Friday, April 20, 2007

Bad Books vs. Bad Books

After careful observation of the phenomenon, I'm pretty sure that what's going on is that publishers have developed a canny method for distinguishing bad books that make them money from bad books that lose lots of money.

I like to think that we can tell. I mean, there is the guiding principle that we also have to like the book, which wins out far more than you think. Many, many times I've said to various bosses, "Well, it's the kind of book that isn't very good, but will probably sell a million copies" and then they've said to reject it. When agents get behind bad projects, it generally isn't intentional. But if it's bad AND it won't make money - that we can smell from a mile away.

"I've discovered the secret to the universe and it's this weird idea about body energy!"
"You can lose weight if you cut back on your calories and exercise."
"My grandfather was full of old man wisdom and I'd like to spend a book talking about it."
"This gripping epic of a Civil War-era family spans the final decades of the 19th century and ends with the First World War."
"I wrote this book with the help of G-d. No, I mean literally."
"The real gospel was hidden away by the Templars for some reason I never properly establish, but in it contains the true message of Christianity, which is that the church sucks."
"The story of my cat's battle with cancer will be an inspiration to millions!"

...Yeah. Sometimes my job isn't very hard.

12 comments:

Niteowl said...

So what are some examples of stories that aren't very good?

*ducks*

Marsupialis said...

Here was interesting article in the NY Times this Sunday about the ability or lack of their of, of marketing people to predict the next best thing (subscription required):

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/magazine/15wwlnidealab.t.html?pagewanted=all

Anyone who says, it'll sell millions is fooling themselves.

Janet said...

Thanks for the giggles. Those were funny.

Ali said...

But, wait, I recognize some of those. One or two I've even seen the movie of.

Anonymous said...

It's a blend of Thomas Pynchen, Clive Cussler, and Jerry Lewis with a dash of Art Spiegelman and a pinch of R. Crumb.
The Poseiden Adventure, but in a clown car.
My grandma is 237 years old. Her secrets.
The Terminator meets Emma.
How to self-publish your book and make a million dollars.
A young man's search for love and the meaning of life.
A young woman's search for love and the the meaning of life.

LadyBronco said...

ali stole my comment.

lol...

Heather said...

For those who want to read the NYT story, you can always visit http://www.bugmenot.com to get a password without having to register for the annoyance.

Anonymous said...

Which brings me to a question that has been troubling me:

Why, if an agent -- not an assistant, but an agent -- loves a book and "really, really enjoyed reading it" and would love to see anything else an author writes -- believe that others (enough "others" to make a decent market) would not share their enthusiasm for the novel?

Seems contradictory.

Or is it that agents/assistants are at a higher intellectual level than the average Joe/Joette to whom they are peddling their wares?

Issendai said...

The Terminator meets Emma.

I'd read it. Austen revival + sci-fi action story sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Or, more to the point, a marriage made after long and careful deliberation of the two partners' financial situations and romantic compatibility while under heavy gunfire.

Dave said...

"This gripping epic of a Civil War-era family spans the final decades of the 19th century and ends with the First World War."

This is so delightfully wrong in so many ways. It's so historically bad but at the same time so "alternative history" warped. It's like "uh, how many ways can we besmirch the memories of two wars?" type bad.

Like coffee and donuts with Nero in rome. Like forgetting the Napoleonic wars. Like medieval knights talking smack snd doing the shuck and jive with high fives.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:37, I can answer that, and I'm not even an agent or editor. Just someone whose novels were rejected with compliments for 10 years in a row (except for that one that no one liked at all).

In a nutshell, in many cases, it's because people either wouldn't want to inhabit your protagonist's world and position; because your book, while interesting, makes people feel a way they don't like; because there are too many like it (one of mine; maybe yours?) or not enough like it (the rest of mine) out there to know if there's a market.

Genre is easier to gauge. Commercial or lit fiction (yours?) is tougher, and it's easy for agents not to fall in love even when they like something, or not to believe enough others will love it.

Kidlitjunkie said...

After careful observation of the phenomenon, I'm pretty sure that what's going on is that publishers have developed a canny method for distinguishing bad books that make them money from bad books that lose lots of money.

Well, yeah. Publishing is, after all, an industry, and even when what we're trying to do is make great books, we're also trying to make money.

And if putting out a bad book that will sell like the dickens because it's on a hot topic, or it's ghostwritten by a famous person, will make us a lot of money, I'm (only a little bit) embarrased to say that we will totally go for it.