Monday, May 12, 2008

How Do "Bad Books" Get Published?

I received this question recently:

I just don't understand how so many "bad" books make it to the shelves. I might realize how they squeeze past the safeguard of the query, even slightly shrug at skipping through the synopsis, but how do they escape the steel claws of the agent, much less the probing publisher? Are there just too many to read or are agents having too many before they read them? (smile)

And while I’m quoting this particular reader, I do want to say that, sadly, this is something I hear all the time and something I’m not sure I know how to answer or even how to give a response to.

Publishing is subjective. When agents and editors choose to represent and buy a book they like that book. In fact, a lot of times they love that book. I can’t think of anyone who has ever represented or bought a book that they truly felt was bad—maybe not the best book ever written, but not bad. They also feel that there is a market for that book, that the writing and ideas appeal to readers at some level . . . you’ve heard it all before. Sigh

I have to say I think I’ll need some help here from readers. This kind of comment makes me mad, and it tires me out. It implies that editors and agents, those of us in the business, have no taste and don’t know what makes good writing or a good book, and it implies that readers have no taste, because if we’re catering to them, obviously someone likes these so-called bad books. I wrote a while ago in defense of romance writing, but here I think I’m going to have to write in defense of commercial fiction in all genres because, let’s face it, when people criticize what’s being published, they are primarily criticizing commercial fiction.

These books aren’t bad, folks, they are just books that aren’t to your tastes. Sure, there are books where the writing is stronger than others, some have great characterization and others great plot. There are books that can do all three and those that can’t. There are plenty of books that have been published that I just hated and probably thought were bad, but often I could see the appeal to someone, it just wasn’t me.

So please do not try to tell me that a majority of the thousands of books in bookstores are “bad.” To me that sounds like sour grapes.