Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Bar For Publishing... O.o

The bar for publishing a successful novel is pretty damn low in my opinion. Take a look at some of these quotes (and points I have to make) from The Hunger Games (Hint: It's made mega-millions). And back off for a moment all you worshipers of Ms. Collins that think "OMG SHE'S AMAZING HOW CAN U BE SO OBTUSE?"

The author uses buckets of exclamation points. And I mean buckets!!!!! They must have been going out of style at the local Wal-Mart. My copy of the book had seven exclamation points on page 22 alone as part of the dialogue. It's almost unreadable. I'm surprised she didn't use capital letters too. But she did at least tell me someone was shouting. "'Look at her. Look at this one!' he hollers..." Thank you, Ms. Collins, I had no idea he was hollering but I'm glad you cleared that up. I mean, what the hell is the exclamation point for anyway, right?

Another point of mine: Dad's (read as "men") work in these brutal mines, yet the narrator states that there are people with lots of kids in town and they have trouble feeding them. How the hell does a guy get the energy to come home and have sex to make a big family after choking on coal dust all day for 18-hours with nothing to eat? The semen for these babies had to come from somewhere...

Yet another point: To accent the misery and to go with a starvation theme, our protagonist and her sister have no food to eat. "For three days, we'd had nothing but boiled water with some old dried mint leaves I'd found in the back of a cupboard." You can't eat boiled water...just sayin'.

"Starvation's not an uncommon fate in District 12. Who hasn't seen the victims? Older people who can't work. Children from a family with too many to feed. Those injured in the mines. Straggling through the streets. And one day, you come upon them sitting motionless against a wall or lying in the Meadow, ye hear the wails from a house, and the Peacekeepers are called in to retrieve the body. Starvation is never the cause of death officially. It's always the flu, or exposure, or pneumonia. But that fools no one."

Really? At left is a picture of a starving person.

At right is a person with the flu.

You're absolutely f*cking correct...I can see how no one is fooled at all.

My point in this post is that I think the bar for publishing a novel is pretty damn low in America. If you aren't getting published, it's because you fail at social networking, it's because you fail at query letters, it's because you fail at pitches, it's because your face is kind of ugly, or your novel is too gay for a straight audience or doesn't have enough "romance" to open the pocketbooks of the huge section of the publishing pie dominated by female readers. Or, it's because what you want to say (whether or not it is well written) is not what the people in power want to hear. It isn't because your writing is bad. Oh no...that is not the problem. A baboon with a talented editor could write like this.

I'm not here to hack on any author. This is not a review. This is to tell you, oh struggling author out there that lacks my unique precision to examine modern literature, that the reason you are not getting published is not because you suck. That may be what those who are published would like you to feel because as long as you suck, then they are geniuses in comparison...right? Who doesn't want to be looked up to and admired? I think that this is inherent within human nature. Nobody sets out saying, "Man, I'd really like to be seen as stupid by a lot of people today..." No, no, no... they want people to say uplifting words about them... "Did you hear that so and so is getting published by Scholastic? Wow...I always knew they were a genius..." Ayep. That's what they want to hear. But too much worship...too much of lifting these people up and setting them on a isn't healthy...and in my opinion, it isn't deserved.

Sure...someone wrote a book. It got published. It made millions of dollars. But you can too. You just need to have the right people behind you and to do that...honestly...from where I stand, it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Whew...I'm glad I got that off my chest. Now you can go back to worshiping Ms. Collins while I toss it in the pile of books of which I won't read the sequels. The movies will be out soon anyway and at least then, I can go with someone and talk during the movie.


  1. The thing with modern YA books is that despite how things might appear on the surface, they are mostly aimed at young women and the key selling point is romance. They are in fact 'cooler' versions of the romance novels with Fabio topless on the cover. Those Harlequin books also were pretty poorly written and sold bucket-loads. What you're seeing isn't bad books randomly doing well, you're seeing disguised romance books selling to girls who would be too embarrassed to buy 'He Stole My Heart' by Ivana Trohup.

