Why Sucky Books Get Published (and Good Ones Don’t)

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It happens all the time: Walk into a bookstore, visit your local “Teen Paranormal Romance” section (and don’t vomit at the mere notion that a “Teen Paranormal Romance” section exists), and pick up a book. Any book. Odds are, this book sucks. Am I right? Well, if you’re a hopeless bookworm (like myself) and you happen to also like the fantasy genre (like myself), I’m sure you’ve noticed the vast mass-suicide that is the publication of suckish young adult fantasy novels. Where’s the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the clever usage of words to help convey a sense of despair, romance, whatever? Where’s the three-dimensional characters, the metamorphosis and character development that changes the main character from a yutz to a prodigy? Where’s the complex plot that’s not solely driven by dialogue and Edward’s “chuckling darkly”?

Whoops, I’ve gone and ruined it. Yes, I’m going to take a crack at Twilight. Why? Because I believe this is the book that began the trend of publishing more sucky books. The overwhelming demand for sub-par books with simple plots, first-grade language, and unrealistic romances cropping up out of nowhere is staggering, spirit-crushing. The kind of cultural movement that makes you want to build a fort out of proper literature and hide there, refusing to let anyone enter unless they can explain to you the meaning of the word “Kafkaesque”. But the big neon sign I hold up over my head like an evangelical declaration of the end times says, “Why?” Why is this happening? Why are sort-of-tolerable books getting all the fame and fortune while well-written gems are getting harder and harder to find? Why are old people enjoying the sort-of-tolerable ones?

Well, I’ve got a theory. And it involves three things: Commercialism, the movie business, and the rapid evolution of technology. And so, without further ado, I’m going to try to explain my theory as to why sucky books get published and good ones don’t.

 

One! Commercialism, friends. Commercial fiction has been around for quite some time, but its moody and misunderstood brother, literary fiction, has always held a place of honor amid bookworms. What’s the difference, you ask? Commercial fiction is meant to appeal to the masses, using a handful of universally-accepted dogmas as the baseline for the plot, and containing heroes that are relatable on the most skin-deep level possible. If you want a good example of what commercial fiction looks like, turn your pretty heads to Disney. If you could sum up what EVERY Disney film is about, you would probably say “Dreams come true”, “Friendship is stronger than any adversary”, and “Love conquers all”. Unless you’re a sociopathic Nazi, you probably agree with these statements (to some degree, at least). And this is why it sells! If your plot is something that everyone can relate to and agree with, odds are it will sell like hotcakes (the ones from McDonald’s). There’s nothing controversial about saying love is a powerful thing (unless, as I said, you are Nazi-ish sort of fellow), so you won’t have big groups of people fighting over whether your story is “good” or “evil”. Also, commercial fiction focuses less on the actual writing and more on the story itself. No one gives a shit if the passage you’ve written is beautiful and evokes a sense of eerie mysticism, they just want to know if the flippin’ vampire has kissed her yet. But why are people so interested in the raw story as opposed to the writing itself? Well, I’m glad you asked, little Tommy. That brings us to…

 

…The movie business, baby! Companies are publishing books that can easily be turned into movies. Put down your hand, Susie, it’s not that time. How could this be happening, you ask? How could this not be happening? When The Hunger Games came out, the book did pretty well on its own. But when the movies began, all hell broke loose. The same can be said for Twilight. I’m sure publishing companies noticed this. At any rate, the kind of books that were selling were the simple, straightforward ones that could easily be translated to film. Again, go back to the Teen Paranormal Romance section (and stop crying, you’re a man now). Pick up a book. Does it involve vampires? A girl who can see ghosts? Fairies? Werewolves? Read the back cover. Is the main character a teenage girl, very plain, a bookworm, quiet, shy, not so popular? Does she eventually hook up with the hottest guy in the universe, who also happens to be a vampire/werewolf/fill in the blank? And does he love her eternally, despite her plainness, shyness, and overall boring personality? DING DING DING! You’ve unlocked the secret of the Teen Paranormal Romance section! And the secret is…Twilight did well, so let’s make more like it! Not a very astounding discovery, because competitive book-publishing like this happens all the time. For instance, nowadays the whole vampire thing is becoming old hat. It has become tainted. Now the popular thing is strong independent warrior women who don’t need no man. Which is cool and all, because women are frequently only put in movies to find a man. But the Twilight Effect has taken hold, and now we have books like Divergent popping up like daisies at every turn. The Hunger Games has generated the whole “post-apocolyptic-dystopian-society-where-kids-have-to-kill-each-other-and-shit” thing, and lately, more and more books and movies have had the same plots.

