Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why do Meh Books Sell?

by Holly West

Recently, I read a book that pissed me off. Not the subject matter--it was a standard mystery, published by one of the Big 5. I liked it well enough until about a quarter through, when I got to what must've been the most blatant info dump since Dan Brown entertained us with THE DA VINCI CODE.

Side note: I was actually quite entertained by THE DA VINCI CODE. It was a page-turner and I had fun with it.

In the case of the recent book, I got mad. I went to Twitter and complained. I considered not finishing the book. In the end, I forgave it and continued to the end. When all was said and done, my reaction was, "meh." The plot was weak-ish, but as is often the case with whodunits, you don't necessarily see that until the end, when all those lose ends are flapping around and there's nothing you can do about it. The characters weren't exactly cardboard, but they weren't all that compelling, either, though it was clear the author did his best to make them seem that way.

The book did the job, but only just.

I'm not a person who rails against Big Publishing for publishing substandard books. On the whole, I think they do a pretty good job. But in this case, I had to ask myself why this book made it though the gates when there are so many other--better--books that don't.

Reason #1: The author had a strong bio. Not platform, but bio, as in his background makes for good cover copy. Easier to sell books that way.

Reason #2: Better than average writing, apart from the egregious, horrible, obnoxious, lazy... you get the drift... info dump, so-so plot, and semi-annoying characters.

Reason #3: What can I say? I bought the book based on the author's bio and a plot that seemed interesting. Not only that, I finished the damned thing. Obviously, the publisher achieved their goal in getting me to buy it and better yet, finishing it. Who am I to question their choices/methods?

I also think there are many readers who might genuinely like the book in spite of my complaints. It's got quite a few 5 star reviews.

So what can we, as writers, do to increase our chances of getting picked up by a big publisher (if that's what we happen to want)? In truth, not much. Write the best book you can, then do it again and again. Maybe pay attention to trends and patterns and what books are commercially successful (I hesitate to say that for obvious reasons). Just don't write to them, otherwise we'll be subjected to another ten years of GIRL IN TROUBLE hell. Most of all, write the kind of book you want to read.

As my English husband would say, easy-peasy.

In better book news, I'm reading RIGHTEOUS by Joe Ide now and I'm really enjoying it. I like it more than IQ, which is saying something. And I'm listening to THE CARTEL by Don Winslow, a book I'd been told repeatedly how great it is, and it lives up to the hype.


David Nemeth said...

It's the same reason why CRIMINAL MINDS is still a hit.

Thomas Pluck said...

Because foremost people like to be entertained, and they are not always as bored or jaded as we are. They don't constantly hear "what is a good book" and anguish over it. They like a good story and will forgive what we consider "grievous errors" to follow a character they enjoy reading. I didn't say "like" because "likable" is another misnomer. People like Jack Reacher, but is he "likable"? Most protagonists aren't, when dissected. They're sometimes knowitalls, arrogant, brusque, violent, and so on.

I think most writers do the best they can, and want to write a good book. Some don't respect the reader once they find validation elsewhere, and as long as their sales numbers are good they don't get hassled.