Reading will help your writing

Something’s come up several times during the last twenty four hours that has me shaking my head — again. It’s not something new. I’ve written about it before and I think Sarah has. That doesn’t make it any less of a head scratcher when I see it, especially when I see it taken to the lengths it has been of late.

A little background. Five years or so ago, someone posted in a forum I was active in that he never read in the genre he wrote in. The reasoning was simple. His ideas were so unique and so wonderful that he didn’t want them contaminated by reading someone else’s work and possibly having outside influences sneak into his wonderful plot and prose.

Even though I hadn’t published anything at the time, that seemed wrong. I’d read all the columns and how-to books that said there were no unique plots any longer. What was unique was how you dealt with them. I wasn’t sure I bought the “no new plots” thing but I did understand the other. After all, how many variations are there out there on the boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy wins over girl plot?

But even then, I knew there was a problem with not reading in the genre you want to write. After all, if you aren’t reading the genre, how do you know what readers want? Mind you, five years ago, you didn’t have to worry about what was coming out on the indie side of things. All you had were the major publishers to really worry about, at least if you were writing in the main genres and not for a niche audience. I mean, how could you consider writing space opera and not read Weber or military science fiction and not read Drake or Ringo? How could you consider writing science fiction in general and not read Heinlein or Asimov or Pournelle or so many others?

So I filed away the comments by this wannabe author and went about my merry way of doing my best to hone my craft and continue reading not only in the genres I wanted to write in but that I enjoyed reading.

Then I came across a comment in a forum — a different forum — yesterday from an author saying that they wouldn’t even read a review of a book because they didn’t want it to splash onto their current work in progress. I’m not saying the author making the comment is wrong. There could be any number of reasons why they might not want to read the review. The one I can imagine — and even identify with — is that if their current WIP is the same basic plot as the reviewed title and the reviewer is head over heels in love with the reviewed book, a bit of “how can I do it any better” could move in and stop the creative flow. Still, the comment reminded me of the “I don’t read” comment of some years ago and had me wondering just how many writers out there really feel this way.

This morning, the question was raised again when yet another author brought it up on their Facebook wall. This time, however, the author posing the comment answered it with pretty much a “WTF?!?” He happened to agree with me that you have to read a genre you want to write in to know the cues your readers look for. You have to watch the lists of what’s selling — not the Best Seller lists from the NY Times or USA Today, but the hourly best sellers from Amazon, et al — to know what readers want. Reading the genre is doing your homework just as much as doing research into locations or science and technology is.

But it is also a way of seeing if your idea truly is new, or at least has a new twist, or something the last dozen so-called best sellers have done. If your brilliant idea is about a young woman standing in for her younger sister or brother in a lottery, guess what. It’s not new. Nor did it begin with The Hunger Games. But there were twists in that series of books that made it different, even if the basic premise wasn’t anything new.

There is another reason to read, whether it is in a genre you write in or not. Only by reading can you learn how the better writers — note I don’t say the best selling writers because not all of them are actually good writers — handle plot arcs, character development, and pacing. Besides, reading is fun.

When I think about the books I’d never have read if I worried about spoiling my own writing by reading science fiction or urban fantasy or mysteries, well, it makes my head spin. I’d never have read anything by Dave Freer or Sarah A. Hoyt, David Weber or John Ringo, Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, or any number of other authors I enjoy and respect. My life would have been a lot less fun as a result.

So I read. I read in the genres I write as well as others. I read fiction and non-fiction. I try to figure out what makes a book work and what doesn’t — and I work to apply what I learn to my own fiction. Most of all, I do my best to make sure that my stories, while they might have minor things in common with someone else’s work have more than enough differences to make them unique, to make them mine. After all, isn’t that what we should be trying anyway?

What do you think? Do you read the genre you’re writing in? Do you read it as you’re writing or do you read some other genre while working?

79 comments

  1. I think it depends on how close the work is to what you are writing. I wouldn’t read Butcher or Randal Garret if I were writing a book about a magician who is also a detective,not while I was actively writing it. Before and give it a little while? YES! After? Certainly, i would not want to deny myself the pleasure. Now, woul I quit reading anything with mages or elves in it? No. No would I give up Spillane or John D. Macdonald.

    1. Sanford, I agree. I don’t tend to read Weber when writing the science fiction nor do I read Butcher when writing the Nocturnal Serenade series. But I do go back and read them before and after. What gets me are the authors who claim to never read the genre they are writing in.

  2. Ooh that’s a hard one. Recently I’ve been writing semi alt-hist and I’ve been reading the history and technology of that time period and region, more or less. With a few sci-fi nibbles a a brain break [Brad Torgersen, you made me cry yesterday. Shame on you!]. In part it is to see how the “real” plot differs from what I’m thinking of, and in part to get the scene details right. Otherwise I tend to read sci-fi, mostly space opera and some mil-sci-fi, interspersed with history.

