first set based on the level of detail he provided, but most of the time I'd rather get on with the plot.

I just chain watched two seasons of The Expanse because I literally had to know what happened next as things just went from bad to worse. (One of the episodes is up for a Hugo award which is how I got suckered in.) I haven't read the books they are based on, but I can imagine those would be like crack too. Do I expect that level of addiction in all my books? No. I'd be a hot mess if I did! Imagine - no shower, no food, barely any sleep. Yep... crazy train here I come!

Sometimes it's nice to curl up with a predictable romance because the journey is fun. I can put it down, but I want to see how the author gets the characters from a very set A to a very set B. To me that's a good book too but it's not the same level of intensity and it may not be a good book for others who want uncertainty.

So to me the basic good book requires decent grammar (I can survive a few mistakes), somewhat complex characters who experience growth of some kind throughout the story, an interesting conflict, and a satisfying resolution.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Mercia McMahon on June 17, 2017, 12:50:44 AM
The bestselling books in your genre are more of a guide to good marketing than good writing, otherwise all those marketing threads on kboards are telling porkie pies. For a book to pull someone on to Chapter 2 a good story is not enough. It needs to be well-written so as to not put many readers off. It should also avoid Chapter 1 being some scene from childhood or a long ago romance because the author once read on the internet to avoid flashbacks. If the main character is confronting a foreign culture don't make them racist: most readers will not wait until chapter 16 to discover if the character has an epiphany and realises that racisim is a bad idea. The dialogue must be good: if a reader cringes at the dialogue in Chapter 1 they are not going to stick around. The marketers hunt after the voracious reader, but be warned we are also voracious abandoners of books before the end of Chapter 1.  There are plenty of better written books out there and most of them have free previews of their Chapter 1.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 17, 2017, 01:22:37 AM
Definition of a good book. One that you read in one sitting right to the end and then get upset because there isn't a sequel.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 01:27:13 AM
Let me begin by saying that I can relate to your plight, Dan. Most books I start are DNFs. It is very rare for me to find a book that really grips me, but the truth is that I'm weird. Most readers, and the most prolific readers, aren't like me. Their tastes aren't like mine. It's for that reason that I often think you can learn just as much or more about a book by going through reviews. It's certainly quicker than sitting down and trying to work the puzzle yourself. The puzzle probably wasn't even designed for you.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?

We're so good at reading past typos and hamfisted sentence-level craft that I wouldn't dwell on that.

Style and voice are important, but they're also deeply personal and subjective. If style and voice can be taught, I think it's only through a long, iterative process of mentorship, drawing it out of the writer over time. Let's not dwell on that either.

I think marketing is crucial. You've got to nail the blurb, title, and cover if you want this to work out, and like Mercia said, that's really where you have to look to the successes in your subgenre. I don't think that's quite what you're asking, though.

Where I would tell people to focus is on the structure of the story. What are your genres? Why do people read those genres? What experiences are they expecting you to deliver? Does your story have a beginning, middle, and end? Are each of those parts accomplishing what needs to be done? At every level of your story, are you introducing complications; prompting decisions; turning from good to bad, bad to good, bad to worse, or good to better? Are you pacing your story properly? Are you maintaining narrative momentum by hooking the reader instead of making things plain? Are you revealing character through plot? Is your story so innovative that you're sometimes able to surprise even the genre grognards who've seen everything at least twice before?

These are the things that are more susceptible to quantification and analysis. You can lay out every unit of your story on a spreadsheet and tick a box to say yes, this works, or no, this needs work. These are skills you can learn. It takes effort, and a kind of blue collar work ethic, but everybody can improve in these areas.

Of course, some people have more of a feel for this than others. Some people happen upon stories that work without any particular effort. Some people are successful even with stories that don't work at these levels. Some people write literary fiction that consciously averts or subverts conventions like these. I don't think any of those are valid reasons to shun this crucial area of craft if you're new, or if you're unsatisfied with your writing/sales.

Essentially what you need to do is learn how stories work, and how stories within your genres work. Then you have to nail the structure. Do that, and I think you've got most of the low-hanging fruit that goes into a "good" book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 17, 2017, 01:38:51 AM
I would agree that a good book is probably one that makes you feel something, that pulls you along and draws you into that world so that you don't want to put it down. But what pulls people along can be so subjective and difficult to quantify. I agree with Dolphin's post that there are certain things to do with structure etc that can be analysed, and it's a damn good place to start.

For me personally, as someone who reads and writes in the urban fantasy genre, I'm finding that a lot of the protagonists are the same snarky, trench-coat wearing cardboard cutouts of each other and frankly, I'm bored out of my brain. There doesn't seem to be a lot that separates these characters, and I'm abandoning these books part way through because though the story may contain certain elements I usually enjoy, I never really feel myself rooting for the main character. They have no depth.

So while I would say that a certain level of well-written prose and a good plot are definitely important factors for me, a protagonist that I can get to know on a deeper level is paramount. Otherwise I just won't continue the series.

Edited to fix my atrocious spelling  ::)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 02:21:18 AM
For me personally, as someone who reads and writes in the urban fantasy genre, I'm finding that a lot of the protagonists are the same snarky, trench-coat wearing cardboard cutouts of each other and frankly, I'm bored out of my brain. There doesn't seem to be a lot that separates these characters, and I'm abandoning these books part way through because though the story may contain certain elements I usually enjoy, I never really feel myself rooting for the main character. They have no depth.

Right, I think that's an area where you need to look at genre conventions and figure out where you can innovate them. Always gotta ask which conventions are genuine requirements for the reader, and which are just hackneyed, copycat tropes.

Anything that's surface-level and not related to the actions of a character is something you should examine with suspicion. Character is revealed through action much more than sartorial decisions. Something like that is almost certain to be superfluous to the genre, and a good opportunity to distinguish your protagonist.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 17, 2017, 02:42:47 AM
A 'good book' is any book that you enjoy reading  :).

Many readers don't know about plot development, characterisation, hooks,or telling v showing etc, but they can recognise a 'good yarn', as my late mother used to say.

It's been my experience that bestsellers do not get to be bestsellers because of the writing (we all know of good books that haven't become bestsellers) but because of the marketing. I've been to many book launches by famous writers and it's the build-up and hype (and often the personality of the writer) that sells the book.

I've also seen reviews where the reviewer said they had to finish the book to see what happened in the end, but then gave it a poor rating. If the reader was hooked enough to want to read to the end, then surely the book couldn't have been that bad  ::).
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: firstdraft on June 17, 2017, 03:02:40 AM
A good book:

1) reads well,
2) has something about it that's fresh or that has never been done before,
3) isn't confusing,
4) has interesting and relatable characters, and
5) has a decent story that has elements relevant to current day issues, events or trends.

You just have to tick those five points and you're all good, not hard ;).





Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 17, 2017, 04:00:44 AM
Right, I think that's an area where you need to look at genre conventions and figure out where you can innovate them. Always gotta ask which conventions are genuine requirements for the reader, and which are just hackneyed, copycat tropes.

Yep, spot on. And it's not always simple for a novice like myself to figure out the difference, I can see how it can be all too easy for writers really wanting to make an income to see those things as necessary tropes for selling in the genre. I know for myself, I'm often tussling over what comes to me naturally when writing, and whether it will actually sell in my chosen genre.

You've really got me thinking though about my own current protagonist, and what it is that really hooks me when I find a good UF book, or any book for that matter. What makes a good book for me, is that I need to feel that the character is actually out there somewhere, living their life, dealing with life's struggles and victories (regardless of how fantastical those might be) and growing as a person/being. When the author can make me almost believe that, it's a good book. As an author how do you actually achieve that? F*$#ed if I know, I'm still trying to figure that one out for myself  ::)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 17, 2017, 04:33:11 AM
A 'good book' is any book that you enjoy reading  :).

Many readers don't know about plot development, characterisation, hooks,or telling v showing etc, but they can recognise a 'good yarn', as my late mother used to say.

It's been my experience that bestsellers do not get to be bestsellers because of the writing (we all know of good books that haven't become bestsellers) but because of the marketing. I've been to many book launches by famous writers and it's the build-up and hype (and often the personality of the writer) that sells the book.

I agree with all this.

A good book is a book which a reader enjoys so much that they read it through as quick as they can (because they cannot put it down) and then want to read it again and/or tell their friends about it. Some readers feel moved to write a review to tell the whole world how much they enjoyed the book.

If a ton of other readers feel the same way, then that book will usually sell quite well and have some buzz about it.

A good book does not have to be a big bestseller too. There are many bestsellers which I DNF. I have not finished quite a few huge bestselling romance books.  I think 'how did this become a top 100 bestseller?'

Each reader out there wants to get something slightly different out of a novel. You could question a bunch of readers who love contemporary romance or cozy mystery and you'd get many different reasons why they loved a particular book. However, you will also see that many people point out the same things that make that book a good read, that's how you end up with a reviewer getting 100 comments and likes on Goodreads or Amazon.

You see it in reading groups or on blogs where all these readers are agreeing with each other about why the book was so enjoyable. You see the same thing with movies.

I always look at the entertainment industry as a whole. Why do so many people think this blockbuster movie was so good or that indie movie was so good. The first thing a book or movie has to do is hold your attention. It has to be entertaining and readable/watchable. If it can move you emotionally even better. If it can open your eyes to something new, great.

If I am feeling down, I might want to read a light hearted sweet inspirational romance or a rom com. If that book satisfies me emotionally and makes me laugh or feel a little more reassured that life is not all that bad. If that book is edited to a decent standard (it does not have to be a perfect edit) and it has entertained me, then that book is a good book in my eyes.


Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 17, 2017, 05:26:30 AM
Following this thread I'm perplexed at the over complication and attempts to analyse the subject.

I've said and a few others have said that a good book is one you can't put down until the end. So, you think you will be able to break that down until you have the component parts, then write a bestseller? 'You're havin a larf, mate' as they say in the East end of London when you ask for 'Quiche Lorraine' in a transport Cafe. :D

JUST. TELL. A. GOOD. STORY. (and hope for the best). :D
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 05:29:54 AM
You've really got me thinking though about my own current protagonist, and what it is that really hooks me when I find a good UF book, or any book for that matter. What makes a good book for me, is that I need to feel that the character is actually out there somewhere, living their life, dealing with life's struggles and victories (regardless of how fantastical those might be) and growing as a person/being. When the author can make me almost believe that, it's a good book. As an author how do you actually achieve that? F*$#ed if I know, I'm still trying to figure that one out for myself  ::)

Structure can handle the struggles, victories, and growth part. What you're looking for is stories where the character is challenged to make choices. Through those choices they demonstrate character, and through the consequences of those choices, they come to change. That kind of thing takes care of itself if you're structuring each part of your story to push the protagonist forward through the plot (and pulling the reader close behind!).

The verisimilitude part can be trickier.

First, I'd emphasize the importance of specificity. What I mean by that is including the specific details and touches that clue the reader into the world. Mark Dawson set his most recent Milton novel in New York City. That meant visiting for research, poring over Google Maps, and generally doing his homework so that he could get all of those details right from his lair in Wiltshire. No big deal, right? What're the odds that he has a reader or two in NYC?

Details like that help the readers to lose themselves in the characters. It gives their lives a believable texture. That gets lost if the author tries to fob off another duster-clad stereotype to whom you can't relate. Readers see through that kind of faux specificity easily--especially the genre-savvy power readers and subject matter experts.

Domino Finn's Black Magic Outlaw series is a good example of using specificity to flesh out a different kind of UF protagonist. A tradpub epic fantasy example that springs to mind is Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Her Iberian-inspired setting is...frustratingly deft.

Second, trust your readers. This part is gonna seem contradictory, so stick with me.

Readers know a lot about humans, since they're mostly humans themselves. They can infer a lot of things. They can read between the lines. They can pluck out subtext, and they can tell when a character isn't being entirely forthright. You gotta trust them to do those things.

If you don't, and you belabor everything, and you have everybody speaking their minds at all times, it's not going to ring true. You're going to give us enough details that sooner or later, we're gonna call [bullcrap]. Sooner or later, you're going to have your protagonist click off the safety on her Glock. Your dialogue is going to come out stilted. Your attempts to hide exposition in dialogue will be so transparent as to be wasted entirely.

Trust your readers. Trust that they'll puzzle out why your characters are holding things back from each other, or outright lying. Trust that even if they can't, they'll sense the deception and be drawn even deeper into the story. Holding things back gives them a mystery to savor.

The rub with trust and specificity is that the details you do provide should be chosen carefully. When you call those shots and make them count, you're able to ply the reader with enough context to suspend disbelief, and enough curiosity to keep turning the pages.

I think that developing this sense of trust is one of the most difficult things for new writers. Your readers are never going to come to you and say, "Hey man, I wish you'd stop giving me so many details." No. They're going to say things like, "Dialog sux," or, "I just never felt anything for the characters." They can sense when it's happening, they can feel when it's wrong, but they'll never articulate it. That disconnect between what we feel when we read and what we can articulate about it is the difference between a reader and an editor.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: notjohn on June 17, 2017, 05:37:35 AM
To me, a good book is one that isn't rubbish, which dismisses most genre fiction. I like Daniel Silva and Lee Child, but that's about the end of it.

It's not that I'm a snob, or not entirely. There are highly touted writers -- Joseph McElroy, David Foster Wallace -- who I just can't read, or anyhow not read through to the end. Indeed, that's true of most literary fiction. I grew up on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald, and I just can't view these Iowa Writing School novels as anything real. The last really impressive novel I've read was Valery Grossman, Life and Fate.

I'm amused that most of the responses here assume we're talking about fiction. Most of what I read now is non-fiction.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 05:46:05 AM
To me, a good book is one that isn't rubbish, which dismisses most genre fiction. I like Daniel Silva and Lee Child, but that's about the end of it.

It's not that I'm a snob, or not entirely. There are highly touted writers -- Joseph McElroy, David Foster Wallace -- who I just can't read, or anyhow not read through to the end. Indeed, that's true of most literary fiction. I grew up on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald, and I just can't view these Iowa Writing School novels as anything real. The last really impressive novel I've read was Valery Grossman, Life and Fate.

It doesn't concern me if you're a snob or not, but broadening your blacklist is entirely counterproductive as a defense.

I'm amused that most of the responses here assume we're talking about fiction. Most of what I read now is non-fiction.

Most authors here write fiction. That said, I think most of the thread applies to nonfiction thus far. The rules of storytelling apply equally whether your stories are truths or lies.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 17, 2017, 05:46:34 AM
The oft-touted piece of advice for selling lots of books is to "write a good book" but that advice can be so subjective and rather vague as to be almost useless.

For what is a "good" book?

Sometimes the answer is that it's not necessarily a well-written book but one that tells a "good story" which is another bit of advice that can trap us in the same near meaningless loop once more since that too can be subjective and vague.

What is a "good" story?

It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

So I am left to wonder if it's just me.  Are those books not bad?  Am I too easily bored?  Have I become too picky to read modern books?

To me, a good book should draw you into the story.  You can see it playing out in your head as you read along.  Each page compels you to turn to the next.  Each chapter becomes the second to last chapter you want to read before putting the book down.  Eat?  Just one more chapter first!  Drink?  You can refill your glass later.  Mother Nature's calling?  Well, there is that empty glass . . .  The bottom line is that you cannot put the book down.

That's a good book.  That's the kind of book you want to emulate.

There is often debate over show vs. tell but I wonder if the real debate should be over push vs. pull.  Perhaps we need to ask of each paragraph we write if it is compelling the reader to keep going or giving them an out to put the book down.  It's not whether you are showing or telling but whether each line of your story is pulling the reader in or pushing them away.

What do you think makes for a "good" book?  What specific advice would you give to a first time writer who wants to write a "good" book?  Is it too subjective to define or are there specific and universal elements that make up a "good" book?  How can you pull the reader in rather than push them away?

Dan,

I think you're describing a great book!  A book that is worthy of a five star review. 

A good book (to me) can be a four star book, but it's enjoyable and makes you want to see what else the author has written. Maybe even read another one of their books.

A great book has you thinking about the story long after you've finished reading it.  Three weeks later you see something that reminds you of the book, whether it's a character, plot twist, phrase, etc.  The story has stayed with you...it's made an impression.

I read books that author/friends have written, but not specifically to find out what's popular in a genre.  I like older books (and movies) so I tend to use those for research.  Or sci-fi.  Even though I don't write it, I do love it! :)

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Doglover on June 17, 2017, 05:49:59 AM
A good book is one that I don't want to part with. When I read a good book, I get to the end and am disappointed because there is no more. When I came to the end of my absolute favourite book the first time, I went back to the beginning and started again. I have read it seven times since then; that is a good book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Mercia McMahon on June 17, 2017, 05:52:20 AM
That said, I think most of the thread applies to nonfiction thus far. The rules of storytelling apply equally whether your stories are truths or lies.

You couldn't be more wrong. Many non-fiction readers only want to read a chapter or two or want to read the whole book but read the chapters in a different order. It has nothing to do with story telling and pulling the read on to continue into the next chapter.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 05:57:39 AM
You couldn't be more wrong. Many non-fiction readers only want to read a chapter or two or want to read the whole book but read the chapters in a different order. It has nothing to do with story telling and pulling the read on to continue into the next chapter.

Tell that to Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.

This isn't controversial. I mean for Pete's sake, we live in a world where copywriters get together at conferences and talk about how they can write better email subject lines by studying soap opera narratives. Storytelling is always an option, and very often the best one.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jena H on June 17, 2017, 06:04:17 AM
As has been said by others, a "good book" is a book I enjoy reading.  When I'm not reading it, maybe I wonder what might happen next, or what the characters would do in XYZ situation.  I don't read it all in one sitting, as I like to draw out and savor things I enjoy.  But I'm interested in and thinking about what's going to happen and what the characters will do.

Maybe being a writer has 'spoiled' reading for me, but I dislike any book that takes me out of the story and makes me aware that I'm reading someone's work of fiction.  So to me a 'good book' is one that seems very natural and reasonable, even if it's scifi or paranormal. It's well written and flows smoothly.  Bottom line: if I become aware that I'm reading a book (rather than being immersed in a story) then it's not a good book. 
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 17, 2017, 06:14:12 AM
Structure can handle the struggles, victories, and growth part. What you're looking for is stories where the character is challenged to make choices. Through those choices they demonstrate character, and through the consequences of those choices, they come to change. That kind of thing takes care of itself if you're structuring each part of your story to push the protagonist forward through the plot (and pulling the reader close behind!).

The verisimilitude part can be trickier.

First, I'd emphasize the importance of specificity. What I mean by that is including the specific details and touches that clue the reader into the world. Mark Dawson set his most recent Milton novel in New York City. That meant visiting for research, poring over Google Maps, and generally doing his homework so that he could get all of those details right from his lair in Wiltshire. No big deal, right? What're the odds that he has a reader or two in NYC?

Details like that help the readers to lose themselves in the characters. It gives their lives a believable texture. That gets lost if the author tries to fob off another duster-clad stereotype to whom you can't relate. Readers see through that kind of faux specificity easily--especially the genre-savvy power readers and subject matter experts.

Domino Finn's Black Magic Outlaw series is a good example of using specificity to flesh out a different kind of UF protagonist. A tradpub epic fantasy example that springs to mind is Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Her Iberian-inspired setting is...frustratingly deft.

Second, trust your readers. This part is gonna seem contradictory, so stick with me.

Readers know a lot about humans, since they're mostly humans themselves. They can infer a lot of things. They can read between the lines. They can pluck out subtext, and they can tell when a character isn't being entirely forthright. You gotta trust them to do those things.

If you don't, and you belabor everything, and you have everybody speaking their minds at all times, it's not going to ring true. You're going to give us enough details that sooner or later, we're gonna call [bullcrap]. Sooner or later, you're going to have your protagonist click off the safety on her Glock. Your dialogue is going to come out stilted. Your attempts to hide exposition in dialogue will be so transparent as to be wasted entirely.

Trust your readers. Trust that they'll puzzle out why your characters are holding things back from each other, or outright lying. Trust that even if they can't, they'll sense the deception and be drawn even deeper into the story. Holding things back gives them a mystery to savor.

The rub with trust and specificity is that the details you do provide should be chosen carefully. When you call those shots and make them count, you're able to ply the reader with enough context to suspend disbelief, and enough curiosity to keep turning the pages.

I think that developing this sense of trust is one of the most difficult things for new writers. Your readers are never going to come to you and say, "Hey man, I wish you'd stop giving me so many details." No. They're going to say things like, "Dialog sux," or, "I just never felt anything for the characters." They can sense when it's happening, they can feel when it's wrong, but they'll never articulate it. That disconnect between what we feel when we read and what we can articulate about it is the difference between a reader and an editor.

I agree with a lot of what you've said here, and you've given me plenty to think about. Thanks so much for the thorough and thoughtful reply.  :) And for the word verisimilitude, I'll try and work that one into a conversation tomorrow  :P
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: LilyBLily on June 17, 2017, 06:15:11 AM
I read a lot of nonfiction, too, and I occasionally write nonfiction. For that, I absolutely want every sentence to be the truth, not mere opinion, and certainly not puffery. Both of those are common in diet and personal finance books. For science books, I want elegant and clear writing, but I'll settle for pedestrian and clear. Don't mangle the English language so badly the reader can't tell if the scientific statement applies to all instances or to just one, for instance.

My standards for fiction, especially literary fiction, are different. Do not ever drag me again through your 1950s childhood. Literary fiction is consumed with that, and it's usually boring and annoying. I fell asleep reading Hemingway years ago and I haven't changed my mind since. Fitzgerald's dreams were so doomed I abandoned them and moved on. As for pop literary fiction of today, I'm not interested in yet another young woman who depends on the kindness of strangers to become a new family for her because she's without anything herself. Those stories are lies.

I prefer the outright lies of genre fiction, in which the heroine does turn from ugly duckling to swan, and the hero from a beast to a well-behaved and loving spouse. Or the heroes save the universe, or whatever. Hamfisted language works for me, as long as the characters and situation are set up to create the basic conflict and resolution I'm looking for. A good book is a story that delivers what I'm looking for in the mood I'm in--or better yet, changes my mood to one of exaltation. That rarely happens for me anymore, which is why I read so little now after a lifetime of gobbling up books as fast as possible.

This is a good, serious discussion, and it may help some authors, but readers don't usually approach books seriously. They want what they want, or they want to know what everybody else is talking about, which is why lots of bestsellers are born and then are set aside half-read. There are so few stylists in genre who are capable of lifting me beyond mere plot that I can't even name ten I've encountered in decades of reading. Sometimes, authors are masters of a setting. Others use beautiful language. Still others manage to delve deep into emotions or philosophy while seemingly writing a simple mystery plot. But these are the true outliers. Almost everything else is pedestrian or worse, with a few instances of being just one step above. I include my own writing. But we keep trying, both to deliver on the implied and obvious promises of our books, and with the best writing we can muster.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 17, 2017, 06:15:27 AM
Tell that to Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin.

This isn't controversial. I mean for Pete's sake, we live in a world where copywriters get together at conferences and talk about how they can write better email subject lines by studying soap opera narratives. Storytelling is always an option, and very often the best one.

Well said. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but if the writing is anything like my history books in school, chances are I won't be reading your non-fiction book especially if there's a more entertaining version available. Take for example, Windows 10 for Dummies. This book could have contained very dry text on how to do x when y happens. Instead it takes a humorous approach that can ease frustrated readers and turns the author into a best friend. It also makes for an enjoyable read even when reading that one chapter that has the info you seek. Good information presented in a well organized manner done with a humorous touch - good non-fiction book in my eyes.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: This_Way_Down on June 17, 2017, 06:22:30 AM
I refer you to Justice Potter Stewart: "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it."
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 17, 2017, 06:30:45 AM
Bottom line: if I become aware that I'm reading a book (rather than being immersed in a story) then it's not a good book. 

Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic on June 17, 2017, 06:45:05 AM
Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.

That entirely depends on what you read, and what for you read. "Immersion in the story" is only one possible goal. I doubt that, for example, a lot of people read epistolary novels or poems for the immersion only.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Doglover on June 17, 2017, 06:52:33 AM
Quite. If you're admiring the words and the writing style then you are unlikely to be immersed in the story.
I'm reading a book right now which, from the very first sentence, impressed me with its style of writing. But, now I'm halfways through, I'm realising that I have just read a whole page and the author has told me absolutely nothing. I go over it again and discover that the birds were singing, the leaves were green and the sun was out. I didn't even notice those things the first time round.

I'm still enjoying the book, but I am skipping over loads because I don't care what colour the birds were or whether the river was swirling.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: LilyBLily on June 17, 2017, 07:03:18 AM
I'm reading a book right now which, from the very first sentence, impressed me with its style of writing. But, now I'm halfways through, I'm realising that I have just read a whole page and the author has told me absolutely nothing. I go over it again and discover that the birds were singing, the leaves were green and the sun was out. I didn't even notice those things the first time round.

I'm still enjoying the book, but I am skipping over loads because I don't care what colour the birds were or whether the river was swirling.
But if the birds were singing to the heroine, or she was knee-deep in the river, you would.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Piano Jenny on June 17, 2017, 08:38:47 AM
I almost started a thread with this exact title a few months ago. I find it both amusing and slightly frustrating when I so often read advice like, "The first step is to write a good book."

Really? Gee, I'm so glad you told me that. The first thing I'm going to do now is throw out this crappy, horrible book I've been working on and get to work on writing a good book. Thanks, you're a lifesaver!

The other thing is that, like you said ... What does that even mean? I've seen some very popular authors that I've read their stuff, mostly to learn from them, and I can barely finish the book, it's so bad. I don't mean it's "not my thing," I mean that, to me, it's really poor writing and/or storytelling. There is one popular indie author in particular that I'm amazed how successful they are. To me, their books are cringe-worthy and read like a fourteen year old's rough draft ... but lot of people love them.

So what do I do with that? Try to emulate them because readers have loudly declared them to be "good books"? Decide that my writing opinions are different from the masses and just ignore it? Give up hope as a writer?

But as far as actually answering the question ...

I tend to like books that have an air of mystery to them; some sort of "secret" or only half of the story that makes me want to keep reading and find out what's really going on. For example, I like Liane Moriarty a lot, and The Girl in Cabin 10, because there are so many unknowns that need to be pieced together. There was a Laura Lippman book that was really compelling called What the Dead Know.

Or I like funny books, but funny is really hard to do well, IMO. I like Sophie Kinsella a lot, but don't like a lot of other books that are supposed to be like hers.

Even if a book will keep me turning pages though, I may not think of it as a "good" book, though. Just like some movies that are fun aren't really Oscar-material movies.

For example, I just finished reading The Silent Sister and couldn't put it down because of that "secret" factor, but the end was really stupid and somewhat unsatisfying. So to me, for a book to be truly "good," it has to resonate at the end. Some feelings I can identify with. I particularly like movies/books/etc that have some believable redemption or relationship healing in them. Or something I'm still thinking about weeks or months later, like an Anne Tyler or John Irving book. That doesn't happen too often.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 17, 2017, 08:38:53 AM
Beyond "page turner" and "can't put it down" good luck finding a true consensus. There are also whiffs emerging of the thread locking literature versus genre debate.

Developing a consensus on what makes a crap book might be more useful. Is it due to uninteresting characters and storylines, weak plots, leaden writing, endless expositions, zero emotional resonances, unimaginative phrasings?

The chink in the armor of that analysis is there are plenty of commercially successful books that are poorly written but have page-turning plots. They're not necessarily good books from a literary standpoint, but that's not important.

What makes a good commercial book regardless of genre is it usually has a strong plot driven by interesting characters. It may also have literary value. A book with a weak plot occupied by flat characters will probably not be a commercial success, though it could be brilliantly written and have high literary merit.

What makes a "good book" is nearly impossible to pin down among a broad spectrum of readers, but what makes a commercially successful book is less difficult to deconstruct and agree upon. My vote here is, the book must have a riveting plot and interesting characters that evoke an emotional engagement from the reader. At the moment I can't think of a best seller that doesn't cover those bases, but I can think of plenty of good books that aren't bestsellers that don't.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 17, 2017, 09:07:10 AM
It might be better trying to discover what makes a book a 'classic' - one that is enjoyed by generations of readers.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 17, 2017, 09:27:27 AM
Unfortunately, a good book and a successful book are not always the same thing.

For me, I read books that I like and believe are good (if not great) and try to use them as a basis for what I'd like to write.  I love Mary Stewart books and while I don't have her level of descriptive prose, I do try to get that same balance of romance and suspense with some of my stories.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 17, 2017, 10:11:11 AM
Depends on what you mean by 'good'.

Good can mean in a literary sense according to literary pundits.

Good can also mean something personal, as in Book X was sooooo goooood I stayed up all night to finish...

If we're talking in general, a good book is one that you enjoy so much you keep reading it to the end and say ahhh...

Period.

Note that this means "you" and not "me".

What I read from start to finish is different from what you might read from start to finish and say ahhh...

Sales and good are two different things that can often overlap.

Books that sell like hotcakes and continue to do so i.e. are evergreen usually are good to a lot of people, who bought them and talked about them enough that other people bought them, etc.

In other words, good is in the eye of the beholder.

Sales are much easier to discuss in any objective fashion.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: on June 17, 2017, 10:52:40 AM
First I have to say that I am pleased the way the discussion has been going so far.  This is something that's been on my mind for a while but I feared the routes such a discussion could take and it was perhaps only the lowered inhibitions at the wee hours of the night, er, morning that this was even posted at all.  Even then I made tweaks to the original post in the hopes of staving off any wording that might be misconstrued.

Second, on fiction vs. nonfiction, I think there is some merit in incorporating storytelling into a nonfiction work, but there's also a (subjective) fine line.  When done well, it can hold your interest in the nonfiction work better than dry but straightforward detailing of facts.  But, if there's too much story, it can have the opposite effect because you're thinking, get to the facts already!

On the subject of page turners, on the one hand, it strikes me as a bit odd than I will sit through a lousy, even predictable, movie just to see how it ends whereas I will abandon a boring book.  But, there's a time investment.  A movie is only about two hours while the book may be longer (depending on length and how fast you read).  Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.

And, as has been mentioned, we shouldn't conflate bestselling books with good books.  Some are both; others are not.  Let's say there's a book titled Lousy Bestseller and it consistently ranks in the top ten in its genre.  Something, then, is resonating with readers, but what?  That's sort of the gist here and almost impossible to answer with a fictional example.  But, while Lousy Bestseller continues to sell, you buy it and start reading it but it doesn't do anything.  It doesn't draw you in.  You're only turning the pages because you have to, because you hope that maybe other readers are more patient than you and the page-turning will kick in on the next page or the next or maybe the next chapter.  The plot is contrived.  The characters are bland.  The writing is mediocre.  Yet, the book sells.  Why?  Is it actually good and you can no longer recognize it?  What is it about that book that keeps it selling?

Is it the marketing?  But the marketing only gets the book in front of you.  Maybe the marketing convinces you to buy the book.  But once you start reading it, the marketing is done.  At that point, it's up to the book to hold your interest, to keep you turning the pages, and to entice you to buy the next in the series (if it's a series).  But if it's not doing that, then what is the explanation?

Some might say the question is, why do bad books sell?  I'm not sure that's it.  If a book is selling, something has to be resonating with readers so is it really bad?  Maybe the writing is poor, maybe the characters aren't compelling and so on, so it seems like a bad book but there must be something good about it, else people wouldn't continue to buy it.  And if you could figure out that elusive "good" in those books, and improve upon them, maybe you can do as well or better than those authors are doing.

There are also whiffs emerging of the thread locking literature versus genre debate.

I certainly hope we can avoid the types of discussions that would get the thread locked because I think the thread has been useful (and civil) so far.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 17, 2017, 11:04:11 AM
I had a similar question about a best seller, so I asked my friend.  It turned out that it wasn't the obvious things that drew her in.  It was that the heroine was not perfect...far from it.  She was flawed and it made my friend feel like this story could happen to her.  (Of course, the hero was perfect) but I found that interesting.

It doesn't change the way I approach my stories, as my main characters have a lot of good qualities, but they are never perfect.  However, it did make more sense as to why a book I didn't find at all interesting might be doing so well on the best seller's list.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 17, 2017, 11:20:09 AM


On the subject of page turners, on the one hand, it strikes me as a bit odd than I will sit through a lousy, even predictable, movie just to see how it ends whereas I will abandon a boring book.  But, there's a time investment. A movie is only about two hours while the book may be longer (depending on length and how fast you read).  Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.



But you can just flip to read the ending  ::)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: ShayneRutherford on June 17, 2017, 11:32:56 AM
For me, a good book does four things. 1) it allows me to immerse myself in the story, 2) it gives me characters that I want to spend time with, and 3) it gives me enough conflict/suspense/mystery to keep me turning pages until the end. And then, if the first three things are in sufficient quantity to get me to the end, and the conclusion is satisfying (i.e. not stupid or full of plot holes), I will consider the book to be good.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 17, 2017, 11:33:17 AM
It doesn't matter how the book's written as long as the writing is correct enough and invisible enough to get out of the story's way. I notice more errors than lots of other readers, so I'll put a book down long before a lot of other people. And some folks, no matter how much they love a book, don't read it in one sitting for various reasons. So the writing and speed of reading are super subjective criteria. What makes a good book for me in those regards is a pretty narrow definition that I don't think applies to the general "most readers." In fact, I think many writers get in their own way by assuming things that bother them matter half as much to their readers.

The story's what matters, and whether it succeeds or fails, in my opinion, hinges on one thing--the emotions the readers feel while reading it.

A good book makes the reader feel something they anticipated feeling when they opened the book, or it makes them feel something they didn't expect but are just as pleased about experiencing. The feelings readers want vary by genre, but I think it applies to everything. Yes, even the littiest of litfics out there, where the feeling is nothing more than satisfaction at reading beautifully crafted sentences. Someone will argue with this, probably pop up and say books don't make them feel anything, it's purely an intellectual exercise with no emotion attached. If that person exists, that person is the rare exception. Storytelling is about making people feel things.

No matter which books you consider good, if you analyze what they made you feel and why you're a long way toward figuring out what other readers want in a good book, too. Book you hated? What did it make you feel and why? Book you didn't love or hate? Analyze how it made you feel, and you'll probably find you didn't care enough to feel much one way or another.

I don't think it's much more complicated than that.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: dgrant on June 17, 2017, 12:13:58 PM
What makes a good book? When the things that are good are so good, they weigh more in the mind of the reader than the bits which are bad or boring.

(Seriously, no book is perfect in every way for every reader.)

What are the things?
Pacing - if you can't put it down until it's done.
Characters you root for / empathize with / want to be.
Awesome and immersive world - this isn't just Scifi & Fantasy. Can you make us feel like we know the trout-fishing river that runs through Montana as the characters do, the trenches of WWII, the cocaine-fueled glitz of 80's Miami Beach, the antebellum south, Regency England...
Author Voice - When readers really just enjoy the way this storyteller tells stories (there's only one Terry Prachett.)
Plot - a story that makes sense, and fulfills the promises it makes to the reader
Tone - some people want something comforting and uplifting; others want dark and gritty. Or sexy. Or whatever.
Learning Curve - is the reader thrown into the world and expected to pick it up, or gently introduced to a world and anything that might be different? (What readers prefer varies by genre as well as by readers specifically.)

...and so much, much more.

One thing I've learned is to look at a book that many people love not with an eye to its awful parts, but saying "What about this is so good that people really like it?" Because if people really like it and I can't figure out why, then the author's clearly doing something right that I haven't figured out yet.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 17, 2017, 01:10:04 PM

One thing I've learned is to look at a book that many people love not with an eye to its awful parts, but saying "What about this is so good that people really like it?" Because if people really like it and I can't figure out why, then the author's clearly doing something right that I haven't figured out yet.

Distil the commercial essence of books like 50 Shades, Da Vinci Code and Jaws and you'll understand what can make a book hop off the shelf. That won't necessarily turbocharge your career. If only it was that easy - and thank God it's not. Anyway, knockoffs are also-rans and are seldom huge successes. That won't stop authors with visions of kid wizards from dancing in their heads.

The books mentioned above proved that writing talent beyond basic competency wasn't necessary for their success. They seemed to touch on a potent human trifecta of sex, faith, and fear from relatively fresh angles. I can't speak for 50 Shades, but the other two were good stories (the kind you save for long flights). Along with my earlier post in the thread, I'm proposing that a good, unique plot is central to a commercially "good" book, a factor that can nudge superior writing talent off the podium nearly every time.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Decon on June 17, 2017, 01:13:21 PM
It doesn't matter if it's fiction, genre or literary, or even nonfiction. A "good book" (apart from the Bible being so named) is one that satisfies a particular reader's expectations. A good book doesn't have to go on and achieve commercial success. It's in the eye of the beholder.

You can try and deconstruct it all you want for your given genre/type, to get to the nitty gritty of how to put it together, but readers expectations covers it all.

If you write a thriller, then craft each chapter and the acts of the plot to readers' expectations for the genre. Ditto with Romance and so on.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 02:27:40 PM
The other thing is that, like you said ... What does that even mean? I've seen some very popular authors that I've read their stuff, mostly to learn from them, and I can barely finish the book, it's so bad. I don't mean it's "not my thing," I mean that, to me, it's really poor writing and/or storytelling. There is one popular indie author in particular that I'm amazed how successful they are. To me, their books are cringe-worthy and read like a fourteen year old's rough draft ... but lot of people love them.

So what do I do with that? Try to emulate them because readers have loudly declared them to be "good books"? Decide that my writing opinions are different from the masses and just ignore it? Give up hope as a writer?

That's where I think you have to read the reviews and try to pluck out what's working for the readers who do enjoy it. It's a challenge, but I guarantee that those writers are doing something well.

Just don't turn into that ill-fated, self-loathing Bachelor[ette] contestant who says, "If that's what he's looking for, then I shouldn't even be here!" People like all kinds of different things for different reasons.

I tend to like books that have an air of mystery to them; some sort of "secret" or only half of the story that makes me want to keep reading and find out what's really going on. For example, I like Liane Moriarty a lot, and The Girl in Cabin 10, because there are so many unknowns that need to be pieced together. There was a Laura Lippman book that was really compelling called What the Dead Know.

Here, I think you're getting at the narrative drive that I was referring to upthread. We typically think of this stuff in connection with thrillers or mysteries, but it's important to keep dangling questions in front of the reader in every genre. That's why lovers have secrets in romance. That's why Snape turned out to be the best character in Harry Potter.

We keep turning pages because we need to know more. No surer way to kill that than to overshare and spoon-feed too much information to the reader.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 17, 2017, 02:42:31 PM
It's often suggested to read the topselling books in your genre to get an idea of reader expectations.  I sometimes find this counterproductive.  There are some books that rank highly, maintain that rank (or close to it) over time, and have decent numbers of positive reviews that I have purchased in order to study them and better understand reader expectations only to come to the conclusion that readers must expect to find mediocre writing, to notice an apparent lack of a hook to pull the reader into the story and to be bored out of their freaking minds before reaching chapter two.

Yet those books sell and continue to sell in spite of the fact that they are so, so boring or even just plain awful.

Same boat here. I am stunned by the absolutely horrid writing, construction, and craft of most bestsellers.

I think Mercia nailed it: better marketing.  ::)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Acheknia on June 17, 2017, 02:57:59 PM
'You're havin a larf, mate' as they say in the East end of London when you ask for 'Quiche Lorraine' in a transport Cafe. :D
 :D

Either that or 'Yer 'avin' a giraffe, mate' :)

I think that a good story may be different for different people, or even the same people at different times.

'That book was brilliant, I couldn't stop laughing'
'Oh that was really sad, it made me cry but it was so good'
'I kept trying to work out who had done it, every time I thought I knew, somehow they had an alibi, I certainly didn't expect that twist in the end, that was a really good book'

Just a few examples, so 'write a good book' is not great advice when 'good' can mean something different according not only your taste but also your mood and what kind of story you feel like reading at the time :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Bookread on June 17, 2017, 03:07:07 PM
For me, any book that makes me want to re-read it is a good book. I've read some Robert Jordan books 3 or 4 times.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: ellenoc on June 17, 2017, 03:20:52 PM
So I am left to wonder if it's just me.

Yes, I think it's you, and me, and every other reader. Like most readers, I've started bestsellers that I hated (and follow and love many bestselling authors), started books with few or no reviews or mediocre review average, loved them, and read every page (and dumped some before finishing page 1). I've continued with something not very well written because of a compelling story. Yet there are a few hot button things that can have me instantly quitting a book. I see it in the reviews of my own books. One person says they love a book and reread it annually, another thinks it's so-so, and another says DNF.

So while "write a good book" is good advice, I think the reason emphasis here on KBoards is on covers, blurbs, and marketing is because one can be more specific about them. Even experts in traditional publishing can't pin down good in the sense of a very high percentage of readers loving it.





Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 03:22:39 PM
I think it's important to ask whether your beliefs are adaptive or not. If you think that ultimately, nothing matters but marketing, what implications does that have for your career? What are the implied tasks as you try to improve your own work? If you believe that there's no way to lay out even remotely objective criteria for success and improvement, how should you proceed?

Perhaps you think these beliefs are simply true. I'm skeptical of that. Truth is...elusive. Instead, ask whether your beliefs are adaptive, and whether your actions are consistent with them. Ask whether your beliefs have been helping you to improve in the areas where you're striving. Be ready to challenge your own mental model if it's not helping you to excel.

For me, any book that makes me want to re-read it is a good book. I've read some Robert Jordan books 3 or 4 times.

Ah! An excellent example. I labored through the first third of The Eye of the World before dropping it with a sigh of relief and never looking back. Personally, I thought it was exactly the kind of stultifying, derivative, wish-fulfillment nonsense that causes people to sneer at fantasy and nerd culture. That doesn't matter. Nobody cares what I think.

As someone who's working in Jordan's genre, I have to check myself and understand why his books succeed with fans like you. The most correct, most useful answer sure as hell isn't "better marketing."
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Al Stevens on June 17, 2017, 03:30:57 PM
It's been said every time this question is asked. A "good" book tells a compelling story. I didn't want to put "The Da Vinci Code" down. Yet writers and critics tell me Dan Brown isn't a good writer and doesn't write "good" books.

The quality of art declines as the mass of its consumption rises. That statement is seldom received well but I believe it. The common denominator of any art lowers with its increased availability to the common consumer.

But perspective drives any assessment of quality. I've written dozens of "good" books. Just ask my family.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Mercedes Vox on June 17, 2017, 03:43:58 PM
Plus, with a movie (at least when watching at home), I can do other things at the same time.  It's not as easy to multitask when reading a book.

Sure it is. They're called audiobooks.  :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 17, 2017, 03:47:11 PM
Sure it is. They're called audiobooks.  :)

I was going to mention the same thing. I love audiobooks and I can do so many things while I'm listening to one.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Mercedes Vox on June 17, 2017, 04:00:12 PM
I was going to mention the same thing. I love audiobooks and I can do so many things while I'm listening to one.

My hobby is cooking, so most nights I prepare fairly elaborate meals. I listen to audiobooks on my Kindle Fire using an awesome set of Bluetooth headphones, and all that tedious mise en place-ing passes by much quicker.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 17, 2017, 04:08:57 PM
Same boat here. I am stunned by the absolutely horrid writing, construction, and craft of most bestsellers.

I think Mercia nailed it: better marketing.  ::)

That's what stumped me initially when I started to study romance categories, then Rosalind J. convinced me to look deeper than the top forty (of the top 100) to find authors with evergreen chops whose books reflected the true nature of the genre.

I haven't studied other genres so I don't know if they have similar problems (a lot of not-so-great authors crowding the top of the lists).







Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 17, 2017, 04:27:58 PM
That makes me wonder, Dpock. Despite the advice to write a good book, does it really matter when the readers are willing to suffer through egregiously poorly written nonsense to feel good?

Shouldn't writing to market be a bunch of "feel good" tropes poorly strung together so as to appeal to the basest instinct?

Why all this advice to "write well" or "write your best"?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 17, 2017, 04:53:40 PM
That's what stumped me initially when I started to study romance categories, then Rosalind J. convinced me to look deeper than the top forty (of the top 100) to find authors with evergreen chops whose books reflected the true nature of the genre.

I haven't studied other genres so I don't know if they have similar problems (a lot of not-so-great authors crowding the top of the lists).

I can confirm (at least from my personal perspective) that it's not just romance. I'm finding some of the same issues in UF too. You make a great point about finding authors deeper than the top of the lists, who reflect the genre much better, it's easy to forget that you don't need to dominate lists to be making a decent income.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: D A Bale on June 17, 2017, 04:57:44 PM
Wow - such a shifting, moving, and flowing liquid is this question.  I don't think we'll ever be able to come up with a satisfying response because there is so much subjectivity in this loaded question, and what is considered good writing today may not be considered good writing five, ten, twenty years from now.

I love reading the classics.  However, if you look at much of classic literature, it doesn't follow today's "acceptable" standards of writing (POV, Show vs. Tell, etc., etc.).  But the one thing they had that has lasted throughout time is an interesting, engaging storyline that keeps pulling readers back in for more (as evidenced by the fact that they continue to sell a hundred years and more later).

I've read countless books from the big publishers to indie that were cleanly written, met structural expectations with POV etc., and were well edited - BUT they bored me out of my mind!!!  In my tiny little world, a story is good when my eyelids are glued open and to the page at 3:00 in the morning because I can't close the dang thing and put it aside.  For me, story always trumps structure (unless there are tons of mistakes on every single page that keep me from becoming immersed).

Is the ability to write an engaging story innate or can it be taught?  That's a question I'm not qualified to answer, so I'll leave it for better minds to quantify.  I just know within the first few pages if a story is for me or not, but I don't know if I'd ever be able to put a finger on exactly why.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 17, 2017, 05:00:07 PM
I don't think anyone would say the 'Fast and Furious franchise' are oscar winning movies but they are so entertaining that they are good fun movies. Since the 5th movie, they have turned up the action, taken bigger risks and more importantly have focused on a supportive diverse surrogate family. They are no longer just street racing movies. They are emotional movies too. You start caring about the members of the team.

Yeah, one of the things that's interesting about those movies is that they're more than just action. They're filled with what Jim Butcher calls sequels (http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2880.html), and not just [action] scenes. They're following the same fundamental story structures that you'd find in a cozy mystery or historical romance.

That makes me wonder, Dpock. Despite the advice to write a good book, does it really matter when the readers are willing to suffer through egregiously poorly written nonsense to feel good?

Shouldn't writing to market be a bunch of "feel good" tropes poorly strung together so as to appeal to the basest instinct?

Why all this advice to "write well" or "write your best"?

To me, what Dan is asking is what, precisely, is good about those books. You gotta figure out why they're working, and learn how you can apply that to your own work. That's what I've been trying to draw out. That's how we go from "Oh it's simple: write a good book," to "Here's what 'Write a good book' means in practice."

