1. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Why does bad literature sell so good?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Bimber, Feb 21, 2013.

    Its one of those things i dont get in life, why does bad literature sell so well and make millions?
    If you look at it than anyone with a genuine idea can scrap up a book and publish it, but we all know how hard it is to get a book published, so is it just dumb luck?

    Stuff like sparkling vampires or Potter series, now i know many here are probably big fans of one or the other but looking at the its value as literature its just terrible.
    The HP series is filled with bad character development filled with inconsistency and its plots are solved with shaggy dog cheats or deux ex machine, and we ended up with 7 books more or less the same(HP is hero even though he didnt do anything)

    Recently finished the Death gate series by Wies and Hickman, and just shows that two heads wont mean better written story, it was so painful to read that i truly believe my eyes were bleeding, also filled with many cheats, no character development, and which is worse you can read the last two books in the series and know every event that happened since book 1 as they just kept repeating everything that happened, my guess is to just add word count otherwise the books might have been written with 10k words. But they have a huge fan base which sadly can be seen in the reviews(one sad reason why i picked it up as i mistook it for a good book) of the series how much they loved it and they got away with it.
    Now i can understand why their book was sold well to some point but even if you are a big fan would you really tolerate this kind of writing?
    Needless to say i will not pick anything they write ever again.

    So any thoughts why do such books sell?
     
  2. Shadywood
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    Shadywood Member

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    I wonder this same thing on a regular basis! The one thing I have taken from it is I KNOW I can write a novel, since even terrible writers get published! I recall reading a quote by Stephen King stating that there is a moment (or many!) in every writers life when they read something terrible and think, "I can do better than that!".

    I recently finished a Nicholas Sparks book for a book club, and it was just such a slog to turn the page. So predictable, so affected, with a "twist" at the end that was just plain stupid. And yet most of the people in my book club loved this book. Go figure?!
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Simply put, because there's a market for it. The average consumer is reading to be entertained, and bad writing can be forgiven if the plot is interesting enough.
     
  4. hnamartin
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    hnamartin Member

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    I think these writers should be given credit for at least for knowing what makes people tick. The writing itself may be more than sub par, but those kinds of books indulge us. And indulgence, while it may give the reader instant satisfaction, also often means lazy writing. The writer gives the reader what they want too easily.
    That is assuming your wants/desires are fairly simple. It isn't usually literary buffs who get into these books, but the average person who just wants an enjoyable read.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've often thought the same thing -- "I can write something better than this!" after finishing some work of pop fiction. I don't know what it is that appeals to the masses, but you also have to remember that there is so much more bad literature that doesn't get published.

    Thank goodness our book club has never read Nicholas Sparks and it generally tries to avoid those sorts of books. But we did read The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I utterly despised, and for the life of me I cannot understand how it ever got published, let alone how it became so popular. Many members of our book club liked it, which I couldn't understand, but they seemed to like it mostly because it had a dog.

    I actually am very tough on fiction, because I find so much of it completely unrealistic, vapid and inane. But there's plenty of good stuff out there too, so when I find them, i really treasure those stories. I guess appealing to the masses always involves a lot of sacrifice of the more artistic and intellectual aspects of a work. Many musicians can't stand pop music. Many artists can't stand artists that become extremely commercially successful and crank out paintings or other artwork by the hundreds or thousands. It makes sense that writers are irked by many pieces of popular fiction -- and are especially up in arms over Fifty Shades of Grey, which many writers want to take a red pen to the prose to edit out the repetitive and ridiculous parts.

    It does, however, happen, that some pieces get critical acclaim AND commercial success. Unfortunately, it's not as often as most people wish. Sometimes you have to decide which is more important, although neither is easy to achieve.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why does reality TV sell so well? Because it is cheap to produce, and there are enough consumers who will watch it anyway.

    It's the same thing with trash lit.
     
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Stuff like YA and supermarket choices are, I think, popular because they are simple, easy to understand, but they deal with mature subjects. It's also largely non-threatening and 'safe'. Think about the so-called 'man on the street', who would he really want to read? Harry Potter or Salman Rushdie? Dan Brown or F. Scott Fitzgerald? Keep in mind that the 'great books' often turn people away because many people already think they will never 'get it', and this is sad. I've found that a lot of pretty good literature is stuff almost anyone could 'get' if only they are willing to try, but many people are just not willing. With other books it is simply because, yes, they are too hard when all you have is a basic, public education.
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Most of it doesn't. But for those that do, most people don't like to read much so if it's popular and in the news, and it's easy to read and understand, then they'll buy it/buy the rest. I think a majority of the buyers don't put much, if any, consideration in what they read. They follow the trends. Why does it become a trend? Well, that varies.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Does bad literature really sell that well? Sure, the bestseller lists are mostly populated by crap, but the vast majority of books that are published are crap. What makes the bestseller lists might just be the cream of the crap, as it were.