    Moody Writing

  2. Well, as I said yesterday, as long as you're an established writer( she had written a few well-received books before Hunger Games) you can get away with many things. The standard the industry holds them to, is not the same for a debut author. And, it is well established that the consumer DOES NOT CARE how well written a book is, as long as it is a story that appeals to them.

    Amanda Hocking proved you can write a first draft and make millions. Stephanie Meyer proved you can botch two legitimate fantasy races, write a novel with no plot and still sell copies.

    Every consumer has a "literary code" (something they LOVE to read about), once you tap into that code, your odds of stardom is increased exponentially.

    Romance is the most prominent literary code, at the moment.

  3. I'm always loathe to comment on this book, since it has so many passionate admirers, but I feel the writing was only mediocre. It's the concept that was really fun. I honestly feel that a great writer could have hit a grand slam with this concept, while Collins hit a single or double. Katniss was especially unappealing to me, and I really don't like that in a main character. Oh, also the heavy dose of clothing and fashion didn't work for me at all.

  4. I did not really understand who sets the standards of publishing. When a publisher sets standards, he is probably looking at the possibility of input of money versus the income he may pull in, hence the series of Baby sitters Club books have repeated material in more than half of the pages of each book and may be half constitute the actual story line. Their author Ann M. Martin although very popular spoiled things for hersef. So when she wrote "A corner of the Universe" my boys were not comfortable wasteing their time in reading it,inspite of my daughter begging them to read it. It is actually an excellent eye opener. You must have high standards therefore to you others' standards seem low.
    Exclamation points remind me of one of the episodes of the T.V show Sienfeld.

  5. While not directly defending the book itself, you can survive for weeks without actual food as long as you have some form of water. Their survival on boiled water and mint leaves is actually a pretty reasonable and smart choice when food is out.
    I did enjoy the first book, but after reading the other two which were much worse and then going back to the first, I definitely feel like you have some good points.

  6. "The Hunger Games" is one of those books like "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "Game of Thrones" I keep hearing people talk about but have little interest in actually reading.

    I absolutely agree though that especially in these times it's based on your "platform" more than your writing ability. A lot of very good, very well-educated writers struggle to make mid-list status while other writers who aren't nearly as good make millions.

    It's not fair, but what in life is?

  7. I think that the thing that disturbs me the most is that there is no "suspension of disbelief" break for other people like there is with me. It's as if no one knows better. Imagine if I wrote a book and it wasn't fantasy and I said, "People jump off of skyscrapers and die when they strike the ground. They keep telling us that it is starvation but I know better." I would WANT readers to look up from the text and say, "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever read." But instead, they seem to be nodding their head, reaching for more coffee, and saying, "I always knew that when people starved to death their bodies exploded like that..." Our education system is obviously doing a terrible job. The next best seller that wins awards will probably suggest that black people are IN FACT black because they worship the devil...or gay people are gay because they don't take their antibiotics...

    I work with people that make outrageous statements. One woman has a friend whose 10 year old son got cancer. Here's the statement, "I cannot believe this happened to her. She does so much good...why would God punish someone when they do so much good? She gives to charities, etc." I blinked in astonishment..."Really? You think there is some secret 'karma' bank that as long as you do keeps you safe from illness?"

    BTW... that woman is writing a book too.

  8. Remember: 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.

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  10. Matthew: But what if you're Bear Grylls? The dude drank his own urine and gave himself a bat guano enema...
    (I'm just being a smart ass).

  11. I think it'd take me longer than 3 weeks to die without food. How long can fat keep you alive? Of course if they're really so hungry, are people eating each other? Maybe that's part of the Games.

    Anyway, I always find it funny these people who praise "God" for everything great that happens but when something terrible happens it's the "Devil" who did it or it's all part of some secret plan. If giving 10-year-olds cancer is part of the plan, maybe consider a new deity.