Otherwise, what's the point? If there's truly no redeeming qualities in those books, then why try? Why write at all? Clearly you won't succeed because of merit. Improving your craft is pointless, because nobody cares. If you do find an audience, it's probably because your work is [crap] too. It's all just luck and marketing and nobody gives a damn.

That worldview is useless. It's nihilistic, self-pitying, self-defeating nonsense. It's what Steve Pressfield calls "resistance." (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007A4SDCG/)

They're good books, Bront. (http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/theyre-good-dogs-brent) Figure out why.

For me, story always trumps structure (unless there are tons of mistakes on every single page that keep me from becoming immersed).

Could you expand on that?

To me, story is structure.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 17, 2017, 05:34:17 PM
That makes me wonder, Dpock. Despite the advice to write a good book, does it really matter when the readers are willing to suffer through the egregiously poorly written nonsense to feel good?

Shouldn't writing to market be a bunch of "feel good" tropes poorly strung together so as to appeal to the basest instinct?

Why all this advice to "write well" or "write your best"?

It's good advice but not essential if income is your only goal.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 17, 2017, 06:17:54 PM
You see, what I'm reading is this notion that "what sells is crap and if I have to write crap to be a success I don't want to be a success."

You don't have to write crap to be a success.

Writing crappy fiction isn't want made those successful books sell.

It was other stuff. It was the story and how it was told.

Write well, but also write a great story. Make it so compelling for your genre and category that your reader can't stop turning pages and feels satisfied when they turn the last page.

It may be true that some or many of the bestsellers are technically or objectively not written well in the sense of prose or depth or whatever else you think qualifies as good writing.

Ultimately, it's the story and how it's told -- not the prose -- that matters.

Readers are not going to turn up their noses and well-writen compelling stories that hold their interest until the end and satisfy.

It's just that they won't close the book on a less well written compelling story that holds their interest until the end that satisfies.

Go ahead and write well, but make darn sure it's a great story and compelling!

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic on June 17, 2017, 10:48:49 PM
That makes me wonder, Dpock. Despite the advice to write a good book, does it really matter when the readers are willing to suffer through egregiously poorly written nonsense to feel good?

Shouldn't writing to market be a bunch of "feel good" tropes poorly strung together so as to appeal to the basest instinct?

Why all this advice to "write well" or "write your best"?

I'd say "know your audience". There is an audience for poorly written nonsense and unfortunately this audience is so huge in numbers, that these books outsell the rest.

The movie example further above is perfect. The Fast and Furious franchise is so awful it hurts. It's geared to the tastes of the American teenagers and young adults bracket. It's a summer movie par excellence and would be so boring to me that I'd fall asleep in the cinema despite the noise. It doesn't have any artistic virtue at all and as storytelling goes it tells a story I don't care about. Now look again at what I said its audience is.

Both, in books and in movies - or in any other art for that matter - the success these franchises have because they have a huge audience doesn't mean they are good. They just sell well. I further above said that just because Big Macs sell well doesn't mean they are good food. In fact they are the very opposite of good food. They make you ill, if you consume them regularly, and they are a highly processed mixture appealing to your most basic food needs without actually giving you a good nutrition value. What's worse, they also don't educate your palate and your knowledge of nutrition. The exact same is the case for these poorly written books and awful movies.

So you can either decide to write to mass taste, or you can write to a much smaller audience of people who value, like and buy good books. Just don't expect any of these good books to end up on bestseller lists often. When they do that's a surprise and usually the consequence of superior marketing as well (a Nobel or Pulitzer prize will put many a good books on a bestseller list, books which few readers even knew existed before that).
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 17, 2017, 11:55:25 PM
Somehow I deleted my own post on page 2.

The other thing with movies like 'Fast and furious', 'Avengers', 'Transformers' and 'Guardians of the galaxy' is that they have repeat moviegoers.
 They are so entertaining and fun that people go back to see them mutiple times. I saw one guy say he saw 'Pirates of the Caribbean, dead man's chest' 14 times. Another guy is going to see Fast 8 for the third time.

The producers, directors, screenwriters and actors behind the 'Fast and furious' franchise understand what their audience like and give them more of the same (family, crazy stunts) and then turn it up with every movie. The word family is used more and more in each movie. They introduced more characters that the audience could connect to in each film. They made the relationships between them more stronger.
 The bad guys have got more dangerous with every movie. The enemy used to be another street racer in LA who thinks he runs the local streets. It was also a local police officer (Brian). Now it's international high tech terrorist. I see people on youtube already talking about seeing fast 8 three times.


If you can write a book which readers say they enjoyed and they read again or want to read over and over again, then that is a good accomplishment.
I think it's more about mass appeal and how much a book grabs the attention of it's audience and entertains them. That book does not have to be the best piece of literature on the planet.


I think some authors are so stuck in their own world, that they cannot hear what their readers like and want more of. They write what they want to write and that's all good if you want to please you first and foremost. However, if you want to sell lots of books, wouldn't it be a good idea to open up and listen to your audience?

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: EC Sheedy on June 17, 2017, 11:57:19 PM
What makes for a "good" book? That's probably the toughest question ever posed to a group of writers. One we can chew on until our gums bleed. So, of course, I'll bite.

I think a good book is one that has superb pacing, intriguing characters, and most of all it avoids repetition. A good book offers the reader something new on every page. As a reader, I don't want to be reading about the same issue on page 178 that I was reading on page 9. Maybe that's just me. How have I come to believe this? Because I have a chronic case of repetitivism (new word!). I contracted it the day I had this epiphany. "Gee, I can switch POVs, change the setting, give the dog some think time, and say the same old thing!" I've been fighting it with the editing sword ever since.  :-[

Note: Excellent new non-fiction book, Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world, by Cal Newport
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 18, 2017, 12:48:01 AM
I almost started a thread with this exact title a few months ago. I find it both amusing and slightly frustrating when I so often read advice like, "The first step is to write a good book."

Really? Gee, I'm so glad you told me that. The first thing I'm going to do now is throw out this crappy, horrible book I've been working on and get to work on writing a good book. Thanks, you're a lifesaver!

The other thing is that, like you said ... What does that even mean? I've seen some very popular authors that I've read their stuff, mostly to learn from them, and I can barely finish the book, it's so bad. I don't mean it's "not my thing," I mean that, to me, it's really poor writing and/or storytelling. There is one popular indie author in particular that I'm amazed how successful they are. To me, their books are cringe-worthy and read like a fourteen year old's rough draft ... but lot of people love them.

So what do I do with that? Try to emulate them because readers have loudly declared them to be "good books"? Decide that my writing opinions are different from the masses and just ignore it? Give up hope as a writer?

But as far as actually answering the question ...

I tend to like books that have an air of mystery to them; some sort of "secret" or only half of the story that makes me want to keep reading and find out what's really going on. For example, I like Liane Moriarty a lot, and The Girl in Cabin 10, because there are so many unknowns that need to be pieced together. There was a Laura Lippman book that was really compelling called What the Dead Know.

Or I like funny books, but funny is really hard to do well, IMO. I like Sophie Kinsella a lot, but don't like a lot of other books that are supposed to be like hers.

Even if a book will keep me turning pages though, I may not think of it as a "good" book, though. Just like some movies that are fun aren't really Oscar-material movies.

For example, I just finished reading The Silent Sister and couldn't put it down because of that "secret" factor, but the end was really stupid and somewhat unsatisfying. So to me, for a book to be truly "good," it has to resonate at the end. Some feelings I can identify with. I particularly like movies/books/etc that have some believable redemption or relationship healing in them. Or something I'm still thinking about weeks or months later, like an Anne Tyler or John Irving book. That doesn't happen too often.

I wrote a reply to you and I deleted it by accident.

I basically said, it is hard to hear 'write a good book' when a good book means different things to different people. I do think you can help yourself by looking at the 4 and 5 star reviews for your books and seeing if there is something your readers are saying they like or love. When you see dozens of people saying the same thing, that's something to note down.

I think one thing that many na and contemporary romance authors are really good at doing, is interacting with their audience. When a reviewer writes, 'I love that secondary character, I want to read his book', you often find that author listens and they produce a novella or novel with that character quickly.

Some authors say they don't know what to say on social media. Social media is not a store front. It is a place to be socialable and talk to people. So talk to your readers. It's one thing to ask other authors what you should do, what about asking your readers what they like and what they want more of. Do a survey. Have a chat with them.

I also think reading 4 and 5 star reviews for books in your sub-genre or books that are similar to yours might give you some ideas. What are those reviewers saying. You will often see the same things mentioned. Look at the reviewers who are getting 100 comments, there's a whole conversation about something that stood out in the book and excited those readers.

You can see that people have their own idea of what a good book is, however if you want to sell more books then write more books that your audience wants. Like movie franchises, I think the authors writing extra prequels and sequels and spin offs, understand that if they want book sales they have to give readers what they want.

Of course don't make yourself unhappy in the process. Don't try to write steamy romance with graphic scenes that make your cringe. If readers say they love romances where the characters take a little longer to fall in love (a slow burn romance), then maybe you could try that.
Most romance authors want to feel the chemistry between the characters, they want to feel an emotional push and pull. I said you will see this gif a lot on Goodreads http://i1.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/528/683/34a.gif

Struggling companies often go out and look at what successful companies are doing right in their field and try to incorporate it in their business. For example, my company just sent some of their marketing team to go and snoop around a competing company. They picked up a couple things that they were doing, that made them more successful.

I look at authors like Colleen Hoover and see how open and accessible she is with her readers. She knows what they like about her writing, that why she's keeps producing these emotional tear jerker romance books with a twist.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 18, 2017, 01:07:11 AM
I think it's also useful to look at the critical reviews. You might not agree with all of them and you definitely can't please everyone, but I've found many reviews have valid reasons for not liking the book that you could keep in mind for the future.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: My Dog's Servant on June 18, 2017, 03:21:43 AM
I'm not going to get into the "it's the writing/it's the storytelling" argument because I think that's essentially unwinnable. Writers have been arguing about that for longer than I've been around, and it's still up for debate. It always will be.

But something I think is important that's seldom mentioned is the question: "What are you in the mood for?"  What may seem boring and stupid one time may be utterly engrossing at another. Not because of anything inherent in the work itself, but because the reader herself is at a different mental/emotional level. 

The first two times I tried "Catch 22", I quit before the end of chapter 2, utterly bewildered at the appeal. The third time I roared through the book, barely stopping for bathroom breaks. Wasn't the book, it was me. And it wasn't the only book for which I experienced that radical a difference in response.

I also think there are (for want of a better phrase) social forces that make a book un-put-downable today, and a waste of trees a year from now. It's not the book, it's what the readers are ready for...or bored with.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Doglover on June 18, 2017, 03:38:24 AM
I'm not going to get into the "it's the writing/it's the storytelling" argument because I think that's essentially unwinnable. Writers have been arguing about that for longer than I've been around, and it's still up for debate. It always will be.

But something I think is important that's seldom mentioned is the question: "What are you in the mood for?"  What may seem boring and stupid one time may be utterly engrossing at another. Not because of anything inherent in the work itself, but because the reader herself is at a different mental/emotional level. 

The first two times I tried "Catch 22", I quit before the end of chapter 2, utterly bewildered at the appeal. The third time I roared through the book, barely stopping for bathroom breaks. Wasn't the book, it was me. And it wasn't the only book for which I experienced that radical a difference in response.

I also think there are (for want of a better phrase) social forces that make a book un-put-downable today, and a waste of trees a year from now. It's not the book, it's what the readers are ready for...or bored with.
That is very true. It is like planning your menu for the week; I have to wait and see what I fancy before I decide what I'm having for dinner tomorrow. I never could get that through to my mother-in-law!

There was a time when I read everything that Stephen King wrote, absolutely everything. I used to order his books in advance; I couldn't even wait for them to come out in paperback. Then I went off him and I thought he'd lost his touch. But I realise now it wasn't him, it was me. He is not the only author I have abandoned because my tastes have changed, either.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jena H on June 18, 2017, 05:22:45 AM
I'm not going to get into the "it's the writing/it's the storytelling" argument because I think that's essentially unwinnable. Writers have been arguing about that for longer than I've been around, and it's still up for debate. It always will be.

But something I think is important that's seldom mentioned is the question: "What are you in the mood for?"  What may seem boring and stupid one time may be utterly engrossing at another. Not because of anything inherent in the work itself, but because the reader herself is at a different mental/emotional level. 

The first two times I tried "Catch 22", I quit before the end of chapter 2, utterly bewildered at the appeal. The third time I roared through the book, barely stopping for bathroom breaks. Wasn't the book, it was me. And it wasn't the only book for which I experienced that radical a difference in response.

I also think there are (for want of a better phrase) social forces that make a book un-put-downable today, and a waste of trees a year from now. It's not the book, it's what the readers are ready for...or bored with.

Your Catch-22 story is also true in the reverse.  When I was a teen, I read a book that I thought was great, would have made a great movie (I knew who should star in it, too!), and all the rest.  Many, many years later, I found this little-known book again and eagerly sat down with it.  It was junk.  Well, maybe not junk, but certainly not the riveting tale which held a special place in my memory for all those years.

So you're right, there IS a case to be made for reader's 'mood,' or what's popular at the time, or whatever other factors shape trends.  What consumers (readers, moviegoers, etc) want during times of peace & prosperity may not be what they're looking for in times of social/political/military unrest.  Or as audiences age.  Or during certain times of year.  Any number of factors can alter our perceptions of what is 'good' and 'bad.'  So yeah, I guess "mood" is one word to explain it.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: dgrant on June 18, 2017, 06:30:40 AM
Which is the highest praise for your book?

"Your book is a contender for this year's Pulitzer prize."

or

"You made me forget I was on chemo for a couple hours, because I was too busy hoping everything'd come out all right for Dick & Jane."

...

And that's why we'll never have a unified agreement on this subject. Because there are literally billions of humans out there, and they want completely different things. And that's all right, and as it should be.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: rikatz on June 18, 2017, 06:39:19 AM
I was good friends with the Vice-Chairman of the English Department at the University where I worked. I once remarked to her that despite my undergraduate degree in English, I never once had a professor talk about what makes a "good" book. She smiled and said that she would never consider discussing such a thing. Thus was my decision not to seek and advanced degree in the Humanities confirmed.

The basics of good writing are always the same, regardless of genre: plot, theme, characterization, style. If it has an engrossing plot, well rounded, interesting characters, ideas and themes that resonate with real life and a style that at least does not distract from the rest of it, then it's a good book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Al Stevens on June 18, 2017, 06:57:29 AM
I'm reading "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" now. Many writers I know would not categorize it as a good book and could point to countless reasons based on today's writers' conventional wisdom.

It's a great book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: RBN on June 18, 2017, 07:00:37 AM
What stands out to me in the original post isn't the titular question but the frustration that top-selling books aren't subjectively (or so adamantly subjectively you believe it's objectively) "good."

I haven't seen a reminder yet that writer brain is a reading disability. When you grab a book because its most attractive property is its sales rank and analyze it for the purpose of discerning secrets you can use to usurp its position, your "reading" in no way resembles that of the readers who put that book at the top of the charts.

It can be difficult to overcome writer brain. I read like a normal person only when a book is so mind-blowingly fantastic I can't find fault with it. That's happened once so far in the first six months of 2017, versus the 100+ books that have made me scream "I can't read one more word of this garbage!" before I got through the first act (if there even were acts, which is doubtful).

Fortunately, the internet is full of gathering places where readers talk about reading. If you can't participate like a reader, lurk and mine the gold you were unable to extract from those books you hated. Readers will not only reveal the secrets of what they love and hate; they will tell you why, which will help you avoid pitfalls you otherwise wouldn't see coming and subvert things readers think they hate and make them love those things instead. That invaluable resource is available to you for free -- use it. It will get you much further than meaningless abstractions like "good" and "resonant."

Topic change: Storytelling in nonfiction

Storytelling isn't about make believe and enpurpling prose. It's largely a matter of organization to achieve effect. Facts can be presented both accurately and in an order that creates escalating tension and revelations that slingshot readers into the next paragraph (AKA "storytelling"). OR, as in the case of a biography I sampled a few days ago, in which "the big secret" of each life phase was spelled out in the first paragraph of each chapter, facts can be presented so they sit on the page like dusty old rat pellets. The facts needed no embellishment to be interesting; the writer simply chose to arrange them in interest-killing order because he doesn't understand and/or respect storytelling. I ended up not buying a book about a subject of interest to me because the facts were told badly. "Good" storytelling is never out of place.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 18, 2017, 07:41:59 AM

When you grab a book because its most attractive property is its sales rank and analyze it for the purpose of discerning secrets you can use to usurp its position,


That has to be one of the saddest things I've read on here.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 18, 2017, 08:10:00 AM
That has to be one of the saddest things I've read on here.

Market research makes you sad?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 18, 2017, 08:33:34 AM
Market research makes you sad?

Yes, people are on here every day trying to find out HOW they can write a bestseller, HOW they can 'Game' the system into writing a bestseller. It's sad.

Those that are saying ' just write more interesting books' are being ignored, or put on the back shelf because - it's either too hard, or not interesting enough to do it the' right' way.

There's a massive industry out there feeding off the writers obsession with writing bestsellers, but guess what. Those bestsellers are only successful because the writer wrote their own book. I wrote a bestseller, I haven't got a clue how I did it, or what I did right or wrong. I've tried to analyse it, but it comes down to one thing. The book was interesting.

It was badly written (it was my first book) it wasn't edited (it was written and published in 30 days) It was full of mistakes (some funny, others not so) and it sold thousands. I never read a book or a post anywhere about how to write a book. I just did it. I wish I could keep on doing it, but since then I've been through the mill with editors, proofreaders, critics, beta readers, soul searching, blog reading, articles on 'how to', and endless posts on KBoards. Now, my writing is much better, my back story is good, my pace is great, my characters are likeable and the plots are exciting. The SF is innovative and original and the books don't sell as well. Go figure.

Sometimes, I look back and think 'maybe, I should just write like I did on the first book. Not giving a sh&t about the structure, prose or the technical aspects. A real 'seat-of-the-pants' book that just writes itself without any thought about being a bestseller or even a 'good' book. Maybe I will, tomorrow. :D
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 18, 2017, 08:37:20 AM
A good book is one that has beautifully constructed prose and the author describes everything in minute detail.

A good book is one where the author writes economically and allows the reader's imagination to do the heavy lifting.

A good book is plot-driven.

A good book is character-driven.

A good book is one you can't put down while you're reading it.

A good book is one that makes you think deeply about its themes.

And so on...and so on...and so on...

Basically, a good book is whatever the reader thinks is a good book. Something that engages the reader and makes them want to keep turning the pages.

How do you do that? Good question. There's no one right answer because there's no one type of reader, nor is there one state of mind for a given reader.

In regards to the whole "only crap sells" argument, that's a tired one. I think Twilight is terribly written, but you know what? There's something in those books that connected with those readers and made them keep coming back.

There's never going to be a universal definition of what makes a book good. All you can do is put out the best book you possibly can and then hope readers connect with it. If they don't, then you have to try again.

Yes, people are on here every day trying to find out HOW they can write a bestseller, HOW they can 'Game' the system into writing a bestseller. It's sad.

Market research isn't about gaming the system, it's about seeing how readers respond to popular books and seeing what you can learn from that.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: GeneDoucette on June 18, 2017, 08:39:25 AM
Yes, people are on here every day trying to find out HOW they can write a bestseller, HOW they can 'Game' the system into writing a bestseller. It's sad.

Those that are saying ' just write more interesting books' are being ignored, or put on the back shelf because - it's either too hard, or not interesting enough to do it the' right' way.

There's a massive industry out there feeding off the writers obsession with writing bestsellers, but guess what. Those bestsellers are only successful because the writer wrote their own book. I wrote a bestseller, I haven't got a clue how I did it, or what I did right or wrong. I've tried to analyse it, but it comes down to one thing. The book was interesting.

It was badly written (it was my first book) it wasn't edited (it was written and published in 30 days) It was full of mistakes (some funny, others not so) and it sold thousands. I never read a book or a post anywhere about how to write a book. I just did it. I wish I could keep on doing it, but since then I've been through the mill with editors, proofreaders, critics, beta readers, soul searching, blog reading, articles on 'how to', and endless posts on KBoards. Now, my writing is much better, my back story is good, my pace is great, my characters are likeable and the plots are exciting. The SF is innovative and original and the books don't sell as well. Go figure.

Sometimes, I look back and think 'maybe, I should just write like I did on the first book. Not giving a sh&t about the structure, prose or the technical aspects. A real 'seat-of-the-pants' book that just writes itself without any thought about being a bestseller or even a 'good' book. Maybe I will, tomorrow. :D

I think there is some misunderstanding about what we're all doing here on KBoards, sometimes. The problem as I see it is "write a good book" isn't actionable in the same way as "here is some marketing advice." Most of the discussion here assumes a book has been written, and now the author needs to work on getting it in front of as many people as possible. We don't discuss tips on writing very much because honestly, 'write a good book' is also deeply subjective and difficult to teach.

I ignore essentially all the writing advice here, but I pay attention to the marketing advice. I think most people here do the same.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Al Stevens on June 18, 2017, 09:11:01 AM
I remember the gatekeeper arguments from a few years back. "Steinbeck couldn't get published today," and so on. Yes he could. He'd do what many of us are doing.

Are we looking for a formula or recipe to apply in whipping up a good book? Doesn't exist. Rules? Read some John Updike.

There are three ways to market a good book. None of them work.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 18, 2017, 09:17:59 AM

I ignore essentially all the writing advice here, but I pay attention to the marketing advice. I think most people here do the same.

The thing about marketing is, it's all about getting and keeping an 'edge'. If one person does it, it works, they tell another, it works. They tell twenty people, it works (some of the time). The one's it works for tell a hundred people, it works for a few. Then it no longer works.

Marketing isn't a science, nor is it a mass-market 'thingie' - it's about being different and standing out. If you're reading about a marketing technique here on KBoards, so are twenty thousand others. Guess what's going to happen. It's suddenly going to stop working so well (or, at all) because the effect is over-used.

When I launched my book I used 20 Facebook groups directed towards new releases, mainly SF.  That was all. It must have worked. I've tried it countless times since - Nada.

If you have a technique and it's working for you - don't shout about it on here. :D
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 18, 2017, 09:28:01 AM


If you have a technique and it's working for you - don't shout about it on here. :D

I hear stream of consciousness 600-page dystopian epics using a single paragraph are the next big thing, so stop whatever you're doing and focus there, especially all you romance writers.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 18, 2017, 09:54:25 AM

Market research isn't about gaming the system, it's about seeing how readers respond to popular books and seeing what you can learn from that.

That there.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 18, 2017, 09:58:20 AM
That there.

If it works for you keep doing it. I'm not going to argue the point :D
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 18, 2017, 10:08:27 AM
If it works for you keep doing it. I'm not going to argue the point :D

I am. ;)

Seriously though, you're talking about marketing techniques. That's not the same thing as market research. The difference isn't even apples and oranges, it's apples and tennis shoes.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 18, 2017, 11:04:53 AM


What are the things?
Pacing - if you can't put it down until it's done.


This isn't true for me. The more I'm enjoying the story the more likely I am to take my time and savour it  ;).  (I can make a bar of chocolate last a week by eating one square after lunch and one square after supper every day  ::))
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson on June 18, 2017, 11:18:36 AM

There's a massive industry out there feeding off the writers obsession with writing bestsellers, but guess what. Those bestsellers are only successful because the writer wrote their own book. I wrote a bestseller, I haven't got a clue how I did it, or what I did right or wrong. I've tried to analyse it, but it comes down to one thing. The book was interesting.

