We Found LoveToday's Tune:
Sometimes, as aspiring or published writers, we deal with a lot of conflicting emotions when we read a book that we really, vehemently dislike. There comes this sort of obsession to dissect and destroy. Then it bleeds into criticism of the readers who dared to actually enjoy it. We proclaim that we can't understand why anyone would like it, how any self-respecting reader wouldn't throw it away it disgust. It creeps under our skin and festers.
I'm not talking about standard criticism and analysis, which I think is a valid and necessary part of the literary experience. I'm talking about that nagging voice that comes from a dark place inside us and decries the value of something we find so distasteful. I'm not going to pretend to know where that voice comes from for anyone else, but I know that for me, it often came from a place of boredom, frustration, and sometimes jealousy. I was bored with the same tired storylines over and over. Frustrated with writers who insisted on portraying certain types of people in a certain way. Jealous that something I found so average (or flat-out bad) achieved such high levels of popularity and acclaim.
It's really easy to get caught up in these emotions and use them as fuel to discount a work. It's easy to write off its popularity and fans as empty-headed sheep who don't know what good literature is. Adopting these viewpoints frees us from having to ask ourselves the really hard question, to think about something we hate in a positive light. We can walk away and convince ourselves that we just know better, we just understand more.
We don't have to think about WHY this piece of literature is connecting with so very many people and why it's resonating with them. And not thinking about it or asking that question can be detrimental to us as writers.
It's not uncommon for people to come up with excuse after excuse for the popularity of a book or series. I commonly hear people use marketing as a scapegoat. Well, obviously this is selling so much because they pumped marketing dollars into it! This publicist must be super good at their job, because no one would buy this book if it hadn't gotten this much press!
Speaking as a marketer, I can say that this just plain isn't accurate. No amount of marketing can make the public buy a uniformly bad product. Yes, it increases visibility and spreads the word, which encourages purchases. But some researches argue that extensive marketing is often just as quick to sink a product as sell it. Sure, you'll see an initial boost in sales from people who saw the advertisements and decided to give it a try. But word of mouth is far greater currency, and if the word of mouth is that the thing sucks, then you can stick a fork in it.
It's definitely not wrong to use a troubling book as a springboard to ask bigger social questions (like why young girls are finding such appeal in jerky and controlling male love interests), but there are always positives to be found. By writing off a book without really exploring why it's connecting with its audience, we're doing ourselves a disservice. Learning what exactly about it is piquing audience interest is knowledge we ourselves can use.
I'm not suggesting that we drop everything that's important to us in favor of trying to mimic a bestseller we dislike. What I'm suggesting is using that bestseller as a learning experience. Maybe you can look deeper and find that readers are connecting to certain kinds of characters. Or the rapid-fire pacing. Or emotional highs. Or sexy kissing. You know, whatever.
Sometimes it's better to swallow our pride and stop focusing on our opinion of everything a writer did wrong, and instead explore what they did right. It doesn't mean we have to like the work. We can still find all the problematic elements problematic. I just happen to be one of those annoying people who's decided I'd rather focus on the positive than dwell in the negative.
At least most of the time. Sometimes having a good frothing-at-the-mouth hate-on session with a buddy is a great stress reliever, not going to lie.
What about you, readers? Can you find the positive qualities in a book you hated? Have you learned something from them?