All Those Awful Books!

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

An anonymous commenter on my blog wrote in frustration: “I hear the data about how few authors get published. But then I read so many published books that are simply awful.”

Others have shared this perspective with me in the past, and you know what? I agree. It’s frustrating to try so hard to sell the great books I represent, knowing so many books are published that I don’t think are as good. And also:

  • Sometimes I turn on the TV and I’m flabbergasted at how many truly awful shows are on.
  • I scroll through Netflix and can’t believe how many movies are in there that I would never watch.
  • Spotify has an awful lot of “music” that just gives me a headache.
  • I love Nordstrom, but they have so many clothes that are completely unattractive. And they don’t even fit me!
  • Sometimes, I even walk into a museum and see works of art that a third-grader could have done.

What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing, except to underscore the subjectivity of every single artistic endeavor. What is pleasing to one is garbage to another.

Bottom line.

I think we should stop worrying about all those “awful books” being published. People love them and are buying them, or they wouldn’t continue to be published.

You do you.

Keep writing what you write, and keep trying to find your audience. Make your book the best it can be. Keep trying to find that agent who loves your work. The more you stress about other people’s awful books getting published, the less energy you’ll have to write your own books. Plus, you’ll be nurturing a negative and resentful attitude about the very publishing industry that you’re trying to break into. How smart is that?

Let’s keep a positive attitude. Because amidst all those “bad” programs on TV and all that bad music on iTunes, I always manage to find something I like. There’s something for everyone. Your “something” just might be right for someone.

And don’t forget: Even when you’re published… somebody is bound to think your book is “simply awful.” Might as well get over it right now.

To each his own. Now write your own!

What kind of insights can we glean from the “bad” books that are published?


Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash



14 Responses

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  1. Awful books are a blessing, for they offer so much learning…
    * Be exhaustive in research, because if you start trying to flannel the reader, it shows.
    * Avoid characters based on oneself. I might be broad-shouldered, with rippling muscles and a stunningly handsome visage, but readers without my finely chiseled physical perfection will develop complexes of inferiority and dismay. (Golly, I hope no one was drinking coffee when they read that!)
    * Don’t get lost in dialogue; when you have to start counting comments and responses to know who’s talking, it’s a bummer of a deal.
    * Don’t be TechnoHip; you character’s iPhone 10 already looks dorky.
    * Don’t fall in love with lingo; your Civil War soldiery didn’t talk like they were in Scarlett’s drawing room; they talked a lot more like us, when we think no-one’s looking.
    * Most important of all, remember that you reader’s there by choice, and the fact that she’s honoured – yes! – you with her presence mean that you owe her both courtesy and respect. There’s a Vietnamese proverb that I love, that you should treat your spouse as an honoured guest in your house…and thus it should be for your readers, as guests in your heart.

  2. Dana says:

    It’s useful to ask how books become publushed with poor editing, one-dimensional characters, pages of filler, and all sorts of other issues, when other books are rejected for lesser problems. And I believe it’s valid for frustrated authors to want to understand how those publishing decisions get made. Some authors may be content not to think about flaws in the world of publishing, but others naturally think about systemic problems and are justified in wanting to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

    • Dana says:

      Sorry about the typos in my last comment; my phone wouldn’t let me scroll to the top of the text window to edit before posting.

    • I agree with Dana. It isn’t so much worrying about all the bad “art” but it is that good art is being passed over for the bad. There is only so much room in the marketplace. So, when you see more bad than good, it is frustrating. I have to disagree with you Rachel. All that “bad art” isn’t there because it is selling, necessarily. Book sales aren’t booming. The art world isn’t on fire. No one is going home to catch the next episode. And there are few movies that are blockbuster anymore…let alone something to choose from on Netflix on a Saturday night. What is being put out there is given to public, not chosen. And they settle because they are hungry to be entertained. The fact that you say there might be one movie you find to watch, is a sad commentary. Especially concerning the publishing world. Readers will read what is given to them. But is the publishing world really seeking what readers want? Are they doing research and tapping the marketplace to catch the next wave? Do they study trends? Are they surveying their readers? Do they know the holes and gaps to capture the untapped market? Or expand their current market? Not from what I can surmise. I know more people who read books they DON’T like vs books they DO like. How sad is that! It seems that the publishing world is out of touch, and are putting things out there that they want/like, and seeing what sticks. And if something sells, (by chance), they run with it until it is overdone. Vampires? Apocalyptic worlds? Noire Murders? Oversexed Fantasies? If I read one more WW era or a book with “sister” in the title, I think I will scream! My point in all this is that there are good stories and good writers who are being left out of this very narrow writing world, and for reasons that are not definable. There is no fix-it that will lead you on the road to being published. You say keep writing the way you want, but then add luck to that. Because writing well, working hard, learning your craft, going to conferences, meeting people in the industry, being a part of writing groups, attending seminars, and querying the right way all require luck in the end to being published.

  3. Great perspective. Thanks, Rachelle.

  4. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    My son and I were discussing his neighbor recently, and he noted that the person had slowly drifted from actively practicing their faith–and their talents/gifts. Any personal growth and joy had slowly dwindled, and this gifted person seemed to be at loose ends.
    I don’t worry about whether my neighbor has a new cadillac parked in the driveway, I enjoy taking trips around the neighborhood on my bike. (It’s healthier anyway)
    When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. 19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. PSALM 94:18-19

  5. Great perspective, Rachelle. Sometimes, when I’ve read/begun to read a book I really don’t like, I try to figure out why I don’t like it, and then make sure my stories don’t have those same characteristics.
    On the flip side, when I read a book I can’t put down, I want to figure out what that author did that drew me in and kept me reading. I can always learn, if I’m willing to look beyond the initial reaction.

  6. Rachelle, thank you so much for this post because I believe it to be true. I can understand the frustration of Dana, Elizabeth, and many more like them; however, fueled-up- frustration that eats your insides out or devours others will not help any writer. I think of the myriad of singers I personally know, never mind, seeing the on The Voice. That show has brilliant singers, many that have worked years for a break and deserve to be signed and recorded for a worldwide audience. But, every year all but one get the title of winner. Others will go on in other venues. Still many head home to either keep on keeping on or hang it up. The choice is theirs.

    It is the same in many things-things not even related to creative vocations. People passed over for promotions- not because they aren’t deserving or capable, but because they work it. Unfortunately, later in the job they are found out by what they put out for the boss and company. Kind of like what might be behind some of these writers getting publishing contracts. But as you reminded us, to each his own-his own opinion. In fact, our comments are our own opinions.

    I think the most important thing about a writer is who they are inside and how that is reflected in their words-written or spoken-in good and bad times, passed over or published, adored or abandoned.

    Thank you Rachelle, I love your forthright post. It serves me and others well as a reminder of the idiosyncrasies of the world of writing and publishing.

    • Sorry for typos, I’m on a dark porch waiting for my husband. My cell is almost out of battery, so the screen is dimming. But, I wanted to get my comment in.I saw it got a little scrambled when I was writing about the person getting promoted by schmoozing, while the one who is capable is passed over. It happens every day. I say just work on your own books with heart and passion. Life is not fair. And, I do not believe in luck, but a big God who loves me, and will direct me in the path He has chosen for me. It takes the angst away.

  7. After being in a state of paralysis for an extended period of time I realize the wisdom of what you are saying. If I am not focused on my work then the distractions sap my attention and energy and I develop a negative mindset. I am breaking free by listening to more music and less news and by simply being aware that whatever is absorbed by my mind will affect me.

  8. Best line ever: “Might as well get over it right now.”

    Okay, I’m over it. A few people will not like my writing. I’ll put on my electric pink Smile Jesus Loves You button and smile anyway.

    Thanks, Rachelle!