Good Enough Is How Disruption Happens

I’m surprised by the number of people who – after getting used to the idea that Amanda Hocking is making a bucketload of money via the Kindle store – come around to complain that her writing is lousy. Or that she needs an editor. Or that she needs ‘more work’.

These people then extrapolate that complaint to the quality of indie books in general, and how the future of publishing is doomed if we – as publishers, or authors – cannot maintain proper quality control. It’s an old argument, and I’ve heard it countless times before.

Now, it may be true that Hocking is a so-so writer. I’m not going to go there – the writers who read this blog are likely to be better qualified to make that call. But even if we say that her quality of writing is average, we have to accept that that is exactly the point – Hocking’s work is good enough, and good enough is how disruption happens.

Record labels in the music industry weren’t displaced by better technology – they was displaced by lower quality, relatively low-res mp3s. As were the video-rental industry, and the newspaper industry. Youtube videos – while entertaining, cannot possibly compare to a properly produced movie. And yet millions of people tune in every day to short videos and low quality movie torrents uploaded to the Internet.

It’s tempting to see this and conclude that people don’t care about quality – or that they don’t mind stealing work for private consumption. But that isn’t necessarily true. People do care about quality. And, given the right context, people can and will pay for digital content.

All we’re seeing here is the net effect of new technology being used to give people something they want but couldn’t previously get. People live with low quality mp3s because we want a painless way to own individual songs. And they live with low-quality Youtube videos because they’re short, sweet, and painless to procure. (Indeed, the main value proposition of the Internet seems to be that it makes things painless, to the point where consumption becomes casual).

But there are two sides to that equation. Where one part is the Internet giving people things that they wanted but couldn’t previously get, the other part is that it’s new technology that we’re talking about. The fact that it’s new technology being used almost always means that the early adopters would be lower in quality when compared to the incumbents. It took television a couple of years before it became the polished industry that it is today; so it will be a number of years before digital-only record labels and newspapers and publishers reorient their operations to reflect the new dynamics of the web.

People are buying Amanda Hocking ebooks because they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re good enough to read. And that’s the metric that matters, really, because that’s how disruption works: it almost always begins with ‘good enough.

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Publishing
  • http://www.dreamfantastic.com alexander

    Thats it exactly. I’ve taken a look at on of her novels. Its okay. I’d say on par with the writing of the Twilight series. Which is not that great. And yet Meyers is now a millionaire. Theres great, and theres good enough, and theres popular. You cannot pretend to be a pretentious high class author and chase the mighty buck at the same time.

  • http://www.phantasiaonline.com Dary

    There’s always going to be people angry when their high-brow literary genius is ignored while some hack writing trashy genre fiction makes millions. At least one tutor on my creative writing degree had a seething hatred for JK Rowling – and I’m talking *hatred*.

    Something like this is a sloppy wet kipper slapped in their face – they can put their life into something, spend years refining their great novel, years more dealing with rejection letters, only for some “half-rate amateur” to come along and outsell them ten-thousand-fold and achieve everything they’ve secretly dreamt of. So naturally they’re going to shoot down these potential threats and label them “inferior”, just to convince themselves *they’re* not.

    And it’s all bloody hilarious.

  • Bill

    This is precisely the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say that too many writers overall; but webfic authors in particular; shoot themselves in the foot.

    Who gives a flying !@#$ whether or not her writing is ‘good’?? Ms. Hocking is HELPING OUR CASE. Granted, her success is more of a boon to the eBook movement, but it is also a massive step forward in the acceptance of the independent author; a tag which applies more or less universally to webfic writers.

    Her value to our cause covers two ends of the spectrum. On the low end, her writing may be ‘crappy’, but she obviously has a “good enough” command of language, plot, and character that her story meets a certain quality standard. Additionally, even with what must be at least several hundreds of thousands of $ in the bank, she seems to be level-headed and polite; a far cry from too many writers who haven’t accomplished a percentage of what she has.

    On a more profoud level, she is one more successful writer. One more.

    Everytime another Aaron Sorkin, Joanne Rowling, Stephen King, or Tyler Perry surfaces they strike back against the notion the conceit that “wanting to be a writer and !GASP! get paid for it” is not, in fact, a fool’s errand.

    She compounds this by being a well-paid author without such ‘accessories’ as a publisher or a hot-shot agent or an editor. This young woman has brought the threshold of acceptance of web literature one person closer to reality.

    I could NOT care LESS if she’s a bestselling author of finger painted fortune cookies. She just made my dream of being a viable writer just a little more real.

    Seems to me the time spent knocking her writing is better spent gleaning what we can from her success.