It was badly written (it was my first book) it wasn't edited (it was written and published in 30 days) It was full of mistakes (some funny, others not so) and it sold thousands. I never read a book or a post anywhere about how to write a book. I just did it. I wish I could keep on doing it, but since then I've been through the mill with editors, proofreaders, critics, beta readers, soul searching, blog reading, articles on 'how to', and endless posts on KBoards. Now, my writing is much better, my back story is good, my pace is great, my characters are likeable and the plots are exciting. The SF is innovative and original and the books don't sell as well. Go figure.


If you keep digging a plant up to see how the roots are doing you will eventually kill it  ;)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: anniejocoby on June 18, 2017, 11:48:43 AM
Yes, people are on here every day trying to find out HOW they can write a bestseller, HOW they can 'Game' the system into writing a bestseller. It's sad.

Those that are saying ' just write more interesting books' are being ignored, or put on the back shelf because - it's either too hard, or not interesting enough to do it the' right' way.

There's a massive industry out there feeding off the writers obsession with writing bestsellers, but guess what. Those bestsellers are only successful because the writer wrote their own book. I wrote a bestseller, I haven't got a clue how I did it, or what I did right or wrong. I've tried to analyse it, but it comes down to one thing. The book was interesting.

It was badly written (it was my first book) it wasn't edited (it was written and published in 30 days) It was full of mistakes (some funny, others not so) and it sold thousands. I never read a book or a post anywhere about how to write a book. I just did it. I wish I could keep on doing it, but since then I've been through the mill with editors, proofreaders, critics, beta readers, soul searching, blog reading, articles on 'how to', and endless posts on KBoards. Now, my writing is much better, my back story is good, my pace is great, my characters are likeable and the plots are exciting. The SF is innovative and original and the books don't sell as well. Go figure.

Sometimes, I look back and think 'maybe, I should just write like I did on the first book. Not giving a sh&t about the structure, prose or the technical aspects. A real 'seat-of-the-pants' book that just writes itself without any thought about being a bestseller or even a 'good' book. Maybe I will, tomorrow. :D


Yeah, I kinda feel you there. My first two series in romance were the only ones that really sold well, and I didn't know what the hell I was doing with either of them. Seriously. Then I wrote my third series, and I didn't do much analysis of bestsellers for that one, either, and it tanked. So, I figured I should do some market research. Did that, wrote my fourth series, consciously trying to "imitate" bestsellers, and it tanked, too. I came to realize that there's no "imitating" bestsellers - your book either has that "it" factor or it doesn't. I guess my first two series had the "it" factor, at least a little of the "it" factor, and the other three didn't. Why the other three didn't, I have no clue. There just wasn't the resonance that the first two series had.

That said, I don't think that market research is "gaming the system." It's smart to do that. The problem becomes how do you do that without becoming derivative? If you consciously try to imitate, your book will just be a pale imitation of x,y and z. But if you write something without knowing the tropes, you get into trouble there, too. For instance, I think that, with my third series, the first one that "failed," I do think that I got into trouble because I wrote a beta male paired with an alpha female. I knew that the tropes were the opposite of that, but I wanted to be "different," and, well, that cost me. I think.

Then again, who knows?

I read some bestsellers and find myself wanting to throw the book across the room (For me, FSOG was like that. Just.no. But, a lot of people love it, obviously). I just can't figure out the appeal. Others, such as "The Da Vinci Code," people want to criticize that one, but I loved it. I guess a lot of people think that that book is crap, but the puzzles and the history and all of that, combined with the insane pace - loved it. I didn't much care that it was crappy writing. In fact, I never thought that the writing was crap, because I was so into the story.

"Twilight" is the other one that gets criticized, and, for me, it was somewhere between FSOG, which I hated with the passion of a thousand suns, and "The Da Vinci Code." I liked "Twilight," read all the books in the series, but it took me awhile to get through the first book. That said, I read all the books, so I must have liked them, but they didn't really stay with me that much. I think that I could read "Twilight" again, today, and it would be like reading it for the first time, because it wasn't memorable for me the first time. But I didn't hate it. I did like it enough to continue. So...yeah.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: GeneDoucette on June 18, 2017, 12:01:48 PM
The thing about marketing is, it's all about getting and keeping an 'edge'. If one person does it, it works, they tell another, it works. They tell twenty people, it works (some of the time). The one's it works for tell a hundred people, it works for a few. Then it no longer works.

Marketing isn't a science, nor is it a mass-market 'thingie' - it's about being different and standing out. If you're reading about a marketing technique here on KBoards, so are twenty thousand others. Guess what's going to happen. It's suddenly going to stop working so well (or, at all) because the effect is over-used.

When I launched my book I used 20 Facebook groups directed towards new releases, mainly SF.  That was all. It must have worked. I've tried it countless times since - Nada.

If you have a technique and it's working for you - don't shout about it on here. :D

this is a competitive, zero-sum approach to marketing that I don't agree with at all.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 18, 2017, 12:18:03 PM
I am not a best seller nor a highly successful author. In fact, I'm pretty new at all this...but I do read.  So, here's my take on the appeal of best sellers that may not seem wonderful to many of us.

I think it's like pizza...whatever genre you're researching.  The readers like it, they don't get bored with it...they can try something a little different, but it's still pizza.  The convenience factor is huge and it's always "okay" and what you expect.  Rarely is pizza truly awful because hey, it's still pizza.

However, occasionally you find yourself with something truly wonderful. The crust is light and baked to perfection.  The sauce is not too spicy, the ingredients fresh, the cheese slightly tangy...and you think this is one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten!  You eat all the pizza you can find until you realize there is no more like it.  The source has dried up and you've gone through all that was available.

So, you remember it fondly and continue picking up the take out, eating the delivery and even grabbing some in the frozen food aisle.  it's still pizza, right?  And you still like it.  Maybe you think fondly about the wonderful slice and check back to see if there's anything more available, but you're not going to give up pizza.  I mean, it's pizza! :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: on June 18, 2017, 01:07:14 PM
That's where I think you have to read the reviews and try to pluck out what's working for the readers who do enjoy it. It's a challenge, but I guarantee that those writers are doing something well.

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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 18, 2017, 01:23:25 PM
 ;D

The responses confirm sort of what I've said in many threads - don't listen to the rhetoric, write the story in your heart. If not today, tomorrow it might be a great book.

I think Lorri nails the "bestseller" lists overall: it's pizza to the readers.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 18, 2017, 03:08:47 PM
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.

Oh, I meant reading reviews for "good" books by other people. I don't think studying your own reviews is nearly as likely to be helpful--especially if you haven't yet found the audience you're after.

Either way, it's a tricky thing to do. You're not necessarily reading for explicit comments from readers so much as trying to infer what actually bothered them, subconsciously. It's hard. It's also just one step, one tool, of many. I can't begin to speculate whether that feedback you incorporated is what caused your book to founder.

I don't know if I should be, but I'm flabbergasted by the broad pushback against any kind of systematization of writing a "good" book. Whether it's because you think it's a vain hope, or something that shouldn't be attempted even if it's possible, I don't see how you can work in this field under that system of belief. Writing out of passion, sure. Everybody's entitled to do that. To me, though, professionalism requires process. You might as well be buying lottery tickets if you don't believe success is replicable.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: P.J. Post on June 18, 2017, 03:45:14 PM
I think this topic is difficult to discuss because people can become hyper-defensive, and it's all too easy to come off as pretentious and snobbish - not to mention, my books may be just as "not good" as anyone else's. So who am I to even comment? The following is stuff that sours my reading experience, and if it appears in the first few pages, I'm probably done - dnf.


1. Action without context. I'm usually dnf by the middle of page one. Same goes for sex. I have no reason to care what happens, so why keep reading?
2. Random adjectives without literary meaning. If an adjective has no bearing on character, story, setting or mood, or is so descriptively broad as to be meaningless, such as "the MC's hair is brown", then I'm going to make an assumption that the most basic elements of craft have been ignored, so - dnf.
3. Author cleverness. Whether it is an attempt at literary depth, artistic flair or purple prose, if the only purpose for the passage is to let me know how amazingly amazing the author is - I'm all done. I'm not talking about character voice, they can say anything - as long as they are consistent.
4. Editorializing. A close cousin to cleverness, also heard in author voice; this is were the author over-shares their opinion about everything under the sun, often couched in long winded metaphors, obscure references and tales of youth.
5. Tales of youth - backstory dumps. When the author, rather than allowing us to discover whatever the character's issues are through narrative, shares significant character history through anecdote, whether it be an awful childhood, warrior training or the loss of someone close - and then proceeds to walk us through the resulting emotional baggage. This may very well be the MC's primary motivation for the whole book, and it's been reduced to a couple of paragraphs? (Way to build empathy.)
6. Stereotypical and played out characters. The list is pretty long. To be clear, I don't really mind if it turns out later on that a character is one of these tropes, I just don't want to know it on page one. Ruins the mystery.
7. World building info-dumps. This happens a lot with fantasy. I don't care if it's about politics, the origins of magic or religion, geology or genealogy, a secret grimoire or anything else, they read like a bad prologue to me, so - skip. If it's really that cool and that essential to the narrative...put it in the story, as part of the story.
8. Research Info-dumps. This is where the writer clearly researched something to death and feels compelled to share, even though it will never be mentioned or referenced again.
9. Author-splaining. This is where the writer has "shown" us a situation that clearly illustrates the character's emotions, but then goes on to explain them to us as if we're brain dead.
10. Campfire voice. I'm not a fan. These books often include numbers 3, 4, 5 and 9 above. This voice distances me from the characters and story.
11. Blog voice. The Martian was cool, but now it's been done. This one will get a dnf after the first sentence. Novels are not blogs and they're not forums.
12. Lazy writing. Lots of this list qualifies, and there are many more examples; I'm sure we all have our own pet peeves (the one I loathe the most is when characters change personalities to fit the plot).
13. First person author voice. If the book is written in first person, especially present tense - I don't want to hear anything from the author. I want character voice - exclusively.

A good book connects us with the author, and engages us. Anything that creates space between reader and author is, generally speaking, bad. This list creates space for me, but by removing the cliches and jibber-jabber, while finding new and creative ways to introduce the essential information into the narrative - in an emotional and engaging way - can improve one's chances of writing a better book. We can't keep copying the classics or the old ways indefinitely. Then again, at some point in your career, most writing advice becomes worthless because there are so many exceptions (even to this list).

I only have 2 rules:

1. Give the reader a reason to give a [crap].
2. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it - Elmore Leonard

I find both of them really really tough.

Hopefully, this is helpful to someone.

___

Oh, I meant reading reviews for "good" books by other people.

I read one star reviews of popular books in lots of genres. The one-stars on Goodreads are often lengthy and well articulated. All of the stuff they rail against, I try not to do.   :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 18, 2017, 04:04:08 PM

 You might as well be buying lottery tickets if you don't believe success is replicable.

This.

I have read so many success stories of authors who read a bunch of bestsellers in their chosen sub-genre, studied them and then wrote something similar. Then there are new authors who wrote the book in their heart and had success. Both authors did the same thing, they wrote a book that readers enjoyed reading. To me it's all about engaging and entertaining people.
 
There are all sorts of different reasons why an individual would say 'that's a good book'. When a bunch of people are all saying the same thing, then I think it's worth paying attention.

I remember being fascinated by Jasinda Wilders story of how they studied the top selling books in their genre and sat and wrote a bunch of books. They got themselves out of a serious financial situation.

Looking at reviews for books similar to yours, paying attention to what the readers are saying that they like and interacting with your readers. There are authors doing all that and finding their own success. They keep giving readers what they want.

I honestly think some authors find it a little difficult to stand back and look at the good and bad feedback in a positive way. Like P.J. Post just said, some 1 star reviews can be very interesting to read. Some contain golden nuggets about what is not working and what could be improved. Look at the discussions in the comments section and you will see some good points raised.

Don't read the 1 star reviews for your book if it's going to offend you and halt your writing. Read some critical reviews of authors in your sub-genre. There are three or four top reviewers on Goodreads who read romance and I agree with many of their 1 star reviews.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 18, 2017, 05:13:03 PM

Looking at reviews for books similar to yours



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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: SteveHarrison on June 18, 2017, 05:38:11 PM
The danger of relying on reviews for useful feedback is that only a very small fraction of readers bother to write a review and you have no idea if this a representative sample.

But I do think that writers, over time, can learn to objectively assess their work and know whether it is 'good' or not.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 18, 2017, 05:47:39 PM
The danger of relying on reviews for useful feedback is that only a very small fraction of readers bother to write a review and you have no idea if this a representative sample.

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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: SteveHarrison on June 18, 2017, 05:58:46 PM
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.

Good point, but glad I have yet to experience that particular feedback :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 18, 2017, 05:58:55 PM
I don't know if I should be, but I'm flabbergasted by the broad pushback against any kind of systematization of writing a "good" book. Whether it's because you think it's a vain hope, or something that shouldn't be attempted even if it's possible, I don't see how you can work in this field under that system of belief. Writing out of passion, sure. Everybody's entitled to do that. To me, though, professionalism requires process. You might as well be buying lottery tickets if you don't believe success is replicable.

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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jena H on June 18, 2017, 06:04:06 PM
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.

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.")
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 18, 2017, 06:10:08 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.

I was very fortunate that my dad was an English teacher and my mom a teacher and librarian.  We always had a ton of books and spent a lot of time reading.  You do pick things up, often without even realizing it.  I would say the same about watching classic old movies.  They're classic for a reason...and a lot of great ideas there! :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Captain Cranky on June 18, 2017, 06:20:24 PM
I was very fortunate that my dad was an English teacher and my mom a teacher and librarian.  We always had a ton of books and spent a lot of time reading.  You do pick things up, often without even realizing it.  I would say the same about watching classic old movies.  They're classic for a reason...and a lot of great ideas there! :)

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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: David Thompson 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton 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. :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames 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.



Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson 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.

If one person tells tells you that you're drunk you can consider it that person's opinion.
If two people tell you that you're drunk you should think about it.
if three people tell you that you're drunk you should go and lie down.  ;)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: My Dog's Servant 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.)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Doglover 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Doglover 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! :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean 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.

 

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean 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.

 

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: P.J. Post 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K 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.)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela 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.



Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 19, 2017, 10:16:48 AM

What Sela and Perry said   (https://media.giphy.com/media/FX3OLJAUhOZNK/giphy.gif)

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.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: P.J. Post 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin 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.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: GeneDoucette 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.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jan Hurst-Nicholson 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.
Bell Hooks
Writer and critic


Change 'love' to 'write good books' and that says it all  :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 19, 2017, 12:06:35 PM
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.

There it is: Doucette's Law.

Trying to figure out what makes a good book is as pointless as trying to figure out what makes a good marriage.

Like sela said, that's only true if we're talking about taste. If we settle on objective criteria, like the commercial success of FSOG, then we're in business. And doing business. As business people. Which is what we are, at least in part.

I don't care about consensus on taste. I care about a consensus of craft techniques shared by successful works. I think those exist, and we can learn by studying them.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 12:10:16 PM
Everyone loves to bash Fifty Shades of Grey. It's so easy and I suppose satisfying to those who aren't nearly as successful.

Fifty Shades was a huge success and it was organic. It became an even bigger success once it moved from a small indie publisher from Australia to a trad publisher but it was already a huge hit from word of mouth and from the fandom world of fan fiction.

It also got a lot of people reading and writing who didn't read or write. It created a whole audience for erotic romance that was much smaller than before it came out. I am a published author largely because of Fifty Shades of Grey because I figured that if a fan fiction author could make it that big, I could give it a try and if I had only 10% of James's success, I'd be able to quit my day job. Guess what? I did and I did quit my day job.

I thought the writing could have been better, but the story was compelling if you like that kind of story and the pace was brisk. It kept me turning pages until it was done and I read all three books in a week.

If you didn't like it, fine. There are a lot of books I hate that are at the top of the charts. Most books I buy are DNF. Only a few keep my interest. That's the way it is for most people.

If an author is upset that their books are not selling, trashing EL James or Fifty Shades may feel good but it won't do anything to help their books sell.

They have to write stuff that people want to read and get them visible if they want their books to sell.

Most people just can't do it. They can put one sentence after another and put enough of them together to make a novel, but the story just doesn't resonate with readers and / or the author doesn't know how to present the book and promote it so that it's visible and can sell.

That's the plain truth.

 

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: GeneDoucette on June 19, 2017, 12:12:45 PM
There it is: Doucette's Law.

I've always wanted my own law
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 12:19:35 PM
There it is: Doucette's Law.

Like sela said, that's only true if we're talking about taste. If we settle on objective criteria, like the commercial success of FSOG, then we're in business. And doing business. As business people. Which is what we are, at least in part.

I don't care about consensus on taste. I care about a consensus of craft techniques shared by successful works. I think those exist, and we can learn by studying them.

This.

Taste is subjective and the notion of "good" an "quality" fiction are also subjective and impossible to determine in any objective manner.

What isn't subjective is sales data. What is less subjective is craft techniques such as a hooky premise, compelling plot and interesting character and blistering (or fast) pace and smart marketing, such as cover design and blurb hookiness. 

Those things we can study. Those things we can try. Instead of talking about what makes a "good" book, we should talk about what makes a book a commercial success. What are the aspects that are in common among commercially successful books and authors? How can we take that knowledge and use it for our own careers?

Sure, if people want to debate what makes a book "good," there are places for that. Like Goodreads.

I'm sure there are thousands upon thousands of books with "good" writing and deep themes that are not selling at all. I don't want to write those kinds of books, frankly.

I want to write the kind that people actually want to read. :) Because I want to write books for a living. I count myself blessed to be able to do so and I have to acknowledge that Fifty Shades was a big part of me being able to do so.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 19, 2017, 12:20:02 PM
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.

"Selling the Sizzle" is a hard-sales term. http://simplesmallbiz.com/business-marketing-101-sell-the-sizzle-not-the-steak/

Thing is, it works. Forget FSOG. Let's look at Justin Bieber school products (or any fad product). Fads are created. Long before Bieber became a national household word, department stores had Bieber posters, t-shirts, backpacks and hats. Parents were clueless, but this was being pushed as a fad before it was (as any other fad). "Oh, I better buy this for my kid so they fit in at school. Bieber must be really popular."

Sales pile in as people buy the sizzle so as not to be left out.

Back to FSOG. Yes, it had a tremendous fanfiction following. Good for it. But how do they translate that beyond the fanfic base? They push the "sizzle." "Have YOU read this yet? and Why not?" "Everyone is talking about it!" "What you need to know before you read FSOG." These are all powerful psychological sales tactics.

Then you trot in the testimonials. "I read it and wow!" "I finally bought this and sure wish I'd bought it earlier!" <--- I see that all the time. But who says that? Isn't the fact I bought one good enough? Books, movies, cars, furniture, doesn't matter.

Fact is FSOG was pushed. Would it have been a great mega-seller without it? It wasn't just Oprah, either. Every morning show on TV had an FSOG episode. When was the last time any book got that?

It might have been a bestseller on its own just from the fanfic buyers. But a household byword? Thing is, this strategy always works - on any product. Good for EL James that she had the backing to take advantage of it.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 19, 2017, 12:24:17 PM
Everyone loves to bash Fifty Shades of Grey. It's so easy and I suppose satisfying to those who aren't nearly as successful.

If an author is upset that their books are not selling, trashing EL James or Fifty Shades may feel good but it won't do anything to help their books sell.

They have to write stuff that people want to read and get them visible if they want their books to sell.


We were talking about marketing when FSOG came up. Which is what I addressed. Not everything critical of FSOG has to be envy.  ::)

When we talk about boxed sets cramming the top lists, is it envy? Or is it discussing the shady marketing strategies that are allowed by Amazon.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 19, 2017, 12:31:41 PM
I had a similar question about a best seller, so I asked my friend.  It turned out that it wasn't the obvious things that drew her in.  It was that the heroine was not perfect...far from it.  She was flawed and it made my friend feel like this story could happen to her.  (Of course, the hero was perfect) but I found that interesting.

It doesn't change the way I approach my stories, as my main characters have a lot of good qualities, but they are never perfect.  However, it did make more sense as to why a book I didn't find at all interesting might be doing so well on the best seller's list.

Fifty Shade of Grey always seems to polarize a thread, so I didn't mention the title...but this is the book I asked my friend about to see why she liked it.  While I'm sure the other aspects were all part of the appeal, I was surprised by her response.  It makes sense, when you think about it. 

If you get past the sex/sizzle parts of the story, it's a fairytale in a lot of ways.  And that will always have an appeal!  Look at the way the series ends.  Grey changes a lot to please this unassuming girl that manages to capture a gorgeous, billionaire's heart.  Much like a young woman might end up with a charming price.  Same thing was done in Pretty Woman, too.  :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 12:44:45 PM
"Selling the Sizzle" is a hard-sales term. http://simplesmallbiz.com/business-marketing-101-sell-the-sizzle-not-the-steak/

Back to FSOG. Yes, it had a tremendous fanfiction following. Good for it. But how do they translate that beyond the fanfic base? They push the "sizzle." "Have YOU read this yet? and Why not?" "Everyone is talking about it!" "What you need to know before you read FSOG." These are all powerful psychological sales tactics.

Then you trot in the testimonials. "I read it and wow!" "I finally bought this and sure wish I'd bought it earlier!" <--- I see that all the time. But who says that? Isn't the fact I bought one good enough? Books, movies, cars, furniture, doesn't matter.

Fact is FSOG was pushed. Would it have been a great mega-seller without it? It wasn't just Oprah, either. Every morning show on TV had an FSOG episode. When was the last time any book got that?

It might have been a bestseller on its own just from the fanfic buyers. But a household byword? Thing is, this strategy always works - on any product. Good for EL James that she had the backing to take advantage of it.

I was under the assumption -- possibly wrong -- that Fifty Shades was successful BEFORE the book deal. Agents and editors and publishers usually only invest seven figures on proven successes. So Fifty Shades was already successful. So successful that Writer's Coffee Shop couldn't keep up with demand for the print book. Fifty Shades was not created out of any marketing plan by the trad pubs. They saw $$$ and then invested more $$$ to make it a $100M success vs. a $10M success.

They took it from hugely successful -- considering its origins -- to outlandishly successful.

The huge success was due to the book itself, not the marketing.

If you want to understand Fifty Shades success story, you have to look at the book itself and its audience. If you only look at the prose, you miss the whole story.

Which is the story. The pace. The hook.

But don't take my word for it. You can read the book which shows how Fifty Shades mirrors the plot of other huge bestselling blockbusters.

https://www.amazon.com/Bestseller-Code-Anatomy-Blockbuster-Novel-ebook/dp/B01B1MWKIU
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 19, 2017, 12:45:11 PM
"Selling the Sizzle" is a hard-sales term. http://simplesmallbiz.com/business-marketing-101-sell-the-sizzle-not-the-steak/

Thing is, it works. Forget FSOG. Let's look at Justin Bieber school products (or any fad product). Fads are created. Long before Bieber became a national household word, department stores had Bieber posters, t-shirts, backpacks and hats. Parents were clueless, but this was being pushed as a fad before it was (as any other fad). "Oh, I better buy this for my kid so they fit in at school. Bieber must be really popular."

Sales pile in as people buy the sizzle so as not to be left out.

Back to FSOG. Yes, it had a tremendous fanfiction following. Good for it. But how do they translate that beyond the fanfic base? They push the "sizzle." "Have YOU read this yet? and Why not?" "Everyone is talking about it!" "What you need to know before you read FSOG." These are all powerful psychological sales tactics.

