How Desire Affects the Publishing Industry


by Steven Capps

So this is going to be a bit of a rant. I want to discuss a few extremely popular books such as Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, and Harry Potter. If you regularly frequent the literary blogosphere, you might have an idea about what this is going to be about, but I am NOT going to write an entire rant disbarging the quality of writing in the above books. Instead, I am going to rant about the people who hate them.

My primary problem does not lie with the dislike of these books. Of the above, the only series I have enjoyed was Harry Potter and I partially credit that to being young and not having really any experience reading novels. This is besides the point. Anyone can have an opinion regardless of their stance, but what pisses me off is when people push their opinion on others as if they are somehow the sole arbiter of quality in regards to another person’s taste.

Go on to just about any online writing group and make a post saying 50 Shades is your favorite book, it inspired you to write, and changed your life. I can guarantee that you have several people bash you within an hour. They will tell you how you are wrong for liking it and give several reasons supporting their stance. Some of these have merit and others do not.

I’m not going to get in a debate about what makes these books successful or pieces-of-crap, because that isn’t the point of this post. When it comes to writing and literature, any book that gets people to read has merit. It is as simple that. Some books might sell more, others might earn more awards, but if one person likes it then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It was good in the eyes of at least one reader.


Envy fuels this Hate

I think part of the hate against these books is envy. Personally, I don’t understand how the quality of the prose in all of those books was able to get past an editor. I have submitted work that has been rejected that I feel is more polished than 50 Shades, but that doesn’t make my work any less rejected. When looked at through this lens, it gets frustrating.

Why can something with better prose get rejected over things that are widely regarded as garbage? The answer is simple, economics. The only people who actively give shit about the craft writing are writers (and editors), but there are not enough writers to warrant commercial success if they were the only people buying books.

The people who make a writer successful are the readers. Not the editor, not the publisher, it all comes down to the reader. Most readers don’t even realize that the actual writing in a book is called prose. Readers care about the story.

In order for them to care about the story, the writing just has to be good enough that it immerses them in the work and keeps their interest. That’s it. Readers don’t care about cliche’s. Readers don’t give a shit about adverbs. Reader’s just want to be entertained.


Immersion is Proportional to Desire

These books succeed despite breaking several writing guidelines that are touted as law because they all allow the reader to place themselves in situation that they want to be in. As a child, I remember laying awake imagining what it would be like if I was at Hogwarts. Twilight and 50 Shades work off the same principle. They let readers escape into a world where the most perfect, desirable guy wants them.

This is integral to good storytelling. The reader should feel so immersed in the world that it seems real to them. The more that the reader wants to be in that world, the more they are likely to forgive things that make it unbelievable. Let’s use horror movies as an example.

How often have you yelled at the screen because the characters made some incredibly stupid decision that you wouldn’t make? This is almost a cliche of the genre. The reason why people notice this is because most of don’t want to be in that situation to begin with. Any little error can kick us out of the story, because we are ready to flee. (Personally, I love horror movies, but I hate bad ones for this reason).

Now I want you to think about A Song of Ice & Fire. What happened to Gendry? The books just happen to forget all about him, and the show isn’t much better. How many times do people make stupid choices? Sansa Stark’s infatuation with Joffrey comes to mind. Do we react the same way as we do with a horror movie? Generally, no.

We give the author leeway because we WANT to like the story (and most of Martin’s prose is awesome anyway). When a reader wants to like something, they often forgive its shortcoming and only focus on the things it does well.


Desire as a Reason for Rejection

I honestly believe this one reason why it is so hard for new writers to get published. Editors read a ton of books–including really bad ones–so the bar to impress us is much higher than a casual reader who might only pick up a book if it becomes as big as Twilight or Harry Potter. When an editor sees a manuscript in the slush pile, we are not looking to be entertained. We are looking for a reason to reject.

If someone with established credits (I’m talking about SFWA pro market level) sends us something, we are much more likely to read it with optimism and this mindset completely changes how we experience the story. We are more willing to accept a prose style different than our normal tastes because this writer must know what they are doing.

A new writer doesn’t get this luxury. I believe that the best submission processes are a direct result of blind submissions. This allows stories to be judged solely on merit and makes it impossible for editors to conceive biases that have nothing to do with the story.





Alternately titled Bashing People for What They Read.

Guest post contributed by Steven Capps. Steven is a writer with an insatiable hunger for the fantasy and science fiction genre. His writing has been featured in publications such as Fiction, The Bird & Dog, Survival Prepper, Survival Sullivan, Markit Bulgaria, and The Cass County Star Gazette. His blog’s goal is to create a place to talk about improving writers’ craft as well as learn about the industry.

