1. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    The Decline in the Quality of Bestsellers

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Pythonforger, Apr 11, 2012.

    Bestsellers used to be a benchmark for the most fluent, flowing and awesomely, painstakingly crafted books.

    It is not so now. The era of the Bestsellers That Are Objectively Good Books ended with Harry Potter, and started with Twilight. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Twilight basher. In fact, I like Twilight, but if you look at it with an impartial eye, although it's a good read the author simply has not much skill. She is a good storyteller, but not a good writer.

    The bestseller quality just continued to plummet like a screaming man falling off a cliff. And just as the man will inevitably die, the bestsellers will eventually become so low that it's simply not worth reading them at all.

    Take a look at the one current New York Times Bestsellers:Shades of Gray. Interesting name, I thought at first. Wonder what it's about? Probably something to do with colors. It turns out the name was the most interesting part of the book. I glanced through the sample of the book-the first 66 pages-and was immediately repulsed by the cliches and the random breaking of core writing rules(there are very few writers who would have the audacity to repeatedly state outright the protagonist's feelings, disregarding show don't tell).

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    I am worried about this. Discuss and comment.
  2. Sam M
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    Sam M Member

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    I tend to get the feeling that the majority of people don't care about good writing (if they even know what it is). If they are intrigued/hooked by the plot, or another element like humour, they are going to keep reading the book, and tell others about it.

    Do agents/editors/publishers play a role in this? Should they be picking out these errors?
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Senior Member Contributor

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    When it comes down to business (publishing is a business) supply and demand, rule. The publisher will supply what the customer demands.

    More readers may be interested in a good story than in good craftsmanship.

    I may be wrong - that is way I see it.
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    I like optimism but this made me laugh my head off. Best sellers are so named because they sell the best, hence, best sellers.

    Before the first world war one of the most well-selling books was called When it was Dark by Guy Thorne, it was a huge international best-seller, this book is so bad it makes The Da Vinci Code look like Shakespeare. Now Harry Potter isn't great, not terrible, but it's nothing special; and one of the best selling books of the 70s(?) was Robert Harris's Lecter novels, which if you read them you'll understand the films are better.

    The best sellers have always been somewhere in the middle of bad and good. One of the best recent best-sellers I can think of is Misery by Stephen King, and those who know me would no doubt find my saying this unbelievable.

    Besides, some other best sellers have been things like The Secret. Stuff not really worth reading, in my opinion.

    However; - two very popular (though not a best sellers) books that I can think of from the last 100 years is The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe which are so good it's actually a little scary. So it's not the best sellers where the interesting stuff is happening anyway.
  5. art
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    art Senior Member Contributor

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    For those interested, a website showing NYTimes bestseller lists from 1950 to the present. Most of the author names mean nothing to me. An antique American might be better placed to say whether standards have slipped.

    http://www.hawes.com/pastlist.htm
  6. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix New Member

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    As a huge potterhead I'm not exactly sure if Harry Potter is a objectively good book. The story is good, yes, but if you take a closer look there's a lot of sloppy writing, fuzzy timelines and many things that don't make sense plotwise because of the lack of proper editing. I still like it, but it's far from perfect. But unlike Meyers, Rowling knows how to write in English. Apart from that, I don't think being a best seller means the book is quality. Means that the book is selling and people are reading them... Said book, then, should be good or at least readable without brainwashing a generation of teenager girls. Sometimes, sadly, it's not...
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest I'd say Harry Potter is a bad series. It does have it's merits, I will grant it that, but it's still bad.
  8. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix New Member

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    Me too. Did I tell you the last three times I went on forums about Harry Potter and I was harassed out of them because everyone was like: DUHHR, HARRY POTTER IS PUURFECT HOW DARE YOU SAY OTHERWISE WITH YOUR LOGICAL THINKING? Yeah... Especially because there's a lot of twisted messages about certain topics that I wouldn't want my children to read without being aware of those messages -- and if you are aware of it kind of ruins the story.

    On other news, selling a lot doesn't mean it's awesome. Everyone should know that.
  9. pet.
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    pet. New Member

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    Ah, I see you've solved the problem of how to objectively judge quality in a purely subjective medium. Please enlighten me!
  10. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt New Member

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    I hope they don't do away with the bestseller lists because I know a lot of writers' whose goal is to be on that list. What would we aspire for without the lists?
    I think the problem is we often imagine if we can improve our writing enough, the end result will be a New York Times Bestseller. The truth is to have a bestseller you only have to be a marginally good writer. The important part is that you are able to entertain and market yourself (a bit of good luck never hurt either).
  11. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    I've never been on a Potter forum, I've been trying to act as if they don't exist, but I hear you loud and clear. Some Potter fans can be utterly insufferable. Up until a year ago the overall impression I got from some Potter fans was the exact same impression I have of fans of Anne Rice. People who pride themselves on liking a series because Stephen King likes it too, who scornfully mock Twilight because of 'bad writing and ethics' even though their own series doesn't exactly have a great track record, and when you point out bad writing or point points that don't make sense, or even plot points that are a little iffy, you'd hear a wall of 'You elitist! Stop being so pretentious!'
  12. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin New Member

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    This conversation would only make sense if the quality of writing would influence the success of a novel, which has been disproved a thousand times with the bestseller garbage.

    The masses are not aficionados of quality, which is why the most popular restaurants are McDonalds and the most watched TV shows are X-factor Got Talent or Jersey Shore.

