Publishers Marketplace 'automat' section has a story lifted out of Newsweek mag about David Balducci. The guy has writted 16 best-sellers . . and get this. . . according to Newsweek, hardly any critic thinks Balducci's books are good.

So it occured to me--if you were a big publishing house, could you literately take a manuscript out of the slush pile (and assuming it had just average talent) groom and preen that script/writer into a mega hit?

Personally, I'm thinking of Clive Cussler. I read all of his novels, I'll admit it. And I walk away dissatisfied every time. All of his plots have vast potential. But his slam-bang style of writing is just so sterile. No color. No true sensations. Just wham-bang, and go to the next impossible feat.

But I wonder: did Cussler's Raise the Titanic hit the right editors's desk on the right day, at the right time, with the editor in the right mood? Did the book make the author? Or did the publisher make the author?

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Nah. Lowest common denominator. And Dan Brown's DVC is very carefully designed to be a bestseller. He worked the crowd.

Grisham has a very poor reputation. I gather Cussler does too. I have't read either. I did read most of Brown. A thoroughly bad and dishonest book.
Hated THE ROAD about as much as I've ever hated a book.
Well, it is a bit dark.
Lee Child is a good example, but he did not make it big for quite a while. He writes a series. It takes a series time to catch on. Otherwise, I think the style thing is correct. Beyond that, however, Lee Child has a knack for action novels featuring the strong silent type. He gets both men and women interested. He's very good at what he does most of the time. ONE SHOT has a superb first chapter. But literature it ain't.
Okay---I apologize if I've come across as 'snarky.' But I am concerned. And my concerns center around the writing of novels (in any genre) as nothing more than a listing of fantastic events. Certain authors, and Cussler for me is one of'em, simple writes an outline and then allows the reader to fill in the descriptive blanks.

What's bad about that is this; because of his success writing that formula, that formula become THE formula for a hit. Yes, there is room for literary novels in the small presses. Thank god for that. I 'snark' (if that's a term) becuase on the Best Seller's list there appears to be little room for innovation or writing style.

Of course this is my opinion. And my wife often tells me my opinion is undiluted bullshit.
No apologies needed at my end--I think it's a legit question, and I think you're right to be a bit skeptical of the process that seems to elevate both the excellent (occasionally) and the not-so-great (frequently) to best-seller status. I'm pretty sure I was the one that was being all elitist and snarky. Oh well.
People don't really want innovation. They want the same thing over and over again, yet they also don't want that. I've seen this with musicians a lot. If a band keeps writing the same kind of album, fans complain it's repetitive or getting stale or whatever, but if the band goes in a new direction, fans say it isn't the same band, they've sold out, etc. You can't please everyone, of course.

I don't know why things become popular or stay popular so I guess I can't answer your question. But I do think that genre fiction, generally is written for the lowest common denominator. Genre fiction is ephemeral, for the most part. I read a book, it's fun (or not) and then it's over. Never going back, probably not ever going to think about it again. I'm sure a lot of writers don't like the idea that their novel they worked so hard on is read once and then promptly forgotten, but that's what happens a lot of the time. That's just the nature of that kind of story. Nothing wrong with that at all.

I'm more of a literary fan, but I like genre stuff too. For example, I'm in Taiwan right now, and I wanted some action novels to read on the trip over to pass the time. I love action packed stories, but I don't dwell on them after reading them, usually. Actually, there are few books I think about afterward, but it's most always a literary work. But that's just me.

But I refuse to give genre and literary works equal footing because they are not equal. They are not meant to be equal. They are different kinds of stories aimed at different audiences and/or sensibilities. Literary novels are more likely to be read 50 years later. That's just the way it is. If that implies to someone that one kind of story is inherently inferior to another, than that is that person's own insecurities showing through. If you're a genre writer, and you love your genre, then there's no reason to get defensive when someone points out the differences between different kinds of stories.
I object to the term "pretty writing" as the antithesis of "good storytelling." I'd rather compare the plot-driven novel (which nowadays seems to include the majority of bestsellers as well as novels that make it to the movies) to the character-driven novel. Are character and interpersonal relationships by definition "small?" Is it possible to write a character-driven story badly? Does anyone think the pendulum of literary fashion will ever swing in the other direction? If someone tells me up front that a novel is plot driven, I'm unlikely to buy and read it (unless one of my friends wrote it, of course)--though I may go and see the movie, where flat characters get to be inhabited by actors, sometimes excellent actors who bring them to life. But I read many mysteries, some other genre fiction, and very little literary fiction, so I must be a fan of good storytelling too. For me, the best authors do it all simultaneously--strong (not "pretty") writing, engaging characters, and a story that keeps the reader turning the pages. An example from genre fiction: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, which has won and been nominated for tons of awards. Have these books been bestsellers? Anybody know?
I certainly didn't mean to create the impression that I think good writing and good storytelling are mutually exclusive - I think someone took my comment about "pretty writing" being a bonus to good storytelling and oversimplified it.

Personally, I think the best novels are those that have both, whether they're literary fiction, or thrillers.

Last fall, I participated in on online panel discussion with David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, and Barry Eisler on The Literary Fiction/Thriller Divide. The essays those three posted on the subject are top-notch.

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What a great thread. It really stirs the thinking pot regarding the theme and style of my next ms.

As for me, when I am on a beach with a nice cold coke, sun and waves whispering behind the kids shouts and screams, any old slush novel will entertain me. Writing style be danged, I want a story to numb my brain and pass the time. When I am reading with my writer's hat on, the quality of the prose has me stopping and starting like a first time driver. This is a good thing...I am learning and thinking.

Most of the readers fall into the beach bum catagory. That's why best sellers are more likely to be average on the writers scale.
Very true for me also. Though it is possible to learn something about pacing from a good thriller. Also about how to write good action scenes (something I had to learn).

And while I'm thinking about it: Val MvDermid's MERMAIDS SINGING is everything we detest in a serial killer thriller, but it was superbly well done -- much better than any of her other books.
Thomas--I actually agree with you. I don't expect any of my books to hit the bestseller's list. Nor care one way or the other. Except for this one proviso---I see my books, if they're ever published, as 'mid-list' books. If that is the case, mose major publishers are not interested in mid-listers. So they'll pass. . . and have passed . . . whenever I sent one off.

It's a Catch 22 thing. The books are good enough to be published. But not good enough to make the size of profit publishers want. Therefore they do not get published. (except thru small houses--which again, I have no problem with whatsoever.)

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