    One thing I’m especially curious about are science fiction economies. How does someone else’s interstellar trading empire work? Can you have a space-faring culture that depends entirely on one planet’s economy? If so, how? What’s the pan-galactic bubble in 2814? (Real estate again? Yougottabekiddingme.)

    1. Sounds familiar. The fun of doing alt-hist is you can read almost anything and learn from it and apply what you’ve learned to your wip. History and tech of the time mixed with science fiction/fantasy. Mythology mixed with economics. Which, of course, brings up one of my pet peeves with so much fantasy — there isn’t any thought given to the economics of the world. Why? Oops, I’ve just gone off onto a tangent for another blog post. Guess that means I need more coffee 😉

        1. Only the ones that work. Keynesianism (spit) isn’t voodoo. And look where it got us.
          More grass skirted priests, I say. More dolls with pins. MORE!

      1. I’m chopping off the last quarter of a novel I wrote because, after the guy saves the girl, I spend another 20,000 words explaining how the country is set up, what the laws are, why they’re that way…*sigh* It’s a very well run kingdom, for the record, but all that information is completely unnecessary because the story ended pages earlier.

        1. If you do much writing in that world, you find that casual references to your government and laws just drop in, in the right places without you thinking about it. Because *you* know all that, even though you didn’t explicitly tell the readers.

        1. Outbound is very, very good. But Footprints is the one that choked me up.

  3. Since it appears to be my comment that set you to thinking today, let me respond.

    “The Martian” is, by all accounts, an excellent book about an astronaut stranded on Mars, and his efforts to survive far beyond the limits of his survival gear until he can be rescued. It’s a story I desperately want to read and enjoy.

    My current chapter (which has already become a novella and is sneaking up on novella) is the story of a small team of astronauts stranded on Mars, and their efforts to survive far beyond the limits of their survival gear until they’re rescued. It has been in the planning stage for nearly two years, and in the writing stage since February.

    I don’t mind if my story shows its influences. Weintraub’s Martian Odyssey, Heinlein’s Red Planet, Pournelle’s Birth of Fire, Robinson’s Red Mars, and Bova’s Mars books are all in the mix in my head.

    But this particular book is too similar in description and too recent. I want to be sure that my story is my story, not Weir’s. I can see only two ways to do that: read Weir and make a conscious effort to avoid repeating the same beats, even if that twists my story out of its necessary shape (as a chapter in a larger novel, there are things this story must do to advance that novel); or pretend Weir’s book does not exist, write my story exactly the way I would have written it, and THEN read Weir to see how much great minds think alike.

    The stories have to have some similarities: Mars is Mars, the same challenges and the same resources. Inevitably people will compare my story to “The Martian”. Critics will accuse me of ripping it off. I can’t stop that, but I want to be able to say that he wrote his story and I wrote mine, and any similarities are coincidental.

    1. That’s very understandable, as Amanda said. Now think how bad your book would be if you hadn’t ever read any other Martian stories. Or if you’d eschewed SF altogether!

    2. Which is completely understandable — and I hope I made that clear. Sorry if I didn’t. My issue is with those who refuse to read in their genre at all. By doing so, they fail to learn the cues readers come to expect and they don’t know what readers want.

      Your comment did make me think because it was a side of the issue I hadn’t considered before. I don’t tend to read books too similar to what I’m writing as I’m writing and for much the same reasons as you noted. But I’d never thought about expanding that prohibition to reviews. You’ve given me something to think about and for that I thank you.

  4. I’ve always been an entertainment reader. Therefore the analogy process of learning had to be subliminal. I thought “Friday’ was an interesting story with a too short ending. Never occurred to me that the theme was that the main character didn’t think she was human. So I missed Heinlein’s point but, not the enjoyment of a good story or the lesson to not end a book in two paragraphs. Not that the reading didn’t encourage new thinking. WEB Griffin’s description of how Ivan created his State within a State (KGB under another name) has stuck with me and colored how I read Russian News today. What this ramble means is that reading is what defines my outlook on everything and makes my writing unique to me. If I don’t read in the genre I write in, I miss personal growth more than anything.

  5. Both writing and the internet have carved huge chunks out of my reading time. I’m beginning to think I need to schedule it. Which really weirds me out. When have I ever _not_ read?

    1. Pam, I go through periods when I suddenly realize I haven’t read anything. Then there are times when I can’t keep enough to read on hand. What I’ve started doing is giving myself a few minutes every morning to read and then I read when I break for lunch and before I go to bed. It has helped a great deal and my TBR stack is slowly going down.

