I pick up books that others have trashed, or that smell mighty shitty, and I do so intentionally. Why? You probably think I’m going to say that I read suckish books because they can teach me how to write, or to help me improve my writing in some way. That’s sort of true. I read poorly written books to determine whether or not I can pick out what’s wrong with them. It’s one thing to read a book, hate it, but not know why beyond “it just didn’t appeal to me”. There are a ton of books out there that don’t “appeal” to me, but that aren’t poorly written. Can I see the difference? Yes. I can. And all writers should be able to do the same.
But that isn’t the primary reason I spend money on books that I suspect of suckishness. To be honest, I’m always hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Let me give you an example. Recently I bought Tempest, by Julie Cross. I’ve published my review at OnFictionWriting.com so I won’t go into detail here about what I thought. The thing is, I really hoped to find an amazing new author in Julie Cross, but I knew the odds were against her being any better than the countless others before her. Bestseller means nothing in terms of writing quality. It only means that the marketing is exceptional and the author has something I don’t. Is Julie Cross a good writer? In a word, no. She is not a good writer. But she’s done something right. I’m not sure what it is, but I have much to learn from her. So do you.
You see, marketing can propel a book to bestseller status, even if the writing hasn’t earned that spot, but marketing alone can’t keep a book at the top of the Bestseller list. We’ll have to see what happens with Tempest, but I suspect Cross shares Stephenie Meyer’s talent for something that can’t be learned easily. She knows her audience and gave them what they wanted. I’m not sure what that is, but I read this book trying to figure it out. I attempted to read Twilight for the same reason. I continue to read the Sookie Stackhouse novels in spite of my growing disgust at the diminished writing quality as well. But I think I get it now.
Kate Quinn gave me the answer. She wrote an article for OFW recently (to be published February 11 – do go and read it when it’s published) that shed some light on what it is I’m looking for and it made total sense. Talent is not black and white. It’s not about show or tell, plotting or any other single technique that has or hasn’t been honed to perfection. Talent is a mixture of many things, different for each writer. These ladies have it. Each shares a talent for knowing what the reader wants and playing to it. They aren’t stellar writers. They shouldn’t be bestsellers based on writing ability, but perhaps they have earned that place for other reasons.
Is it fair? Of course not. But it’s reality. If I could have nailed my audience and given the publisher what they wanted the first go round, would I have worked so hard to perfect other areas of the craft? I’d like to think I would, but that’s not how things worked out, so I can’t say definitively that I would have done that. I might have said fuck it and kept doing what I was doing, never moving forward, never improving.
So I’m glad I didn’t get a contract right away and I didn’t become the “stay-at-home” mom who is plucked from obscurity. Sure, lots of us say that. But I truly mean it. I wouldn’t have turned it down, and I’m frustrated at the slow and tedious process I’ve waded through, but I think my path is the right one.
Sometimes the hard way is the best way to reach the top, because you learn the skills necessary to stay there.