  12. I was thinking the exact same thing about publishing this morning. I don't read often (gasp!) and it's because every book I read is unbelievably awful! I don't know much about writing, but I could rant about everything wrong in a book for hours and hours, and that's only on the first two chapters I read. I can't find books I like, and I hate wasting my time reading crap when I can be writing. It's certainly frustrating. I think I'm going to hire somebody to read books before I do so I know they're good. I'm just relieved that I'm not the only one who is thinking this. ;)

  13. Moody: Excellent point regarding YA.

    T.D.: Your posts are always spot on sir.

    Ted Cross: I agree...I'm not saying that Hunger Games didn't deserve to be published or that it isn't "average" as far as books go. I am saying that I'm tired of people putting this book on a pedestal as if it were some incredible icon meant to somehow inspire you (as an unpublished author) to writing greatness when truthfully, many of the unpublished or indie authors that I've read right now, write better than her. Roguemutt (frequent poster) is a better author than Suzanne Collins.

    CBame: My criticism of Ms. Collins work only came from one chapter. Trust me, I could make a blog post a mile long because there is something amiss in every single chapter of her book that drives me nuts.

    Madeline: I read quite a bit because it's funner than writing. Once I squeeze out a thousand words I stop and pick up a book. I don't care how long it takes me to write a novel. I have a job and a mediocre life which is more than I can say for a lot of people stuck in this recession. Furthermore, it's not like going fast on anything will get me traditionally published. I don't think it has ever been about the writing.

  14. Tapping into the teenage girl market is a different thing. They think differently, emphasize life differently. Miniscule things are trumped up as very important. Stephanie Meyer did a great job of tapping into that. I'm not her audience, so never finished it. But I could recognize why it would appeal to teenage girls. I have Thrones in my TBR pile and never read Hunger Games, so can't comment on them.

    Either way, I do know Twilight tapped into its target audience with genius. As writers, that's what we have to figure out what to do. Who is our audience? What makes them tick? Write to them without apology.

  15. This was really excellent -- as are most posts here.

    "Hunger Games" got big because "Twilight" got big, and publishers were looking for the next big thing, so they pushed "Hunger Games" and cast what's-her-name in the movie and got articles in EW every week and that all drives sales; advertising creates sales, and as I've said before, book publishers (and most writers) aren't interested in selling to READERS, they're interested in selling to BUYERS.

    Once you buy a book, you can't UNBUY it. So if a book is good enough to get published and sells, say, 10,000,000 copies, that book will generate another book, regardless -- but how do the sales do after that, is the real question.

    With "Hunger Games," they'll lump all the books together -- one site says "nearly 4,000,000" Hunger games books were sold. But there are three books in that series, and the sales figures are

    Book 1: Paperback, 1,000,000, e-book 128,000, hardcover 471,000.

    Book 2: No paperback listing, e-book, 98,000, Hardcover, 918,000,

    Book 3: no paperback listing, e-book 124,000, hardcover, 1.4 million,

    The site I got those off of listed paperback sales only for 100,000 plus sales, so we can assume Hunger games sold less than 100,000 paperback copies.

    Now here's the thing: Wikipedia cites entirely different sales figures, claiming that Collins is the first YA author to sell a million ebooks, so these figures are squishy.

    But Collins wrote "Hunger Games" sometime prior to 2006 and then signed with Scholastic for a six-book deal. Collins, although it's not frequently mentioned, had worked for Scholastic Entertainment as a writer on a TV show and was doing a not-as-well received series when she wrote "The Hunger Games."

    But "Twilight" was published in 2005, and publishers were desperate for a similar hit -- and Advertising Age noted that almost immediately, marketing of tie-ins for the planned trilogy began.

