There’s no such thing as a bad book

By Joe Moore

Ever heard a writer ask, “I don’t understand why my manuscript is being rejected while so many bad books are published?” Or, “I keep reading books that are nowhere near as good as mine. Yet they wind up getting published while mine don’t. I don’t get it!”

Sound familiar? Here’s my spin on the answer to this never-ending source of frustration: there’s no such thing as a bad book. The reason I feel that way is I believe that all books are considered good or even great by someone.

No publisher will intentionally release a “bad” book. Doing so would be a doomed business plan, especially in today’s shifting publishing landscape. Their goal is to find the best written manuscript, give it the most professional editing possible, promote it within budget limitations, and work closely with the author to raise the awareness of the book in the marketplace.

Here’s the problem: No publisher has a plan that is immune to failure. Not all books appeal to enough readers to make back the original investment. The dumpster is full of great books that did not make it into the hands of enough readers. And we have all come across books that we didn’t like or thought were “bad”. (To be honest, I couldn’t make it through the first 50 pages of a huge bestselling novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Does that mean it was a “bad” book?)

Not liking a book is individual preference. Someone else may love it, which is usually the case. If a book is truly written poorly–spelling errors, typos, incorrect punctuation, etc.–that’s the failure of the line editor. If it contains erroneous information or blatant factual mistakes, that’s the failure of the copy editor. And if it’s built on weak or sloppy writing (massive plot holes, 2-dimensional characters, stilted dialog, pacing issues, redundancy, cliché, etc.), that’s the fault of the acquisition editor. In all cases, the book should not have been published.

I have never met an author who said, “Today I’m going to write a mediocre book.” I’ve never dealt with an agent who was seeking writers with minimal talent. There are no publishers out there willing to risk their money on a sure-fire loser. All books are considered great by someone. That’s why they were written, represented and published. Did enough readers agree? Better yet, did enough readers even get the chance to agree? And if they didn’t, where does the fault lie? Marketing? Distribution? Promotion? Bad luck?

But even if we write a great book, there’s no guarantee that it will ever be published, much less sell enough copies to earn back the advance (most books fall short of that task). Don’t get me wrong, we all have to write the best book we can. But there are more great books that fail than succeed.

How about you, Zoners? Ever read what was positioned as the next Great American Novel only to put it down unfinished? Ever read a book that you considered awful but it went on to set new sales records?