Discussion on publishing

I’ve been on this forum for a while and I decided to open this discussion because I’m confident since I’ve seen the civil tone in which discussions are made.

For some time I have noticed that many mediocre or even offensive books are receiving success at the expense of well-written ones. My question is:Why do people consider best-selling books like Fifty Shades of Grey, Splendid Disaster or Obsidian( and they are just example)? . I don’t want to insult people who liked them. I just want to understand why like them.


I don’t know Splendid Disaster and Obsidian, but I have heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. Something to do with sex and fraught relationships?

Unfortunately or otherwise, sex and fraught relationships sell well. Many people read books for entertainment, and often what entertains them is cheap frission and having their base desires catered to. I’m certainly not immune; as a young child one of my hobbies was sneaking peeks at my mother’s bodice-ripper novels while she was out.


So, I haven’t read Splendid Disaster and Obsidian but where’s what I can tell you about 50 Shades’ success:

You’ve heard the term, “Sex Sells”. There’s a reason that exists.

You’ve got a group of adults who’ve likely only had vanilla sex the entirety of their lives, who know nothing about the world of BDSM (no matter how inaccurately 50 Shades may portray it). They read 50 Shades of Grey and it feels almost like they’re breaking rules, kid who got caught with their hand in a cookie jar scenario. It’s not about how good the writing is (50 Shades is just atrocious) but more so with how it makes the reader feel.

Not to mention there is a whole demographic of people who read stories just for the sex, the raunchy absolutely cringe away from your screen types of books.


Excellent arguments. In fact I can understand the success of the Fifty Shades. Although the theme of BDSM is not represented very faithfully (or at least as far as I know. I know almost nothing about BDSM) they still talk about sex.


Dan Olson has an excellent trilogy of videos primarily about the 50 Shades film adaptation but that also discusses the books and their fanfiction origin, and speaks on what brought on their popularity.

The sexual aspect is touched on–that some folks were genuinely entertained and enjoyed the erotic aspects, as well as the novelty of mainstream erotica drawing attention, plus a sense of cultural rebellion at embracing something meant to be arousing to women as opposed to men.

It also talks about the feedback loop of how things get popular; high engagement garners more engagement from folks who want to know what the fuss is about. I think its worth noting that while 50 Shades was successful, it wasn’t exactly universally loved–I can’t remember the last time I heard praise for it, aside from the faint praise of the filmmaking decisions in the video I linked above.

To paraphrase the critic from Rattatouille, disliking things is fun. I think the loudest parts of culture are always going to be the most controversial–looking at Choice of Games as a handy example, Choice of Robots and Slammed are incredibly well loved, but aren’t exactly hot forum topics. Compare that to the Heroes Rise series–perhaps not entirely fair, given two examples are one-offs and one is a series, but HR is a lot more controversial and so comes up a lot more.

Not to say that quality work can’t leave its own impact, but I think if we’re going to talk about the overall state of any section of pop culture, we need to acknowledge that well-known is not synonymous with well-liked, and arguments about quality can easily contribute to what makes something famous


If I knew the answer to that question, I’d be a billionaire, pal. There’s an entier field of work dedicated to ‘what sells and why?’ and they still get it wrong more often than they get it right.

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Don’t know about the other two, but 50 shades was a twilight fanfic which is also not the greatest (IMO) but was also massively popular. So the author knew a good formula when they saw it and ran with it for their own book.

Hype/Controversy/Discussion gets people to look at something just to say they’ve read/watched it. (Including people who wouldn’t normally.) Things that are controversial (FSG) or have mass appeal (teen supernatural romance for Twilight) are more likely (but not always) going to have the potential to end up on the hype train. There’s also a huge market for those sort of self insert characters in romance novels (there’s a reason why both Bella and what’s her name in FSG are pretty blank and boring. It allows anyone to come along and impose their own personality over the top a lot more easily. It’s escapism, and allowances get made for settings and writing which might not be considered the best of the best otherwise.

Anyway, take this at face value as it’s coming from someone who hasn’t been able to sit through an entire movie or book of either franchise. Not really my thing, but I can see why it appeals to others.