    2. I have to read between chores/projects/classes. I feel like I’m back flying, with a book in my flight bag/headset case for lay-overs.

  6. My flip response is that I have limited free time, and if I’m reading, I’m not writing.

    But there’s an actual point worth addressing.
    I like the fantasy genre. But I don’t like what’s happened to it over the past couple decades. There is a wide swath of genre that I do not find enjoyable or interesting. I’m more than happy to ignore this, and hope it goes away. (And if I ever become good enough to help make that happen, so much the better.)

    1. Luke, I know. There is a lot of fantasy I ignore these days but even more that I do enjoy. So that is what I read. And yes, if I’m reading, I’m not writing. But I am doing homework, so to speak, by seeing what other authors are doing, learning things to improve in my own craft — or to avoid — and seeing what the current trends are and if I want to try to “go with the flow”.

  7. A few years ago when I realized the WIP had a romantic sub-plot I went looking for romance books because it had been a long time since I’d read and re-read Georgette Heyer. I found a writer who resembled her enough (except much more, ah, vivid on one front) that I read most of her later work. I call that the Lost Summer of No Writing.

  8. “note I don’t say the best selling writers because not all of them are actually good writers”

    Ummm…

    Yes they are. Pretty much by definition.

    To your question, though. I should think it goes without saying that writers should read as well. It’s that whole professional development thing, not to mention…duh…it’s fun! 🙂 For myself, I don’t adjust my reading patterns when I write at all. I guess I never thought about the potential of something I’m reading “corrupting” what I’m writing. Considering everything in literature is derivative anyway, methinks that concern is overblown.

    1. Actually a lot of bestsellers get there for no reason involving the contents of the book.

      1. Sometimes, There certainly are, and have been, designs to manufacture best sellers for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes those designs are successful. But the marketplace selects for its own reasons and it is the sole judge that matters, since we have no other concrete means of evaluating commercial fiction: above a certain baseline of competence (spelling, grammar, the ability to form a coherent sentence), all else is subject to the opinion and taste of the individual doing the evaluation. So to say bestsellers are bad writers is actually meaningless, and smells of sour grapes.

    2. I’m going to have to disagree with you about best selling writers being good writers by definition, especially if we are talking traditionally published best sellers. For the purposes of this, I’m talking those who are termed best sellers based on their placement on lists such as the NY Times best sellers list or USA Today. Those are made lists, composed of the number of books pre-ordered and based on books and authors publishers are pushing. Those lists are nothing more than what the publishers want us to read and have little to do with how well the author can actually write.

    3. Yes they are. Pretty much by definition.

      No, they aren’t, unless you’re using a circular definition of “if it sells well, it’s well written.”

      1. Actually I wouldn’t totally disagree with that definition, but lists like the NY Times bestseller list are only tangentially related (at best) to actually selling numbers.

        1. Ah, but a well-crafted thing that nobody sees in papers and is never suggested will sell less than a poorly crafted thing that gets lots of push; Mercedies Lackey has had several books with stuff that is flatly *bad editing* in that characters either do things twice, in different ways, or major details change in the course of one book. I can assure you those out-sell books that do manage to be properly edited and internally coherent, thus… “good selling” doesn’t require good writing. (There’s a third vector of having a good story, too.)

        1. “It sells” is not a non-subjective standard– even “it sells well” isn’t.

          Also, I did give a non-subjective standard– not having major editing flaws.
          Decent grammar would be another.
          A reasonable level of spelling coherency would be a third.
          Related is “the story is coherent.” (I’ve been told that pr0n is notorious for not having coherent storylines, yet it still sells.)

              1. Ok, well for the sake of argument let’s concede that (although when it comes to bestsellers, those that do not comply with spelling and grammar rules – but let’s not forget that some parts of grammar can be tossed out in the interests of story flow; happens all the time – have to be such small minority as to be the exception that proves the rule). This would then mean that these rules are not objective after all. Thus proving my thesis that sales volume is the only objective metric to measure.

                😛

                Sophistry is fun, ain’t it?

                😉

                But seriously though, most of the complaints I hear about bestsellers and the “suckiness of their writing” seems to be a matter of taste more than anything else. And in some cases, as I said somewhere above, cases of sour grapes on the part of the naysayers.

                It’s funny, because I never heard such complaints from Joe and Jane Schmuckitelli out there in the non-literary world, in the days before I joined the community of writers. Only writers and editors (mostly writers) seem to have this need to tear down the bestsellers…why? To make themselves feel better? To what end?

                It’s baffling.

                1. …none of which does anything to support your argument that “sells well” means “well written,” or even your claim that such a view is an objective measure of good writing.