    In other words, Scholastic said "We need a Twilight," found an in-house author and had her write one, then pumped tons of money into the books to advertise them. Teens being less discriminating in their reading, the books were marketed as YA books to avoid critical drubbing of the sort that Stephen King gave Stephanie Meyers (and, to a lesser extent, The Hunger Games itself).

    But those sales figures -- most of the hardcover were backlist sales -- suggest that the readership relies not on the books being good, but on advertising. The book sold tepidly at first, until a big push in advertising began and then sales dropped off on the second novel, only to pick back up for the third book -- about the time the movie casting is announced. Who ever heard of readers reading the 1st and 3rd books in a trilogy? It's kids who are picking up the book because they heard of the movie, or parents buying Book 3 because it's hot right now.

    Which is to say: Publishers sell books, not reading -- and you're right that you won't get rich or famous just by being a good writer.

  16. I commented on Rachelle Gardner's huge agent blog today because her post ranted against the use of the exclamation point. In a nutshell, she said that overuse of said punctuation makes you come across as an amateur.

    I commented saying that Suzanne Collins uses buckets of exclamation points and has made millions of dollars. Someone commented..."well congratulations to Suzanne Collins and her success but she is not my mentor." It gave me many lulz because the commenter sounded so "huffy" in a "How dare you point out something that goes against the rules of publishing? How dare you suggest that there are indeed no rules to publishing and that the only way anyone gets published has nothing, in fact, to do with writing."

    You know...a lot of people depend on telling other people how to write in order to come up with a daily blog post.

  17. One of the "rules" I've heard bandied about is how you shouldn't use dialog tags beyond "said." Then today I read on a blog that an editor sent this author's book back because he used "says" all the time! So basically whoever said not to use said was full of shit--at least for that publisher. And that's the problem; it's so fucking subjective!

    Briane's comment makes a lot of sense. I mean you see this form of imitation all the time. "American Idol" hits it big and then every network has to have a talent show. A couple of superhero movies hit big so let's adapt every comic book we can lay our hands on! And add to it, Scholastic knew by 2005 that Harry Potter was going to end soon, which meant they needed to find a new gravy train.

  18. You know, I'm glad to see someone actually saying something about Hunger Games that's not "oh, it's so amazing! the characters are just the bestest! the love triangle is just awesome!" I'm getting sooo tired of seeing that EVERYWHERE! (notice all of my exclamation points?) I have absolutely no interest in reading this book. At all. I don't care if the characters are good, the premise is ridiculous.

    Here's the problem with books and readers as I have observed it. This comes from many years of dealing with teenagers but extends just as readily to adults. In general, people do not read. At best (if I'm remembering correctly), your average person -might- read 1 book per year. Due to this, your average reader is not very discriminating. Poor to mediocre writing is good or amazing to them because they have no experience with anything better. And this is where there begins to be an issue... actual good writing, complex writing, the kind of writing that people who read challenging books like, is too difficult for your average person. You know, 4th grade reading level and all of that. That, more than anything else, may be the thing that contributes to the success of books like Twilight and The Hunger Games. The writing is just poor enough to appeal to the masses.

  19. Michael, thanks for providing me a welcome dose of catharsis. Great post and commentary to all.

    ...and the beat goes on... Sonny Bono.

  20. I have to say I didn't really like The Hunger Games much, either. I liked the concept, but I didn't like Katniss or the general direction of the plot.

    A lot of YA books make me wonder what sets the bar for publishing. I've run into many books that could stand some work, either on the plot, characters, or writing.

  21. Like Meg Cabot and Stephenie Myer, Ms Collins isn't famous and best selling for her writing prose but the storyline. Or so I've been told. I haven't read the Hunger Games trilogy (not really my genre, I don't want to read a depressing book).

