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 disparaging 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.
This guest post was 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.
Alternately titled Bashing People for What They Read.