    Let's say 10,000 crap novels are published each year and ten of them become bestsellers. That means 0.1% of the crap sells big. Let's also say 500 novels of some literary quality are published each year, and only five of them become bestsellers. That means 1% of the good stuff sells big. It looks like the crap outsells the good stuff two to one (ten bestsellers to five), but on a percentage basis, the good stuff has ten times the chance of selling big as the crap (1% versus 0.1%). It's just that there's so much less good stuff to choose from.

    I made all those number up - I have no idea what the actual numbers are. But I think you can see the point. Maybe the crap sells so well because there's just so much of it that it floods out the good stuff. When 95% of what's on the bookstore shelves is crap, the average book buyer is just far more likely to buy crap than to buy good stuff.
     
  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    There's also a vast difference between literary quality and entertainment value, just as in film. Larger numbers of people just want to be entertained.
     
  11. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    I stopped reading your post when you used the Harry Potter series as an example of bad literature.
     
  12. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    My wife is a teacher. Her opinion is that modern kids have the attention span of a sand-flea. If it's hard, they quit. She subbed recently and half the class were listening to their iPods. When she spoke to the admin, she was told "that's the way it is."

    A story with a complex plot, or subtle nuances, would take time to think through. Flat, basic, shoot 'em ups and fancy graphics are easier to digest.

    BTW, I thought Harry Potter was a simplistic passion play, myself.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    All those idiots who buy this crap - why can't they be as intelligent and discerning as we are? What's the matter with them?

    Sorry, but I see this discussion so many times on so many forums. Charles Dickens was basically called a hack in his day. Just because some people think it's crap doesn't mean it actually is. Start thinking readers are idiots and that's who you'll write for - and it won't work.
     
  14. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Fair enough. So now it's "neo-classic plebian crap."

    But it's still a distinction without a difference.
     
  15. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    It sells because they like it. Why is that hard to understand? McDonald's sells. It's not brilliant food, but it's easy and people like it. Being snobby about it doesn't help anyone.

    Why do they like 'bad' books? Because they're easy and entertaining. It's not hard, and that's the point. Why should it be hard if they just want to be amused? And there's nothing wrong with just wanting to be amused, although some people here seem to think it's beneath them.
     
  16. blenderpie
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    I don't know how people are doing to respond to this, but I'm in the "I care more about the fact that people ARE reading than WHAT they're reading" boat.

    I love (yes present tense) the Harry Potter series. I have such fond memories of reading it with friends I love, and family I love, read to me by teachers I loved. And I think that's part of the reason that other pop fiction is popular: it's a shared experience. It's something that almost everyone can pick up, read through quickly, and discuss easily. I've had some fabulous discussions about East of Eden, and The Great Gatsby, but I don't think that it makes my connections to more popular fiction like Harry Potter, Water for Elephants, or The Art of Racing in the Rain somehow invalid.

    Most people are turned off by great literature too soon. While the people here are probably the exception to the rule, but I don't think that students are ready for a lot of the texts from the cannon when they are forced to read them in high school. While teenagers are (quite obviously) able to understand very abstract concepts and empathize through many generations of writing and places around the world, most aren't ready to appreciate the quiet humor in The Tale of Two Cities, or the depth of Rip Van Winkle's sadness when he realizes his family is gone and he's obsolete. While I certainly understood it and liked the cannon well enough as a 15 year old, I have a much better appreciation for it at 21, and I'm sure I will have a even deeper understanding at 51. I can't blame people for follies in the education system (which I will soon add to in a less painful way as an English teacher).
     
  17. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I think this is an overall condition, not just about reading.

    We have games without scores, and places where every student gets a ribbon so that no feels inferior.

    Now we make excuses for simplistic books. It's a race to the bottom. Look at some of the letters written by ground-pounders during our Civil War. Yikes, modern adults can't grasp the depth of language offered there.