I think luck is an often overlooked variable when it comes to things like popularity and success of a work/content creator.
Sometimes, something or someone just comes at the right time at the right place which helps it penetrate the cultural zeitgeist of the given moment. And perhaps I’m just cynical, but I find luck to be a much more influential force than effort, creativity, or skill at the end of the day. :sweat_smile:


I very much second the idea of ​​luck. The cultural factor of the moment and the morbidity of many popular works. All production companies of any entertainment (books, television, movies and video games) have to be guided by marketing indexes like that episode of the Simpsons where they publish juvenile books with false authors. This example supports the notion already expressed in this forum that many people may like entertainment that makes them enjoy the time after a hard day in the postmodern world we live in, but the only consolation we consumers of creative content and the creators of creative content of any medium is that there will always be creative works of any kind that we can enjoy to vary a bit from what we consume, as well as consumers who will appreciate undervalued works through aspects that change as time goes by or are even deducted After a long time that a work like Ratatouille exists, it has more meanings than one contemplates at first glance.

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As a person who hopes to work in the publishing industry someday, I have all kinds of strong feelings about this.

I think the main thing you have to consider is that not all reading is done for the same reasons. Some people read to obtain information, while others read for an entertaining escape from the real world. Some people read to be exposed to new ideas, others stick to work that confirms their worldviews. Some readers crave mirrors that reflect their own experience, others want windows into the experiences of others. Some readers prefer work that appeals to their emotions while others prefer work that stimulates their intellect. (Of course, many readers read for more than one of these reasons; I read for all of these reasons and more, but I have vastly broader tastes than most.) The reason you eat a kale salad isn’t the same reason you eat a cookie, even if you happen to enjoy both.

Fifty Shades tapped into a primal drive in some readers for a particular kind of emotional experience. It draws upon a lot of historically successful romance tropes. It’s not hard to see the fantasy appeal of being swept off one’s feet by a sexy billionaire. Romance heroines have been taming bad boys and fixing broken ones as long as there have been romance heroines. There’s something powerfully, primally appealing about something that’s generally dangerous but won’t hurt you - no less a writer than Shakespeare had some glowing praises for “They that have power to hurt and will do none.” In an age where so much in the romance genre is self-consciously egalitarian and feminist, Fifty Shades is unapologetic in its exploration of the erotic potential of a power imbalance - something not remotely politically correct, something that’s edging on problematic under the best of circumstances, but nevertheless something deeply entrenched in human nature. And at the same time, it’s a power fantasy for women, because in the end Ana wins - she’s tamed and repaired the dangerous, damaged alpha male, he’s elevated her to his side on her terms as an equal partner, and she still gets to enjoy the fantasy of power exchange in the bedroom. (I haven’t read either of the other books you mention, so I can’t analyze their appeal, but I’m sure they too strike a nerve, tap a vein, speak to something we may not like to acknowledge exists in human nature.)

You ask why mediocre books are succeeding at the expense of good ones? That’s easy: they aren’t. Fifty Shades isn’t stealing market share from Elizabeth Strout, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Norton Critical Editions. And unless you think the publishing industry should be exclusively about arbitrating Great Art, it is in no way degraded by publishing what sells. In fact, it’s the profit from juggernauts like Fifty Shades that allows publishers to take a chance on quality literature without a guaranteed sales hook or built-in fanbase.


One huge advantage for aspiring writers is the rise of Amazon and especially Kindle, allowing anyone to be published and get people reading and buying their work. This is almost an unalloyed good thing, because it lowers the barriers to entry and lets people unleash their creativity without gatekeepers or shady vanity presses.

But it also means that you get people publishing toilet paper disguised as a book through Kindle Unlimited and getting paid by the pageview. Sturgeon’s Law is a thing, but I’m all for letting everyone get published if it means that enjoyable material can get published and read when it otherwise wouldn’t.

Anyway, you should all definitely read my paleontologically-inaccurate book of dinosaur erotica, Rapture of the Raptors, out on Amazon now.


It is NOT a new phenomon.