  • http://secretloft.ca Derek

    Agreed as well. I like your point about the MP3 but I would take it a step further. The MP3 is without a doubt poor quality compared with CD. However, the majority of people don’t notice the difference. Audiophiles and musicians do hear a difference though. The same goes for Amanda’s writing. The Majority of her audience don’t perceive it as anything different than the best Margaret Atwood novel. It’s just entertainment to them. Writers and discerning readers see the difference and it bothers them. So yes, Good enough does indeed cause disruption, only because the majority of the audience doesn’t perceive the difference between good and great.

  • http://www.fluffy-seme.net Isa

    What drives me crazy about this issue is that people do not get that editing is an investment. If you’re writing a short story or a fanfic, it’s possible to have a friend look it over and pick out any obvious grammar and spelling mistakes. You can’t do that with a 50,000+ word novel, it’s too much. So indie writers either have to struggle through editing themselves (which is impossible, most copy mistakes aren’t about being ignorant of the rules but about just not noticing the mistakes are there) or pony up the $$$$$ to pay a professional. It’s a completely unreasonable expectation that is always passed off like the author neglected basic due diligence before putting their work out there.

  • http://www.behopkins.com B. E. Hopkins

    I love your optimism about all of the exciting new options available to authors. You are right that it all starts with disruption–and the more the traditional modes of distribution are disrupted and other channels opened, the more opportunity there is for everyone.

    Even in the traditional book market, it is up to the community of readers to decide what “quality” is and invest in what they like. Moreover, just because a book is published by a traditional publisher does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that it is any good. As a proofreader in the traditional publishing industry, I edit books all the time that are of no literary value whatsoever. (Such titles are, however, marketable.) So, again, it’s up to the community of readers to read, judge, and advocate for their favorite authors.

    However, Isa’s comment that independent authors must invest in editing is spot on. The next step for authors is to organize and form their own imprints using these new means of distribution–to build a brand that signals the authors’ standards of quality. My colleagues and I at Elemenopic Books are trying to develop a model for this–and like any open-source organization, we love the idea that other authors and freelancers might follow our model if it happens to work for them.

  • http://gavinwilliams.digitalnovelists.com G.S. Williams

    It’s funny how time changes things. When I was younger I was a big stickler for grammar and spelling, the rules stuck to my head like glue and I rarely made mistakes, so I didn’t get why other kids had problems. I’ve learned since that I have Asperger’s Syndrome and so rules and patterns stuck with me more strongly than others. Knowing that it was circumstantial made me a lot more easy-going.

    Having a literacy rate that accelerated over time so that I was reading 1000 page novels from the 1800s by the time I was ten or eleven (yayyy Autistic stims!) I learned what made “good literature” and studied English Lit as a student. Being a spouse and a parent and a friend has taught me the value of the books people look down on — whether it be Danielle Steele, Stephanie Meyer or J.K.Rowling or dimestore romance novels.

    For most people, who haven’t spent thirty years reading in depth across the history of literature, those stories are more than “good enough.” They’re in niches, genres and styles that appeal to their circumstances, and suit their needs. It’s their taste, and I can’t tell someone what their taste should be in books anymore than I can dictate what their favourite food should be.

    Some people really enjoy a Big Mac and others want Filet Mignon, and some people like both depending on what their mood is and where they are. Convenience versus planning and effort, speed versus time investment, resources versus leisure… There’s no problem with liking both.

    When I review stories, like on the Web Fiction Guide, I look at stories on a spectrum. What blows me away? And then how do other stories measure up to it along a bell-curve? There’s a sliding scale, based on grammar, spelling, pacing, detail, characters, emotions, symbolism, imagination, consistency — but if someone likes hamburger, I’m not arguing their lack of interest in steak. I’m saying why I like the flavour of what I like, and those that have similar tastes might learn from my experience. People who know they like different things might get something completely different from the same story.

    So good for Hocking, because she found her crowd, and paved a new path for writers who want to find theirs. Complaining about whether she “deserves” that audience is sour grapes, because clearly they like the flavour of what they’re getting.

  • http://inmydaydreams.com Jim Zoetewey

    The key point about this in my view is very simple.

    We’re not talking about a literary revolution when we’re talking about publishing via the internet. What we’re talking about is a revolution in distributing writing. That’s a technological and business related revolution that may have side effects in literary quality. Or, it may not.

    On the whole though, what we’re talking about is a way to move writing from point a to point b. It will be used by writers of varying quality. That’s the way this works.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    And I’m really tired of the sour grapes argument. It’s old hat – and insulting. Some of us are really self-reflecting enough to examine our own motives.

