How DID This Book Get Published?
A Follow-Up.

More than one person has pointed out that in six long posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), I did not actually answer the titular question. So I’ll confess: I’d been using that title more as a rhetorical device and a come-on. I’m still a bit astonished that it did get published, frankly. All three books in this author’s dog series are about the same level of badness (if you believe the low-star reviews at Amazon, and I have no reason not to).

So what happened? I think we have to consider this: there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative ones. Many readers not only enjoyed it, they took the time to say nice things about it.

But how could they, after all we’ve seen here?

Their criteria for what constitutes a good book is different than mine, that’s all. Remember, I don’t normally fish in these waters, so it’s unfair of me to complain that I got catfish when I wanted trout. It might be tempting to shout Off with the acquisitions editor’s head! but she knows her audience, and I’m not it.

And God knows this isn’t the only crappy traditionally published book to see the light of day. Should we discuss the definition of a bad book? List examples of bad books in print? We could be here all night.

I did, however, google “bad books,” just to see what I’d come up with. Here are forty college professors discussing what makes a bad book, some of them more entertainingly than others. They all agree it’s usually the writing, the clichés and stereotypes, and sentimentality; Cormac McCarthy comes up again and again, as does Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. (For sheer intellectual delight, scroll down to page 5 and read the article titled “Dildo Cay.” It’s the title of a book, for real.)

In this piece in the New York Times, journalist/critic Joe Queenan says bad books are an essential part of life, both entertaining and indispensable:

One of the main reasons we bad-book lovers go out of our way to make our sentiments known is because it is a way of resisting the hegemony of good taste. If slaves to quality had their way, there would be no thrillers by Marilyn Quayle (“Embrace the Serpent”), no children’s books by Madonna (“Lotsa de Casha”), no autobiographies by Geraldo Rivera (“Exposing Myself”). If goodness fetishists were in control of the publishing industry, nothing more hair-raising than Bill Bradley’s last book of homilies would ever make it into print. That’s right, no books by Shaq, no memoirs by Rue McClanahan, no collections of ruminations and aperçus by Dinesh D’Souza. Sound like a world you’d want to live in?

How did this book get published? It’s a reasonable question without a reasonable answer, especially for those of you trying to write a publishable book. The simplest, though, is it takes all kinds of readers, and to some of the readers out there, this was a good (or a good enough) book.

That doesn’t satisfy you, I know. But remember, there are as many definitions of a good book as there are definitions of bad ones. We all have to decide for ourselves, and then seek out the ones that please us. What’s most important—and I am on record with this—is I don’t care what you read, I care that you read. So go find your book.

Tweet: How did this book get published? It’s a reasonable question without a reasonable answer.
Tweet: It’s tempting to blame the acquisitions editor but she knows her audience, & I’m not it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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9 Comments

  1. Jan Thompson says:

    Excellent series, Jamie. I’ve read through all 7 of 6 articles. I concur with your assessment, and appreciate your candor.

    IMO some of the structural errors in the novel, as you’ve listed them, are elementary and could have been corrected by a quick study of writing books (such as “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell or “The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes” by Jack Bickham, just to name a couple). However, to think the novel in question had passed through not only the acquisition editor, but also the content editors of said publisher… that baffles me as a reader. Makes me think twice about purchasing books by that publisher.

    Having said that, I think your case study of one traditionally published novel could also reflect some self-published books. Often we hear laments from book bloggers about poorly written and packaged self-published novels getting published at all, and yet paying readers are gobbling them up, putting said indie authors on bestselling lists. The question then echoes what you pointed out regarding the books being “good,” that is: who defines “poorly written” if the readers think they are “good enough?”

    I think the solution is an old one: we writers — regardless of whether self-published or traditionally published — should write the best possible books we can but be humble enough to seek the trained eyes of experienced and tested professional editors. For one, we owe it to our readers not to insult their time or wallet, and for another, speaking for myself as an inspirational writer, I owe it to God not to make a sorry mess of any storytelling gift on loan to me. :-)

    Again, great articles! Thank you for taking the time to blog this.

    • Jamie says:

      Yes, I felt like these were very elementary errors. In a lot of houses, the acquisitions editor doesn’t do the actual edit, so I don’t really know whom to blame here. Or, it may have gone straight to a copyeditor, who was expected to keep an eye open for substantive issues. It’s hard to say.

      But even self-publishers are (FINALLY) learning about editing, it seems. At least the ones who go to conferences (see this: http://www.futurebook.net/content/self-publishing-conversation-changing-report-2013-self-publishing-summit). Of course, you could argue that those people are the type who are serious about craft. It’s the ones who write today and publish tomorrow that people like me find so frustrating. :)

      Thank you so much, Jan, for reading and commenting.

      • Jan Thompson says:

        Thank you for the link! Well, I didn’t know about the article before I commented on your blog but I do like their #1 point on “the absolute priority of craft” and how self-publishers should “write the very best book possible” (we’re all echoing one another LOL). With the rise of many freelance macro and copy editors providing paid services for self-publishers, there is hope yet for the well-edited books to make it to market. In the end, readers win.

        Thanks again.

  2. You are far more generous than I! After reading the entire series, noting the egregious errors you found in continuity and style, I just feel sorta sad, actually. Sounds as though there may be a lot more truly bad books out there than I ever imagined possible!! Thanks for your good work on this series, Jamie. I always appreciate what you write here.

  3. Truly awesome blog article series, Jamie. Thanks for posting it. I love your conclusion, and I hope to read many more of your excellent articles.

    Martyn V. Halm, author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

  4. Samantha says:

    Jamie,
    I really enjoyed this series. Thanks for being so detailed in your notes. I also realize how much there is to learn from the writing and editing blogs you cite. Since I have much to learn, I wonder if you have a list of all the other helpful blogs and sites you would recommend. Thanks

    • Jamie says:

      Samantha! I got distracted. :)
      If you look in the righthand side of this blog—in the yellow column—there’s a list called “What I’m Reading.” Not all will be exactly what you’re looking for, but many will. :)

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