                  1. That’s not to say that books that don’t sell well aren’t good as well, mind you. But clearly we are at an impasse on this particular subject.

                    Oh well, the repartee was fun at least.

                    🙂

                    1. We’re not at an impasse– you made a claim with a couple of supporting claims, and want hand-waving to make them work, even when you admit that even your circular definition doesn’t work.

                      Changing the subject isn’t repartee, it’s a distraction.

                    2. Indeed?

                      I’m not hand-waving. I was trying to address your points, but clearly I didn’t do a good job, or at least didn’t do it to your satisfaction. So I was going to say screw it, I have other things to do. I was also trying to be cordial and keep it at least a little bit fun, for my own part at least. But if you’re going to be snooty about it…

                      How about this. We’re talking about commercial fiction – for sale to the public. The assertion was that bestsellers are not good writers. Some of them, anyway. But the fact that they are bestsellers means, by definition, that the marketplace – the people who do the buying – like these works enough that they sell a lot more than the others up for sale (over the timespan assessed by the lists, anyway). This dictates, again by definition, that the products are at the very least good, if not great. And if the works are at the very least good, then the people who produced said books have the skills to make said good works. Therefore, they are good writers.

                      Because it is the preference of the marketplace that matters, not the pretensions of other writers.

                      Emphasis on pretensions.

                      With that, I will leave you to your devices. Good day; I’m done.

                    3. Ok I lied. One more thing..

                      We’re not talking about some esoteric artsy-fartsy douchebaggery that has no contact with the real world here. We’re talking about the sale of products to people. To claim that bestsellers are not good writers is the equivalent of saying that Toyota is not a good car manufacturer. Given that Toyota is one of the biggest sellers of cars in the world, that statement would nonsensical on its face. Because you cannot get to the market share that Toyota, or Honda, or VW, or Ford has without doing something better than the other guy.

                      It’s the exact same thing with books. They’re a product up for sale to the public, just like anything else. Those who produce a better product (defined as a product that better meets the desires of the marketplace – the buying public), better marketed, will do better (absent government interference of course).

                      If that makes some writers insecure and want to tear their more successful peers down, that is unfortunate. But it does not change the reality of the world.

                      Ok. Now I’m done.

                    4. Ok I lied.

                      You say that like you’ve done a single thing to suggest that we should expect something different.

                      You make a claim that a statement in a post is wrong and then throw a fit because you saying so doesn’t change things so you’re right– and people just won’t change to agree with your poorly thought out initial claim, no matter how much you try to change the subject.

                      And then, so predictably that you may as well be following a checklist, you throw a fit about how unpleasant it is for someone to expect your claims that someone’s wrong to be supported, flounce off, and come back.

                    5. I stayed away for a couple days so as to not reply heatedly to you. Every now and then I get to thinking I really ought to quit commenting on blogs and internet forums, and this instance is an example of why.

                      I truly did not set out to be antagonistic here, but clearly that’s how I came across to you. Hell, I thought I was trying to keep it light-hearted (hence the sophistry comment – trying to poke fun at myself; guess that fell flat). It’s really hard to convey tone and intent when people aren’t face to face, and clearly you and I suffered from that here.

                      *sigh*

                      So anyway, please accept my apology for any offense; none was meant.

                    6. This is in response to all on this thread. First off, Michael, you have to define what you mean by best seller. Without doing so, you are shifting the goal posts to meet your desired need. For my purposes, I’m talking about what most folks view as a “best seller”, a novel that hits the “lists” on the New York Times, etc. And, in doing so, I reiterate my comment above that being this sort of best seller has very little to do with how good a writer is but has everything to do with how much push the publisher is putting into the title. Those lists are created through the number of pre-orders placed for the books and how much hype the publishers create to stir interest in the book. Again, because the book hasn’t been seen by the reading public, there is nothing about quality that goes into the ranking.

                      As for your generalization that the only ones you see who critique the quality of a book as being writers or wanna-be writers, I have to differ. Most of my friends who are not writers but who are avid readers have noted the decline in quality of traditionally published books over the years. I’m not just talking the physical quality of the books but editorial quality as well as writing quality. They look at how publishers try to cash in on the latest fad and screw both their authors and their readers in the process (do we all remember the publisher who pulled an entire line to put new covers on everything so they all looked like 50 Shades? Or how about all the Twilight rip offs or Da Vinci Code clones?)

                      If I have to look at a “best seller” list to find what readers want, I look at what is selling on Amazon, especially in e-books. Why? Because those lists are less influenced by push money and ads than any of the other lists. I don’t particularly care about how many reviews a title has (although I will look when a book is free). But I do look at the sample. Just as I will look at the first few pages of a print book in a bookstore.