    Why you are looking for quality in bestseller lists is beyond me.
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    AmsterdamAssassin raises an excellent point. Why would you feel that best sellers insures good quality? Do you need to be told what you like?
  14. art
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    art Senior Member Contributor

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    Frankly, it is a given that they don't, but that doesn't render the conversation nugatory.
    If today's bestellers are worse - good luck determining that - than yesterday's bestellers, then why?

    Some might blame the lower classes. Books are perhaps more affordable now than sixty years ago. Poor people want good taste. So that argument goes.:)
  15. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    Bestsellers, by definition, sell well. This is only an indication of quality when the readers are reasonably educated and read frequently. Too often, because there's been a decline in reading from fifty years ago in case you haven't noticed, people who don't usually read fall in love with a book for the first time because it appeals to their not reading much. Maybe it's good, but maybe it's actually really bad (cue Twilight). This puts it on the bestseller list. It did use to be that if a book was a bestseller, it was good. One can no longer take that for granted.
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    Very true. However, When it was Dark by Guy Thorne still proves that the human race is capable of severely lowering it's own tastes. :)
  17. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin New Member

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    Remains the fact that commercial success does not equate quality writing. There are too many other factors for a book to be commercially successful. Otherwise a book by, say, Snooki, wouldn't be seen as a commercially viable commodity.

    In some rare cases is a quality product a commercial success, like The Sopranos, but that is often because it satisfies both highbrow and lowbrow tastes. But the taste of the masses is rarely grounds for something of quality to reach commercial heights.
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm not sure what the criteria is for any bestseller list, but anything you want to sell a lot of has got to have mass appeal - which too often means going for the lowest common denominator. My only real interest in any bestseller list would be the buyers that put the books there. Who are they? Why did they like this particular book? Is that the genre they usually look at? yada yada yada

    Not saying I would try to write a book just to hit that demographic, but it would be interesting to know if there even is a particular group "influencing" things.
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bestsellers are just books that are super popular and probably, usually, fun to read. But I was actually under the impression that where it's a bestseller, it probably means it's not got much brains in it :D I still read them though because it's not always that I wanna think while I read. Sometimes I do enjoy a mindless book just because I love to read and I love to enjoy good stories.

    Most people don't care about good writing. When I was a student and a bit more snobby about literature, I used to have this kinda discussions with my friends and the answer that always came back to me was this: "Who cares about the writing if the story is good? You read it for the story."

    And in my mind, I'm thinking, "But how the heck can you tell if the story is good if the writing isn't at least half-decent? Surely bad writing affects story-telling and thus, ruins the story itself?"

    I do still believe that - it does need to be at least half-decent. But I've long learnt to shut my brain down according to what genre I'm picking up.

    In any case, the good books are usually not the bestsellers. Unfortunately the majority of the population doesn't wanna think - either in books or in films - but the good stuff should always make you think as well as enjoy the story.
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    The Illuminati. I blame the Illuminati.
  21. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix New Member

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    There are often some plots that sell well if the writting is awful. The damsel in distress and the hot guy and they live a forbidden romance because one of them is supernatural is always a hit. I've read three book sagas like that, and I know two more of them. They are not good -- not to mention sexist and all that -ists that hit me in the ovaries very hard -- but they offer a sense of fulfilliment that many people fall for.

    My opinion on the quality of best sellers is that many people read for fun -- not critically -- and as long as the book is "fun", it can be poorly written and what not. It was my case a couple of years ago. I didn't think much about what I read and nearly every book was good for me. Now that writing started to matter to me, I started to put down many books because the execution was poor: I started to realize how flat some protagonists and some plots were, how the wording was messed up in some sentences... It kind of sucks.

    Edit: as mckk says. I was working on my post when she/he posted it.
  22. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Everything that is popular is substandard. Look at popular cars, popular books, new styles in clothing, the lastest film star, the hot new night club...

    My dad had a saying that at first I thought was bizarre. "Things that are good are good because they are good."

    The older I got the truer I found that observation.
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    the blame, dear readers, does not lie with the list-makers, the agents, or even the writers themselves [nor the illuminati! :rolleyes: ]... the answer is in the term itself... 'bestsellers'... the readers and bookbuyers are the only culprits here...

    so blame the decline in good readers, not any dearth of good writers... or list-makers...
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex Hey there Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't say so. During the 1920s T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' was one of the most popular poems on the market, and it was extremely popular. That is in no way substandard. Dante's Comedy was the poem of his times, and that is in no way substandard either. Today with Mark Z.'s book House of Leaves we also find something that is popular and very very good. Shakespeare himself wrote for tradesmen and laborers.

    Oh, come on. You know I was only foolen'. :D
  25. Floatbox
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    Floatbox New Member

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    Can't one point to the mainstream of any facet of culture and find degradation?


    Often times what determines best-sellage is directly tied to the design and reach of the product's marketing campaign. It'd be interesting to see the quality in books/music/film with massive top-down marketing inertia (propagated via publishing giants) vs the quality in books/music/film with massive bottom-up marketing inertia (propagated via viral phenomena). My intuition tells me content that makes it via word of mouth will be mostly of better quality.

    But even still, I think more often than not content with broad appeal is going to be crap most of the time. Our culture is more fragmented than ever thanks to the power and availability of niche markets -- the internet let's everyone have their own taste. To find common ground between the most people, content has to be easily digestible for the most people, meeting a sort of cultural criteria dominated by the greatest common denomator. Hence, internet memes are massively flammable in the viral sense, then pop articles, in depth articles, popular books, literature and then last, poetry. No, the last is academic philosophy. No, scientific papers.

    But it is the age of the niche, so why bother with best-sellers?

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