So now we’re seeing a trend. Books that are published competitively to replicate the same plot, characters, and mood of wildly popular franchises? Books coming and going and turning into movies at the speed of light? Where’s the rhyme and reason? Well, brothers and sisters of Skyrim, that question brings us to…

 

The rapid evolution of technology. Books are not being enjoyed as books anymore. No, I’m not the scary old lady saying computers are from Satan. What I’m saying is, with our fast-paced and overly stressful society, no one has time to sit down with a book at leisure and pick it apart anymore. It’s so much faster and easier to sit in a movie theater and get one big slam in the face of a two-hour movie as opposed to sitting through a 500-page book and trying to puzzle over it yourself. For many people, the story is like the chocolate at the bottom of the cone: We tolerate the cone because we want to get to the flippin’ chocolate. Vocabulary usage, literary devices like foreshadowing and symbolism, and the actual poetry of the prose means nothing to most people. This is why Twilight is written like a third-grader’s reading project. The repetitive usage of the same damn words used over and over make bookworms want to claw their eyes out, but for someone who just wants to see when Edward and Bella finally have sex, it’s not such a big problem. Story is everything. The actual aesthetic art of writing is lost on people.

 

So, why are sucky books published? A sucky book, in my opinion has these characteristics: 1) It’s written so simply that you wonder if the author in question learned how to read yesterday. 2) The plot looks ominously familiar, and then you learn that it’s the SAME DAMN PLOT AS ANOTHER BOOK RECYCLED AND GIVEN A NEW NAME. 3) It’s hard to visualize the characters and scenery because the author is writing mostly dialogue and not enough “prose”. 4) The characters embody the word “stereotype” and haven’t been thought out at all, or worse yet, they’re inspired by THE AUTHOR THEMSELVES. 5) Everything seems contrived. The characters speak in a mechanical, similar way, the visuals are mundane (“the sky was blue”, “the grass was green”), and everything is so black and white (evil people are like hideous Nazi puppy killers, good guys are effortlessly perfect).

 

In conclusion, sucky books like these are published because writing is becoming a lost art. Books are not being published as works of art anymore, but as potential movie scripts. Authors are competing with movies, TV shows, and video games for attention, so instead of perfecting their skills as writers, they’re trying to replicate a TV show or a movie in their books, creating a simple, watered-down, flat piece of commercial fiction. Publishing companies exist to sell books, and they won’t sell your book if it doesn’t fit the commercial standards people are paying money for. In this day and age, people have no time to sit down and appreciate a piece of good literature; that requires time and effort that they just don’t have. Simple, straightforward books are much more popular, especially if they have a sticker on them that says “soon to be a major motion picture”. Because of this lack of reading properly, many Americans are slowly becoming illiterate (just look at your kids’ texts). No time to sit down and read = illiteracy = movies instead of books. And so, to keep up with the new and ever-changing demand for watered-down, simplified books that hope to be movie scripts, sucky books are published. 

I don’t think everyone thinks this way. There are people in the world who like reading, and who read good books. Good books are still being published today, too. But I’m talking mostly about fantasy, sci-fi, and that godawful Teen Paranormal Romance shit that somehow still has its own section in the bookstore. As a result of everything I’ve already mentioned, books aren’t treated like pieces of art anymore–they’re treated like products to be sold in bulk. The content matters more than the artistry.

That’s like if oranges suddenly became really cool. No one cared if the photo of oranges was blurry, crooked, and had terrible lighting. They would just say “LOOK! ORANGES! MY OTP!” Let’s say you’re a photographer. You spend HOURS working on the perfect angles, lighting, colors, resolution, camera speed. But no one freaking cares about all that. They just want to see oranges. You could take gorgeous pictures of oranges, but no one cares about the lighting or the colors you used. They want oranges. After awhile, your manager realizes that oranges are selling more than the artistry put into the photos, so he decides that it would be cheaper and easier to get rid of all the nice equipment and replace it with a cheap flip-phone camera. Now, as a photographer, you’re being told to snap crappy pictures of oranges. No more art involved. Just oranges.

How infuriating is that?

 

 

 

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