                      But to blanket say that a best seller (in the traditional sense) means quality is to ignore what is actually happening in the process.

                    7. I won’t contest most of what you said. But how do you define quality?

                      I would posit that the notion of what constitutes quality varies widely from person to person, and in the end come down to “I like it” or “I don’t”. I’ve read many books that would theoretically be considered “low quality” but that I loved because they were so damn fun. On the flip side, I’ve read books that “everyone” agreed were of the highest caliber and hated them.

                      So again, how do you measure what’s good or not? You can’t. And if you can’t, the assertion that best sellers aren’t good is silly. Might as well say that blue is bad. Based on what standard?

                      I’ll say it again – if lots of people like a thing enough to spend money on it, it is good. It cannot NOT be good, because people like it.

                    8. Forgive me, but this “response to all on this thread” certainly seems targeted at one specific participant, and ignores the misbehavior of others.

                    9. Martin,

                      I addressed the thread comments I meant to. Sorry if I wasn’t specific enough for you. I’ll admit my word choice might not have been specific enough. However, I don’t see any misbehavior by anyone, only challenges to support a position from one poster to another. Shrug.

                  2. Michael, do you enjoy moving the goal posts all the time? You’ve been asked specific questions and have failed to answer them. In return, you answer questions that would make a philosophy prof proud because they can’t be answered to meet your satisfaction. However, my definition of quality is a book with a plot that makes sense, a world that has rules that the author doesn’t break without reason and explanation that fits the rules, characters that aren’t all one dimensional and the writing craft doesn’t look like something that came out of a remedial English class. But that’s just me.

                    1. I challenge Michael to read Fifty Shades and say it’s a “quality book.” Yes, it sold okay indie, and then was pushed to mega bestseller. BUT QUALITY? What QUALITY?
                      As for “it’s only writers who complain” Oh, effing bullshit. I got upset WAY before I was trying to write, because I couldn’t find anything to read.
                      See, in the PUSH model of book marketing which came in after the mergers in the eighties, what the readers wanted counted for nothing. It wasn’t even bookstore personnel making the decision. Oh, no. It was a “regional director” who didn’t read the books (this is a given) and went on how much “confidence” the publisher had in the book. The publisher, btw, often also hadn’t read the book beyond a pitch paragraph. (If you think I”m joking, talk to other professional writers.)
                      So, is it just “writers and wannabes” upset at this? Hell no. Why not? What proof do I have, if “mere readers” don’t talk about it?
                      Because mere readers walk away. In the seventies a 70k laydown was a printrun that would kill your career. Too low. Nowadays it puts you on all the bestseller lists and makes you a legend of publishing.
                      And that’s proof that they’re not “well written” to “Sell well.”

                    2. I’m looking for specific questions Michael was asked but failed to answer. I don’t see any.

                      In fact, I’m looking for any specific questions Michael was asked at all. I still don’t see any.

                      I’m looking for the goal posts Michael has shifted. Still not seeing any.

                      I see two definitions of quality being discussed here. One is “We all know that’s bad.” Let’s call this the Hugo Protester Standard.

                      The other is “People liked it enough to pay me for it.” Let’s call this the Correia Standard.

                      I’m a little surprised to find that the Hugo Protester Standard is preferred over the Correia Standard in these parts.

                      But let’s go back to Michael’s point, which was OBJECTIVE standards. To be objective, a standard has to be measurable, and different observers must reach substantially the same measurements if they follow substantially the same processes.

                      Sales figures (assuming honest reporting) are an objective measure. You might say they’re not an objective standard of quality (though Larry Correia would laugh, since that’s exactly the argument the Hugo Protesters make). But then what is? What is your objective, measurable standard of quality?

                      As soon as your measure includes the words “acceptable”, “expected”, “minimum”, “professional”, or anything like that — any place where judgment substitutes for a number — you’re no longer objective, you’re subjective. You’re telling us what YOU judge, not what any given observer would judge. Even the definition of “error” is subjective, since we all know examples of “erroneous” prose that works well despite the “error”.

                      So there are two ways we could turn these subjective measures into objective measures. We could have some central committee decide what constitutes an unacceptable error vs. an acceptable error, and how many unacceptable errors make an unacceptable work. We’ll call this committee the Gatekeepers. And we’ll trust that they’ll never, ever, EVER judge by anything like a person’s politics of race or sexual identity.

                      Or we can have a “committee” consisting of the book buying public at large. While this committee — let’s call it, oh, say, a Market — might make decisions that we disagree with — meaning they prefer something that we don’t prefer — at least we have a way to objectively measure their judgment. By how they freely spend their money,

                      But no, that would be shifting goalposts, somehow…

                    3. You might want to read over it again. You’ve made his stance a lot more rational, and ignored several points on Kate’s side.

