Which Is More Important?

Books

As a writer who is new to the publishing industry, I struggle to determine which is more important when it comes to sales. In fiction, the quality of the writing or the appeal of the storyline? In non-fiction, the caliber of writing or the subject matter? Even in the music world, which sells more CD’s: a beautiful voice or the melody sung by an average singer that begins to repeat in the listeners’ heads?

Of course, in an ideal world, these artistic creations would be an excellent blend of both factors. How often does this really happen, though? I have been noticing lately, some novels selling very well that are not as well-written as they could be. They may be grammatically correct, but have inappropriate voice changes or shallow characterization, etc. It makes me wonder what the average modern reader really cares about.

Perhaps it has something to do with e-books vs. hard cover books. Maybe because the e-book reading may be done more often in noisy places, awkward positions, or poor lighting, not as much attention is paid to the writing quality as when the reader is curled up with a hard-cover book on a winter’s night in front of a roaring fire. Or is it because the “old-fashioned” reader paid more for that hard cover book, so he or she expects more? Could it even be that the societal trend toward instant gratification sells or encourages “quick reads” that don’t allow time for attention to writing detail?

That being said, as a writer, do you sacrifice what you really want to write for something you believe will be more popular? I find it hard, at this point, to write what I don’t feel passionate about. I keep reading that writing from your heart is what touches others and gives them the emotional experience they are seeking. It would be difficult for me to do otherwise.

I don’t believe there are any easy answers to all of this. Regardless, I would love to know your thoughts, as a reader or writer, about what qualities you think sell? What do you personally pay attention to when you read? What leads you to feel that satisfying experience after you’ve read an article or a book?

18 comments

  1. You bring up some thought-provoking questions:

    “I have been noticing lately, some novels selling very well that are not as well-written as they could be. They may be grammatically correct, but have inappropriate voice changes or shallow characterization, etc. It makes me wonder what the average modern reader really cares about.”

    I think the average reader is varied – for some, it’s the story and they don’t need good writing to tell it. For others, the language is what makes them turn the page. But even if a book is well-written if it doesn’t have some sort of story to it I doubt it will appeal to readers.

    There have always been “pot boilers” that have sold well – usually they are well crafted from a story sense, but they are definitely not well written from a language use. The difference nowadays is that anyone can put an e-book out there, and I guess if it has a solid hook and a story that really appeals to the general public, along with strong word-of-mouth, it might turn into a “successful” book. Some writers are brilliant at producing formulaic pieces – they find a niche audience and produce for it. I respect their ability and their talent. I would only hope that they take the time to produce content that uses language correctly, and not produce something that is filled with mistakes.

    But there are all kinds of writers and I’m couldn’t agree more with what you wrote here:

    “That being said, as a writer, do you sacrifice what you really want to write for something you believe will be more popular? I find it hard, at this point, to write what I don’t feel passionate about. I keep reading that writing from your heart is what touches others and gives them the emotional experience they are seeking. It would be difficult for me to do otherwise.”

    That makes two of us, Shirley: If I can’t feel it, I can’t write it.

    • Darlene, I definitely agree that the average reader is varied, and I am thinking now that an individual reader varies also depending on the read they are looking for. If I go to the beach i might be looking for a hot romance; other times I want to read something with more substance.

      “The difference nowadays is that anyone can put an e-book out there, and I guess if it has a solid hook and a story that really appeals to the general public, along with strong word-of-mouth, it might turn into a “successful” book.”

      Yes! The fact that anyone can do an e-book is a big concern especially for new authors who are trying to better understand the magical formula that can lead to a “successful book.” I think you described the basic formula well in the paragraph above . The additional trick, especially for self-published writers, is for the book to get noticed initially. There is so much competition from both good and bad writers and so many people selling books on how to be successful (which is probably actually making them successful), that it all gets very confusing. I think I’ll start focusing more on writing and just hope I get lucky. 🙂

      I appreciate your input very much!