    Though I see a category mistake regarding disruption, Eli – text/distribution – I will never, but never, agree that good enough is acceptable. Art aims for perfection. Disruption happens as a by-product.

    And all taste is not born equal.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Lee: I never argued that good enough is acceptable. I argued that good enough is the level with which disruption begins.

    @Jim: Good lord, I think that’s the most succinct (and clear!) summary of all this!

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    You misunderstood my point about a category mistake. Disruption has nothing to do with good enough – or quality of any sort. Disruption is essentially a black swan, which is not only unpredictable but independent of level. It can result from a stroke of genius – think mathematics – or mediocrity – perhaps the Harry Potter world phenomen is a good example here.

  • http://firebird-fiction.com/the-dragon-wars Becka

    I think it’s a bit more complicated than ‘good enough’. There’s a tension between what is perceived as good writing by ‘experts’ and what the literate masses actually read.

    The masses don’t watch Arthouse movies, They watch Hollywood Blockbusters. They don’t listen to Opera, they like Lady Gaga. And they don’t read Literary Fiction because when they do read they read Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer or Amanda Hocking.

    It’s not that the masses don’t have access to the other things. They do but they don’t want them. They may not know much about art but they know what they like. It happens to be what the ‘experts’ think they shouldn’t. The masses don’t care about cliches, telling or using words other than said to carry dialogue. They care about if they understand the words and if the plot bubbles along nicely. The ‘tension on every page’ (or in every post for weblit) mantra should be foremost in our minds.

    Which isn’t to say good writing is superfluous. Everyone wants to do things the best they can. But it’s secondary. We worry first about what we should deal with last. It’s using the correct brushstrokes on a painting with (non-deliberately) screwed anatomy and perspective. You’d do better correcting the underpinnings first.

    Sheesh, I sound pretentious.
    Becka

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I should amend that to say: technological disruption (which is what this is) is dependent on ‘good enough’. Not a particularly new idea, e.g.: see Clay Christensen:

    In his brilliant, classic book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen demonstrates how disruptive technologies almost always arise from the margins of an industry, where they start out as insignificant, or toy, solutions. Honda’s hobbyist electric bicycles were no threat to the big four automobile companies, until electric bikes become motorcycles and motorcycles became small efficient cars. Cheap crumby dot matrix printers were no threat to big offset printing companies until dot matrix became injet printers and injects became the HP Indigo 5000 on-demand printers. In each case, the solutions were marginal, barely working, at first, and therefore ignored. I think what Clay Shirky is pointing out is that many problems, too, are marginal at first, and therefore ignored. Established industries like to focus on established problems.

    Regardless of whether technological disruption is a Black Swan, you can’t ignore the fact that almost every (I would say all, but I could be wrong) technological disruption that has happened has happened as a marginal solution to a toy problem.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    @Becka: As far as I’m concerned, good writing is not secondary. And this is not a genre issue. Take someone like Stephen King, who is undoubtedly a good writer (though not to my own taste) and an excellent observer of the American psyche and culture. He’s awfully popular, so the so-called masses can be discriminating too.

    Most everyone here has got their priorities wrong: that’s why they’re commenting so much about Amanda Hocking, on her success. Success is writing well, nothing more.

    If the webfiction community thinks first and foremost about any other form of success, I guess I don’t fit in.

    @Eli, that’s interesting but it sounds as though disruption actually occurs when marginal becomes more than good enough, i.e. when the marginal develops to the point where it becomes able to supplant an existing technology. What about all the good enough stuff that never disrupts anything? There must be other factors at work.

    I still feel we’re in the realm of a category mistake: one is the technology of delivery, the other cultural (literature). Obviously, there’s a relationship – take the printing press – but it would take a better mind than mine to determine how cultural innovation comes about. It does seem to me that someone like James Joyce was a game-changer.

  • http://firebird-fiction.com/the-dragon-wars Becka

    @Lee: I think you define good writing differently from me. I think this because Stephen King is *not* a good writer (and unlike you his work is to my taste, so I’m not saying this because I don’t like it). He is however a brilliant plotter and storyteller and your thinking he’s a good writer just shows how little people understand what it is that’s being criticised. Very few bestselling authors are technically brilliant.

    Also when I said the writing should come last I didn’t mean it was secondary. I have a distinct chronology in my head and I meant last in that sense.

    1. First you write the story.
    2. Then you go through and cut anything that doesn’t serve the plot/sub-plots.
    3. Then you go through what’s left and tune up the tension, characterisation etc.
    4. Then and only then do you worry about making the writing itself good, because if you do it earlier you’ll mess it up again when you do the other stuff.