Then you trot in the testimonials. "I read it and wow!" "I finally bought this and sure wish I'd bought it earlier!" <--- I see that all the time. But who says that? Isn't the fact I bought one good enough? Books, movies, cars, furniture, doesn't matter.

Fact is FSOG was pushed. Would it have been a great mega-seller without it? It wasn't just Oprah, either. Every morning show on TV had an FSOG episode. When was the last time any book got that?

It might have been a bestseller on its own just from the fanfic buyers. But a household byword? Thing is, this strategy always works - on any product. Good for EL James that she had the backing to take advantage of it.

That pushing came after it started resonating with an audience. The morning talk shows and Oprah didn't just pick FSOG out of a hat--if they did, we'd see a lot more worldwide phenomenons with books. Nor was it engineered--no US national morning show is going to devote a segment to a book published by a small press in Australia that no one's ever heard of unless they have a reason to.

They picked up on it because it was resonating with audiences.

Pushing alone won't work. Just look at Batman v Superman. Two of the most popular and longest-running fictional characters in American history, appearing together onscreen for the first time ever, with a massive marketing campaign. And yeah, it had a strong opening weekend. But what happened that second weekend? It dropped like a rock. Because no amount of pushing could make up for the fact that it was a depressing, nihilistic film with truly awful storytelling. And once the people who saw it started talking about that with their friends, other people decided, "eh, I think I'll wait until it comes to Redbox or Netflix."

Pushing works for a limited, short-term push. But to sustain that level of popularity, you need something that will resonate with audiences and make them want to keep talking about it.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 12:49:54 PM
We were talking about marketing when FSOG came up. Which is what I addressed. Not everything critical of FSOG has to be envy.  ::)

When we talk about boxed sets cramming the top lists, is it envy? Or is it discussing the shady marketing strategies that are allowed by Amazon.

Equating Fifty Shades's success to the whole boxed set scam is like comparing apples and octopi.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: UltraRob on June 19, 2017, 12:52:12 PM
I wrote a blog entry about five things that readers get from good stories recently. I think it might answer your question.

The SPINE of Every Good Story.  (http://robynpaterson.com/?p=4239)

Rob
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 19, 2017, 12:53:00 PM
It might have been a bestseller on its own just from the fanfic buyers. But a household byword? Thing is, this strategy always works - on any product. Good for EL James that she had the backing to take advantage of it.

But she didn't. She was a nobody with a stupid fanfic. Except it wasn't a stupid fanfic. No, it was a wildly successful fanfic that delighted readers. And then it a wildly successful, indy-published book that delighted even more readers. And then--only then--did James win the backing of Hollywood and the postmodern Madison Avenue types.

If you think marketing always works, ask around. KBoards has some stories to tell about failed ad spends. The phenomena that you're talking about, the Justin Biebers and the E.L. Jameses, are things that most people had never heard of when they were toiling in obscurity. We only saw their marketing after they had already succeeded. Arguing that marketing is always successful because it made crap like Bieber and FSOG successful is nothing but a tautology.

If you get past the sex/sizzle parts of the story, it's a fairytale in a lot of ways.  And that will always have an appeal!  Look at the way the series ends.  Grey changes a lot to please this unassuming girl that manages to capture a gorgeous, billionaire's heart.  Much like a young woman might end up with a charming price.  Same thing was done in Pretty Woman, too.  :)

Exactly! Or Austen! Or any number of others. There's lessons to be learned here.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 19, 2017, 01:05:06 PM
KBoards has some stories to tell about failed ad spends.


We're way off topic I guess but I watched five different romance Bookbubs fail to hit #10,000 over the past few days. I think they run $500-600 each?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 19, 2017, 01:08:00 PM

Taste is subjective and the notion of "good" an "quality" fiction are also subjective and impossible to determine in any objective manner.

A falsehood inferred from a glittering generality. Taste is subjective in the same way chairs are furniture. Taste is an aspect or dimension of subjectivity. So, yeah, taste is subjective and bears poop in the woods.

It doesn't follow from this that everything about chairs or books is therefore "impossible to determine in any objective manner." I take it you've noticed that there are genres of literature that demarcate relatively predictable plots, characters, outcomes, and affects? These features exist out there in the world, which is what makes them objective. And these objective features give rise to objective judgements about books: A thriller that does not thrill, for example, is not a "good" thriller. A book in any genre that no one can understand or follow is not a "quality" book.

I find it bizarre that you go on to talk about finding commonalities in books that people buy. Assuming you could identify these things (which is far from obvious), what would these commonalities be other than objective determinants of taste?  ???

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 19, 2017, 01:21:53 PM
We're way off topic I guess but I watched five different romance Bookbubs fail to hit #10,000 over the past few days. I think they run $500-600 each?

(http://s2.quickmeme.com/img/dc/dc8f4cc01c03ee628dc8a50bd9b543d1a741c508164225df6db3e03eaf8717ab.jpg)

I find it bizarre that you go on to talk about finding commonalities in books that people buy. Assuming you could identify these things (which is far from obvious), what would these commonalities be other than objective determinants of taste?  ???

Look, I'm sympathetic to this line of reasoning, but then people come in and tell us that FSOG is wrongbadfun and not a "good" book, so how do we account for that? The word we're using is "taste," but anything that we can agree upon as having subjective connotations will do.

All I care about is what will get us to your "objective determinants of taste." I don't care what you call it. I think it exists and I've got ideas about what it includes.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 19, 2017, 01:39:43 PM

Exactly! Or Austen! Or any number of others. There's lessons to be learned here.

This is a basic romantic concept that has a great appeal!  The woman is so amazing that all her obvious economic/social disadvantages are overlooked because the handsome prince/aristocrat/billionaire loves her too much to go on without her.  He is willing to ignore convention because she is worth it. :)

Realistic?  Maybe not, but still makes a great story.  If you flip the idea, I think you could include Arwen giving up eternity to be with Aragorn.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 01:44:29 PM
A falsehood inferred from a glittering generality. Taste is subjective in the same way chairs are furniture. Taste is an aspect or dimension of subjectivity. So, yeah, taste is subjective and bears poop in the woods.

It doesn't follow from this that everything about chairs or books is therefore "impossible to determine in any objective manner." I take it you've noticed that there are genres of literature that demarcate relatively predictable plots, characters, outcomes, and affects? These features exist out there in the world, which is what makes them objective. And these objective features give rise to objective judgements about books: A thriller that does not thrill, for example, is not a "good" thriller. A book in any genre that no one can understand or follow is not a "quality" book.

I find it bizarre that you go on to talk about finding commonalities in books that people buy. Assuming you could identify these things (which is far from obvious), what would these commonalities be other than objective determinants of taste?  ???

No, taste is subjective in the same way that a chair is/is not pretty. Chairs have objective qualities, like structure and design and fabric and materials and the skill of the fabricator. Whether one considers a particular chair "pretty'" or "ugly" is subjective and no one can tell me that my favourite chair is not pretty or comfy or favourite.

The fact that many people find my chair comfy does not mean it is a comfy chair, because others will say it sucks. Taste is subjective and no one can argue with me that my chair is NOT COMFY!!!

It is possible to come up with an objective measure of my favourite comfy chair such as size and fabric and materials and structure and design. Wood, plastic, fibreglass, wool, latex, tongue and groove, height, width, depth, etc. Those things we can all agree on because they are objective.

Comfy, pretty, and favourite are all subjective measures and we can't come to an objective measure of how comfy a chair is or how pretty or how favourite it is. What one little bear thinks is comfy, another bear will think is too hard, and yet another will be too soft. Still another bear will call it poop whether it is in the woods or not.

ETA: What we can say about pretty or comfy or favourite is that 70% of chairs people call their favourite are x, y, and z of the objective measures. Eg. the majority of chairs labeled as comfy were made with these fabrics and this design.

If we translate that to books, we might say that the most "popular" books (best selling) have x y and z in common, which might be genre-appropriate covers, certain tropes and have a basic hero's journey plot structure with cliffhanger chapter endings.

If you asked those readers, they might describe that book as their favourite, the best, a good book, a great book. But just because a book is a best seller doesn't mean it is good -- or bad. It just means it sells the best. If you want to sell the best, you should study those best sellers. They are pleasing a lot of readers. There are measures you can study that make them best sellers, but I don't think it's useful to try to determine if they are "good" since that is subjective.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: ############# on June 19, 2017, 01:47:32 PM
After 140 comments, I guess the consensus to the advice of 'write a good book' is that it is useless to say to a newbie. No one yet has been able to objectively state what a good book is other than what their personal tastes are for one.

What can be said, then? 'Write the best book you can'?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: KBaker on June 19, 2017, 01:51:37 PM
For me, there's good books and great books.

Good books are the ones that are commercially successful, has a unanimous agreement that it's good, and gets discussed a lot. These are typically the bestsellers, classics, or hidden gems that become popular via WOM.

Great books can also include good books, but these are the books that are personally good to you. They're the books that you rave about, reread, and shout to the universe that it's the best book ever. These aren't always well-written, popular, or thought-provoking, but they resonate with YOU the reader.

So I guess a good book can be a great book, but a great book isn't always a good book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Lorri Moulton on June 19, 2017, 01:52:01 PM
After 140 comments, I guess the consensus to the advice of 'write a good book' is that it is useless to say to a newbie. No one yet has been able to objectively state what a good book is other than what their personal tastes are for one.

What can be said, then? 'Write the best book you can'?

Maybe write a book people will want to read?  If you are trying to sell a lot of books that is probably the goal.  If you want to write a book you enjoy writing, then whether people will want to read it is secondary.  If the goal is to be recognized as a great author, again, sales are probably secondary.

I think writers need to decide what they really want before they write their book.  Ideally, it's probably all of the above, but if you had to choose.....

That's probably your answer. :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BWFoster78 on June 19, 2017, 01:59:03 PM
Since the consensus seems to be becoming that "What is a good book?" is an impossible question to answer, how about we modify it a little, tiny bit:

What is a good book for ... X?

If X = Everyone in Existence, I'm going to have to go with most others and say that defining such is impossible and, thus as far as advice goes, "Write a Good Book" is kinda pointless.

If X = Me, however, it's easy to define what makes a good book. I very much know what I like and mostly why I like it. If your goal then is to write a book that Brian W. Foster likes, I can answer the question easily and the advice is fantastic!

The trick, I think, is to determine the answer to the question when X = Your Target Readers. That's probably a lot harder than figuring out what you like in a book but probably a lot less impossible than figuring out what everyone likes in a book. To be completely honest, I haven't found anything about learning to write fiction and market books to be either easy or intuitively obvious. Not sure why trying to figure out what my readers want would be any less hard. The thing is, though, just because it's difficult doesn't make it unimportant.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 19, 2017, 02:04:40 PM


What can be said, then? 'Write the best book you can'?

Not necessarily. It depends on whether you're writing it strictly for income or for critical acclaim. You could achieve both outcomes of course.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic on June 19, 2017, 02:14:01 PM
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.

FSOG empowering? To whom? This book was disempowering to people in the BDSM lifestyle to the point of painting them so mentally ill they are in need of virginal rescue.

If an author is upset that their books are not selling, trashing EL James or Fifty Shades may feel good but it won't do anything to help their books sell.

Why is everyone assuming that people who state that FSOG is unmitigated trash, have to be upset that their books aren't selling? Or are envious? Why is it so hard to grasp, that some people will point out that the emperor is indeed naked? That doesn't even detract from the financial success of FSOG or similar blockbusters, though I really have trouble thinking of one equally as horrible as that one.

I'd be cringing with shame if I ever wrote such trash. I'm really not envious of someone who did, and this is regardless of how much money James earned. I wouldn't want to be in her place for all that money. That seems hard to understand for some.

Of course there are very successful authors I'm envious of: King is one, Rowlings is another, or Neil Gaiman. Alan Hollinghurst or the late Sir Terry Pratchett. The reason why I am envious is that they write excellent books, and much less because they also earn good money. That's what comes with excellent, with good books.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 19, 2017, 02:18:30 PM
The thing is, people latch onto 50 Shades like it's some unusual case. It's not. It's just the most visible one and the one that made the most money. There are many other books that a writer could look at and think that will never sell, my god that have KILLED. People can trash 50 Shades and say it's poorly written, and from an objective standpoint I can't disagree about the state of the prose, but another writer who's made a mint couldn't go two paragraphs without glaring errors. Her books were bad first drafts, her covers homemade and awful, and the characters were caricatures. She was making not-low six figures a year for a while, and I'm guessing based on sheer number of publications she still is. Don't guess, because I won't confirm. I like her and have no wish to point fingers. She's also hardly alone. So many examples.

Her readers didn't care about the errors. She was giving them the stories they wanted and couldn't get anywhere else. Good for her. I don't read her stuff, it's too unrealistic and error-filled for me, but I am clearly not her audience. The people willing to pay her are the only ones with opinions that matter.

FSOG empowering? To whom? This book was disempowering to people in the BDSM lifestyle to the point of painting them so mentally ill they are in need of virginal rescue.


It wasn't written for or by anybody actually into BDSM. Women who didn't know anything about BDSM felt empowered at the idea that a woman could "fix" a messed up guy because he wanted her that much.

I don't have to agree with it, nobody does, but that was the story that was told. Her loved saved him from his bad-dirty-wrong kink (don't get me started). That's not an uncommon fantasy in romance.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Sapphire on June 19, 2017, 02:33:05 PM
P.J. Post quoted Elmore Leonard: "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."
In my opinion, excellent advice no matter what you write. Thank you, P.J. for sharing this.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: P.J. Post on June 19, 2017, 03:17:38 PM
Well, you don't see a Metalocalypse reference everyday.  8)

After 140 comments, I guess the consensus to the advice of 'write a good book' is that it is useless to say to a newbie. No one yet has been able to objectively state what a good book is other than what their personal tastes are for one.

What can be said, then? 'Write the best book you can'?

No, that's what some are arguing around in circles about. There are very clear and objective things one can do to make a book more familiar (which helps sales, because it promotes acceptance), and techniques to control pacing, tension and emotional release. There are specific ways to open a book to set the mood or tone of the narrative and a proper way to work transitions. This isn't subjective, and if you follow these techniques and use the other tools available, and have any measure of talent or imagination, you'll be able to write a perfectly serviceable novel. (General "you".)

For example, (my opinion here) the best openings (not necessarily the first sentence) establish purpose, tone, theme and conflict. Depending on genre, they'll introduce the MC as well. The adjectives will do double-duty, defining not only the thing in question, but also work to establish mood and often the attitude the MC has toward the thing (or the attitude the narrator wants the reader to sense/feel/see), which gives the reader insight into the character. The rhythm of the prose may also reflect the pacing, not only of the scene, but the novel as a whole. The stakes are usually defined as well. The opening may also incorporate several layers, including foreshadowing and metaphor - I'd encourage it.

That's a lot to work on for page 1, and then genre conventions play a role too.

I agree with the previous poster who said that all books should be mysteries, certainly good books. Good books are accessible, familiar (no matter how literary) and engage the reader throughout as they try to figure out where it's all going. Humans like to find patterns, even if they don't exist - give them patterns, puzzles and a treasure (rewards). They also love roller coasters and cliffhangers. Good books are not difficult to evaluate, they're difficult to write.

ETA: Check out the openings for Mystic River and The Handmaid's Tale. Lots-o-layers.

P.J. Post quoted Elmore Leonard: "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it."
In my opinion, excellent advice no matter what you write. Thank you, P.J. for sharing this.

You're welcome.   :)

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 19, 2017, 03:27:10 PM
That pushing came after it started resonating with an audience. The morning talk shows and Oprah didn't just pick FSOG out of a hat--if they did, we'd see a lot more worldwide phenomenons with books.

Of course it wasn't picked out of a hat. It was paid. Who thinks Oprah, or all the other hosts of the endless morning shows that suddenly had a show on it, did it out of "public interest?"

It's much like labels paying radio stations to air their song a certain number of times per hour. Yes, there most certainly is an engineered effect to popularity. Anyone who claims otherwise must not believe in advertising.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: KennySkylin on June 19, 2017, 03:36:39 PM
There's no such thing as an objectively "good" book. One person's trash is another's treasure. And who's to say anyone else is wrong when it comes to books or any kind of art they think is good.

People like to slam stuff like Twilight and 50 Shades, but for everyone who hates them, there are just as many fans. I read that first Twilight book, and it was fine for what it is. It didn't blow me away; it's not really my genre, and I basically only read it out of curiosity because it was such a phenomenon. But I really don't get all the hate for it. If 50 shades was a gateway drug for tons of people, who normally don't read, to pick up a book, and if it allowed even a small percentage of those people to realize that they actually love reading and was the catalyst for them to discover a new hobby they enjoy. That's awesome.

They're not "bad" books, just not MY taste. I guess I don't really see the value in being a critic or hater, seems like a complete waste of time and headspace.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 19, 2017, 03:46:49 PM
Of course it wasn't picked out of a hat. It was paid. Who thinks Oprah, or all the other hosts of the endless morning shows that suddenly had a show on it, did it out of "public interest?"

It's much like labels paying radio stations to air their song a certain number of times per hour. Yes, there most certainly is an engineered effect to popularity. Anyone who claims otherwise must not believe in advertising.

Where's the source that the shows were paid to feature the book? And who paid for the book to be featured? It certainly wasn't EL James or some small press out of Australia. Even if a publisher paid to have FSOG featured on these programs, it would had to have been the big publisher that picked her up after the book had already been selling like mad. So again--it's because the book was already popular.

I get that you don't like the book, but these conspiracy theories to explain how its popularity was all engineered really stretches the limits of believability.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 19, 2017, 04:23:28 PM


They're not "bad" books, just not MY taste.


It can be both.

The only anomaly with FSOG is it's not bad due to its puerile subject matter but due to its execution. It's a poorly written book. There are plenty of well-written erotica books. FSOG isn't one of them.

The mass market is less discerning about these things.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jena H on June 19, 2017, 04:30:12 PM
There's no such thing as an objectively "good" book. One person's trash is another's treasure. And who's to say anyone else is wrong when it comes to books or any kind of art they think is good.


I agree with this.  Obviously there can be no single definition of a "good" book--not that everyone can agree on-- and certainly individual books can't be universally agreed upon as being good, great, bad, etc.

One type of book that I sometimes enjoy very much is the novelization of a TV show.  They're not ever going to be Pulitzer or Nobel winners, but when done well (i.e., the author knows the characters, backstories, etc.), the books are very engrossing and enjoyable.  Certainly not everyone's cup of tea, and some may scoff at them, but when I can "see" the action and the familiar characters doing their thing, I'm immersed in the story, and that's the bottom line.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 05:20:08 PM
It can be both.

The only anomaly with FSOG is it's not bad due to its puerile subject matter but due to its execution. It's a poorly written book. There are plenty of well-written erotica books. FSOG isn't one of them.

The mass market is less discerning about these things.

Please tell me how it's a poorly written book? Can you give objective examples of the bad aspects so we can know what is poor writing about it?

Tastes in fiction change over time. I could go back to some books that are considered classics and find all kinds of writing that would be considered horrid today.

Tastes evolve. Standards evolve.

Any book that sells 100 million copies has to be considered "good" in some sense.

And in the end, your opinion on whether it is a "good" book is no more or less valid than mine. Even if you have a PhD in Literary Criticism, you can tell me authoritatively that it's poorly written but that doesn't negate that I loved it and that it sold 100 million copies. It's meaningless in the end because I may have loved and enjoyed it like millions of other readers.

Unless you can pull up examples of how it's a poorly written book that are more than just your personal taste and can point to the authority on what constitutes a "well-written book", it's really, like, your opinion man...
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: anniejocoby on June 19, 2017, 05:48:47 PM
FSOG empowering? To whom? This book was disempowering to people in the BDSM lifestyle to the point of painting them so mentally ill they are in need of virginal rescue.

Why is everyone assuming that people who state that FSOG is unmitigated trash, have to be upset that their books aren't selling? Or are envious? Why is it so hard to grasp, that some people will point out that the emperor is indeed naked? That doesn't even detract from the financial success of FSOG or similar blockbusters, though I really have trouble thinking of one equally as horrible as that one.

I'd be cringing with shame if I ever wrote such trash. I'm really not envious of someone who did, and this is regardless of how much money James earned. I wouldn't want to be in her place for all that money. That seems hard to understand for some.

Of course there are very successful authors I'm envious of: King is one, Rowlings is another, or Neil Gaiman. Alan Hollinghurst or the late Sir Terry Pratchett. The reason why I am envious is that they write excellent books, and much less because they also earn good money. That's what comes with excellent, with good books.

Your posts always put a smile on my face.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 19, 2017, 05:57:26 PM


Unless you can pull up examples of how it's a poorly written book that are more than just your personal taste and can point to the authority on what constitutes a "well-written book", it's really, like, your opinion man...

I certainly can't put samples here, but if you Google "fifty shades of grey examples of writing" you'll find plenty of not so diverse opinion on the subject. There's a fairly broad consensus on the poor quality of the writing.

If you enjoyed it, great. There's nothing wrong with that. I like this quote from the Telegraph:

Quote
The Telegraph's Kat Brown has been busy dissecting the first pages [FSOG] and says: "The writing is terrible. It was so terrible that it gave me actual joy, the sort of joy you get from reading Dan Brown."

I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code because it made sevens hours on a plane "fly by." The writing quality? I didn't even notice. But on reflection, I can say is was pretty pedestrian.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 19, 2017, 06:08:13 PM
Identifying the concrete, actionable steps for a writer to produce (and reproduce) a successful book is a conversation worth having. I won't respond further except to that end.

I agree with the previous poster who said that all books should be mysteries, certainly good books. Good books are accessible, familiar (no matter how literary) and engage the reader throughout as they try to figure out where it's all going. Humans like to find patterns, even if they don't exist - give them patterns, puzzles and a treasure (rewards). They also love roller coasters and cliffhangers. Good books are not difficult to evaluate, they're difficult to write.

Absolutely agree with the points you raised, and I wanted to highlight this. If you ever want to learn this or be reminded of it, try being a game master in a tabletop RPG. The bat[crap] crazy conspiracy theories, threats, opportunities, and hijinks that your players see conjure out of thin air will set your head to spinning. Wait...did you say that barkeep walks with a limp? He's faking. I can spot that a mile away. Why's he faking a limp? WHAT'S YOUR GAME, BARKEEP WITH THE CONSPICUOUS LIMP? TALK, YOU [illegitimate person]!

All you have to do is give readers some puzzles to work and they'll come up with solutions you never could've dreamed.

Another point with mysteries is that they're essential for setting up spinoffs. Never resolve everything (even in a series finale IMO...you could always come back out of chronological order if the readers are still there). Soap operas are the classic example of this: their classic formula is to open two loops for every one they close. They'll end two consecutive scenes with a new question, then answer an existing question in the third. Keeps their audience ravenous, and keeps their writers with more hooks than they could ever need.

Where you'll get dinged for this is cliffhangers. Don't sweat that too much. You want to resolve the big questions of your book, but leave yourself room for the next ones. Readers will let you know if they're dying to hear what ever happened with Pinky the Pixie, back in Book 2 of 9.

Shawn Coyne has a typology for these narrative drivers. Mystery is when the characters know something that the reader doesn't. Suspense is when the characters and the reader are equally uninformed. Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something the characters don't. All three types of narrative drive are great, and it's good to mix it up.

