Author Mary Demuth recently asked the question Why Do Poorly Written Books Sell? That question seems to come up often in writers circles, which makes me wonder whether it matters more to readers or writers. Not that readers don’t care; writers just have more invested. For the aspiring author, nothing is worse than laboring to perfect their craft only to discover published authors who, seemingly, disregard the rules. And publishers who still publish them.
That was the feeling I had recently after having spent twelve bucks on a book that I discarded 50 pages in. In my case, however, I knew exactly why this poorly written book sold. Or, more specifically, why I bought it. But I’ll get to that in a second.
Frankly, it’s refreshing to hear an established author like Mary asking that question. Sometimes, I get the impression that there’s a code of silence among authors. Not that anyone is into naming names, but inferring that there ARE poorly written books immediately indicts the accuser of potential snobbery. “Oh, so YOUR books aren’t poorly written!” Which is part of the problem calling out literary mediocrity — it can make you look all high and mighty. For this reason, if you’re a published author, it’s probably better just to plead the fifth.
Anyway, it was interesting perusing Mary’s thoughts and the comments of her readers. Some mentioned how good stories trump poor story-telling. Others mentioned how good marketing can overcome average writing. And still others addressed cultural decline and waning literary appreciation. And, as is par for the course in these debates, subjectivity was introduced as a possibility (i.e., poor writing is entirely subjective).
As usual, there was not a consensus as to why poorly written books sell. Is it one thing? Is it a combination of things? Who knows? Which is probably why I liked Mary’s resolution so much:
As a word artist, I take my craft seriously. I know not all writers see themselves that way. That’s okay.
But for me, I must write a better book than the book I’ve written before. As a Christ follower, I choose to grow, to learn excellence, to perfect the craft as a form of worship. Of course that includes storytelling. But it also involves crafting the words, creating the kind of sentences and stories that woo my readers in. I’m passionate about this, as its my livelihood.
Does it bother me that poorly written books sell? On one small level, yes. But it doesn’t deter me from pressing into working harder. I owe that to the One who gifted me, and I owe it to my reader.
I must admit, after I gave up reading the aforementioned book, my initial feeling was Why bother? I mean, if so-and-so can get a mediocre book published, why am I spending so much time and energy trying to nail this thing? Maybe I should just rush something out and concentrate, instead, on marketing or schmoozing 101. Why continue trying to write better when “average” seems to suffice?
Mary’s conclusion hits home: I owe it to the One who gifted me, and I owe it to my reader. In other words, something other than publication has to drive me to write.
Which brings me to why I bought a poorly written book. Yes, the premise sounded interesting, Yes, it’s in the genre I write, and No, I didn’t read a sample chapter. But more importantly, the primary reason I bought this poorly-written book was because it had been enthusiastically endorsed by a well-known author.
Call me a knucklehead, a sucker. Either way, let me add another possible answer to the question, Why do poorly written books sell? Because they are endorsed by an established author. So maybe the next question should be, How do poorly written books get endorsed?