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When does quality matter?

6764 Views 56 Replies 43 Participants Last post by  jcthatsme
I won't name it or the author because my point here is not the specifics, but I just read a book and it was awful. The whole thing was a cliche wrapped in a cliche, riddled with plot holes, erroneous descriptions, ludicrous scenarios & it was even kinda racist, horribly sexist and pretty ignorant in parts. It was a textbook what-not-to-do for the Show don't Tell rule and read like something a fourteen year old girl might have written - fine for fantasy, but not something that should ever see the light of day, let alone be packaged and sold to the public.

I came across it on BookBub and it was erotic romance, so I wasn't expecting literary fiction. But I was not expecting it to be *so* bad. I read it to the end out of morbid curiosity - maybe it will get better... But no.

But it has like a million five-star reviews. A lot of people LOVED it. And I just don't get it... If it was a great story, just badly executed, I might understand, but it wasn't even that.

I like to think that even with the removal of the gatekeepers to the publishing world, the audience will still be the filter, bringing the quality to the top. But is that happening?

Is it just the genre? I know in other genres this probably wouldn't happen as much - if I wrote a fantasy novel with same terribly paced melodrama and factual errors, it'd be one-starred all the way to hell. (And would never get accepted for a BookBub promotion.) So is it just certain genres where people are clamouring for quantity over quality. Of it I had a super-hot 'bad boy' in all of my stories, could I sell all the unrefined, unedited books I want?

I don't mean to trash the erotic romance genre - I read the book so i'm not against it. But why should erotic romance be a synonym for terrible writing? Why doesn't quality matter?

Am I jealous? Do I think, bitterly, I could do so much better? Maybe. But it's more than that. From my perspective as a lover of this craft, and as an English teacher who cares about people improving and learning, I can't help but wonder if this instant gratification of self-publishing is going to be a really bad thing. Not just for the industry but for individual writers.

I am a better writer than someone who just wrote their very first thing because I've practiced for years. And I will get better because I loo for my shortcomings and I'm always working on them. I mean, maybe I will look back in ten years and the stuff I've written now and cringe. So where's the line, who decides the standard these days?

But if you get the urge to write a book, never having written a thing before, then publish it and people clamour for more... are you ever going to improve? The book I read *could* have been better. With more practice by the author, with feedback from other sources than friends, and with an editor's guidance, it could have been an okay book. But will the author ever get any of that if what they are doing now is working so well?

Or doesn't it even matter? If it's selling and the author and readers are happy, does it not even matter if it's well written by more objective standards?

It's hard to separate out my own ego from more objective thoughts. Am I just bitter because someone who just one day out of the blue decided to write a novel already has so much more success than me, someone who has dreamed of being an author her whole life? Perhaps. If I choose to work more slowly on my novels, and write in genres that demand more rigorous standards, it's not like I can hold it against someone else if they're making money doing it quick and dirty. I could choose to do it that way, too, I guess.

I hope I haven't offended anyone - I'm really just thinking out loud. And bottom line is, I do applaud anyone who puts in the work to not only start, but finish whole manuscripts and then risks putting them out there. And I love to support anyone who wants to be a writer.

But I often wonder what the landscape of self-publishing is going to look like in the future. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that anyone can publish anything? Are there no rules, as long as you're happy and your readers are happy?

What do you think?

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Effort vs Expectation. Sure, in some genres you can't get away with those sorts of things - but if you're comfortable in a genre where the audience standards aren't high, why would you go to the extra time and effort to exceed them? Extra time means extra money, and if there's not a direct and obvious correlation between spending that versus earning, then as a business point of view, why bother? Very few books are sold on the author being a matyr to their art. There will always be books written worse than yours that sell better, and books written better that sell worse. Over enough of a time scale, the audience will set the effort/expectation ratios for the genres.
The key is to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can't. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Worry about your books. That's all you can really do,
To be honest, it does sound like you're trashing e-rom. OP, I think you're over-estimating the readers in fantasy. I'm sure there are plenty of equally crap books getting great reviews. Great reviews don't really have that much to do with quality the way most writers see quality. It's all about meeting reader expectations and (for lack of a better term) fan service.

Now, I only read NA and e-rom, so I have read plenty of crap e-rom. (And plenty of literary e-rom. Go pick up some J. Kenner). I am reading a book in the top 100 right now. It's terrible and objectively too--formatting errors and random tense switching in addition to the subjective things of plot and character. But most readers are not in it for the grammar accuracy. They want to be excited and entertained. How you do that depends on the genre & niche.