Almost as long as there had been books, “bad” ones have been selling well. At least here in the western world. As part of my degree I have read “hot taskes” and parodies from ye olden times complaining about the exact same thing. As well a satirical works saterizing the exact same thing.

Funny enough it is always book aimed at women who are the target.


I’m sure there isn’t the slightest bit of misogyny causing that, and since that wasn’t the cause then it definitely doesn’t happen today.


Exactly. While once the only way to publish a book was to go to a publisher, today anyone can publish.
Of course, not all self-published books are to be thrown away, but this has made sure that even substandard books could be disseminated. Obviously I don’t want to tell anyone what they have to read.

Sounds interesting, I think I’ll take a look at it.

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That’s what the reviews are for. (Though of course those come with their own problems. I’m sure you’ve read some of the one-star reviews that any LGBT-oriented book gets, for example.)

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Do you have any advice to give me, as I’m also starting to write reviews?

Often reviews are also influenced by personal opinions, which makes them more subjective, while for reviews they must be mostly objective.

A “good” book is a book that people want to read; these days, nobody wants someone playing True Art Police. So with that in mind:

1: Start by reviewing works in genres that you like, and if you branch out later, make sure you can figure out what people like about the genre and put yourself in the mindset of people who like that stuff. I’m not the target audience for most romance novels, for example (though there are some I like) and so it’d be difficult for me to write a review of a romance novel when a lot of the stuff I dislike is part of genre convention and liked by romance novel readers.

2: You’re writing a persuasive essay. So get your facts down - what did you like, why did you like it, how does it compare to genre conventions? Use that to build your case for why the reader should agree with your rating and so that they can make an informed choice about whether they’re likely to like the book.

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The most important thing I can say to any beginning reviewer is this: A review is not about whether you liked the book (or music, movie, game, or whatever it is you’re reviewing).

The purpose in writing a review is not to tell your readers what you thought of a book, it’s to help your readers decide whether the book is something they want to invest time (and possibly money) in. And that means you need to go way, way beyond “I loved it!” or “It stinks.” You need to be able to set your own feelings aside enough to examine why the text did or didn’t work for you, in order to describe it in a way that helps others decide if it’s likely to work for them. Be able to say “I savored the elegant prose of this quiet character study, but readers who prefer a narrative full of dramatic action will likely find themselves bored to tears” or “The sex scenes are varied, explicit, and sizzling hot, but may fall a bit flat for readers who prefer their eroticism grounded in a firm sense of character and relationship development.” Your personal like or dislike of the book will generally be apparent to the reader, and that’s fine; a review is a kind of opinion piece, after all. But a good review provides a reader with enough information to make a decision, whether they share the reviewer’s personal tastes or not.


No. I couldn’t disagree more. A review is not a persuasive essay. I’ve had comments on my one-star reviews on Amazon, people clearly trying to upset me, saying that my negative review was the deciding factor that moved them to purchase a book, and I always respond, in perfect sincerity, by hoping they enjoy it. I don’t write reviews to try to hurt (or boost) the sales of a thing, I write them to help other readers find works of art that they enjoy. If I’ve described a work well enough in my negative review that a reader can recognize that it’s something they would appreciate, I’m doing something right. Likewise, if my positive review contains enough specific information to convey to a reviewer that this work might not be to their taste, I know I’ve written an actual review, not a useless fulsome gush.

Would I rather steer people toward works I personally found delightful, and away from works I personally found distasteful? Sure. But if there’s an element of persuasion involved, it’s limited to nudging the reader in what I feel is the better direction. The assumed audience for a review is a person who hasn’t yet read/watched/etc. the thing I’m reviewing, so why the heck would I want to persuade them to agree with my rating? Having an opinion on a piece of creative work should be the privilege of those who have actually engaged with it.

(Amazon won’t publish a review without a star rating, which is the only reason my reviews there include one. I’m not actually interested in reducing my experience with a work of art to numerical terms.)

There’s certainly a place for persuasive essays about literature, and that place is literary criticism. Not reviewing.


Also because I’m a bit too young and inexperienced to write essays