Monday, June 4, 2012

Content Trunps Quality?

We hear about writers who've self-published who are offered huge publishing contracts. I won't mention names; you either know who they are or you don't. Their books are selling by the truckload, making the authors thousands of dollars. Their advances are for multi-book contracts. They have made it. Yet their writing, their craft has not.

Their books, many have said, are poorly written. Be it plot, dialog, characterization, grammar or punctuation. These people seemingly have not taken the time to learn their craft. However, all that doesn't seem to matter if the content is interesting enough. Not only will people overlook bad writing, they'll even say the book's well written. I've read bits of some of these books and the writing is simply amateurish at best. And yet the content is so compelling (to a LOT of people, though not everyone) that readers will forgive the author.

But what of all those teachers that told their students to spend years honing their craft and always strive to get better? Is that lesson relevant any more?

Why should it be acceptable that YA fantasy is written poorly? We should be offering those readers a better written book so they understand what good writing is. We shouldn't accept adult books written at a 5th grade reading level. Or, if the story is that darned good, should we simply forgive the writer?

I want to be a better writer. I want to write compelling stories, but not at the expense of craft. Personally, I don't want to put an inferior product out there. Readers expect more and they deserve better and they won't come back to an author if a book is that bad. At least they shouldn't.

So all this begs the question: Does quality really matter any more when it comes to selling ebooks? What do you think?


  1. Personally, I think quality is very important but we are not born writers. We have to learn the craft and this takes time.

    Sure we can write stories and post them here and there and if you feel you're ready to publish a novel then maybe you are. Maybe you're not.

    I'm not ready yet. I'm only half-baked but I do struggle with this question myself. Should I? Shouldn't I?

    Recently I wrote a blog post on this very subject. If you're interested you can read it here:

    Nice to see you blogging Gary!

    What book are you working on now?

    Zak :)

  2. It is truly disheartening to read some of the stuff that's doing so well, Gary. After spending so much time to make a manuscript "perfect" then have it rejected, reading garbage best sellers makes me downright angry! I taught high school English. I shouldn't let these "masterpieces" get to me, but they do. But teaching kids how to write is one thing. Most of them will not go on to become writers.
    Where are these people coming from? What makes them think they can write?
    Readers who will buy their "stuff" for the subject matter.
    Makes this old teacher cringe....

  3. I think you're over-reacting. The same can be (and has been) said about many best sellers who were published by someone else (Dan Brown, for example). Story has always trumped form unless you're reading literary fiction. Yes, there are authors who write beautifully and have excellent stories -- and there are also authors who have flawless command of the English language but can't engage an audience with a tale.

    And writers of all these stripes exist who self-publish, who publish with a confederation of authors, who publish with small presses, and who publish with large publishers.

    It is not the end of the world as we know it.

    1. Never said it was the end of the world, but I find the percentages of poorly written stories much greater in the self-published realm than in the traditionally published world. Is it too much to ask that writers understand sentence structure or how to write interesting/engaging dialog? Actually, I don't care whether it's traditionally or self-published, writers shouldn't assume editors will simply fix problems or that readers don't care.

    2. What's your sample size, and how are you taking it? Most of the self-published stuff I read is at least as well proofed as anything from a major publisher (my son's new habit is pointing out all the errors in the tie-in novel he's currently reading). Are there bad examples out there? Of course there are; Sturgeon's Law applies here as it does anywhere else.

      I agree that it would be nice for writers to write with a command of the English language that's at least equal to a fifth-grader's, because those things do irritate me. However, the truth is that I'm probably not their target audience. Neither are you. Their target audience has found them and loves their work. Which is what we all hope for, right?

  4. Fascinating point of view. The subject's been on my mind for a while now.

  5. I'm with you on this one. I read Amanda Hocking and say to myself, "My YA paranormal romance novels suck just as much as hers do. How come I'm not selling a bazillion copies?"