    It might be *slightly* less important because something that gets 2 and 3 right but is mediocrely written is more likely to sell than something technically brilliant but which flumps the plot. But only slightly. I’d love to read something that was bother brilliant writing and brilliant plotting but I’ve never met such an animal yet.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    @Becka: You ought to have another look at King, studying exactly how he does what he does. I think you’ll find he’s a better craftsman than you give him credit for. Is he as good as Maryilnne Robinson, say, or David Mitchell, Alan Hollinghurst, Hilary Mantel, Charles Baxter, and Alice Munro, to name only a few of the contemporary writers I admire? Of course not. But it’s a mistake to underestimate him.

    As to your chronology, I hope you only meant it for yourself, because it’s sadly prescriptive and hardly the way a good number of excellent writers work. If nothing else, putting the writing – I suppose you mean style – last is never going to make for first-rate fiction. I agree with Martin Amis here, who says: ‘You know, style isn’t something added on; it’s intrinsic to the perceptions and the way you see life. That’s really what novels are: your take on life.’ It’s not added on!

    Try Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet for a combination of excellent plotting and sentence craft. ‘Brilliant,’ however, is a word I prefer to use sparingly.

  • http://gavinwilliams.digitalnovelists.com G.S. Williams

    There are indeed two conversations happening here and they’re both interesting.

    Jim summarized the technological discussion, that the revolution is in the distribution of writing, not in writing words themselves. And history shows that improving distribution brings more audience and more players of the game — it democratizes things.

    Eli pointed out that most changes come from the fringes — innovators are on the margin because the established status quo is usually concernted with maintainence, not shaking up their cash-cow. Here’s an example — Microsoft and IBM dominated computers and Apple had a small loyal fanbase — but look what they did to music, phones and laptops by introducing ipods, iphones and ipads. They had a more outsider view than the mainstream, because they were trying to find a way out from under a giant. There are probably better examples, but itunes is shaking up the music industry and electronic fiction can likewise shake up publishing.

    The other discussion revolves around literary merit and that’s a matter of taste and opinion — otherwise different styles wouldn’t exist. There’s a reason people go to Will Ferrell comedies, and there’s a reason people go to see the King’s Speech. Diversity is a wonderful thing because any one person is going to have different moods and needs, so isn’t it great that artists strive to make such a broad spectrum so that there’s something out there for everyone?

    Hocking has shown that people will buy ebooks. She’s done us a favour by creating a wedge into a new area, and as people follow that trend it will widen and broaden and make room for all kinds of writing. Worrying about whether she deserves an audience is unnecessary noise and opinion on established facts. She has an audience. She worked to get it. She used a new distribution model to get it. That model can help us — but that doesn’t mean we have to write like her. I’m going to write like me, I don’t know about anyone else.

    But she deserves credit for finding a way to appeal to people, and taking a risk, and showing how it can be done. Whether she would have gotten an A in my professor’s creative writing class is completely irrelevant to the fact that she proves a new distribution model can be effective.

  • JP

    You missed the point altogether.

    First off, I have no dog in this fight. And I could care less if Hocking makes $2mil or $50mil.

    The fact remains that on any objective level of “good” she just isn’t. So why are people buying her books?

    Because she’s like a rat who found a hole on a ship held hostage and the starving readers inside are feasting on what she has to offer. Saltine crackers and water taste FANTASTIC to people who are starving.

    I have a daughter who loves the Twilight series. She loved the PC Cast stuff. She’s a paranormal nut and is Hocking’s fan demographic to a T. I also have nieces of the same age. And a sister who reads this stuff as well at 40-something (the other demographic reading this stuff). I passed the first in the Trylle series along – and they handed it back bewildered and appalled. “There’s no story in this story!” is what I heard. They wouldn’t read past the first in the series.

    Now I was intrigued, so I painfully slogged my way through all three.

    Someone asked in the other post – is she a good writer? No. But there are lots of people who sell books that tell great stories who aren’t good writers. (Dan Brown, for example). I’m not talking about that sort of thing. Popular doesn’t necessarily equal literary, never has, and who cares? I’m not a book snob. I let my kids read what they like, including Goosebumps and Harry Potter. I read what I like too. Reading is awesome, enjoyable entertainment.

    But Hocking is not enjoyable entertainment. Hocking is a phenomenon created by the fight between big distribution and big publishing. Hocking is a stopgap. She and other self-pubbed authors like her are being used by Amazon to bring ebook prices down at Random House etc.