                      Shortest form: you’re applying “quality” over-broadly, when the actual topic was specifically about good writing, not “good enough” writing.

                      My T-shirts are good enough; that doesn’t mean that they’re well made, it just means that they’re not so poorly made that it overwhelms everything else.

                    4. So what’s your objective, i.e., repeatably measurable standard for good writing?

                      One simple question. I’m waiting for an answer that’s any better than Michael’s — or any answer at all, or even an admission that good writing is a subjective measurement.

                      But instead I expect to get more condescension like “You might want to read over it again.”

                    5. But instead I expect to get more condescension like “You might want to read over it again.”

                      Seeing as how you managed to entirely miss entire portions of the argument, misrepresented other parts and are now making the ridiculous claim that number sold is an objective measure of quality, of course I suggested you read it again.

                      Since you can’t be bothered to follow what was already said, I’m not going to waste my time trying to add to it.

                    6. Ah, yes. #2 on Larry Correia’s Internet Arguing Checklist: DISQUALIFY THAT OPINION.

                      So what’s your objective, i.e., repeatably measurable standard for good writing?

                      One simple question. I’m waiting for an answer that’s any better than Michael’s — or any answer at all, or even an admission that good writing is a subjective measurement.

                      But if you had an answer, you would have given it already.

                    7. Suggestion:
                      read the #$#@ post. Or at least finish the freaking paragraph that’s being responded to.

                      If you hadn’t already committed #1, you wouldn’t be trying to commit #2 using the IAC.

                    8. So what’s your objective, i.e., repeatably measurable standard for good writing?

                      One simple question. I’m waiting for an answer that’s any better than Michael’s — or any answer at all, or even an admission that good writing is a subjective measurement.

                      Since you still haven’t given one, you have none.

                    9. What on earth makes you think you’re in a position to demand anything, when you cannot manage to meet the basic standard of paying attention to what the blog post said, let alone what I have already said?

                      Additionally, the notion that not doing what you want means I cannot is fallacious, and is only one of several bad assumptions you’re stuffing in.

                    10. Your continuing insistence that I haven’t read and comprehended an article and commentary that I have read and comprehended is a really great example of DISQUALIFY THAT OPINION.

                      So what’s your objective, i.e., repeatably measurable standard for good writing?

                      One simple question. I’m waiting for an answer that’s any better than Michael’s — or any answer at all, or even an admission that good writing is a subjective measurement.

                      You’re spending a lot of time and effort denying the validity of such a simple question. Because you can’t answer it. I think everyone can see that now.

                    11. Martin, I’m not seeing anyone here who prefers, as you call it, the Hugo protester standard. In fact, if you go back and look at what I’ve said, what Sarah said and others, you will see that we are simply saying that being a NYT — or similar — best seller doesn’t automatically mean you are a good writer. We pointed out the push and the impact preorders (most of which come from stores and not from readers) have on the best seller list. So, before you start throwing around Larry’s trolling countdown, be sure of what the other side is saying.

                      Now, to everyone, step back, breathe deeply and chill. Enough is enough. If you want to continue the discussion, here are the questions to answer:

                      1. what is quality when it comes to publishing?
                      2. how does that apply when looking at traditional and non-traditional best sellers list (non-traditional being the hourly updated Amazon best seller lists, etc.)
                      3. does inclusion on a best seller list mean quality or does it simply mean that the book is being bought for other reasons? (see 50 Shades of Grey and was it well written or not?)

                      And remember, this whole thing got started with the comment that inclusion on a best seller list automatically meant the book was well written.

                    12. Amanda, if we’re concerned with arguing with what people actually said, I haven’t seen anywhere where Michael or I mentioned bestseller lists. We’ve been concerned with sales, not lists. And if sales are not the most objective measure of quality, what is? Every other statement on this subject has been subjective. I’m waiting to read what that objective measure is.

                      And if we’re going to go with a non-objective measure, that means “We know better than the market.” Which is exactly what the Hugo Protesters are saying as an argument for voting down Larry’s book and Wheel of Time.

                    13. Martin, regarding your comment that you don’t see where you or Michael said anything about best selling lists, sorry, but you are playing semantics here. Note the following from Michael’s comment:

                      “note I don’t say the best selling writers because not all of them are actually good writers”

                      Ummm…

                      Yes they are. Pretty much by definition.