Where you want to be especially careful is with dramatic irony. That's best used towards the ending payoff, or roughly the last 25% of your book. You've spent the first three quarters of the book piling up all of these hints, and now you get to pay them off in scenes that set the reader to screaming "NO DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR!" Pull that stuff earlier and you can turn readers off. They're liable to conclude that your characters are just dense for missing the things they saw plainly from their 30,000 foot vantage (e.g. the horror heroine who calls, "Is that you, Justin? You're such a goof!" at the axe murderer in the basement).
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 19, 2017, 06:28:44 PM
Dan Brown drizzles information in just enough quantity to keep me following the bread crumbs while his characters race against time to solve the mystery. It's very compelling despite how good or not so good the writing is. I didn't really notice anything odd until I read Inferno where the balance got tipped to 'hey look at all this detailed research I did' which popped me out of the story too often. He also did a Bad Thing for me in his ending.

I read the FSOG trilogy and it won't win awards for awesome writing, but it entertains. I think the whole mystery of why Christian is like he is drives the excitement in the first book. I didn't care for the attempt at villains in the 2nd and 3rd - I think that's where the weak writing becomes evident. Still, I read through them all and found them entertaining anyway.

So, does attracting a reader through to the end mean it was a good book or does it also have to be a literary masterpiece?
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dpock on June 19, 2017, 06:45:00 PM

So, does attracting a reader through to the end mean it was a good book or does it also have to be a literary masterpiece?

It could be considered a good read certainly, even if it's not a great book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: ############# on June 19, 2017, 07:03:46 PM
All of this discussion and I still see no good discussion on how a new writer is supposed to understand what a good book is, or how they're supposed to write it. 'Write a good book' as advice is tired, trite advice trotted out and thrown at them as if it held valuable instruction. It's not actionable advice.

Some people liked FSOG. Some people hated it. I couldn't get through it. I don't know if it was a 'good' book or not. I only knew it wasn't a book for me.

Some people liked The Da Vinci Code. Some people hated it. I couldn't put the book down. I don't know if it was a 'good' book or not. I only know that it kept me turning the pages until the end.

Who's right?

And it loops right back to my original question, what should be said to the new writer? Because 'write a good book' is pretty useless advice. P.J. Post came close to an answer but it was all predicated on what he said was his opinion. As this board frequently proves, not everyone agrees with someone's opinion. (although, in this case, I do agree :D )

I've not-so-recently read a book that was in the top 20 of a category on amazon. It had hundreds of positive reviews. I figured 'hey, this book is in the top 20, it has a huge amount of positive reviews, it must be good'.

I couldn't believe how utterly miserably written this book was. I was baffled how the book managed to garner so many 4 and 5 star reviews when the plot was hackneyed and predictable, the writing was juvenile at best, the formatting and POV were both damn near indecipherable, the voice of the author was insulting to the reader and the story was some teenager's wet dream of a fantasy. It was, in my opinion, dreck of the highest order.

Someone liked it. For them, it was a good book.

I thought it was a horrible book and regretted paying money for it.

Who's to say it was bad if another reader was able to easily read, it was a page turner and it left them satisfied at the end?

And what about the author? If we assume the author wrote what they believed was a good book, yet I thought it was a horrible book...then what? Where did that advice get them?

This whole discussion of good and bad really does come down to 'eye of the beholder' and what those important earmarks that a 'good book' hits for an individual.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 19, 2017, 07:10:27 PM
All of this discussion and I still see no good discussion on how a new writer is supposed to understand what a good book is, or how they're supposed to write it. 'Write a good book' as advice is tired, trite advice trotted out and thrown at them as if it held valuable instruction. It's not actionable advice.

Because there is no formula for a good book. No one knows what will make a book connect with the right audience. No one knows why a book that's poorly written finds an audience and success, while a book that's well-written sinks to the bottom of the charts. No one knows why a book a writer is passionate about falls flat, while another book a writer just churned out gets a best-seller tag.

The only actionable advice to be added to "write a good book" is do the best you can, market the hell out of it, and hope for the best.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: ############# on June 19, 2017, 07:14:36 PM
Because there is no formula for a good book. No one knows what will make a book connect with the right audience. No one knows why a book that's poorly written finds an audience and success, while a book that's well-written sinks to the bottom of the charts. No one knows why a book a writer is passionate about falls flat, while another book a writer just churned out gets a best-seller tag.

The only actionable advice to be added to "write a good book" is do the best you can, market the hell out of it, and hope for the best.

Agreed. All this talk about what makes a good book swirls around as people discuss their preferences and how they choose to interpret the advice.

In the end, there's no bullet point list that satisfies everyone.

As Art Williams said,  All you can do is all you can do but all you can do is enough.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Rose Andrews on June 19, 2017, 07:51:23 PM
I think a good book is one that resonates with its audience for the most part. Can't please everybody but if the book is getting good ratings/reviews/reads, then more than likely it's hitting the right chords with the audience of choice. Whether I like the "book" or not is a different matter.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 19, 2017, 08:06:50 PM
I'm a new writer and I can only say what I have done to prepare.

I read a TON. I've been a book worm all my life and I can down books like other people down beers. This gave me a good idea of what types of stories I'd want to tell and gave me the basic feeling of what makes an interesting story. It also gave me a list of authors and their strengths that I'd like to strive for whether it be short stories with punch like Isaac Asimov or that ability to pick the exact word or short phrase to convey the right imagery/sounds by Janny Wurts, or the suck you in descriptions in Barbara Hambly's work, or the almost poetic visual descriptions and sensual romance of Grace Draven or the epic world building by Brandon Sanderson. I could go on. I think it's super important to be well read in the area you are trying to write in so you know what works and what doesn't work.

I read books and watched youtube videos of the mechanics of story writing. Gut instinct is good but I wanted to make sure I was also including the core structures that perhaps people don't look for but instinctively expect. Brandon Sanderson has his college lectures out on youtube and I found them to be very helpful.

I also look at tropes and see which ones I want to incorporate or reverse. How many Cinderella stories are there? And poor girl gets her billionaire (yep FSOG) is just a modern Cinderella tale (perhaps without the stepsisters). These types of stories continue to be popular because they resonate with peoples' fantasies. Romeo and Juliet - forbidden love - Twilight?

Then I started to write to see just what worked for me. Some people are super planners and plot everything out which is probably needed to write 10 novel epic fantasy. I found it worked better if I kept a loose outline to make sure my story and characters were interesting, but then to let them have their head. It's fun for me because I wind up reading my story as I'm writing it because I don't always know what's going to happen next. Just last week I was writing a line my character was supposed to say and he balked and out came the complete opposite. I stared in stunned silence as I realized he's right, their culture would mean this had to happen this way. Which required a bit of a scramble for the next chapter but that was so awesome.

Also, I found I needed to do more reading when I realized how awkward it was to write those first few lines of dialog. I mean, he said, she said, and then what? Eww. It's not something I paid attention to when reading for pleasure but now it was staring me in the face and I was choking. So, what has loads of dialog? Yep, romance. So I read a few, decided I liked the genre after all, and many more romances later I was able to write dialog without feeling so self conscious. I also checked out dialog in other genres and I still scour popular books to see how authors handle certain things when they come up. Huge battle scenes - ok, which ones did I really like and why?

It certainly seems to boil down to reading and analyzing what you liked and didn't like to use in your own writing.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 19, 2017, 09:05:23 PM

Why is everyone assuming that people who state that FSOG is unmitigated trash, have to be upset that their books aren't selling? Or are envious? Why is it so hard to grasp, that some people will point out that the emperor is indeed naked? That doesn't even detract from the financial success of FSOG or similar blockbusters, though I really have trouble thinking of one equally as horrible as that one.

I'd be cringing with shame if I ever wrote such trash. I'm really not envious of someone who did, and this is regardless of how much money James earned. I wouldn't want to be in her place for all that money. That seems hard to understand for some.

Of course there are very successful authors I'm envious of: King is one, Rowlings is another, or Neil Gaiman. Alan Hollinghurst or the late Sir Terry Pratchett. The reason why I am envious is that they write excellent books, and much less because they also earn good money. That's what comes with excellent, with good books.

So, you think Terry Pratchett writes "good" books? In fact, you think they are "excellent" books! I haven't been able to finish one. In fact, I haven't been able to get past the first page.

You see, instead of me saying that Terry Pratchett writes "bad" books and that I can't, for the life of me, understand why anyone would want to read them, I simply conclude that I don't like his style and move on. I don't think you're nuts or a simpleton for liking Pratchett's books. I think we have different taste. I don't think you're ethically or morally deficient or stupid for liking Pratchett. I think we like different kinds of books.

Why do I think this bashing of Fifty Shades is jealousy?

Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong! The authors of those bad books must be cheating! The books are bad, they claim, so there is no way that the books could get to the top on their own. It's either that or readers are so stupid and tasteless and idiots that they don't know what constitutes a good book! Darn them!!!

I may be wrong but that sure sounds like sour grapes to me.

I gave up talking about good and bad books after I read the reviews of books I hated and saw that many many people loved those books. What's up with that??? How on earth could people love books that I hate? Have they no taste or discernment? Likewise, I was shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that people actually hated books I personally loved. How could they not love the books I love? They're fantastic, kept me turning pages, and made me cry...

So, all this kind of debate about good and bad books really becomes meaningless except to pundits who do this for a living. The rest of us who want to make a living as authors have to figure out how to write books that sell and sell in enough quantity that we can pay our bills. Good and bad is for pundits to decide. Readers decide with their dollars and frankly, that's what I care about because it's that decision that allows me to write for a living -- not what the pundits say. As far as i'm concerned, the only judges I care about are the ones who spend their money to buy my books.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Nic on June 19, 2017, 10:15:18 PM
So, you think Terry Pratchett writes "good" books? In fact, you think they are "excellent" books! I haven't been able to finish one. In fact, I haven't been able to get past the first page.

You see, instead of me saying that Terry Pratchett writes "bad" books and that I can't, for the life of me, understand why anyone would want to read them, I simply conclude that I don't like his style and move on. I don't think you're nuts or a simpleton for liking Pratchett's books. I think we have different taste. I don't think you're ethically or morally deficient or stupid for liking Pratchett. I think we like different kinds of books.

I dislike the writing of Virginia Woolf, Michael Ondaatje and William Golding to the point of having had to force myself to finish some of their books, and I'd never read them recreationally. That doesn't keep me from acknowledging that their works are excellent and that they objectively wrote good books.

Quote
Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong! The authors of those bad books must be cheating! The books are bad, they claim, so there is no way that the books could get to the top on their own. It's either that or readers are so stupid and tasteless and idiots that they don't know what constitutes a good book! Darn them!!!

These are assumptions. I've read the same comments here and see a lot of people acknowledging Sturgeon's Law instead. People who resist putting a mediocre or in the case of FSOG even downright awful piece of writing on a pedestal simply because it sold well. I didn't get the impression of a pack of whining, unsuccessful hacks who envy James her money.

Quote
I gave up talking about good and bad books after I read the reviews of books I hated and saw that many many people loved those books. What's up with that??? How on earth could people love books that I hate? Have they no taste or discernment? Likewise, I was shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that people actually hated books I personally loved. How could they not love the books I love? They're fantastic, kept me turning pages, and made me cry...

There is a difference between personal preferences when reading recreationally (what you refer to) and an as objective as possible critique of the artistic and craft value of a book (what I refer to). I as well have loved books I consider trash on an objective level. However, I wouldn't call them "good books" and I wouldn't defend them just because they gave me a pleasant reading experience.

Quote
So, all this kind of debate about good and bad books really becomes meaningless except to pundits who do this for a living. The rest of us who want to make a living as authors have to figure out how to write books that sell and sell in enough quantity that we can pay our bills.

That wasn't the topic of this discussion. For that you would have to look at the marketing threads. The topic of this discussion is the distinction between a Bob Ross painting and one by Pablo Picasso. There as well you will have millions of people preferring to put happy little trees on their walls. That has never been a reason to contest the validity of the critical and cultural reception of either in the art world.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: anniejocoby on June 19, 2017, 10:16:57 PM
So, you think Terry Pratchett writes "good" books? In fact, you think they are "excellent" books! I haven't been able to finish one. In fact, I haven't been able to get past the first page.

You see, instead of me saying that Terry Pratchett writes "bad" books and that I can't, for the life of me, understand why anyone would want to read them, I simply conclude that I don't like his style and move on. I don't think you're nuts or a simpleton for liking Pratchett's books. I think we have different taste. I don't think you're ethically or morally deficient or stupid for liking Pratchett. I think we like different kinds of books.

Why do I think this bashing of Fifty Shades is jealousy?

Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong! The authors of those bad books must be cheating! The books are bad, they claim, so there is no way that the books could get to the top on their own. It's either that or readers are so stupid and tasteless and idiots that they don't know what constitutes a good book! Darn them!!!

I may be wrong but that sure sounds like sour grapes to me.

I gave up talking about good and bad books after I read the reviews of books I hated and saw that many many people loved those books. What's up with that??? How on earth could people love books that I hate? Have they no taste or discernment? Likewise, I was shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that people actually hated books I personally loved. How could they not love the books I love? They're fantastic, kept me turning pages, and made me cry...

So, all this kind of debate about good and bad books really becomes meaningless except to pundits who do this for a living. The rest of us who want to make a living as authors have to figure out how to write books that sell and sell in enough quantity that we can pay our bills. Good and bad is for pundits to decide. Readers decide with their dollars and frankly, that's what I care about because it's that decision that allows me to write for a living -- not what the pundits say. As far as i'm concerned, the only judges I care about are the ones who spend their money to buy my books.

Ahem. I hate FSOG. With a passion. I even tried to see the movie, but gave up on that after twenty minutes.

But it's not jealousy that makes me hate it. It's just that I think it sucks hard. No pun intended, LOL. I thought that Christian was abusive, Ana was weak, and the entire relationship left me feeling depressed.

I'm not at all sure where jealousy is supposed to factor into the equation of whether or not somebody hates something. It's like when I was in college and I couldn't stand Vanna White. Everybody said I was jealous because she was so pretty and I wish I were that pretty. I was like "huh?" There were many other beautiful women that I admired, but just because I didn't like Vanna, I was just jealous. I think that Nic's argument was much the same - if you say that he only hates FSOG because he's jealous, then you're implying that Nic must be jealous of any book that is more successful than his. That's just silly.

I, myself, loved "The DaVinci Code." Since it was so successful, you would think that I would hate that book, too, if it was merely jealousy that was causing me to hate FSOG. I just finished "The Girl on the Train." I liked it a lot. Same thing - if jealousy was what caused me to hate FSOG's success, wouldn't I also be jealous of "The Girl on the Train" and bash it as well?

I'm sorry, Sela, I love your posts so much, but I do think that you're on shaky ground with this particular argument.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 19, 2017, 10:18:41 PM
So, you think Terry Pratchett writes "good" books? In fact, you think they are "excellent" books! I haven't been able to finish one. In fact, I haven't been able to get past the first page.

You see, instead of me saying that Terry Pratchett writes "bad" books and that I can't, for the life of me, understand why anyone would want to read them, I simply conclude that I don't like his style and move on. I don't think you're nuts or a simpleton for liking Pratchett's books. I think we have different taste. I don't think you're ethically or morally deficient or stupid for liking Pratchett. I think we like different kinds of books.

Why do I think this bashing of Fifty Shades is jealousy?

Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong! The authors of those bad books must be cheating! The books are bad, they claim, so there is no way that the books could get to the top on their own. It's either that or readers are so stupid and tasteless and idiots that they don't know what constitutes a good book! Darn them!!!

I may be wrong but that sure sounds like sour grapes to me.

I gave up talking about good and bad books after I read the reviews of books I hated and saw that many many people loved those books. What's up with that??? How on earth could people love books that I hate? Have they no taste or discernment? Likewise, I was shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that people actually hated books I personally loved. How could they not love the books I love? They're fantastic, kept me turning pages, and made me cry...

So, all this kind of debate about good and bad books really becomes meaningless except to pundits who do this for a living. The rest of us who want to make a living as authors have to figure out how to write books that sell and sell in enough quantity that we can pay our bills. Good and bad is for pundits to decide. Readers decide with their dollars and frankly, that's what I care about because it's that decision that allows me to write for a living -- not what the pundits say. As far as i'm concerned, the only judges I care about are the ones who spend their money to buy my books.

And once more, I lament the lack of a like button on KBoards.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 19, 2017, 10:47:12 PM
I also look at tropes and see which ones I want to incorporate or reverse. How many Cinderella stories are there? And poor girl gets her billionaire (yep FSOG) is just a modern Cinderella tale (perhaps without the stepsisters). These types of stories continue to be popular because they resonate with peoples' fantasies. Romeo and Juliet - forbidden love - Twilight?

If you boil Cinderella down even further, you get one of Vonnegut's six story arcs (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/07/the-six-main-arcs-in-storytelling-identified-by-a-computer/490733/). That article I linked is about an ongoing machine learning project that found kernels of truth in Vonnegut's rejected master's thesis from a generation or two ago.

Basically with the Cinderella story, your protagonist starts in a hole. She gradually, step by agonizing step, lifts herself up out of the hole before everything falls apart. In the eleventh hour she rises again, birds sing and trumpets blare, and they live happily ever after.

That's one story type out of six, and it's a perennial favorite of humans.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: NeedWant on June 19, 2017, 10:56:47 PM
When people give the advice to "write a good book" they actually mean:

Write a book that sells. That's the definition of a "good book" in the indie world. A good book is one that sells and has fans and makes the author money.

By that definition, a "bad book" is one that doesn't make you money or loses you money.

That's it.

Now personally, I think some "good books" (aka bestsellers) are terrible books. I also think some "bad books" (aka nonsellers) are excellent books. But my personal opinions don't matter, because the public has decided what they consider a "good book."

All this other discussion about the merits of this or that book. Of great literature. Of personal opinions. It's a discussion that doesn't really help when we're talking about the oft given advice to "write a good book."
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BellaJames on June 19, 2017, 11:22:00 PM
All of this discussion and I still see no good discussion on how a new writer is supposed to understand what a good book is, or how they're supposed to write it. 'Write a good book' as advice is tired, trite advice trotted out and thrown at them as if it held valuable instruction. It's not actionable advice.

Some people liked FSOG. Some people hated it. I couldn't get through it. I don't know if it was a 'good' book or not. I only knew it wasn't a book for me.

Some people liked The Da Vinci Code. Some people hated it. I couldn't put the book down. I don't know if it was a 'good' book or not. I only know that it kept me turning the pages until the end.

Who's right?

And it loops right back to my original question, what should be said to the new writer? Because 'write a good book' is pretty useless advice. P.J. Post came close to an answer but it was all predicated on what he said was his opinion. As this board frequently proves, not everyone agrees with someone's opinion. (although, in this case, I do agree :D )

I've not-so-recently read a book that was in the top 20 of a category on amazon. It had hundreds of positive reviews. I figured 'hey, this book is in the top 20, it has a huge amount of positive reviews, it must be good'.

I couldn't believe how utterly miserably written this book was. I was baffled how the book managed to garner so many 4 and 5 star reviews when the plot was hackneyed and predictable, the writing was juvenile at best, the formatting and POV were both damn near indecipherable, the voice of the author was insulting to the reader and the story was some teenager's wet dream of a fantasy. It was, in my opinion, dreck of the highest order.

Someone liked it. For them, it was a good book.

I thought it was a horrible book and regretted paying money for it.

Who's to say it was bad if another reader was able to easily read, it was a page turner and it left them satisfied at the end?

And what about the author? If we assume the author wrote what they believed was a good book, yet I thought it was a horrible book...then what? Where did that advice get them?

This whole discussion of good and bad really does come down to 'eye of the beholder' and what those important earmarks that a 'good book' hits for an individual.

If you look through the thread you will see that a few posters did say a good book comes down to personal opinion and taste.
When you get a book like FSOG that is engaging and entertaining millions of readers. That has people who are reading it multiple times. That has people telling other people how much they enjoyed it, encouraging others to try it. That author has managed to write a good satisfying entertaining book that appeals to a large audience.


Paying attention to why people liked that book, gave a lot of authors ideas and they found their own success writing something similar

To me a book (especially a fiction book) is as much a part of the entertainment industry as a movie or TV show. I read romance books to be entertained.
Fifty shades of Grey was successful in entertaining me and a lot of other people. That's a winner in my eyes. Just like the last three Captain America movies have entertained me so much that I've watched them multiple times.




So, all this kind of debate about good and bad books really becomes meaningless except to pundits who do this for a living. The rest of us who want to make a living as authors have to figure out how to write books that sell and sell in enough quantity that we can pay our bills. Good and bad is for pundits to decide. Readers decide with their dollars and frankly, that's what I care about because it's that decision that allows me to write for a living -- not what the pundits say. As far as i'm concerned, the only judges I care about are the ones who spend their money to buy my books.

This.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: kusanagi on June 20, 2017, 12:11:54 AM
Something that makes me burn dinner.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Rose Andrews on June 20, 2017, 02:44:40 AM
I'm not at all sure where jealousy is supposed to factor into the equation of whether or not somebody hates something.
Sometimes, it's puzzling, no? One tries to make sense out of how a poorly written book sells so well. This was me tonight: an UF writer with a killer premise ruined the story for me with horrible grammar and punctuation, repeated paragraphs, oddly placed commas to no commas, no setting details just bare boned, no character descriptions, characters flat, confusing narrative, and I could go on. I barely got through the first chapter. In fact, I couldn't go much further and it gave me a headache trying to make sense of what was happening. Out of curiosity, I looked up the author's works and saw he has 20+ books published. All of them except for 1 are in the top 100 of their categories. All of them have a mixture of raving reviews and poor reviews grinding the author about the sloppy editing. Some of the reviews read downright angry. I did a look inside some of the author's books and couldn't make sense of it all. His ideas/premises are really good, but his writing is the worst I've seen. I'm so confused. Not jealous. Confused. How does this happen? His books have hundreds of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. He must be throwing some money at marketing but wouldn't that be a lot for 20+ books? All I hear is how you shouldn't publish unless you get an editor. You shouldn't publish until your craft is good enough. You shouldn't use adverbs this or have cardboard characters. Yet this author proved to me tonight that rules be damned, it's possible to make it in this business by working hard and having killer plot lines. That's what I learned from it anyway.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Jena H on June 20, 2017, 05:09:21 AM

Why do I think this bashing of Fifty Shades is jealousy?

Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong! The authors of those bad books must be cheating! The books are bad, they claim, so there is no way that the books could get to the top on their own. It's either that or readers are so stupid and tasteless and idiots that they don't know what constitutes a good book! Darn them!!!

I may be wrong but that sure sounds like sour grapes to me.


Because people bashing Fifty Shades have said that it's terrible that bad books hit bestsellers lists while good books languish. Yes, this is a true lament.  Of many people, not only writers.

When I look at their books and see they are languishing, I suspect that they feel their books are good and thus, if only the bad books weren't selling so well, their good books would be at the top where they belong!
What about people--and there are millions of them, who thought FSoG is garbage...  and they themselves are NOT writers?  How is their opinion any different from that of someone who happens to write?  Also, there are songs I think are bad, buildings that I think are ugly, paintings and sculptures that are absolutely amateurish.  Obviously my feelings aren't based on "jealousy" because I'm not a songwriter, or an architect, or a painter/sculptor.

Sometimes an opinion is exactly what it purports to be:  an honest opinion.

And for the record, I've never read 50 Shades so I have never expressed personal judgement.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Acheknia on June 20, 2017, 05:12:35 AM
Something that makes me burn dinner.

I think you should stop reading while you're cooking :)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 20, 2017, 05:16:17 AM

What about people--and there are millions of them, who thought FSoG is garbage...  and they themselves are NOT writers?  How is their opinion any different from that of someone who happens to write? 

