You’re not helping: the world of haters and publishing fads

It looks like we’re in a relatively quiet moment in the writing world. I say “relatively” because the publishing industry is still changing dramatically and everyone knows it. Still, there hasn’t been a Twilight lately. The Hunger Games is already becoming old news. Depressing to think about it, sure, since everyone was talking about it only months ago. The 50 Shades of Grey thing seems to be dying down as well, which means that we’re in between fads.

I’m not saying the books behind these fads have stopped being relevant, by the way. Twilight will remain a profitable franchise, as will The Hunger Games, as will 50 Shades of Grey. What I’m saying is that it seems everyone’s had enough of buying them in a rush, then moaning about them, or just moaning about them without having bought them.

It’s as a writer that I’m talking right now: a writer who, like most writers, has been mesmerized by the success of this or that fiction franchise, and shared opinions, and noticed a discouraging difference between the size of my bank account and that of, say, JK Rowling’s.

We’re in between fads, and there will be new fads coming along soon enough. But before that happens, before I can be accused of just trying to go against the grain in the heat of the moment, I’d like to say this:

Stop whining about fads in the publishing world.

I’ve said this before, both to weirdly incredulous people sitting right in front of me and to angry people online (who are brilliant and omniscient because they are on the internet), and I’d like to say more eloquently now. Stop whining.

If you “bought a copy of Twilight and gave it a go, but had to put it down because it was so bad” — the only thing you accomplished was adding a few dollars to Twilight’s sales.

If you “can’t believe so many people are reading junk like 50 Shades of Grey” and you’ve “lost all faith in humanity” — take a breath and ask yourself what you actually sound like when you say this stuff.

The point is, if you lament the decline of literary standards, or you wish new, interesting authors were given more of a chance, you are not alone. But you’re not helping by pitting yourself against the masses of idiots who bought 50 Shades of Grey instead of your favorite indie author’s book.

Book fads are the likeliest to involve a reading public you’d never ordinarily call a reading public. If you know people who have only read 10 books and 7 of those books feature Harry Potter, it’s worth wondering what kind of public you’re really missing out on. These are not necessarily voracious readers. From a glass-is-half-full perspective, they collectively injected a lot of money into the book world, at the cost of encouraging publishers to focus even more on trends.

And if you want to be a pessimist, if you want to insist that not only is the glass half empty, it’s almost totally empty, then allow me to take this to an even more extreme height: For every minute you spend worrying about the 50 Shades herd you despise, the hive mentality that magically turns your fight for good literature into something godly and historically necessary, you are wasting a chance to change things for the better.

Perhaps it seems like a lot of work, but let me suggest it anyway: Google something inanely phrased that expresses your feelings about a franchise you hate. I just tried it with “twilight sucks” and got predictable results:

Twilight Sucks Forums

Why Twilight Sucks

100 Reasons Why Twilight Sucks

There’s a whole bunch of Yahoo! Answers posts about this, as well, which feature opening words of the most humbling and depressing variety:

Hello i am composing a list of reasons why twilight sucks. i have already thought of several reasons of my own just wondering other peoples thoughts

You can mock Twilight all you want. I’d rather mock the Pokemon mentality that goes into this kind of debate: Gotta catch all the bad metaphors in Twilight! Gotta list all the reasons my refined reader tastes are offended! Gotta list all the basic rules of good writing I have internalized over my years of publicly talking about my own writing! Gotta mark my territory!

Because that element seems to me worth emphasizing. My scientific research is conclusive: 87.5% of the internet hates every franchise you hate. You are not alone. Everyone agrees with you. Everyone who has ever learned about effective metaphors, either in a high school English class or a college lit class or Wikipedia, agrees with you. That battle has already been won. There is nobody in the world, except maybe people who actually like Twilight, who considers those books well-written.

If you want to wage a war, how about creating a website about an author you consider neglected? No, I mean it. Your favorite indie author has not received the recognition you think she deserves, so why not play a part that doesn’t turn you into another insect voice in the chorus of franchise bashing? You could create a Facebook page called “(Author’s name) deserves more readers” instead of “The Twilight Series Sucks & Stephanie Meyer is a Terrible Writer” — the latter, by the way, beautifully exemplifies the impotent snobbishness of those who gather online to spend some time not actually getting any writing done. Let me quote from their introduction:

These are the types of people this group caters to:

1) People who, upon reading Twilight, immediately vomited and burned their copy of the book as is appropriate for bad literature.