  22. All it takes to get published is a name. And that means you are going to sell books without anybody spending a penny advertising it. And a book like this is is a best seller before it even hits the shelf. Sorry but that is the way it is. And that is why she doesn't have to write anything that is worth anything. Same with almost any other best selling author- and I am just as offended by all of them. David Baldacci, John Grisham, and Patricia Cornwell... you name 'em. All crap. But they sell because of The Name no matter that they are practically rewriting the same story over and over again.

  23. Readers miss the obvious stuff in a book like this because they're not paying much attention. The writing is pretty simple and it's easy to read. I'd wager that if you asked anyone who read the Hunger Games, they'd tell you they read it in a short short amount of time. And they would probably tell you the reason is that they loved is so much. When, really, it was just easy to read. Dan Brown does the same thing. His novels are extremely easy to read and people lap them up. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes you want an easy to read book.

    And you're not missing anything by not reading the others. The last one, in particular, gets really bad by the end. I honestly think Collins herself got bored with it and just ran out the clock.

  24. I liked The Hunger Games, but I can overlook a lot of writing flaws pretty easily if I like the storyline or characters. I get what you are saying about the publishing industry, though. I'm reading a major award winning book right now (which I wont bother to name) that's written so badly I can hardly stand to finish it. It's all 'subjective' which really means who ever has a stroke of luck seems to get published.

  25. Brent: I have to admit...I have not read any Dan Brown. I was told to by my friend Tony who said "Davinci Code" is amazing and "Angels and Demons" even better. A little trivia on Dan Brown... for some reason or other I googled the Vatican Archives and there was a whole section written by the people who work there on how Dan Brown has never even seen them. I thought that was funny considering that they are a prominent feature in the second film. They are also annoyed that there are so many requests to see them from tourists when in fact, they are pretty much closed off from the public.

    Alyson: I'm interested in knowing who said author is now simply because I'm curious.

    Danette: I agree. Kurt Colfer of Glee is now a YA author signed to multiple book contracts. Easy as pie. All he had to do was sing on a hit t.v. show.

    Munk: Your randomness is so random.

    Eagle: Thank you for stopping by :)

  26. I've seen them, they weren't all that. Nice frocks though.

  27. Since you asked, the author is Jennifer Eagan. The book won the Pulitzer prize but so far it's almost unreadable. I'm only 5 chapters in though, so hopefully it gets better.

  28. Well of course one shouldn't use exclamation points. Period. I think I used one in my book once. I felt dirty after, which is not to say I don't enjoy abusing them on the Internet. Anyway, keep ruffling those feathers. I'm tired of reading the same things everywhere, I need variety of opinions people! And you somewhat manage, Michael.

  29. OUCH!

    Sounds like you were on the receiving end of some bad writing news lately? :-( I agree with you that I had some quibbles with Hunger Games. THE FRAGMENTS, oh lord, the fragments.

    I felt similarly enraged whenever the people running workshops heard about my first novel project and gave me squinty something-smells-bad faces.

    I said, "Well if the market only likes crap, then crap I shall writer!"

    But I didn't write crap. I wrote something else I could get passionate about, from the pool of ideas that seemed slightly more marketable.

    Oh hell, it's probably crap for the rejection bin too. But nobody can say I didn't try!

  30. This is exactly what I've been saying for a long time--readers don't care how beautifully written your prose is. They don't. They want a good story. Stephanie Meyers did that. Hunger Games did that.

    I completely agree with you. There are fabulous writers out there that are not getting picked up. It's all about where to put the money and which concept will bring in even more. It's not about the writing--though I do enjoy a well put together, well constructed story.

    As long as you don't use a lot of adverbs and can tell a kick-ass story, I'll read it. Most readers don't seem to care about the details. But this is YA we're talking here. It may be tougher to get away with things in other genres. It may not be as forgiving.

    Thank goodness I write YA (I jest here).

    Wonderful post ;)

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  32. javascript:void(0)After the awesome review you gave my book, seeing how picky you actually are made me feel really good. Just sayin'.

    *Magically beams idea of sending Maria ARC of your novel into your brain*