That must be jealousy, too.  ::)

Fact is, there are plenty of more successful selling authors that write stories I like. That must be jealousy, too.  ::)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: TobiasRoote on June 20, 2017, 05:26:23 AM
So,

A Good Book - One that people say is well written, carries them through to the end and they give it 5 stars

A Bestseller - Nothing special compared to above, except it sells shed loads and makes the author a mint.

Analysis: Keep writing good books and one day one might become a bestseller and sell shedloads, then you might/will be happy :P
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: C. Gold on June 20, 2017, 07:26:41 AM
Sometimes, it's puzzling, no? One tries to make sense out of how a poorly written book sells so well. This was me tonight: an UF writer with a killer premise ruined the story for me with horrible grammar and punctuation, repeated paragraphs, oddly placed commas to no commas, no setting details just bare boned, no character descriptions, characters flat, confusing narrative, and I could go on. I barely got through the first chapter. In fact, I couldn't go much further and it gave me a headache trying to make sense of what was happening. Out of curiosity, I looked up the author's works and saw he has 20+ books published. All of them except for 1 are in the top 100 of their categories. All of them have a mixture of raving reviews and poor reviews grinding the author about the sloppy editing. Some of the reviews read downright angry. I did a look inside some of the author's books and couldn't make sense of it all. His ideas/premises are really good, but his writing is the worst I've seen. I'm so confused. Not jealous. Confused. How does this happen? His books have hundreds of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. He must be throwing some money at marketing but wouldn't that be a lot for 20+ books? All I hear is how you shouldn't publish unless you get an editor. You shouldn't publish until your craft is good enough. You shouldn't use adverbs this or have cardboard characters. Yet this author proved to me tonight that rules be damned, it's possible to make it in this business by working hard and having killer plot lines. That's what I learned from it anyway.

There is this one author who writes an alien abduction romance series based on three alien civilizations with their own unique problems and interdependencies and the key to solving everything was found on Earth. Some of those books had really bad formatting where you couldn't always tell the transitions until a reread of that paragraph but the story was really interesting.

If I can stomach the Look Inside writing, then I take the chance. Nine times out of ten I stop reading because a book becomes boring in the middle, not because of missing commas, past and present tense swap ups (though not my favorite mistake to suffer), missing words, homophone abuse, affect vs effect, or even one or two wrong character name usages.

Things that kill it for me grammar-wise? Too much usage of thick accents that take a long time to translate, too many incomplete sentences, and repeated simple sentence structure that reads like a glorified Dick and Jane book. That frees the story to abuse a lot of grammar rules before I throw in the towel - assuming it's a killer story idea. It sounds like I'm not the only one willing to forgive a mistake riddled book if the story is good.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 20, 2017, 07:27:15 AM
Look, I'm sympathetic to this line of reasoning, but then people come in and tell us that FSOG is wrongbadfun and not a "good" book, so how do we account for that? The word we're using is "taste," but anything that we can agree upon as having subjective connotations will do.

All I care about is what will get us to your "objective determinants of taste." I don't care what you call it. I think it exists and I've got ideas about what it includes.

Now we're getting to the nub of it: Someone said Fifty Shades was bad, so out came the "Taste is subjective!" truncheon. Notice how no one--not in the entire history of KBoards--has ever swung the "Taste is subjective!" club at anyone who's said a book is good? It's only when someone says a book is bad that "Taste is subjective!" swings into action to silence the horrible thought. That's the great part of glittering generalities: No one wholly believes or disbelieves them, but no one wants to be seen disagreeing with them, so people either get stuck arguing a no-win case or they shut up.

I say even the people who invoke "Taste is subjective!" don't really believe it because no one who knows anything about writing believes that the only meaning of "good book" is "book I like." So there's no reason to be swinging that particular club at all. Sure, some things are purely matters of taste. But a person's tastes also change over time and many people's tastes converge on certain things. Equally important, there's a reflexive relation between taste and the products on offer to satisfy them. New genres emerge, some genres go in cycles, and others die out or change. These are the objective correlates of taste that are worth exploring. And that's why "Taste is subjective!" mongering should get the boot from the discussion.

 
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 20, 2017, 09:29:30 AM
Ahem. I hate FSOG. With a passion. I even tried to see the movie, but gave up on that after twenty minutes.

But it's not jealousy that makes me hate it. It's just that I think it sucks hard. No pun intended, LOL. I thought that Christian was abusive, Ana was weak, and the entire relationship left me feeling depressed.

I'm not at all sure where jealousy is supposed to factor into the equation of whether or not somebody hates something. It's like when I was in college and I couldn't stand Vanna White. Everybody said I was jealous because she was so pretty and I wish I were that pretty. I was like "huh?" There were many other beautiful women that I admired, but just because I didn't like Vanna, I was just jealous. I think that Nic's argument was much the same - if you say that he only hates FSOG because he's jealous, then you're implying that Nic must be jealous of any book that is more successful than his. That's just silly.

I, myself, loved "The DaVinci Code." Since it was so successful, you would think that I would hate that book, too, if it was merely jealousy that was causing me to hate FSOG. I just finished "The Girl on the Train." I liked it a lot. Same thing - if jealousy was what caused me to hate FSOG's success, wouldn't I also be jealous of "The Girl on the Train" and bash it as well?

I'm sorry, Sela, I love your posts so much, but I do think that you're on shaky ground with this particular argument.

Okay, let's see if I can clarify.

Maybe I should have used the word "resentment" instead of jealousy since people dislike the word jealousy even if they are jealous.

Often, when a book a person hates has massive success like Fifty Shades, they resent its success. For some, that resentment is based on the mistaken idea that a "good" book should sell while a "bad" book should tank.

That's not the way a market works. Books that have what pundits describe as having objectively "bad things" sell like hotcakes while books that have objectively "good things" tank. Because what people consider to be "good things" and "bad things" are not the basis for commercial success.

If an author wants commercial success, then they have to write for readers have to please readers. They have to write books that have a large audience and they have to be able to get those books in front of that audience.

If an author wants awards for their work, they have to write for the please critics. Sometimes it's possible to do both.

What I am arguing is this:

IT'S A MARKET.

Forget the notion of "good" and "bad" except as it relates to sales.

Quit torturing yourself about writing good and bad books. Write the best darn book you can, do it as professionally as you can, try to do as much of the good things successful authors do that you can, and then? You have to just put it out there and see if the market likes it.

If publishing wasn't a market, and if it was just a space for "good" writing where quality mattered, then we could focus on good writing and what makes a book "good".

It's a market. That means market forces are at play.

If an author wants to sell, and sell in enough volume to do this for a living, focus on readers -- pleasing your target audience and finding more. Believe me, any book (or series of books) that is selling in enough quantity to keep you writing for a living is a "good" book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 20, 2017, 10:38:03 AM
What I am arguing is this:

IT'S A MARKET.

Forget the notion of "good" and "bad" except as it relates to sales. If an author wants to sell, and sell in enough volume to do this for a living, focus on readers -- pleasing your target audience and finding more. Believe me, any book (or series of books) that is selling in enough quantity to keep you writing for a living is a "good" book.

You're trying to persuade people to adopt an attitude toward publishing. I agree with some of the attitude as standpoint for analysis. But I recognize that thinking of good and bad in terms of sales is not an empirical conclusion; it's an approach, perspective, or outlook on publishing that one chooses to adopt for analytical purposes. It is not the truth about things (like "The sky is blue"), which means that people who think some bestsellers are bad aren't mental defectives in need of an attitude adjustment through psychoanalysis. Besides, I have never seen or heard of anyone being persuaded of anything by an analysis of their motives.

At any rate, I question whether there are any general lessons to be learned from that particular book. Some people up thread have said (I'm inferring here) that it has spawned a subgenre that other writers have had success catering to. I'll take their word for it. But the idea that the book proves anything in general about the relevance of writing quality is dubious: (a) it's an outlier for a whole lot of reasons, (b) it's not that badly written to begin with (from what I've read of it), and (c) the list of examples proving the opposite--namely, that execution is at least as important as story--is extremely long. To introduce a new example, compare Stephen King's track-record as an author to the track-record of films based on his books. If story trumped all else, the films would have been as successful as the books they were based on. That hasn't happened because execution matters.


Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Kyra Halland on June 20, 2017, 11:04:04 AM
I'm a new writer and I can only say what I have done to prepare.

I read a TON. I've been a book worm all my life and I can down books like other people down beers. This gave me a good idea of what types of stories I'd want to tell and gave me the basic feeling of what makes an interesting story. It also gave me a list of authors and their strengths that I'd like to strive for whether it be short stories with punch like Isaac Asimov or that ability to pick the exact word or short phrase to convey the right imagery/sounds by Janny Wurts, or the suck you in descriptions in Barbara Hambly's work, or the almost poetic visual descriptions and sensual romance of Grace Draven or the epic world building by Brandon Sanderson. I could go on. I think it's super important to be well read in the area you are trying to write in so you know what works and what doesn't work.

I read books and watched youtube videos of the mechanics of story writing. Gut instinct is good but I wanted to make sure I was also including the core structures that perhaps people don't look for but instinctively expect. Brandon Sanderson has his college lectures out on youtube and I found them to be very helpful.

I also look at tropes and see which ones I want to incorporate or reverse. How many Cinderella stories are there? And poor girl gets her billionaire (yep FSOG) is just a modern Cinderella tale (perhaps without the stepsisters). These types of stories continue to be popular because they resonate with peoples' fantasies. Romeo and Juliet - forbidden love - Twilight?

Then I started to write to see just what worked for me. Some people are super planners and plot everything out which is probably needed to write 10 novel epic fantasy. I found it worked better if I kept a loose outline to make sure my story and characters were interesting, but then to let them have their head. It's fun for me because I wind up reading my story as I'm writing it because I don't always know what's going to happen next. Just last week I was writing a line my character was supposed to say and he balked and out came the complete opposite. I stared in stunned silence as I realized he's right, their culture would mean this had to happen this way. Which required a bit of a scramble for the next chapter but that was so awesome.

Also, I found I needed to do more reading when I realized how awkward it was to write those first few lines of dialog. I mean, he said, she said, and then what? Eww. It's not something I paid attention to when reading for pleasure but now it was staring me in the face and I was choking. So, what has loads of dialog? Yep, romance. So I read a few, decided I liked the genre after all, and many more romances later I was able to write dialog without feeling so self conscious. I also checked out dialog in other genres and I still scour popular books to see how authors handle certain things when they come up. Huge battle scenes - ok, which ones did I really like and why?

It certainly seems to boil down to reading and analyzing what you liked and didn't like to use in your own writing.

Best advice on this thread :)

Shawn Coyne has a typology for these narrative drivers. Mystery is when the characters know something that the reader doesn't. Suspense is when the characters and the reader are equally uninformed. Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something the characters don't. All three types of narrative drive are great, and it's good to mix it up.

Shawn Coyne's Story Grid stuff is really good for knowing how to structure a story that hangs together, fulfills expectations, and builds momentum. It's maybe a little advanced for totally beginning writers, but once you've figured out how to cobble enough words and scenes and characters together to make a novel, I suggest taking a look at Story Grid. It's a book (a large, textbook-style book), but pretty much the whole thing is also available on the website. http://www.storygrid.com/articles/ (and yeah, it's got email signups all in your face everywhere, but you don't have to sign up to read the articles/blog posts.)
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 20, 2017, 11:21:57 AM
You're trying to persuade people to adopt an attitude toward publishing. I agree with some of the attitude as standpoint for analysis. But I recognize that thinking of good and bad in terms of sales is not an empirical conclusion; it's an approach, perspective, or outlook on publishing that one chooses to adopt for analytical purposes. It is not the truth about things (like "The sky is blue"), which means that people who think some bestsellers are bad aren't mental defectives in need of an attitude adjustment through psychoanalysis. Besides, I have never seen or heard of anyone being persuaded of anything by an analysis of their motives.

At any rate, I question whether there are any general lessons to be learned from that particular book. Some people up thread have said (I'm inferring here) that it has spawned a subgenre that other writers have had success catering to. I'll take their word for it. But the idea that the book proves anything in general about the relevance of writing quality is dubious: (a) it's an outlier for a whole lot of reasons, (b) it's not that badly written to begin with (from what I've read of it), and (c) the list of examples proving the opposite--namely, that execution is at least as important as story--is extremely long. To introduce a new example, compare Stephen King's track-record as an author to the track-record of films based on his books. If story trumped all else, the films would have been as successful as the books they were based on. That hasn't happened because execution matters.

Yes.

I am trying to convince people to adopt an attitude towards publishing and stop focusing on the things we can't quantify or agree on because those things don't sell books. My aim is to encourage new authors to understand this whole indie thing is about craft and business and that the two are intertwined and inseparable.

I can be told that a book, Fifty Shades for example, is a "bad book" with terrible writing, but if I enjoyed it and read it from cover to cover and loved it, that is meaningless to me as a reader. If I am a writer who wants to write books that make readers read from cover to cover and love, I am better served trying to understand why Fifty Shades and other blockbuster books sell than try to discern what makes a book "good" in any kind of objective sense -- especially when it comes to a notion of quality writing.

I just think we authors punish ourselves by trying to figure out what makes a book "good" separate from what makes a book "sell". I don't want to write "good" books that don't sell. I want to write good books that sell. That "sells" part alters the equation of what constitutes "good."

I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.

Readers won't forgive bad storytelling because of excellent prose. They will forgive bad prose -- grammar, typos, etc. -- because of great storytelling. And if tens of millions want to read a story about a sadistic billionaire who is beast to the beauty of a flaky virgin nerd who sees the real him, that's what will sell even if the writing is clunky or whatever criticism one chooses to launch at the book.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't care about writing well. I'm saying that if you focus on writing well instead of telling a great story, you may be disappointed because good writing does not sell books. Good storytelling does. So focus on the storytelling. That means plot and character and pace and hooks and twists and mystery. If you want readers and want to sell books and especially if you want to make a living at it, those things should be the focus.

In my thinking, a book that a lot of readers can't put down because of the punishing pace or intriguing characters or hooky chapter endings or gripping mystery is a good book.

That book will likely never become a classic, but it might make enough bank to allow an author to write for a living. That's a good book, IMO.

YMMV
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Laran Mithras on June 20, 2017, 01:46:15 PM
Readers won't forgive bad storytelling because of excellent prose. They will forgive bad prose -- grammar, typos, etc. -- because of great storytelling.

There it is.

The bad prose is often harped on to authors about why their book sucked. This causes resentment when those authors improve their prose and still don't sell well compared to 3rd grade keyboard pounding.  :P

But, it's about the story and the reader.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Sonya Bateman on June 20, 2017, 02:25:29 PM
Given my own experiences (IMHO, YMMV, and other disclaimers apply), it's impossible to tell whether a book is good or bad -- once you get past the objective criteria.

Again IMHO, you can objectively say whether a cover / blurb / the writing is bad (but can't say objectively whether these things are good). Bad cover = obviously thrown together in Paint, or not genre-appropriate, or done in Photoshop by a three-year-old. These things are "I know it when I see it" types of judgment, but in general, you *can* say a cover is bad. However, if it's not bad, it's not necessarily good. It could kind of suck and still sell books, or it could be amazing (visually speaking) and NOT sell books.

Bad blurb = lots of spelling and grammar mistakes, doesn't actually seem to reference the book in question, is confusing and / or off-putting. But even if it's not "bad", it might not be "good" - in that it may tell the reader what to expect from the story, but not hook them enough to actually buy the book.

Bad writing = spelling and grammar mistakes, no sense of character, no plot, nonsensical rambling -- in short, anything that *confuses* the reader. Here, you can't necessarily say that a "boring" book is a bad book - because what's boring to you might not be to other people. But if it's confusing, if the words in the book don't actually make a coherent story, it's objectively a bad book. And once again, even if it's not "bad," you can't definitively say it isn't "good."

In a very recent experience, I seem to have written a bad book (under a new pen name; it's not in my sig). It's the first book in about a year and a half (the point where I started having enough sales to believe I don't entirely suck at writing) that I've lost money on. It has, objectively, a solid genre-appropriate cover, a well-written blurb that appropriately describes the story, and objectively solid writing that tells a coherent story (and as a marketing bonus, is now populated with appropriate, relevant also-boughts). However -- it must be a bad book, because other than a brief sales spike, it's done nothing. Like Proximo's giraffes in Gladiator who just walk around eating and not mating, this book is not doing what a "good" book should.

Is it bad? Who knows? I wouldn't say it's objectively bad -- but I can't say it's good.

Hopefully this rambling post will help some folks who are struggling with the age-old core writer question of "Do I suck, or what?" by illustrating that sometimes objectively not-bad books just walk around eating and refusing to mate -- er, being decent, solid books that still don't sell, for whatever reason.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 21, 2017, 07:45:16 AM
Readers won't forgive bad storytelling because of excellent prose. They will forgive bad prose -- grammar, typos, etc. -- because of great storytelling. And if tens of millions want to read a story about a sadistic billionaire who is beast to the beauty of a flaky virgin nerd who sees the real him, that's what will sell even if the writing is clunky or whatever criticism one chooses to launch at the book.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't care about writing well. I'm saying that if you focus on writing well instead of telling a great story, you may be disappointed because good writing does not sell books. Good storytelling does. So focus on the storytelling. That means plot and character and pace and hooks and twists and mystery. If you want readers and want to sell books and especially if you want to make a living at it, those things should be the focus.

We're back to glittering generalities. Everything you said hangs on the meanings of words like prose, story, and storytelling and the differences between them. On the face of it, your claim that prose and story are independent of each other is false. You can't examine Daniel Keyes' prose in Flowers for Algernon independently of the story without concluding that Keyes must be functionally illiterate. He's not, of course; the story is made up of diary entries from a character who is functionality illiterate in the beginning (and end). Similarly, James could not have written 50 Shades in the prose Keyes used in Flowers. (That would have made for one morally reprehensible story...)

The same goes for the prose-storytelling dichotomy, which also goes both ways. It's not possible, in practice, to disconnect prose from plot, character, pace, hooks, and twists. The distinctions are artificial ones made for analytical purposes. A grizzled police veteran who talks like a teenager, for example, isn't going to fly with readers. The difference between the two social types on the page is all in the prose (mostly diction). The pace of a thriller has as much to do with the prose style as the sequence of events--it's no coincidence that all thrillers are written in the same sparse style. And how in the world could there be anything like a poorly written hook? I can't even make sense of that.

The whole idea that readers "forgive bad prose" only works when you assume a very high level of proficiency to begin with, which means very few mistakes in a style suited to the genre. Try to quantify forgiveness: Will readers forgive 26 typos per page? How about 5 per page? Or is it more like 5 per 50k words? Obviously, the answer is closer to the latter. Will readers forgive broken syntax on every page (without some reason for it; e.g., Flowers)? Of course not. But it goes beyond copyediting: Romance readers won't forgive you using either Lovecraft's or (probably even) Patterson's style or vice versa.

Put another way, your advice doesn't apply to writers in general. It only applies to writers who are already proficient in the style of their genre. Given the close connection between prose and storytelling, however, such people must be few and far between--like expert drivers who've never been in a car. In the absence of any concrete examples and explanations, this advice isn't "actionable" and it's probably misleading.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 21, 2017, 09:38:39 AM
We're back to glittering generalities. Everything you said hangs on the meanings of words like prose, story, and storytelling and the differences between them. On the face of it, your claim that prose and story are independent of each other is false. You can't examine Daniel Keyes' prose in Flowers for Algernon independently of the story without concluding that Keyes must be functionally illiterate. He's not, of course; the story is made up of diary entries from a character who is functionality illiterate in the beginning (and end). Similarly, James could not have written 50 Shades in the prose Keyes used in Flowers. (That would have made for one morally reprehensible story...)

The same goes for the prose-storytelling dichotomy, which also goes both ways. It's not possible, in practice, to disconnect prose from plot, character, pace, hooks, and twists. The distinctions are artificial ones made for analytical purposes. A grizzled police veteran who talks like a teenager, for example, isn't going to fly with readers. The difference between the two social types on the page is all in the prose (mostly diction). The pace of a thriller has as much to do with the prose style as the sequence of events--it's no coincidence that all thrillers are written in the same sparse style. And how in the world could there be anything like a poorly written hook? I can't even make sense of that.

The whole idea that readers "forgive bad prose" only works when you assume a very high level of proficiency to begin with, which means very few mistakes in a style suited to the genre. Try to quantify forgiveness: Will readers forgive 26 typos per page? How about 5 per page? Or is it more like 5 per 50k words? Obviously, the answer is closer to the latter. Will readers forgive broken syntax on every page (without some reason for it; e.g., Flowers)? Of course not. But it goes beyond copyediting: Romance readers won't forgive you using either Lovecraft's or (probably even) Patterson's style or vice versa.

Put another way, your advice doesn't apply to writers in general. It only applies to writers who are already proficient in the style of their genre. Given the close connection between prose and storytelling, however, such people must be few and far between--like expert drivers who've never been in a car. In the absence of any concrete examples and explanations, this advice isn't "actionable" and it's probably misleading.



I think you're making the mistake you're accusing her of by speaking as if readers are one general group, when they're not. Yes, there's at least one romance writer I can think off of the top of my head who made mid-high six figures in one year who easily ranged between 5-26 errors per page. She didn't have high proficiency, and she made a heck of a lot more than a few mistakes. All her characters sound about the same to me--hyperbolic and like caricatures. Her readers didn't care, and she had plenty of them or she wouldn't have been (and is apparently still) raking it in. Many, many urban romance authors and writers aiming at a primarily black audience with stories about poor upbringing, drug abuse and the like also write error-filled books and rake it in. And science fiction, whose readers it's easy to assume are picky, made a six-figure author out of a writer whose books were filled with errors not all that long ago.

Some readers want the stories they want and are willing to overlook a lot to get them.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 21, 2017, 11:54:29 AM
I think you're making the mistake you're accusing her of by speaking as if readers are one general group, when they're not. Yes, there's at least one romance writer I can think off of the top of my head who made mid-high six figures in one year who easily ranged between 5-26 errors per page. She didn't have high proficiency, and she made a heck of a lot more than a few mistakes. All her characters sound about the same to me--hyperbolic and like caricatures. Her readers didn't care, and she had plenty of them or she wouldn't have been (and is apparently still) raking it in. Many, many urban romance authors and writers aiming at a primarily black audience with stories about poor upbringing, drug abuse and the like also write error-filled books and rake it in. And science fiction, whose readers it's easy to assume are picky, made a six-figure author out of a writer whose books were filled with errors not all that long ago.

Some readers want the stories they want and are willing to overlook a lot to get them.

I think your examples fit with what I said. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're not claiming that these high error rates characterize fiction in general. You're saying that the error rates are common in some niches and can be found in a few outliers in SF and other genres. (Come to that, I can think of at least two big SF writers who'd fit your description.)

But what's the general conclusion we should draw from this? The choices are (1) everyone is wasting their time on quality because most people don't care about errors or (2) a few people get away with some to a lot of errors and some subgenres tolerate more errors than others. I say the evidence points to 2.

I picked 2 because of the pattern across books that sell: Most selling books are proficiently written and contain few typos (= a generalization from a large sample). I infer from this that that's what most people want (because, again, that's what most people buy). I don't deny that poorly written books succeed. That's a fact too. But I do not infer from one or two poorly written bestsellers (or from poor writing in a niche) that the quality of prose doesn't matter. That conclusion contradicts the facts as they are. And it strikes me as ridiculous to infer that conventional ideas about quality are wrongheaded because one book isn't very well written.

