Bad Books – Good For Authors?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is about a certain type of book. I’m not naming any names, but I’ve come across a few in this category, and I’m sure you have too.

It’s a type of book published by a major publishing house. It starts to sell. Suddenly it’s selling very well. Then it’s selling extremely well. Word spreads, and sales go supernova. The reviews are mixed. There are as many people who hate this book as love it. Eventually you decide you better see what all the fuss is about, and you read the book. You consider it a book with flaws. You start to wonder why so many people are raving about this book. “I know plenty of unpublished writers who can do much better than this,” you think. You probably think even you can do better than this. The only difference is, this author is in print and is making loads of money, and you are not.

There are two sides to this argument. First up is the view that publishing rubbish books is bad for new authors. Publishers only have a finite number of slots in which to publish new books every year. Every time they publish a book on the name – perhaps written by a well known celebrity who’s decided to try their hand at writing novels – they’re wasting a slot that could be used for an unknown but talented new author. But that book will make money, and a publishing company is a business aiming to make a profit. The criteria for book sales does not necessarily take into account how well written it is. You, the unknown author, may have a masterpiece on your PC. But if the publisher doesn’t think this masterpiece has mass market appeal, they are not going to take it.

Then we come to the alternative argument. If a publisher takes on a less-than-great book that proves to be a runaway best seller, they are suddenly raking in loads of money. With this sure-fire money maker flying off the shelves, said publisher might be more inclined to take a risk with some unknown author. After all, gambling on said unknown author might pay off, and their book might sell well. Even if it doesn’t, they’ve still got the runaway best seller raking it in, so they can afford to take the chance.

There is also the point that liking a book that is very subjective. Although you and all the authors you know collectively grumble about this famous best-selling book and meticulously list its flaws, the fact that it’s selling so well proves that there’s more than a few people out there who would probably disagree with you.

So is the publication of these less-than-great but best selling books good or bad for the emerging author? What’s your take?


1 comment so far

  1. MIchelle on

    If it’s bringing someone pleasure from reading it, I think it’s worth while publishing. So many people think reading is ‘boring’ – if a celebrity endorsed book introduces someone to the pleasure of reading I’m all for it. Only publishing a certain calibre (in our opinion) of book could alienate a whole group of prospective new readers. As you said, it all very subjective, one man’s meat is another man’s poison! On a very basic level we get lots of parents wanting us to recommend “good” books particular for boys who will “only read comics”. So? If they’re getting pleasure out of it let them carry on, any reading is good reading in my opinion. Let’s not attribute a snobbery factor to reading.

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