14 thoughts on “How Desire Affects the Publishing Industry

  1. ☺️ I was inspired to write at two. Just wanted to do it. I’ve read some of 50 Shades, two Twilight Books, two Harry Potter Books, no Games Books yet, and hope to start the first Outlander (after re-reading The Lord of the Rings). My only beef about 50 Shades was grammatical errors–the first time (hope they fixed them). Having an English Degree turned me into my Seventh Grade English Teacher. I don’t envy them. The more successful authors there are, the better the odds for others because publishers will wonder if there are others and look to capitalize. It’s a timing thing. It’s never no, it’s just not now. No two writers are the same–we all see things differently. We just have to tell it our way and not worry about what people are reading and how many are reading. Like in the film version of “Little Women” (Ryder), she wanted to write what she thought everyone wanted to read and ended up writing her best when she wrote what she needed to tell. ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I don’t read that genre. I won’t bash people that do. None of my business what people reads. For me, objectively, if I were going to read that genre, it would have to be written better. I’ve read enough excerpts to know that even my grammar is better. That’s saying something.


  3. I want to entertain but I’m striving to be a good solid writer. I hope to publish my first novel in a couple of weeks. I’m grateful to Amazon that I don’t need to send it in before it gets accepted. I can send it in and get great feedback directly from my readers. I know there maybe errors but my story is good, well I believe it’s good.

    Thank you for this post. I’m still going to write and hope to entertain someone. At least for a while. A break from reality into the fiction in my head. Checkout my rants at Fictioninmyhead here at WordPress. Don’t be shy with your feed back. I can take it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    I will never forget a conversation I had with the co-author on my first book (a piece of military history non-fiction). I had written my first novel, sent a query to a publisher who asked for the first three chapters … and then for the whole thing … and then sent me a rejection letter.

    My friend said “Look, none of this is about your writing; it’s about what the acquisitions editor thinks will sell. It’s about what Mrs. Average will buy on impulse while checking out at WalMart. One or two ‘dogs,’ and that acquisitions editor is looking at a pink slip.”

    He was right.

    FWIW, the rejection letter I got was quite detailed. Once I got over the hurt feelings, I took on board the advice with which I could agree and the book was all that much better for it. And yes, I found a publisher with the new version.

    Our competition isn’t just other authors, friends; it’s Disneyland, Harley-Davidson, or any other business that wants that same leisure dollar we’re hoping readers will spend on us and our work. At the end of the day, it’s all about business.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This reminds me of a writing panel where publishers discussed how easy it is to misunderstand writing markets because of bestsellers. They talked about how authors like George RR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brandon Sanderson are so well established that in some ways they exist outside of the market trends, and as such they can write their style of fantasy as much as they want, while an aspiring author needs to recognize that the market for that type of fantasy may already be saturated.

      A lot of authors have talked about how they write a story, realize the market isn’t currently interested, so they file it away and move on to another story, returning years or even decades later, when the winds have shifted back around.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I thoroughly agree, your words voiced every irritated thought I have had about people bashing books like 50 Shades. While I have never read the book myself, I can see why it appeals to people and why it is so vastly popular. I have been writing almost all my life, I have always wanted to be an author, and still harbour a secret hope that I will become a bestseller one day, but that doesn’t negate the fact the publishers need to make money too. Sometimes even the story isn’t enough to sell, it’s the writer, as we can see with books published by famous vloggers – books that have somehow escaped the editing process with appalling prose and terrible grammatical errors and a blatant lack of continuity in the story itself, but somehow still manage to become bestsellers, outshining even the untouchable Harry Potter. And you’re right, as I grew older, the Harry Potter books became boring, but it’s so important to accept that if a book, no matter how crap the quality, has invited somebody into the literary world, then it has done its job. Literature itself is entirely subjective. Nothing is solid and true when it comes to judging books, because no two people are going to see it in the same way. Quality certainly has prestige, but that is another argument entirely.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your passion about stories comes clearly through the post. People will disagree on books, just as they disagree on movies and music and everything else. After hearing people say they dislike reading any kind of book, I’m glad when people say they like reading. They may like stuff I’m not into, and that’s completely fine. The important part is that they appreciate the power of books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. It seems like respectful discussion is a fading art. When people disagree with me that sparks my interest. I want to hear why, and use it as an opportunity to see the story in a new light. As a writer trying to appeal to wide audiences, such insights can prove invaluable.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I could not agree more. People are entitled to their opinions, and as long as your opinion is either expressed with respect, or kept to yourself, there shouldn’t be an issue.
    There is a difference between respectfully disagreeing, and tearing someone down.

    I also think there is a distinction between what I personally like/dislike, and what I consider to be good/bad writing.

    As you say, it’s easy to get frustrated, to feel like people shouldn’t like “this”, but no sooner do I think that then I just laugh at the absurdity of “telling people what they should like”.
    And any time I do feel that frustration, I try to turn it into a learning opportunity. “Why do so many like this novel? What can I learn from it?”

    In this case I think you hit the nail on the head. All three series are about escapism, living a fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

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