Wednesday, 7 September 2011

There is good, and then there is popular.

Blogs are wonderful. They begin being about one this, and then comments lead them in a different direction. A couple of posts ago, Mark made a comment about the distinction between work that is good and that which is popular. That'sfFar too interesting a thought to hide among the comments. I happen to know that he is a fab photographer, but his thinking is apt for every corner of the arts.

But I shall limit myself to the writing context, as that's the only one I know anything about.

It's hard, being on the outside and looking in, to get a feel for how publishing is these days. All I have to go on are the articles in newspapers and publishing press (such as The Bookseller), and comments from writers in blogs. There seems general agreement that the industry is squeezed, that the big publishing houses control much of what is reviewed in the papers (and what makes it to the tables at the front of Waterstones), while the small publishers are bravely swimming against the tide and bringing out books that are daring and different but might not make the huge profits demanding by the likes of Harper Collins.

For it is the books that make most profits that are seen to be popular. I don't, personally, like reading Dan Brown, but his publishers must love him.

Meanwhile, the small publishers have to sift through the deluge of submissions from writers whose work slips between the confines of conventional genres, or uses unfamiliar forms and structures. Somehow they have to find enough good-enough books to make enough profit to keep going.

Propping the system up are the readers - and writers.

Not all writers want to win the Booker Prize. Nor find their book heaped among piles of holiday reading. Nor even be particularly rich. They simply want to write the best book they can, and hope that enough people are entertained by their efforts. Some simply don't have the energy to survive the submission process, or the emotional resources to withstand endless rejections. Some want to control whole writing and publishing business themselves. They just want to be good at what they do.

And, from among this group, we hope to find self-published gems. There may not be many treasures among the self-published eel vomit, but they are there if we hunt for them. Books that are different, and exciting, and ask unusual questions. They may never be popular, but that doesn't mean they aren't wonderful. And often they are wonderful in a different way from the books piled in bookshops.

Or are they? Do you equate quality with popularity? If not - what criteria do you use the decide if a book is 'good enough?'


  1. A book that is 'good enough' is one that I enjoy reading. That's it. Beyond wishing the author success, and wanting to share a great story, I don't care how many other people have read it.

  2. Thanks, Sarah - such a sensible definition of 'good.'

  3. For me a good book is one that is well-written and makes me want to read more by that author. 'Popularity' often puts me off since I'm an awkward cuss!

  4. Jo, Thanks for stopping by my blog so I could find you. Wonderful blog here and great post, I'm your 21st follower, yay!

    I rarely like what's popular in books. I love to find the undiscovered gems on library shelves and discover new authors. And I am really really picky! Which is why when I read a book by someone who's also a blogging friend and find it to be amazing, I am thrilled beyond measure and will write a glowing review because it's the debut authors with small publishers who I want to support.

    Great post!


  5. Jabblog, Karen - welcome.

    All awkward cusses are welcome.

    And Karen - it's great to see just how many people question the quality of books that look 'popular' - rather they read and think and make up their own minds.

    (And if anyone is fed up, follow jabblog's links and watch a haka . . . )

  6. I wouldn't read a book just because it was popular if I didn't like the sound of it. Frankly, there are loads of best-selling authors I've no real interest in reading, and some popular stuff I have read, which I didn't rate at all.

    However, if I was looking for a book in a certain genre, I might buy a 'popular' book simply because I'd be more likely to see reviews, etc. for it. The problem with hidden gems is finding them.

  7. Hello fellow campaigner! As a member of the nonfiction group (otherwise known as #53), I wanted you to know I will be featuring you on my blog during the campaign period. Every Friday from 9/23 through 10/28, I will feature several of the writers from our group. This will include a link to your site (the same link you used when joining the campaign) as well as an excerpt from your About Me page. Be sure to check my blog to see when you are featured. I will be going through the list in order.

    You can visit my blog at

    I look forward to getting to know you and your work, and helping others get to know you as well!

    Happy Campaigning!
    Elizabeth Flora Ross

  8. Helen - I so agree that the difficulty with hidden gems is actually finding them. I read reviews in the weekend papers - they sometimes highlight new writers, first novels, and I'll chase that up. And recommendations from friends help. But so much of it is luck! (Do drop by here with recommendations for a gem, if you find one!)

    Elizabeth - thanks for dropping by. I'll certainly check out your blog.

  9. I tend to buy books by people I have got to know online. Of these, I have read self published books through to books published by huge publishers. I've enjoyed all of them so far.