Now, none of this proves that quality matters. Mine is just a statistical generalization about readers' expectations from the books they buy. Maybe quality matters far less than buying patterns suggest. But there's no evidence for this. One, two, or ten poorly written bestsellers count for nothing more than expected noise among thousands of well-written bestsellers. I can also concede that genres, subgenres, etc., have different expectations for quality (as they do in everything else). But none of this changes the general conclusion that "prose quality" matters.

By the way, I think people exaggerate the badness of 50 Shades to make their point. As I said above, I haven't read the whole of the first book, but what I read isn't that bad. It just doesn't stand up well against other romance writers. 

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BWFoster78 on June 21, 2017, 12:09:36 PM
I think your examples fit with what I said. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're not claiming that these high error rates characterize fiction in general. You're saying that the error rates are common in some niches and can be found in a few outliers in SF and other genres. (Come to that, I can think of at least two big SF writers who'd fit your description.)

But what's the general conclusion we should draw from this? The choices are (1) everyone is wasting their time on quality because most people don't care about errors or (2) a few people get away with some to a lot of errors and some subgenres tolerate more errors than others. I say the evidence points to 2.

I picked 2 because of the pattern across books that sell: Most selling books are proficiently written and contain few typos (= a generalization from a large sample). I infer from this that that's what most people want (because, again, that's what most people buy). I don't deny that poorly written books succeed. That's a fact too. But I do not infer from one or two poorly written bestsellers (or from poor writing in a niche) that the quality of prose doesn't matter. That conclusion contradicts the facts as they are. And it strikes me as ridiculous to infer that conventional ideas about quality are wrongheaded because one book isn't very well written.

Now, none of this proves that quality matters. Mine is just a statistical generalization about readers' expectations from the books they buy. Maybe quality matters far less than buying patterns suggest. But there's no evidence for this. One, two, or ten poorly written bestsellers count for nothing more than expected noise among thousands of well-written bestsellers. I can also concede that genres, subgenres, etc., have different expectations for quality (as they do in everything else). But none of this changes the general conclusion that "prose quality" matters.

By the way, I think people exaggerate the badness of 50 Shades to make their point. As I said above, I haven't read the whole of the first book, but what I read isn't that bad. It just doesn't stand up well against other romance writers.

Now that I've learned a bit about writing craft, I judge books a lot differently than I did previously. Certain authors whose books I loved back in the day, I can't handle at all. Tiny, stupid stuff that doesn't annoy anyone else on the planet will make me put down a book.

To make me think that a book was poorly written back in the day, the writing had to be egregiously bad. Like, as in no two words fit together in a coherent fashion bad.

I think that we, as authors, tend to put a lot of stock into choosing the right words and little technical details that the vast majority of readers just don't notice (Note that I write this response after spending hours on a scene in an effort to get the words to say exactly what I wanted to convey).

Some readers will notice if the grammar is dreadful or if every third word has a typo, but really, I can't help but think that most of them don't really care about what speech tags we use or utilization of too many adverbs.

Story
Tension
Emotion
Character

It's not any easier to quantify whether a book is good based on those criteria than by subjective technical expertise or objective ability to follow basic grammar rules, but I think we'd find a higher correlation between books that readers like if we could.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 21, 2017, 08:30:58 PM
I think your examples fit with what I said. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're not claiming that these high error rates characterize fiction in general. You're saying that the error rates are common in some niches and can be found in a few outliers in SF and other genres. (Come to that, I can think of at least two big SF writers who'd fit your description.)

It's more than a few outliers, though.

Quote

But what's the general conclusion we should draw from this? The choices are (1) everyone is wasting their time on quality because most people don't care about errors or (2) a few people get away with some to a lot of errors and some subgenres tolerate more errors than others. I say the evidence points to 2.

I don't think there are just two choices. I wouldn't make your #1 a choice anyway. I didn't say that anyone was wasting their time on quality, only that there are people who don't care about errors as long as they're getting the stories they want. I think everyone should put the best work they can out there. I don't see where there's an either/or situation. My only contention was that you were talking about readers as if they're a homogeneous group, a generality, and they're not.

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But I do not infer from one or two poorly written bestsellers (or from poor writing in a niche) that the quality of prose doesn't matter. That conclusion contradicts the facts as they are. And it strikes me as ridiculous to infer that conventional ideas about quality are wrongheaded because one book isn't very well written.

And I'm not inferring anything except that writers tend to worry about things that readers do not. There are readers, a minority I think, who actually care about how the prose is crafted. I think the biggest chunk in most genres don't. The writing needs to be correct enough to get out of the way of the story, that's all. And another chunk of readers will chew through error after error if the story is delivering. If you can tell a good story, there's an audience out there.

The story's the most important thing, and poorly written books prove that every day. That certainly doesn't mean people shouldn't care about their writing. But it should be a valuable lesson for writers who are just starting out or struggling. Learn to tell good stories. Do that first, because that's the one thing every successful book has in common--not the quality of the prose or even the cover or the marketing budget. It's the story.

Quote

By the way, I think people exaggerate the badness of 50 Shades to make their point. As I said above, I haven't read the whole of the first book, but what I read isn't that bad. It just doesn't stand up well against other romance writers. 

50 Shades is amateur writing, and first-drafty. It's not error-riddled like the books I was thinking of in my examples. Twilight's not well-written in my opinion, either, but it's far from the worst thing I've ever read. Far, far from it.

I don't think everyone who criticizes these books is jealous or bitter, either. But a few people (not necessarily here) are. I know it when I see it, basically. Most people who criticize them still recognize that they're good books to some people, and there are lessons there for those who look.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 22, 2017, 09:50:21 AM
Some readers will notice if the grammar is dreadful or if every third word has a typo, but really, I can't help but think that most of them don't really care about what speech tags we use or utilization of too many adverbs.

You're pointing to expert's bias. Writers undoubtedly notice grammar, speech tags, adverbs, etc., more often than readers (and it's not like you can un-train yourself in what you know). But you don't have to be able to identify by name the things that make a book hard to read or slow-moving to experience those things.

Put another way, writers and writing advice tends to distil everything into rules ("Don't use adverbs!") at the expense of the reasons behind them ("because they add nothing"), and writers tend to read books by the rules. Yet you have to remind yourself that adverbs aren't bad because they're words that people in the Writers' Club disdain; adverbs are (mostly) edited out because they add very little to the experience and they're telling words, not showing words. The same for grammar or anything else. You don't use Standard English because a large number of people will be annoyed by your nonstandard usage; you use it because it's more understandable to a wider audience than nonstandard English (i.e., bad grammar).

I'm not saying there's nothing to expert's or writer's bias. I just don't put much stock in it because the main difference between pre- and post-writer is being able to name the things you don't like.

I don't think there are just two choices. I wouldn't make your #1 a choice anyway. I didn't say that anyone was wasting their time on quality, only that there are people who don't care about errors as long as they're getting the stories they want. I think everyone should put the best work they can out there. I don't see where there's an either/or situation. My only contention was that you were talking about readers as if they're a homogeneous group, a generality, and they're not.


If it seems as though I'm homogenizing readers, it's only because I'm arguing against another general claim about readers. My argument, in a nutshell, is that the claim that "story/storytelling matters more than prose" could only be true in a very specific sense of the words "story," "storytelling," and "prose." For example, the statement could only be true if "prose" meant something like "5-10 typos and grammar errors per 50k words." That's misleading on two counts: It lumps a whole lot of what belongs under prose and style into storytelling, and it ignores the close connection between story elements and how you write them. Either way, however, nothing I said goes against the idea that there are niche- or genre-specific exceptions.

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And I'm not inferring anything except that writers tend to worry about things that readers do not.

The question, then, is what you offer in place of worry. I think a clear examples of "good" is better than what to me sounds like "Don't worry about being a good writer because a few crappy writers became bestsellers." I'm not saying these are your words, but that's how it comes out when you try to make practical sense of glittering generalities like the ones I mentioned above.

Anyway, good writing is neither as difficult to define nor as useless as some claim, but it involves taking off the ideological glasses. Take definition first. If you made a list of the best writers in each genre, you will find that they are more like one another in style than they are like the worst writers in their genres or like the genre-specific writers in their genres. I don't mean the writers on this list will all share the same style; I mean there will be a "family resemblance" between them that makes them more like one another than they are like lesser writers (or genre-specific writers) in their respective genres.

Other names could work, but the styles of Vladimir Nabokov, William Golding, Jeffery Archer, John Scalzi, Dennis Lehane, and Lee Child have more in common with one another (as stylists) than they do with lesser writers (or eccentric ones) in their own genres. For example, Nabokov and Scalzi are closer in style than Nabokov is to his fellow lit-ficker Cormac McCarthy or Scalzi to some of the weaker bestselling writers in SF. (I can't demonstrate this here, of course, because I don't have the time or the interest. But even a cursory side-by-side comparison of these authors will reveal this, and any book on writing will use people like this to exemplify good style.)

What this shows is straightforward: There is such a thing as good writing that is much the same across all genres. This doesn't prove that good is good, that you must imitate the good, and that nothing that isn't good will never sell. Again, it just shows that there is such a thing as good style and that it is more common among bestselling authors than "non-good" and genre-specific styles.

The definition is also useful--or, more useful than "story matters more than prose." Concrete examples of good writing that are embedded in good stories are a heck of lot easier to emulate than some vague admonitions about what does and doesn't matter and to imitate one bestseller that any amateur can see isn't the best example of good writing.


Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BWFoster78 on June 22, 2017, 10:00:11 AM
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I'm not saying there's nothing to expert's or writer's bias. I just don't put much stock in it because the main difference between pre- and post-writer is being able to name the things you don't like.

All I have is my own anecdotal evidence, but my experience completely contradicts your assertion here.

Some books I used to love, I can't stomach now at all because all I can see is how bad the writing is. Back then, I noticed absolutely nothing wrong. Read a particular series at least three times. A couple of years ago, I gave away all my copies because I decided they were absolutely terrible.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 22, 2017, 10:03:26 AM
It's maybe a little advanced for totally beginning writers, but once you've figured out how to cobble enough words and scenes and characters together to make a novel, I suggest taking a look at Story Grid.

I've been deep into the Shawn Coyne Kool-Aid lately, but I found the book almost useless. I don't think he did a great job with it. Listening through his podcast with Tim Grahl (the Story Grid Podcast) was much more helpful, albeit over the course of about 80 hours. The format of the podcast is Tim starting as nearly a Day 0 fiction writer, and Shawn coaching him for about an hour a week on how to improve. It's a wild ride.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Perry Constantine on June 22, 2017, 10:23:58 AM
I've been deep into the Shawn Coyne Kool-Aid lately, but I found the book almost useless. I don't think he did a great job with it.

The book is really interesting, but I found it difficult to actually use it when plotting. It's not as actionable as books like Save The Cat, Take Off Your Pants, or Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: WHDean on June 22, 2017, 11:24:50 AM
All I have is my own anecdotal evidence, but my experience completely contradicts your assertion here.

Some books I used to love, I can't stomach now at all because all I can see is how bad the writing is. Back then, I noticed absolutely nothing wrong. Read a particular series at least three times. A couple of years ago, I gave away all my copies because I decided they were absolutely terrible.


Let's assume I'm wrong and look at the ramifications of your conclusion, which I'll summarize as something like "writers worry more about writing than readers." This conclusion might change how you feel about writing, but will it change how you write in any substantial way? My guess is that most people would say yes to the first clause and no to the second: Putting things in perspective helps with anxiety (reliable help for a common ailment among writers), but there's no substantial change in the process that follows from it for most people.

You could say that one concrete benefit is less time spent agonizing over minutiae. Personal experience makes me sceptical of that possibility, however; a pat on the head and a gentle "Don't worry" has never had much of an effect on me. I need to know why (WHY, dammit?!  >:() I don't need to worry. But I won't assume that my feelings on this apply to all, so I'll grant the possibility that "don't worry" might spare some (or a lot of) people time spent agonizing over nothing.

All the same, I do have another wrench to throw in the gears: Won't people who are already anxious about their abilities ask whether the advice applies to them? If that's reasonable, then the approach I spelled out above--namely, looking at good writing--makes more sense than trying to persuade oneself that readers aren't going to notice one's mistakes.

     
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Kyra Halland on June 22, 2017, 11:28:51 AM
The book is really interesting, but I found it difficult to actually use it when plotting. It's not as actionable as books like Save The Cat, Take Off Your Pants, or Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.

Yeah, Story Grid is for when you've already got the first draft and want to figure out what you have there and what needs to be fixed. I would not use it for outlining. In fact, Shawn Coyne himself suggests not using it for outlining (except for maybe the foolscap part) because you run a big risk of analysis paralysis. It's an editing tool, not a drafting tool.

I've been deep into the Shawn Coyne Kool-Aid lately, but I found the book almost useless. I don't think he did a great job with it. Listening through his podcast with Tim Grahl (the Story Grid Podcast) was much more helpful, albeit over the course of about 80 hours. The format of the podcast is Tim starting as nearly a Day 0 fiction writer, and Shawn coaching him for about an hour a week on how to improve. It's a wild ride.

Podcasts are useless to me because I do not learn aurally. The words go in one ear and out the other and I retain basically nothing. (This is also why I don't listen to audiobooks.) I do read the transcribed blog posts, but the extraneous chitchat and transcription errors drive me nuts. I like the book because I can mark it up, put stickies to mark the parts I want to work on, and have it open to refer to as I work. It is basically the first, oh, year and a half of blog posts from the site just gathered into book form, with not much if anything new. And I do like looking at the actual posts on the site; you can get a lot of additional info from the questions and answers in the comments. But having the book open to the section I'm working on is what works best for me. I do wish it had an index, though.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: BWFoster78 on June 22, 2017, 11:47:25 AM
Quote
Let's assume I'm wrong and look at the ramifications of your conclusion, which I'll summarize as something like "writers worry more about writing than readers." This conclusion might change how you feel about writing, but will it change how you write in any substantial way? My guess is that most people would say yes to the first clause and no to the second: Putting things in perspective helps with anxiety (reliable help for a common ailment among writers), but there's no substantial change in the process that follows from it for most people.

You could say that one concrete benefit is less time spent agonizing over minutiae. Personal experience makes me sceptical of that possibility, however; a pat on the head and a gentle "Don't worry" has never had much of an effect on me. I need to know why (WHY, dammit?!  >:() I don't need to worry. But I won't assume that my feelings on this apply to all, so I'll grant the possibility that "don't worry" might spare some (or a lot of) people time spent agonizing over nothing.

Actually, I'm taking a long, hard look at my productivity at the moment. I am absolutely spending too much time on things that may not have much value. I'm reluctant to base a major change on a gut feeling, though. The last thing that I want is to release a book that hurts my brand.

My best bet is probably to write a series under a pen name so that I can test my theory with minimal repercussions. That'll be down the road a ways, though, because I absolutely am going to finish my current two incomplete series before starting another one.

Let me write that again - I absolutely am going to finish my current two incomplete series before starting another one.

Now, all I have to do it keep that thought at the forefront of my head every time my mind starts to wander off into a completely new genre ... :)

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All the same, I do have another wrench to throw in the gears: Won't people who are already anxious about their abilities ask whether the advice applies to them? If that's reasonable, then the approach I spelled out above--namely, looking at good writing--makes more sense than trying to persuade oneself that readers aren't going to notice one's mistakes.

There are plenty of writers who are failing because they're neither writing nor storytelling nor marketing well. If I were addressing one of those authors, I'd tell them that, by my definition of those terms, the latter two attributes are more important than the former, but that each of the three deserves their attention. If I were tasked with creating a equation showing the relative weight that should be given to each, however, I'd have no idea. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most indie authors who have achieved success probably have all weighted each differently and still been able to get to where they are. In the end, though, I find it hard to fathom that many authors attribute their success to putting writing technique far ahead of the other two.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Dolphin on June 22, 2017, 12:13:05 PM
Yeah, Story Grid is for when you've already got the first draft and want to figure out what you have there and what needs to be fixed. I would not use it for outlining. In fact, Shawn Coyne himself suggests not using it for outlining (except for maybe the foolscap part) because you run a big risk of analysis paralysis. It's an editing tool, not a drafting tool.

I think he's right about that, but learning his method has helped me parse things like Save the Cat and Take Off Your Pants, and figure out how I should be using them. He's got a lot to teach that applies to the first draft as well.

The biggest challenge might be looking at your finished draft objectively and seeing what's there, instead of what should be there. That's where the Story Grid can really shine. As he said on the pod, the reason that he does so many passes and looks at everything in so many different ways is so that sooner or later, you'll realize what the book is actually about instead of believing whatever lies the author told you (especially if you're the author!).
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Kyra Halland on June 22, 2017, 01:54:26 PM
I think he's right about that, but learning his method has helped me parse things like Save the Cat and Take Off Your Pants, and figure out how I should be using them. He's got a lot to teach that applies to the first draft as well.

Yeah, his way of looking at scenes really clicked with me in a way that other methods don't. The concept of the "turn," the "value change." I'm taking my current revision project through the Story Grid, and it showed me where I had missed some opportunities to go deeper into the theme and character arcs, so I need some new scenes and I'm using that scene concept to sketch them out.

The biggest challenge might be looking at your finished draft objectively and seeing what's there, instead of what should be there. That's where the Story Grid can really shine. As he said on the pod, the reason that he does so many passes and looks at everything in so many different ways is so that sooner or later, you'll realize what the book is actually about instead of believing whatever lies the author told you (especially if you're the author!).

This book I'm working on now has been really slippery to pin down exactly what it's about, beneath the surface actions of the characters. Going through all the genre stuff helped me clarify what the book is really about, though my book's genres don't fall neatly into line with his categories of "external" and "internal" genres. But that's ok. What's important is now I know what the book is about, so now I can revise it into a book that (hopefully) all hangs together and follows a more satisfying progression.

But to bring this back to the main topic, whatever your definition of a "good" book is, it never hurts to always be trying to learn new things and improve your craft, whatever aspects of it you want to stand out for your kind of writing, what you're trying to achieve with your books, and your branding. Some things will click for some people, other things won't; the important thing is to always be working to level up.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Shelley K on June 22, 2017, 05:38:33 PM

My argument, in a nutshell, is that the claim that "story/storytelling matters more than prose" could only be true in a very specific sense of the words "story," "storytelling," and "prose." For example, the statement could only be true if "prose" meant something like "5-10 typos and grammar errors per 50k words."

I don't agree you need to narrowly define prose or any other terms for it to be true. There's far more to prose than whether or not there are errors, and in many examples of books that are poorly written and did very well, errors are one of many problems. 

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The question, then, is what you offer in place of worry. I think a clear examples of "good" is better than what to me sounds like "Don't worry about being a good writer because a few crappy writers became bestsellers." I'm not saying these are your words, but that's how it comes out when you try to make practical sense of glittering generalities like the ones I mentioned above.

Right, those aren't my words, as you've said, and I think anyone reaching that conclusion from the things I actually said is being too narrow.

Story matters more than prose. I don't think it's a terribly difficult idea to define. If you can give the readers the emotional experience they want with your story, that is what matters most. Some, perhaps many, will overlook other flaws as long as it meets their expectations for how it makes them feel. That's not an invitation to not care about good writing, but an urge to focus on a story with the elements in it that your audience wants as the most important thing. That is the one thing that every bestseller has in common, whether someone spent month revising and $2k to have it professionally edited or they put up the first draft of something they wrote as fast as possible.

Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: sela on June 22, 2017, 06:01:10 PM
:)

There are plenty of writers who are failing because they're neither writing nor storytelling nor marketing well. If I were addressing one of those authors, I'd tell them that, by my definition of those terms, the latter two attributes are more important than the former, but that each of the three deserves their attention. If I were tasked with creating a equation showing the relative weight that should be given to each, however, I'd have no idea. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most indie authors who have achieved success probably have all weighted each differently and still been able to get to where they are. In the end, though, I find it hard to fathom that many authors attribute their success to putting writing technique far ahead of the other two.

I agree.

I tend to think of a successful novel as having three -- maybe four -- components:

- quality of writing as in mechanics
- story idea
- quality of storytelling
- effectiveness of marketing

The story idea and the quality of the storytelling are far more important than the writing mechanics and marketing but both can add to a book's success.

Focusing on the story idea and the quality of storytelling and effectiveness of marketing will probably get you a lot farther than focusing on the story idea and quality of writing as in mechanics. I mean, you need a basic level of competence when it comes to writing mechanics but beyond that, the most important part of the whole process is the quality of storytelling, IMO.

I would never advocate for authors to not care about writing mechanics. We use words and language to tell stories and our choice of words and how we use them affects our storytelling.

BUT... our story ideas and storytelling skills are the most important. At base, people want a great story well-told and well-written. A great story idea told poorly with great mechanics will likely not succeed. Readers are not interested in a bad story no matter how well it's written. They will accept a great story well told with mediocre writing mechanics as many blockbuster books with less than stellar prose will attest.

By all means, study writing mechanics. Learn how to construct grammatically correct sentences, use strong verbs instead of too many adverbs, don't over do the adjectives (pick the best ones, in other words), use proper punctuation, learn how to use dialogue and when appropriate, show instead of telling. Those are basics that everyone who wants to publish should master, and if you're on the clunky side of things, get someone with a keen eye to proofread or better yet, do a line edit. Show some respect for your readers if you can afford it.

But it's far more important that you know what is and how to tell a great story. That means coming up with great story ideas, understanding story structure, understanding plot basics, writing compelling characters, learning how to properly pace for your genre, and delivering on expectations for your category, etc. Put it all together in as compelling way as possible, hooking your reader right away and keeping them hooked the entire time so they don't want to put your book down unless they have to.

That's what authors should really focus on because that's where the magic happens and where the gold lies.

Readers want great stories and great storytelling. Some readers don't care as much about the writing mechanics as they do about the storytelling. They will put up with less than great writing mechanics if the story is compelling enough.

How do you know if you have storytelling skills? In the end, you have to put it out there and see how readers respond. That means you have to be a good enough marketer to help your story become visible so the readers can decide.

If you think you have a great story, then the key is to tell it in as compelling enough of a manner to get and keep people reading. That comes down to hooking your reader early, keeping them hooked, giving them great characters, and a satisfying end.

The marketing part is pretty easy in comparison. Heck, compared to telling a great story, it's child's play.

The real magic is in the story idea and how well you tell it. Your writing mechanics are important, but more important is your ability as a storyteller.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: Sapphire on June 23, 2017, 06:55:26 AM
This subject has been explored from every angle and, IMO, has been beat to death. Here's how I've sifted the grain from the shaft. (No, I've never lived on a farm.)


Readers want a good story. If it's good enough, they'll overlook mistakes and rule-breaking. Nevertheless, a certain number of readers will turn away from poor grammar, punctuation errors, multiple typos, sloppy formatting, bad spelling, or whatever else you can add to the list. So why take a chance? Clean up your manuscript! Don't use so-and-so's best seller as your excuse. A great selling book might sell even more, an average seller might become a top 100, a mediocre seller could produce decent income...all by engaging those readers who reject mistakes.


At that point, get busy with effective marketing. What's effective? YMMV with every suggestion or dogmatic proclamation you hear. Get busy and find out what works drawing readers to you and your book. Meanwhile, write another book.
Title: Re: What is a "Good" Book?
Post by: gilesxbecker on June 23, 2017, 07:56:47 AM
I have noticed that I start mentally 'logging out' on a book when there's no variation in the pacing. It's all direct scenes and pages and pages of dialogue. The writer doesn't know how to use a graceful, easy sort of narrative summary, or slow things down into some interior monologue to vary the narrative landscape so to speak.