Thursday, August 30, 2012

100TWC - Day 34: Shades of Grey

How many shades of grey do you think there are? I'm guessing that, unless you've been entirely out of touch with the zeitgeist over the last few months, the first and possibly only answer that's popped into your head is: 50.

I haven't read it. I don't intend to read it. Not my kind of thing at all. But I have read reviews of it, and while I'm the first to admit that one should never judge anything solely on the basis of reviews of that thing, the reviews I've read of 50 Shades of Grey have been universally condemnatory. Sometimes exceedingly eloquently so. And other times side-splittingly amusingly so.

So, armed with my Shield of Smug, I will continue to protect myself from being sullied by any and all exposure to the actual text of the document in question. Unfortunately my shield is of little use against other works of similar "quality," many of which regularly crop up as book club choices. I can't remember how old I was when I began to think, while reading, "God. I could write better than this," but I was almost certainly still in short trousers.

In the intervening (*counts on fingers*) 46 years, things haven't got much better. Of course, I've read some good stuff during those years. Many, many examples of excellent writing that have thrilled, captivated, engaged and transported me to their writers' worlds. But there's an almost equal number of appalling turkeys in the mix, and the question that comes back to me, time after time, is: how on Earth does this drivel ever get published?

As a writer myself (if you hadn't noticed) I'm all too painfully familiar with the concept of a publishing gatekeeper. Enough of them have slammed their blimmin' gates shut in my face over the years, so I should be. They have SUCH little time, and SO many submissions, and they can ONLY take on ONE new writer this year. So I'm sorry, your manuscript is not what we're looking for, or we're not actually looking for anything at all, or we're too busy with our existing client base, yadda yadda yadda.

So if all that's true, wouldn't you think that they would expend their oh-so-precious time and resources actually sifting out the nuggets from the endless piles of dross that fly across their desks every day? Is it just that they become so exposed to utter crap that when they eventually bother to read a piece that's just this side of crap, they think they've uncovered the next Virginia Woolf? A woeful lack of perspective brought on by living too close to worthless rubbish.

A little while ago I read an interesting bit of speculative insight into what might be going on. It debated the success of books that are really quite badly written, versus the opposite story, often told, of the well-written book that doesn't do well with sales. There's an example of this latter category in the side bar over there on your right. Cough. It's a common theme with self- or e-publishing that the gatekeeper I referred to above -- agents and traditional publishers, editors, etc -- has been removed from the process and hence (potentially) the floodgates have been opened to (yet more) half-arsed dross. But through all this, the interesting point of the article was that really successful books have a compelling story AND are well-written, but books will also generally do reasonably well if they have the former but not the latter.

That is to say, a poorly written book that has a compelling story will still be read. A well-written bore will not. This is an unpalatable truth for those of us writers who take utmost pride in the craft of writing. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, tone, vocabulary -- selecting EXACTLY the right word to replace the ALMOST right one -- this takes a lot of effort. It took me, for War of Nutrition, years. Literally. Although admittedly part-time. To the majority of readers? It doesn't matter. They absolutely do not care if I chose one word or the other. Whether I keep to the point-of-view rules or not.

Whether they can't tell the difference, or they don't notice, or they DO notice but they don't care because the story is SUCH a page-turner… I don't know. But even quite a few 1-star reviews complaining about grammar and spelling will not slow the sales of a book that also has a good smattering of 5-star reviews saying "I couldn't put it down." It's galling, and I would never lower my standards to get a book out faster based on that truth, but that doesn't make it any less of a truth.

In the case of 50 Shades of Grey, many many reviewers bemoan the awful English. The poor sentence structure and grammar. The parroting of hackneyed phrases. The bad word choice. But the sad fact is the subject matter had a popular launch point (as Twilight fan fic) and has an even more popular, naughty, faux shocking, main subject. And it sells by the million.

So have I told you how good my book is? It's got chases and set backs and world-wide sickness and a hero who... [spoiler deleted]. And it's got a bit of risqué sex. And some regular sex. And every single person who has read it has told me how much they enjoyed it, and what a page turner it is, and some of them have even gone into print on t'Interweb to say so. Publically. For which I'm sincerely grateful. But as of now, it's not selling millions. Unfortunately.

I live in hope.


Blythe said...

It's a sad day that this kind of awful novel even exists and you even have to have a point of view about it. Though honestly if that kind of shit gets published, I like to look on the bright side - if that gets through, maybe there's a chance for the rest of us. :D

Tvor said...

In this case, it's all about the sex and we know sex sells. Unfortunately that's really all there is in those books from what i can tell. Insipid characters, plot holes the size of small planets, and more sex. I've gleaned all this from others who have read the books and whose opinions i would respect.

I don't even mind when there are occasional spelling mistakes or minor grammatical ones. You can edit and edit and spellcheck and still miss them. It's really obvious stuff that proves there was very little or no editing at all by objective eyes that irks me. Changing verb tense in the middle of a sentence, or a point of view or a sentence that is clearly missing bits off the end. I've read them all, and usually in self published books. One or two did have good stories but in one book with a story that was fairly good, it felt like a whole chapter was missing.

I know i'm not the writer you are (and yes, your book *is* very good) but i'm not too bad either and i'm pretty sure i could do better if i could actually think of a story from start to finish.