  2. As a reader, I love a good story, but I do find myself distracted from the story if it is not well written. Mistakes throw me off. Not typos. I realize they happen, even with a good editor (and having edited a couple of books, I suspect I’m more likely to notice things like that). But a mistake in continuity or a glaring grammatical error (it would have to be glaring as I know my grammar is isn’t always up to par) can sometimes, not always, ruin a book for me. I am not a big fan of the formulaic books, especially if I’m reading a series of them and the formula becomes obvious. That said, there are times when I can appreciate that type of book because it’s usually an easy read. I think of them as brain candy. I also have a love-hate relationship with the short chapter with a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter type of book (think Dan Brown, who is a master at that sort of thing). It feels contrived at times, and ruins the flow of the story for me. Similarly, there are books that feel as if they’re written specifically to be a film, and I’m not always fond of those, either, for the same reason.

    I do not have an e-reader and still prefer the feel of holding a book and turning pages. I suspect that within a few years I will make the switch. Someone (probably one of my sons) will buy one for me, and I’ll be hooked. Friends who have e-readers have mentioned they can read faster and that allows them to read more books. I like to savor a good book, and wonder if reading faster would lessen that experience.

    I have great admiration for writers, even for those who publish a “bad” book. I think it takes a lot of courage to put your words and heart and passion out there for others to read and experience.

    • I agree, Robin, that a glaring grammatical error can be discouraging, especially if there’s more than one. It’s almost as if it’s saying that the writer didn’t care enough about their work, which tends to make me wonder if I should.

      As for the cliffhanger at the end of a chapter…I find it hard to do that and after what you said, I am definitely going to focus more on flow with my novel, as opposed to keeping the reader on the edge of he seat so he’ll keep turning the pages. If the storyline is engaging enough, then I don’t think that every chapter needs to have a dramatic crisis!

      I bought a Kindle a few years ago for two reasons: to save space and money. I accomplished those goals to an extent, but I agree that’s it’s nice to hold and turn the pages of a real book. I have in the last year purchased more “real” books now that I have more room. Also, there are some books, like a cookbook or something more technical that I need to rummage through, that I would never want to read on a Kindle.

      I appreciate your feedback! 🙂

  3. I think that in fiction the story line may sell better than the quality per se. I am amazed how well some books sell even if the language use is very basic and really bad at times. Personally I’m only drawn to books that have a good story line but also have quality language use. Among the writers who “mass produce” best sellers, one finds both excellent and not so excellent quality. So some readers really don’t care…

    • I’m inclined to agree with you that the story probably sells a book better than great writing, as long as the writing has a degree of quality. Some people do look for higher quality in the writing first. I have to admit though, that I have on occasion been disappointed in a book or short story that was deemed to be an excellent piece of literature by the “experts.” I guess my tastes are not that discriminating, or maybe it’s just that taste in books is a very individual thing. Thanks for your input! 🙂

  4. To me quality is important than popularity. I think the message that you want to convey is the most important. Caroline Anne

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Thank you, Caroline Anne, for reminding me of one of the primary reasons I began this journey – the message, of course! I always have believed that my books or articles would find their way to the people who were meant to read them.. The volume of sales are really not as important, are they?. I appreciate your comment, my friend..

  5. You’re right, there aren’t any easy answers to this. I found your blog post very interesting and I do agree to quality first. 🙂 Well written, Shirley!

  6. Hi Shirley… I believe it is all about balance… at the end of the day…. and in the beginning it is what we like… what our heart desires and is passionate about… I write for me… no matter what… and this trust attracts many other hearts who enjoy reading… I also believe we are divine sisters who can enjoy each others journey into the unknown and creating a wonderful new world together… Barbara

    • Hi Barbara…I agree. A writer can’t go wrong if they write sincerely and passionately from their heart. They will attract those who are meant to read their work and will be successful in ways that can’t even be measured. I think we probably believe the same about a lot of things. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  7. If one has no way to pay the bills, one has to write what will sell. I used to think that it should be easier to sell in today’s world because there is an Internet market of several billion people. However, that also means that there is more competition for a single sale. So I don’t know.

    • Everything you said is so true. The competition for e-books is especially rough now with both excellent and poorly-written books all mixed up in the pot. For that reason, it’s especially hard for new writers to even get noticed. But, I guess that means there is something for everyone because sometimes the story is good, even if the writing is poor. The whole thing just makes the industry more interesting, I suppose…

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