    Amazon knows people who are buying Kindles want something to play with on their new toys. They go to the Internet and look around, and what do they find? Twilight $12.99. Twilight 1-4 = $12.99 x 4. Ouch. Amanda Hocking – all three for $7?!? Well hell! It looks like Twilight, it sounds like Twilight… Let’s give this a try…

    Is she successful because she’s good? No. Is she successful because she tells a good story? No. She is successful because she is filling a gap. She’s a saltine cracker that looks like roast beef.

    Is she yummy? Starving people everywhere seem to think so. Will they think so in five years? Ten? Hard to say what may happen, who’s going to win this fight?

    And by then, perhaps Hocking will have honed her storytelling skills and with a good editor behind her, will make it. She seems like a nice girl, and I do wish her luck with that. But she is not a breakout talent who is sticking it to the man. She’s being used and deluded and it’s unfortunate because she seems like a nice girl who just wanted to be published. She got her wish, fulfilled a dream. Good for her. As I said before, self pubbed authors had better enjoy it while it lasts. It may all fall down again when roast beef is back on the menu.

  • A. P. Turner.

    Wow. Sour, much?

    First off, I have no dog in this fight. And I could care less if Hocking makes $2mil or $50mil.

    You just wrote a 552 word comment. That’s half of a college essay. No dog in this fight? Right.

    Is she successful because she’s good? No. Is she successful because she tells a good story? No. She is successful because she is filling a gap. She’s a saltine cracker that looks like roast beef.

    Aww. Sour much?

  • JP

    You counted the words? LOL

    Nope, not sour at all. Just find it amusing and a little sad that the people involved in the midst of this phenomenon can’t see the forest for the trees.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    I think JP makes some good points and you, Turner, ought to address them rather than attacking JP’s integrity.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Whoah, cool down a bit.

    @AP: I’m not sure who you are, but you’re responding to the tone, not the content of JP’s comment. Also: your IP looks suspiciously similar to mine. Are you on the NUSNET network? If so, who exactly are you?

    @JP: Your main argument is that Hocking succeeds because she’s cheap. That she ‘falls through the cracks of the distribution system.’ So here’s the problem with that argument: why (and I’m really curious to hear your answer to this) why is it that Hocking has an active, vocal fanbase, who rise to defend her, follow her on Twitter, talk to her, email her about her next book, subscribe to her blog, and does everything a loyal readership does?

    If what you’re saying is correct, then Hocking shouldn’t be getting all that loyalty and fan-love.

    She’s being used and deluded and it’s unfortunate because she seems like a nice girl who just wanted to be published. She got her wish, fulfilled a dream. Good for her. As I said before, self pubbed authors had better enjoy it while it lasts. It may all fall down again when roast beef is back on the menu.

    FWIW, Hocking seems well aware of the situation. Go to her blog, and read her latest blog post. She seems very level-headed about her fame, and rather tired-out by all the marketing she has to do to get where she is today. And I must say that I don’t – for the matter – think this is about the ‘breakout talent sticking it to the man’ (and I’m wondering where, exactly, you got that from). This is about alternative models of publishing, and how it is – finally, and oddly! – justified.

  • http://www.stardancer.org M.C.A. Hogarth

    I am astonished at these comments, some of which amount to “my taste in art is better than yours” or “the art I like is better because it’s more difficult|more thoughtful|better done.”

    Art is an individual taste. And assuming that because people like popcorn it’s because they have no brain to enjoy a gastronome’s meal is a perilous thing to do. You really don’t know if people choose a simpler read because they have simple minds. They may be the very opposite: people who are very complex, with very painfully complex lives, and who simply don’t need entertainment to “educate” them as to the sorrows and complications of life. They already know where it counts, even if they don’t have the eloquence to explain it.

    Art is an individual taste. You can say “that’s not to my taste,” but to show contempt for people who don’t share your taste is not the mark of the high mind that people with highbrow tastes would say they have.

  • http://lleelowe.com Lee

    @Hogarth, I don’t agree that art is only a matter of individual taste. You’re making an assumption here: that someone can’t appreciate the quality of work they don’t happen to like.

    Take Marcel Proust: I find his novels astonishing but don’t actually much like reading them. Or an even better example: Mozart. There is no one, but no one, who has a real understanding of music who will fault his technical brilliance. Lots of musicians, however, prefer other composers.

    But in general, I don’t even care to use the terms art and artist anymore, since they’ve come to be associated with a lifestyle rather than the work itself.

    And if you think I’m elitist, damn right I am! I don’t want to buy a sloppily built bed that will fall apart after my kids jump on it a couple of times.

  • JP

    Many of your commenters seem to believe that Hocking is the messiah of self-publishing, that she “proves” this new model of publishing is the wave of the future. I’m just not so sure, that’s all, and I wonder if they can see the bigger picture. It may play out the way they have imagined. Then again, it may not. I hope they’re prepared for the dominoes falling either way.

