Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Do Bad Books Get Published?

I’ve been reading a lot of Goodreads reviews lately, and I’ll often come across one that says, “This book is horrible. How did it ever get published?”

So, why do bad books get published?

In my opinion, it’s rare that a bad book gets published by a traditional publisher. (Self-publishing is a whole different animal that I’m not going to deal with here.) Usually, the staff at traditional publishing houses knows what they’re doing, and they reject the bad books. Books that are poorly written, confusing, boring, etc. are rejected.

I can hear you saying, “But I’ve read traditionally-published books that are poorly written, confusing, boring, etc.” I encourage you to go on Goodreads or Amazon and check out the rating frequency for the book that you think is bad. Does the book have more 4-5 star ratings than 1-2 star ratings? If the book has more than a few ratings, I’m betting that the majority of them are 4-5 stars. That means that most readers enjoyed this book and didn’t think that it was bad.

Why did you think the book was bad when so many other people loved it? Probably because you’re not that particular book’s target audience. For some reason, the book just didn’t work for you. That doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that the book isn’t your type of thing, and that’s okay. I hate a lot of books that everyone else loves.

The Twilight series is a good example of books that people either love or hate. Some people believe that the series is about a strong, determined woman who wants a family and will do anything to protect that family once she has it. Other people believe that the series is about a weak woman who doesn’t think that she can live without her abusive boyfriend. There is plenty of evidence in the text of the series to support both of these views, so neither one is incorrect. The Twilight series has way more 4-5 star ratings on Goodreads than 1-2 star ratings. A lot of people must be reading the series the first way. Can you really argue that a book is bad and shouldn’t have been published if it’s working for so many people? Publishers want to publish books that work for the majority of people because that’s how they make money.

You can make a strong argument that the Twilight books are bad because they’re poorly written, but how much should the quality of the writing factor into a publisher’s decision to publish? Are other elements of the book more important than the writing? You can also argue that the books are bad because the main characters are poor role models for young people, but is it really a book’s job to be a role model for young people? I don’t know the answers to these questions. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Do books that are almost universally hated ever get published? Yes, occasionally. The people who work at publishing companies are human. They make mistakes. They sometimes misjudge a book’s appeal or have a hard time getting a book to its target audience. However, I think it’s fairly rare that a book published by a large company is universally hated. The staff is usually very talented at finding good books and getting them to the public. If they weren’t, the company wouldn’t be in business for very long because nobody would be buying their books.
For more information on this topic, check out this video by fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.

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