Am I stupid?

I read a great review for a book the other day on Yahoo, and without reading the reviews on Amazon, I shelled out $7 for it.  Normally I would read Amazon reviews first and then make my decision, but this person had received a substantial advance, a movie deal, and had some serious backing, so I just assumed the book was going to be awesome.

I don't require that a book I buy have a certain number of reviewer stars on Amazon; rather, I read the reviews to see what the good points and bad points are of it.  Some good points are things I also search for in a new book.  Some bad points are things I can't stand, and so won't bother to buy the book because I know it will make me crazy, and I won't finish it.  Not finishing = money wasted that I could have used for a better book.

Add to this story background that I am finishing up my own first novel.  It's relevant.

So I bought this book, uploaded it to my Kindle, and then kept on writing my own novel.  I didn't want to distract myself by getting bogged down in reading a book right then, because I have a habit of reading straight through and ignoring things like sleep and food and work and so on.

But as I typed away, my curiosity got the better of me.  I stopped typing and read the first few pages of the book.  Then I read a few more.  I became more and more depressed as each page turned.

I could never write like this, I thought.  The prose was so flowery.  It was so….long.  Descriptions of views filled pages and pages, using a style of writing that I couldn't even imagine being able to construct for one paragraph, let along a 400+ page book.  I actually had to stop and look up a word in the dictionary because when I first saw it, I thought it was a misspelling.

Man, I thought, am I an idiot or what?  I should have gone to some writer workshops.  I should have taken creative writing in college.  I should just go drag my novel into the trashcan on my desktop.  I suck. What was I thinking?

But then a thought started niggling me in the back of my head.  I can't even count how many books I've read (because it's a lot, lot).  And I've read hundreds of books in just about every genre, this one included.  I couldn't remember the last time I actually had to look up the meaning of a word.  I am a voracious reader – have been since I was 4.  So I've seen most all of the words a writer would use in a novel, normally.

Plus, I couldn't really get into the characters. I knew as a reader I was supposed to like someone, but I couldn't figure out who that was.  I mean, normally I don't have to think about it. I either like the good guy or I like the bad guy, but the author makes it easy for me to do it.  I didn't like any of these characters, and it wasn't because I didn't like them per se; I just couldn't figure out who was good and who was bad and they all seemed, I don't  know, boring.  Dull as dirt, really.  I didn't care about any of them.  I felt like slapping who I think was supposed to be the heroine just because she was so wimpy and dim.

I thought, this is what jealousy feels like.  This is what ignorance feels like. I'm so ashamed.  I'll never be a published author.  But I went on Amazon anyway.  Just to see what was what.  Maybe to wallow in my ignorance.

But lo and behold!  Only an average of 2.5 stars.  What the…?  I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen that low of a star count, even for what I consider to be a crappy book.

I started reading the reviews.  They were quite comprehensive (I hope someday these people will be my readers!)  And they went on to list all the things that were bothering me about the book.  Inconsistencies, language use, tepid characters, inability to sort out the good guys and bad guys, and, here's the best part, the author's horrible prose.

Hallelujah! I thought.

Why? No, not because I take joy in other people's pain.  I was overjoyed, and still am, because as I was reading this book, I was allowing the demons of self-doubt to enter my realm.  They whispered in my ear, they weighed down my fingers which normally fly over the keyboard cranking out 10,000 words a day.  Those demons almost made me stop writing again.

But thank the Universe for readers like the ones I saw on Amazon that day.  They slayed the demons.  Or at least, pushed them back into the outer realm where they belong.  I hope like heck that I get reviewers who take the time to read my novel and then give me comprehensive feedback like I saw for this other book.  Even if it's bad, I want to hear it.  It's these detailed analyses that will allow me to improve my talents.  And I'm pretty sure I have some.

And to anyone else out there who is writing or dreaming of writing, I say what I said to myself that day.  Just write.  For every writer there is a reader.  Or, hopefully, a few million of them.  Don't compare yourself to someone else.  There are as many writing styles out there as there are preferences.

My other takeaway from this was the power of marketing and backing.  This author had somehow gotten hooked in and hooked up.  That is the biggest mystery of this whole tale.  How did this author do it?  How do you sneak such a poorly written book past the most trusted reviewers in the literary world?  How do you make millions of dollars with what some reviewers, who seemed to really have a lot of constructive things to say, called “garbage” and “shameful”?

Not that I'm planning on writing garbage, but hey, I'm not going turn away a million bucks and a movie deal, right? Is it possible to be a sell-out before you actually sell anything?  Hm.  Another question for another day, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *