It takes a lot for me to put a book down and not pick it up again. In fact, I think I can only count one other instance in my life where I simply couldn’t finish a book- It was Robinson Crusoe. I was in high school and on a classic lit kick. Robby was the only one I couldn’t get through. I didn’t care enough about the main character (sorry Robby) and preferred staring at a blank wall rather than snoozing through the plot.
However, I just finished a series of books that were highly recommended by amazon, and goodreads, and even much of the blogging community. Actually, I can’t say I ‘read’ them because the truth is- I put the first book in the series down after getting about half way through and didn’t pick it up again until a year later when the sequel came out and I finally decided to give it another chance.
But again, I ended up skimming most pages- looking for the actual action. Don’t get me wrong- the writing itself was impeccable. The author has a fantastic grasp on nuance and style but this was overshadowed by the long winded description, flat characters, incessant head-hopping, unnecessary flashbacks/backstory, monotone plot, slow pacing and pages and pages spent in the character’s stream of consciousness that pressed my snooze button one too many times. I skimmed the second book in the series just to find out what happens. When it came to the third, I decided to just look up the plot summary to find out in a few pages what it took the author 500 pages of the above to get across and was disappointed to find out the plot was left unresolved and filled with holes.
As a writer trying to break into the world of publishing, I can’t help but sit back and scratch my head, thinking ‘Why is it okay for this author to break so many rules? Why did their agent and editor (which are both reputable) overlook so many of the book’s downfalls before pushing it out into the world?’
And then it occurred to me. The premise.
The premise was unique in its own way and held a lot of ‘hot’ elements- supernatural beings, an intense romance, lots of teen angst and tortured souls.
And I realized something. You could be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King but if your book is about a dungbeetle’s quest to find the biggest, smelliest crap pile in the world- you aren’t going to make it past the querying stage.
On the flip side- you could have a ten year old, with a ten year old’s grasp on grammar and vocabulary- write a book about the same dungbeetle but this time it’s about his quest to fight for the lives of his 300 little brothers and sisters after their parents were tragically murdered beneath the heel of an evil Converse Allstar-- and probably make it farther in the publishing process than a polished writer.
The lesson I learned from these books?
I think sometimes (I highlight ‘sometimes’ because thankfully this isn’t the norm.) what overrides whether or not a book is published in its best form is the premise- a certain mixing and matching of things that ‘work’ and things that ‘sell’.
Sometimes the premise or even the genre itself is more important than the execution of the plot. And it will pass with agents, and editors, and even the consumers who feel like reading ‘that kind of story’ and don’t care much about how it’s told.
But the word ‘generic’ has a negative connotation for a reason. It’s things being sold for genre alone with little attention to detail. And you absolutely know it when you see it.
Have you ever read a published book that left a bitter taste in your mouth?