                      So, the way I look at it, if you are talking about “best selling authors”, you are talking about best seller lists. Oh, and if you want an objective check of how good a book is, I propose taking the number of sales — not the monies made by the publisher — less the amount of push put in by the publisher. That means take out the number of pre-orders placed by bookstores and other retailers. Pre-orders by readers can be counted. Figure out a mathematical formula to see how push translates into sales and then remove that figure from the total number of volumes sold. Oh, and while you’re at it, add in another formula for predicting what actual sales are and not what they are as reported by BookScan since everyone pretty much agrees that BookScan numbers suck eggs. Now add in an enjoyment factor on behalf of the readers. It won’t be exact but it will be closer to that “objective” data you seem to want than just going by sales figures — especially since those sales figures and lists don’t take into account most indie efforts.

                    14. Amanda,

                      What you call playing semantics, I call responding to the words Michael actually wrote, not to some inference of what he really meant. Since inferences can be wrong, I prefer to not infer any more than necessary. If that’s playing semantics, I’m proud to do so.

                      And thank you for your proposed objective standard. It is a nice (though perhaps not currently implementable) algorithmic refinement of my statement that sales honestly reported are an objective measure of quality. I’m glad we can agree on this.

                      I would also say that, boiled down to brief, simple English, it means that sells well equals objectively written well (as long as you can properly measure sales). So I’m glad that you can agree with Michael as well.

  9. Seems to me part of the practical definition of “genre” for a writer is the range of ideas, tropes, treatments, styles, etc. that CURRENT READERS identify with that genre… at least if your intent is to sell your work to those current readers. Thus reading in-genre is product research; necessary, but not to be confused with the sort of ad-hoc content research you might reasonably do while actually creating the story.

  10. Sounds to me more like somebody desperately in love with their self-image as innovators, to the detriment of their actual work. (After all, if one reads in one’s own genre, one might find that one’s “original” ideas aren’t original after all. To you or I, that would be an argument for it. To a more narcissistic sort, it would be a powerful argument against, instead.)

  11. Then I came across a comment in a forum — a different forum — yesterday from an author saying that they wouldn’t even read a review of a book because they didn’t want it to splash onto their current work in progress.

    It makes sense to me on the level of that post you had a while back, wondering if something you’d read was homage or not.

    Reviews are likely to have the most powerful part of a story mentioned.

    When you’re writing, you’re not totally in control– and if the powerful part of that story is powerful enough, it’ll get dumped into the sauce and may come out.

    If you don’t want “currently cool” stuff to be detected in your stuff– which is wise, it could signal “I am a copycat trying to do the New Cool Thing”– then avoiding reviews of the new hotness is a good idea.

  12. Side note– one of the awesome ah-ha! moments I had was when I’d finished Sarah’s Daring Find series and dove into Miss Marple stories.. and about four in I suddenly recognized how very similar the “voice” was. Totally different stories, only tangentially related topics, but… wow, it was like having a warm bathrobe right out of the dryer after you’ve gone through a sleet-filled wind storm.

  13. I was in a similarly confused state recently myself. There are two sci-fi stories I want to write. Growing up, I was not especially interested in sci-fi (and still am not particularly interested in it as a whole, but more in specific niches), so I am sadly undereducated in the classics.

    I watched a documentary series recently on Netflix (“Prophets of Science Fiction”) that made me realize a lot of the themes/tropes I wanted to explore were there in the writers whose work I was mainly exposed to in “second-hand” form (movies, cartoon parodies, comics; etc).

    My qualm was the idea that if I write the stories without reading the classics I have pegged, I should be able to approach it in a way unique to me. However, if I write the stories after having read the classics, I’d have been exposed to ideas I’d never thought of before, giving more depth to the world I’m creating because I can respond to some of the questions I had when reading the others. (Writing the stories twice just seemed out of the question to me, though I’m sure it’s a great technique for some writers.)

    In the end, I think I’ve decided that since on my mental queue, I’ve decided to tentatively schedule them in for late 2015, I can afford to take the time to read the classics and let them slow cook in the back of my mind, so they can come to me more naturally when actually writing.

    I read across the board, even in things I’m not especially interested in. (I’ve read a good amount of sci-fi for someone who doesn’t consider it in their top three genres.) The more ingredients I have to toss in the pot, the better, I’ve always thought. I think I only struggled with the decision referenced above because I really wanted to write them right away because I had plans for one of them and the other is something I’ve wanted to write for about a year now. I just rearranged the schedule a bit for logistical purposes, which made it easier to decide in favor of reading.

  14. The next time someone spouts that line of crap, strap them to a chair (The straps should be quite stout) and pop in a DVD of “Earth II”. And point out how PROUD the producers were that nobody involved in the production of the show had any connection to SF before that point.

  15. I truly did not set out to be antagonistic here, but clearly that’s how I came across to you.

    So…. you jump in to respond to someone saying:” not all of (the best sellers) are actually good writers” to say “yes, they are, by definition” and offer nothing but your assertion and their sales to support it.