2) People who liked Twilight initially but as the story dragged on recognized Stephenie Meyer’s mindless drivel for what it really is.

3) People who wanted Bella dead from two paragraphs into the first chapter.

4) People who realize that the style in which Twilight is written is, in fact, just properly punctuated fanfiction.

Those are the first 4 of 70 so far, most of which are “suggested by group members.” The hater’s tendency to self-flattery is the marketer’s secret tool. Twilight bashing and Twilight loving are both responsible for Twilight having been a success. Financially helpful hype is generated by hatred, not just fandom. This is not complicated, it’s not a divine revelation, and saying it won’t change the human desire for bonding through mutual interests. But it’s still, as far as I can see, true.

Go write something.

One Comment

  1. YUP and YUP.

    You did a great job addressing the quality of the writing in these books. Who reads this sort of thing for sentence structure anyway? Most of the people I have heard bash these books are writers. I would argue that they have lost touch with what it is like to read for story and forget that there are readers out there who could give a shit. Writers do themselves a severe disservice by dismissing popular books outright. It is impossible to deny that something happened to the people who read Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Not life altering, not paradigm shifting, but important enough to talk to their friends about–again and again. I believe it is worth a few minutes to consider what that was.

    With that said I had alot of fun posting some of the more hysterical lines from FSOG while I was reading it. I’ve saved at least one busy reader from having to go through the whole book by loaning her my underlined copy. You’d think we were trading textbooks!

    What follows comes from someone who thinks erotic writing is capable of a whole lot more than what the general public may expect if all they are aware of are books like FSOG. This is sad. Erotic writing is not all BDSM or repetitive jack material. It has been important to me since before FSOG came out to educate where I can, because you are right, nobody will know about wonderful authors like Marco Vassi, Priscilla Long (for writing books), David Guy, David Steinberg or Jack Remick unless someone tells them and CONTINUES TO REMIND THEM.

    My website includes book recommendations, book reviews, write ups and links to some excellent authors and their work.

    What Twilight and FSOG accomplished–I can say this because I did read both Twilight and FSOG, unlike almost every single person I know who talks about these books–is to remind me (the writer attempting to hold the attention of my reader and while I have it say something that matters!) about the importance of fantasy. Some women–especially those who feel invisible and underappreciated by everyone from their employer to their husband and kids–really really really like to imagine they are the center of at least one guy’s universe. And it is vitally important that the guy is capable of paying attention down to the smallest detail.

    I’ve seen discussions of these sorts of books that either make fun and condescend or angst and worry. The condescending ones make fun of what they consider to be silly fantasies, the angsty ones express concern because they don’t understand a woman who is as mindless as either Bella or Anastasia (who by the way should not be allowed to consent to what happens to her because there are some things that women should just not be allowed to consent to…). They worry that young girls will get ahold of this stuff and try to emulate it. That they even worry about this shows how much faith they have in a woman’s mind and abilities to make her own choices.

    I read one article in GQ where a male writer was ridiculing women who read FSOG because one lady he interviewed was not able to articulate why she liked the book in the first place. Is it really so hard to imagine a woman who becomes wrapped up in FSOG for the sheer pleasure of being lost in a book without having to analyze structure, plot, dialogue and word choice? How is this different from a guy who imagines that the girls at the strip club are actually interested in him, or who believe that the women in the porn movies come after five position switches and two flicks of the tongue?

    How about the higher minded ones who escape into a video game or adventure novel? These often feature studmuffins who take their pick of desirable women and go on missions that put them in the position to save the world and revel in the adoration of the people they have just rescued. For people who feel they are wasting their lives at pointless desk jobs, in these stories they get to imagine that their lives serve a higher purpose than what they experience in their day to day lives.

    The reading public–of which I am a proud member–pick up books for a variety of reasons. When I am drowning grief, the last thing I am going to reach for is Infinite Jest, though I will find the humor in it when I settle in. Writers often forget this, believing that readers have some surplus of time with which to contemplate the meaning of life or solve the world’s problems, forgetting that sometimes we just want to have fun. Everyone has their own definition of what that is.

    The very best writers give me both.

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