    In terms of Hocking loyalty and fan-love, there is a natural tendency for people to develop an affinity to what’s familiar. People continue to go to McDonalds, too – because it’s cheap and convenient and it fills a gap. They’ve got lots of fans. So does Hocking. Does it mean it’s objectively “good?”

  • Altivo Overo

    What Ms. Hogarth says above. In the end, though, this whole thing isn’t just about taste, it’s about the collapse of the traditional publishing process. The “death spiral” as others have described it, in which publishers keep pulling back and pulling back from the risk of publishing new writing, new authors, and new ideas, in favor of what has sold consistently in the past and what Borders/Barnes&Noble order in quantity.

    When it comes to electronic/digital publishing, we see very much the same battle that is being waged in the music and film industries. Consumers don’t want and don’t tolerate draconian copy protection and digital rights management. They will consistently turn to channels that do not impose those obstructions. And they will take what they can find in those channels, whether it is of “literary quality” or merely cheap pulp.

    Adult literacy is on the decline in the US, and has been for half a century according to the NEA and Census Bureau. The traditional publishing model does nothing to address this either. Some studies have shown an increase in reading among adults as a result of the appearance of convenient access through digital media. This is not something we should be fighting, but rather something we should be encouraging. And if the “quality” of the reading material needs improvement, then let’s see that “higher quality” material made available on the same terms.

    Self-published authors have to do much more work to promote themselves or they never get noticed. The difference is on an order of magnitudes, quite possibly up to 100 times more effort. Hocking has succeeded at that. Arguing about the quality of her work is pointless, as she has already succeeded. You should all be looking at the reasons for the success instead.

  • Melissa (ATX)

    JP wrote: “As I said before, self pubbed authors had better enjoy it while it lasts. It may all fall down again when roast beef is back on the menu.”

    I wish that I shared your optimism. But I don’t. I’m a freelance writer. I make a living at it. I’m told to write to a sixth-grade level, which is the mean reading level in the United States. Now, mind you, I am not given carte blanche to write like a sixth-grader. I must use correct spelling and grammatical construction. My writing has to be “good enough.” When I first started, I wrote to a twelfth-grade level. Two years ago, it was eighth. The precipitous decline in literacy is something that the publishing world should address if it wants a reading audience. Because if there are too many Big Words and Long Sentences in that sucker, people cannot read it. It’s simply not in their skill set.

    But decreased reading skills should not mean that tolerance of bad writing is apropos. I submit that any writing so laden with frank error does not meet the criteria of “good” or even “mediocre.” To my mind, Hocking’s writing was simply unreadable. Sure, I could pay 99 cents to buy the book. But I can go to fanfic.net and deviantART and read the same quality of “literature” entirely for free — without ever having to buy an e-reader.

    It is precisely this that has so many writers, both aspiring and published, up in arms. Those who meticulously craft each sentence and strive to make their work as exquisite as possible are reeling with confusion. Did they exhaust themselves trying to write *too* well? Hocking has proven that visually-compelling artwork and viral marketing takes precedence over any measure of quality.

    These are not sour grapes; this is called “frustration.”

  • http://www.stardancer.org M.C.A. Hogarth

    The only use craft serves is to help you get out of the way of your own work so it can reach your readers/viewers more effectively. If the reader enjoyed the story, everything else is fancy window-dressing. Style is for fashionistas. Exquisite writing is for English classes. Art is not a piece of furniture.

    In my experience, the only people who care about craft are other writers. If a reader notices it, then you have achieved pretension. They will not reward you for it. I don’t blame them. I don’t read to allow an author a platform to expound upon their own awesomeness by demonstrating their leet skillz. Pomposity is not entertaining.

    Authors should get better at writing because it removes the artifice from their attempt to communicate with others. But one shouldn’t be surprised that someone’s ability to tell a story is more important to readers than whether they’re spot on with their grammar all the time. That’s as it should be. Language changes. Art remains.

  • http://firebird-fiction.com/the-dragon-wars Becka

    Hmmm… all the negative comments here made me morbidly curious, so I went and peeked at the excerpt for Switched and while it’s not fantastic writing I certainly wouldn’t agree that “does not meet the criteria of “good” or even “mediocre.””

    It’s really not that bad. There probably are errors but they’re errors most people make and don’t know they make.

    Which leads me to my definition of good writing.

    Good writing is usually transparent. I say usually because there are exceptions.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @JP: You don’t call McDonald’s up and ask them for their planned menu items. You don’t follow McDonalds’ on Twitter and root for them every month.