In my experience, it's a waste of time to think about this. If you can't find anything worthwhile in a book, that helps you figure out what readers like in the genre, skip it and move to the next. I've tried to read a lot of popular books I hated for insight into certain genres, and all I did was think about how much I hated the book. Stick to books you enjoy.
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Hi.  Yes quality matters.  Just because you found the book to not be up to Shakespeare standards does not mean it was badly written.

Now technically, I would bet you could write better but would your story be better?  That is the debatable part.  So write to the best of your ability and don't get judgemental. 

So now when can we expect your erotic romance best seller?
I hear what you're saying. I think we've all read some pretty bad prose, regardless of genre.

And, like you, I wonder if it's just my standards have changed since I'm writing/publishing, or if the book was really that bad.

The other day, I waited in the car while Mrs. Nobody ran into a lady's store. I don't normally frequent such establishments, as I can feel my testosterone being siphoned from my body.

Anyway, I quickly became bored. I reached over and picked up her paperback that was lying on the seat. It was a household name author... an action/adventure tome.

I managed about five pages, and had to put it down. It was terrible. Worse yet, I used to read this gentleman's books on a regular basis. I thought they were just fine back then.

So is it me? Have my standards changed? Would my taste normally be altered with age?

That's why I don't judge anyone's work anymore. Beyond what I personally like, I have no qualification to do so, and worry that my POV has been tainted by writing myself.
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The key is to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can't. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Worry about your books. That's all you can really do,
Listen to Yoda, you must.
Quality is a very interesting metric, and has two major components. We all know this, but it's worth repeating.

1) Story

Is it compelling and do your readers WANT to read the next page so badly they cannot put it down?

2) Mechanics

Is the writing clear, easy to read, free of spelling and grammar errors?  Does it distract the typical reader from the story or not?

Now you can get into finer points of detail, but this is really the gist of it.

If your readers (do you know your readers?) love the story, as long as the mechanics don't get in the way they will read it and post great reviews. They will tell all their friends, and this can propel less than perfect manuscripts into the stratosphere.

You can author a perfectly assembled novel, no spelling or grammar mistakes, every word used properly, every thread of a story successfully wound through every other with no story breaks - but if your readers don't like the story, then it will be a flop. A technically perfect flop of course, but a flop nonetheless.

I know this is very simplistic, and the "writers" out there will not weigh the elements in the same way, but for my money the story is more important than the mechanics.

Sure, you have to write in such a way that the writing doesn't get in the way, but if you tell a good story with engaging characters and keep your readers into it, you will have a winner - even if you don't know how to properly use a semicolon and don't know what an oxford comma really is...
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I think it all comes to basically realising there's what the audience wants, and what the author wants, they are rarely the same thing. Sometimes they overlap, and that's great, but more often than not you have to push yourself to what the audience wants to pay the bills. And there's no shame in that - but maybe some 'artistic guilt'.
I often hear the same kind of laments from my writing partner, except about the traditionally published books she reads (she still tends to read only what she finds at the bookstore and library). And back when I was trying to play the trad published game, the writers in my local group often bemoaned the big, bestsellers for many of the reasons cited, showing not telling, cliched, and basically writing on par with what they'd accomplished in junior high. Eventually I started to think two things, either you find what IS working about the book (attempt to understand what the readers are getting out of it), or do what Yoda suggests, forget about it and focus on what you're doing and what you're giving the readers. Anything else, well ... that way lies madness, my friend.
Whew.  I was scared until I got to the part about a bookbub ad.  Then I knew it wasn't my book.

but it made me die a little inside that that book got accepted and mine have not.
SBJones said:
Whew. I was scared until I got to the part about a bookbub ad. Then I knew it wasn't my book. too, SB, until she said it had so many 5-star reviews. I finally breathed a sigh of relief then, knowing it wasn't mine. ;D
Quality always matters. But quality is about pleasing readers, not your old English teacher.

I've read best-selling novels that would probably make that old English teacher commit suicide if he was forced to read them, but I can entirely understand why they sell, because the story pulls you in and keeps you reading more, even if the words are awful.

Obviously a good story with good words is the ideal, but good words without a good story won't sell in most markets.
Quality is subjective. The book wasn't to your taste but the fact it has "a million 5-stars" would argue that there are plenty of people out there who do like it.

I've come across a lot of popular indie (as well as some trad-published) books that are pretty dreadful in my opinion. Cliched characters, illogical plots, riddled with typos and grammar errors, random tense switches, authors who don't even seem to have grasped the difference between novels and screenplays, etc... And yet those books sell like the proverbial hotcakes. It's not the story either, because IMO those books only retold stories that we've seen a billion times before and usually better executed.