    And that’s not antagonistic?
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/antagonistic
    an·tag·o·nis·tic [an-tag-uh-nis-tik] Show IPA
    adjective
    1.
    acting in opposition; opposing, especially mutually.
    2.
    hostile; unfriendly.

    Grow up, already.

    You want to oppose someone, DO IT.

    Don’t whine because folks say that you are wrong.

    It’s really hard to accept the notion that an offense “was not meant” after you fought tooth and nail in defense of that offense.

    Either you MEANT “those who sell well are good ENOUGH at writing” (to sell– a very useful, but different measure) or you were trying to claim that sales are an absolute measure of ability of writing, which is moronic on the insanely basic measure of “those who do not offer their works for sale have no sales, yet can still have skill at writing.”

    So, as long as those with writing skill have the OPTION of not selling their work, they can be good authors with no sales.

    So, sales are not a good measure of skill.

    1. Seriously?

      I’m not whining, I’m trying to extend an olive branch. But apparently you’re too petty to acknowledge it.

      I meant what I said: if a person writes something that a lot of people buy, that person is a good writer. It cannot be otherwise, because said writer produced something that a lot of people like or otherwise find value in.

      It does NOT follow that someone who does not sell to lots of people is a bad writer, which is the leap you seem to have made but that I never stated. The set of all good writers includes the high-selling and the low-(or no-)selling. I simply believe that the set of all bad writers cannot include best-sellers, for the reason stated above.

      And I seriously cannot understand how such a simple thought (near axiomatic, if you ask me) can inspire such vitriol.

      Good day.

        1. Just got the email, sorry. Obviously I don’t much care for someone preening about how they’ve offered an olive branch when they just had to get another shot in on a dead and cold topic.

          1. No sweat. I totally agree with you. But it has become clear that he isn’t going to come off his stance. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

      1. I’m not whining, I’m trying to extend an olive branch. But apparently you’re too petty to acknowledge it.

        Apparently nobody ever told you that “extending an olive branch” means you don’t try to get another hit for your point in– if you add a jab, it goes from “extending an olive branch” to expecting the other person to thank you for slapping them.

        Odd that you want to call someone else “petty” for not thanking you for repeating, yet again, your argument.

        1. Your reading comprehension is severely lacking.

          Here is what I said:

          “I stayed away for a couple days so as to not reply heatedly to you. Every now and then I get to thinking I really ought to quit commenting on blogs and internet forums, and this instance is an example of why.

          I truly did not set out to be antagonistic here, but clearly that’s how I came across to you. Hell, I thought I was trying to keep it light-hearted (hence the sophistry comment – trying to poke fun at myself; guess that fell flat). It’s really hard to convey tone and intent when people aren’t face to face, and clearly you and I suffered from that here.

          *sigh*

          So anyway, please accept my apology for any offense; none was meant.”

          And here is what you said:

          “o…. you jump in to respond to someone saying:” not all of (the best sellers) are actually good writers” to say “yes, they are, by definition” and offer nothing but your assertion and their sales to support it.

          And that’s not antagonistic?
          http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/antagonistic
          an·tag·o·nis·tic [an-tag-uh-nis-tik] Show IPA
          adjective
          1.
          acting in opposition; opposing, especially mutually.
          2.
          hostile; unfriendly.

          Grow up, already.

          You want to oppose someone, DO IT.

          Don’t whine because folks say that you are wrong.

          It’s really hard to accept the notion that an offense “was not meant” after you fought tooth and nail in defense of that offense.

          Either you MEANT “those who sell well are good ENOUGH at writing” (to sell– a very useful, but different measure) or you were trying to claim that sales are an absolute measure of ability of writing, which is moronic on the insanely basic measure of “those who do not offer their works for sale have no sales, yet can still have skill at writing.”

          So, as long as those with writing skill have the OPTION of not selling their work, they can be good authors with no sales.

          So, sales are not a good measure of skill.”

          I made no attempt to restate my position at all, and in fact I was attempting to be the grown up, eat a little crow, and apologize for the discussion turning unfriendly. But then YOU decided to be a little prig and throw my attempt at apology back in my face – and THEN proceeded to tell me how I’m wrong regardless.

          But somehow I’M the one who’s misbehaving, Amanda?

          *snort*

          1. Michael, drop it! I’ve already said you guys have to agree to disagree and Foxfier apologized for posting after I’d done so but she hadn’t seen my comment. That was within minutes of my posting this morning. You have had hours to see what has been said and, frankly, you ought to know that once one of the stakeholders in this blog say to drop something, they mean it. No more.

            In case you missed it, drop this topic. It is closed.

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