    Many of your commenters seem to believe that Hocking is the messiah of self-publishing, that she “proves” this new model of publishing is the wave of the future. I’m just not so sure, that’s all, and I wonder if they can see the bigger picture. It may play out the way they have imagined. Then again, it may not. I hope they’re prepared for the dominoes falling either way.

    Now I’m wondering if you’re seeing the bigger picture.

    1) In the middle of this year the EPUB3 spec’s coming out. We had a first look at the spec in October last year, and it’s shaping up to be quite a powerful tool. I have no doubt that the new format would enable better, bigger ebooks to be made.

    2) We’re talking about 20% of people reading ebooks here. Just 20% and we’ve already got indie writers making a ton of money on the side. Amazon is set to make the Kindle free in the very near future. What do you think is going to happen to the ebook market? Saturation of market isn’t going to happen until aforementioned market stops expanding.

    3) Publishers have legacy systems. The only way for them to offer ebooks at such price points is to lay off most of their staff; sell of most of their systems. It’s never going to happen. Your argument that the ‘dominoes will fall either way’ is more a wish than an argument – there’s no empirical evidence to assume that the dominoes will fall either way, and you’re not offering any arguments as to how it would happen.

    4) @Melissa: why is it frustrating? Even in the traditional publishing industry the author is expected to do their own marketing. Margaret Atwood talks about how she started out making her own book covers. This is nothing new. Yes, they hate it, but there’s no reason to go out hating on those who’re successful. When writers know for a fact that you must do these things, work at these things, then there’s no excuse for complaining about it. Why begrudge someone else’s success in things that are accepted in the industry?

    Both @JP and @Melissa: let’s face it, shall we? It’s sour grapes. You can justify it away all you want, but your arguments don’t make sense. They’re not consistent.

    JP: you keep saying that this might not last, yet you offer no arguments as to how this trend (and all the evidence for it) might be stopped.

    Melissa: you say you don’t begrudge her success, and yet you express disbelief at how marketing and book covers can influence buying. Well, this is how it is in the publishing industry, and you should know that. It’s funny how Hocking has picked up on this, and spent 10 years practicing these skills, and you’re complaining that she’s worked hard at it and succeeded?

    Your claims re: ‘you don’t begrudge Hocking’s success’ and ‘you don’t have a dog in this fight’ are invalidated by your tone, your arguments, and the toxicity of your comments. Get over it. Please. The ebook industry is changing things, whether you like it or not.

  • Melissa (ATX)

    Eli, I never said that Hocking’s success had nothing to do with impressive marketing and slick graphics — on the contrary, that’s the absolute cornerstone of its success. Quality of content is irrelevant. I can tell you that if I were an avid fan of “Twilight,” I’d be buying up Hocking’s eBooks like gangbusters, expecting more of the same. I would not have been disappointed.

    You’re missing the forest for the trees. It’s not that Hocking made millions on an eBook and writers suffer from sour grapes. It’s that readers paid her millions for what is essentially rehashed shite you can find on any fan-fic website, and real writers don’t know how to channel their efforts. The lesson they’re taking from this is that poorly-written pap sells — and it sells mega. I cannot begin to imagine what the publishing world must be thinking.

    (Now … where’s that silly Y.A. “novel” I wrote in high school that every creative writing instructor brutally tore apart …?)

  • http://firebird-fiction.com/the-dragon-wars Becka

    @Melissa the thing is none of this is news.

    In the Victorian Era people clubbed together to buy penny dreadfuls. The serials were cheap and of dubious quality but they were also lurid and left people wanting more.

    Then came the pulp era and the dime novel. There’s even a master formula out there for pulp stories (google it some time). Look online and read some of these things some time. It’s the same plot over and over. It sold like crazy and not just because it was cheap.

    Mills and Boon, Harlequin etc – all the same and wildly popular.

    Anyone who looks at history will see that when it comes to entertainment most people like more of the same thing they liked before. If the publishing industry is shocked it’s because they haven’t been paying attention. Not paying attention to what your customers want is fatal.

    And bitching about the fact that your potential customers are patronising someone whose work you don’t like rather than you comes across as insulting to them rather than the other writer.

    Becka

  • Melissa (ATX)

    Becca, you wrote:

    “If the publishing industry is shocked it’s because they haven’t been paying attention. Not paying attention to what your customers want is fatal.”

    Absolutely. And let it not be forgotten that Hearst built his entire empire on yellow journalism that was titillating — but not necessarily written well or even factually correct. I will agree that the publishing industry needs a wake-up call. But, it continues to send mixed messages to would-be authors. “Be original! Be unique! Don’t write anything remotely like the latest best-seller!”