    Maybe we should develop a new-world-order version of Esperanto, made up completely of grunts, whistles, smilies and Halo jargon so we could all read the same books and talk to our dogs, as well.
     
  18. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    For those that could read and write, and then many letters were written on a soldier's behalf by an educated man.

    At least we are making books for the masses now, unlike previous periods in history. You can't look at their limited print depth and say that ours is inferior for being wider.
     
  19. AchiraC
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    AchiraC Member

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    Time for me to confess, if I read this: I am an average reader. I am highly educated, have read far more books than the average person of my age, I read in several languages, and yes, I have read some of the classics. And I read both Harry Potter and Twilight and enjoyed them. Did I not see the glaring problems with plot and character? I did. And when I had finished the books, I thoroughly enjoyed myself trying to figure out what I would have done differently. So, to me, these might even be twice as much fun as 'better written' books.

    The author I adored in my teens, the man who inspired me to write my own story, had fallen in my appreciation a few years ago. Hard. Because I could now see the dirty little tricks he used to fix problems. I don't want to do that. In fact, I am allergic to easy fixes in my own work. Yet I still love his books, because the story he tells doesn't lose it's value because there are some problems with the way it's told. To me, at the end of the line, it will always be about the story. If that is good, I am willing to forgive a writer a lot. At the other side of the coin: some very well written books I've read told a story that simply wasn't interesting. And yes, those would be some books that are considered very good literature.

    And to be even more bold: 'the masses' are not always smart and can be herded to buy virtually anything, but apparently, that is what they want to read... This topic bothers me too, but when all is said and done, I want people to enjoy my story. I want to entertain them for a few hours. That, to me, is what makes a good book. To me, the story is important. Even if the framework is somewhat rickety, the story should still stand.
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I do see your point, but to be fair I never much liked old Charles Dicke either. :p
     
  21. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    But that's the point. Instead of elevating "the masses," we just dumb-down everything.

    Talk to masters of a craft, as in a guild. Most report the same issue, no apprentices. The reason is that it takes years of intense learning, discipline and patience.

    One of the reasons that CNC machines are so commonplace is that tool and die makers went out with horse-collars and high-button shoes. And yet this still is a rejection rate in Q/C. That's because the human element is expected to bring excellence to the job.

    My wife showed me a job description for new teachers. Things like "show up on time" and "dress appropriately" and "use appropriate language" and "attend work regularly" are now in job descriptions.

    For teachers. And we wonder why nobody is learning?
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Are you saying there are no standards? That there's no detectable difference in quality between Hemingway and Dan Brown? Between Margaret Atwood and whoever churned out the latest Harlequin romance?

    I think it's the exact opposite, at least for most of us. We think readers are smart, and are well able to understand and enjoy the best, most ambitious work we can create. (At least, that's true in my case. I'm a reader, and I appreciate a writer who has respect for me.)
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    No we don't. There's still plenty of great, important, and meaningful work that is created every year; work that the masses wouldn't read regardless of whatever else we 'dumb down'. They're not reading the easier texts instead of the more meaningful stuff. They just wouldn't read it anyway.
     
  24. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's only part of it. McDonald's sells because it's everywhere and it's always open. It's available. That's what I was getting at in my earlier post about crap taking up 95% of the shelf space at a bookstore. Crap is available, so it sells.

    I don't think anyone here said they don't want to be amused. It's also incorrect to suggest that decent literature cannot be amusing. But we are people struggling to learn how to write, and we do lots of critiques, and we have trained our minds to spot bad writing. That's what happens when you hang around a forum like this long enough - your taste improves. At one time in my life I may have craved deep-fried Snickers bars, but I now find the concept stomach-turning. I'd rather have a prime ribeye steak with a good brandy-peppercorn sauce.
     
  25. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Well from all the posts am gathering that most think its based on luck and good marketing tricks

    Sorry to burst the bubble to all the fans, but as a writer i cant ignore those things in a book when i see them, if you play on the emotions of your reader and want them to feel for your MC by twisting him to fit your need for each scene differently and throw at him all sorts of hard challenges than at least give your plot more thought and make your MC come up with something clever to get out of it and not insult my intelligence by cheating and say hey he made it out alive dont ask me how...so that for me is a bad writer

    I do however respect them that they managed to sell what they wrote and made more money than i could imagine.

    As for entertainment value i guess it comes down to taste but even that i cant understand, the worst part is you can even rely on book reviews anymore when you want to pick a new book to read
     

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