It's not just limited to the erotic romance and new adult genres either. I've also found truly dreadful science fiction and fantasy. In fact, you can probably find similar examples in every genre.

Why do these books sell? Beats me. I guess there's simply a large audience out there whose standards regarding what makes a good story are very different from mine.

Is it frustrating to see books which don't even meet basic standards of competence vastly outselling mine? You bet it is. But as Yoda said, there's also nothing we can do about it. All we can do is control our own quality.
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You do sound a smidge bitter and judgmental. And like you're targeting e-rom readers like they're so lacking in any kind of taste.

How do you know this author hasn't had the same dream as you, and for as long? How do you know he/she isn't trying to get better?
My first book is actually a little embarrassing to me, and while it doesn't have "millions" of 5 star reviews, it has its fair share. People liked it despite its snags, so I kept writing, trying to improve with each new book and not obsessing over the things I might have done better in the first one. Who wants to stagnate over a first book their entire life, trying to reach some unattainable perfection?

Some people are always going to sell better than you, and you aren't always going to "get it". Maybe one day someone will download your book from BB and think the same things because her book is so much better. (to her.)

Try not to think about other people's careers too much. Just do you and you'll be happier.
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I honestly don't mean to target or trash erom or any particular genre. It was just that particular book that started my thinking. There are good and bad and everything in between in every genre.

Maybe it's being an ex-English teacher, but I feel like there is *some* level of objectivity in saying what is quality writing. The very essence of story and what makes people love certain things is more difficult to define.

But that was what prompted my questioning - do the basics of writing, the rules of grammar, the techniques of pacing...even the basic checking of facts even matter anymore? Not in a "What has the world come to?" kind of lament, but just a question. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe it could have always been this way, if there hadn't been 'gatekeepers'. The publishing and selling of books was very elite when it first came to be, and has gradually become easier for people who are not part of the elite to have their voices heard. For that, it is a good thing. I have never been one to think that only certain people should get to be part of anything, judged by the few on their terms.

And I really don't expect Shakespeare. But can I expect a few simple standards. I'm not a snobby reader - I read anything. And even when I was studying, I didn't actually like that many classics. I always felt looked down on myself because of my tastes in uni, so I really don't mean to offend anyone.

Maybe there is no real point in thinking about this at all, but, well, I tend to get philosophical over pointless issues sometimes...sometimes I just need to get it out of my system.

Truly, it's just me musing and questioning. Hypothetically and rhetorically. I'm interested in hearing people's opinions on the lines between objectivity and subjectivity.

And sorry to keep bringing it back to when I was a teacher - I'm not anymore and probably wouldn't go back - but if I had a student in my class who loved to write, but wasn't doing it very well, I'd encourage them to improve, to find the flaws and strengthen them. Is that better for them? Or do I just let them go on however they like, provided they're happy with that? (ETA: Or if you sent something in to an editor, and they said 'there is something here, but it needs to be improved,' to what point can we say, 'Well, I like it this way'?)

I get what people are saying about just focusing on my own stuff, that's all I can do. True.

But at the same time, I don't write in a vacuum. And we are all here because we like being part of a community. So this is just me thinking about those connections.

Anyway, I can shut up now if you like. But if you have any thoughts, I like hearing them, too.
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SBJones said:
Whew. I was scared until I got to the part about a bookbub ad. Then I knew it wasn't my book.

but it made me die a little inside that that book got accepted and mine have not.
I was on the same page with you. I held my breath until the bookbub thing and then I thought the same thing you did. Something like, Hey, I have been turned down with every book I have submitted to them! However, I learned a long time ago that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and books are beautiful to the eye of the reader. Same with TV shows and movies. I love the Land of the Lost movie and I can't stand Dumb and Dumber. My best friend loves Dumb and Dumber but can't stand Land of the Lost. see where I'm going with this?
jcthatsme said:
Or doesn't it even matter? If it's selling and the author and readers are happy, does it not even matter if it's well written by more objective standards?

What do you think?
Bingo. I think that if readers love it, then it IS well written.

Novels are entertainment, not rocket surgery. ;)

PS: I'm a credentialed public school English teacher, too. ;D
I bet if you asked the people who gave that book five stars, they'd all say that in their eyes, it's a quality book. Who are you to tell them they're wrong?

I've got a masters in English and I teach literature classes. On the very first day of class, I tell my students that just because I tell them a book we're reading is high quality doesn't mean they have to agree with me. I've read many books that I thought were wonderful but my literature teachers in college would've rolled their eyes at. And books they've sworn were amazing bored me to tears.
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