    But …. but … folks, that’s what sells!

  • http://www.stardancer.org M.C.A. Hogarth

    How fortunate then that we need not listen to the mixed messages of publishing any longer. We can write what moves us and see if the world likes it. :)

  • http://www.behopkins.com B. E. Hopkins

    There’s a great deal of bad writing being published by reputable publishers, too. Careless authors with no skill at plotting or characterization make it to the top of the best-seller lists all the time (look at Harlan Coben)… But that’s why publishers separate their titles into imprints, each of which implies what kind of content you can expect. A Roc or Tor title is going to be of poorer quality than a title published by Riverhead or Viking. Regardless of quality, readers are going to buy what they want according to their personal tastes (good or bad), but the imprints at least provide an idea of what might interest them. You know if you are buying a light beach read or an intellectual challenge.

    The problem with self-publishing is that it requires an author to stand alone in the marketplace rather than being part of a group of authors with a shared set of standards recognizable to the reading public. Success is a question of building a community of readers–that’s what it has always been about, even for large publishing houses. Online and self-published writers simply need to form their own imprints instead of working in isolation. (Amanda Hocking herself has pointed out on her blog how much work she has to do to earn her monetary success. Regardless of what one may think of the quality of her writing, one has has to respect her tenacity.)

    As for declining literacy rates… at least more people are reading: http://blog.contrarymagazine.com/2011/02/how-the-internet-saved-reading/

  • http://www.dreamfantastic.com alexander

    M.C.A. Hogarth
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    How fortunate then that we need not listen to the mixed messages of publishing any longer. We can write what moves us and see if the world likes it. :)

    Discussion over. Hogarth wins.

  • Bill

    I see the problem here. What the elitists are saying is they’re exasperated because Hocking is being paid millions for work “That any twit with cheap parlor tricks could produce.” But here’s the truth that elitists can’t (or rather..refuse to) grasp; it’s not true.

    If it truly was easy for anybody to do it, then ANYbody would. But they can’t. And why can’t they?? Because it takes craftsmanship to say something in such a way that it connects with a broad swath of people but doesn’t alienate the fanbase. It takes talent to create something so popular that it actually inspires people to spend their hard-earned money for it; especially when they can find something similar for free.

    It sounds good to say that Harry Potter is a mediocre magic story, but there are a thousand mediocre magic stories that didn’t sell enough to cover printing costs.

    It’s sounds enlightened to say that it’s easy to produce a science fiction TV show because sci-fi fans are geeks that’ll watch any old dreck you put on as long as it has cute women being chased by aliens in it; but the truth is for every Star Trek, or X-Files, or Doctor Who, there are a thousand sci-fi shows that are cancelled after three episodes.

    In fact, I posit to the elitist; it is HARDER to write popular than to write literary. See, anybody can get an MFA or spend money on some workshop and then simply regurgitate the same procedures.

    But it’s harder to look out the vast sea of humanity and try to tell a story that will reach beyond their age, race, ancestry, occupation, socio-ethnic background, and faith, and simply CONNECT with them.

    THAT, my friends, is a talent. That…is a gift. And just because you can’t do it, doesn’t give you the right to despise those who can.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Bill: that’s a lousy argument. Any time you attempt to say that it’s harder to write a best-seller as compared to a good literary novel, you’ve lost. You’d be shredded to bits (or people would just assume that you’re a reader with lousy taste). In simple terms: you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

    (In debate these arguments are avoided, if you start one you can never win).

    I realize that I’m being too harsh re: Bill’s comment. While I still believe that any comparison between the difficulty of writing literary fiction and the difficulty of writing a bestseller is a bad, bad idea, I think I owe it to Bill to treat him with fairness.

    @Bill: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to write such a harsh rejoinder. I’ve sent you an email, but it’s bouncing because your inbox is full. Please clear it out so I can resend it to you?

    At any rate, I’m closing the comments on this post. Alexander is right, I think: Hogarth had the last say. She wins.

  • Pingback: Readers Are Customers. Don’t Insult Your Potential Customers | Becka's Writing Blog

  • Pingback: Interactive Storytelling Around the Web « Jason Malikow

  • Pingback: Guest post for Michele Lee « Zoe Whitten’s Blog

  • Pingback: Guest post for Michele Lee « Zoe E. Whitten's blog

  • Pingback: PSFK » This Week in Brand Strategy & Marketing

  • Pingback: Compulsions, Behaviors, Writing, Writers, and You | P Dugan

  • Pingback: Guest post for Michele Lee » Zoe E. Whitten's blog