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Books that, in your opinion, should be best-sellers but aren't.

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Woods

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So often I read a great book--a book which has strong, realistic characters, showing and. . .well, just good writing period.

But these good books I read tend to collect dust on shelves in book stores. When I research reviews on the Internet, the book gets good reviews, yet not many people know about it.

It seems like the books that are currently flying off the shelves aren't really that well-written. (I know which book series y'all are thinking about. Shhh. . .) Writing a book is hard. But writing a good book is even harder.

So which well-written books do you think deserve more attention?
#1 - February 01, 2012, 01:23 PM

Mike Jung

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Hmmm, I must confess to having some difficulties with this question, mostly because it posits a couple of things that I don't necessarily think are true.

The first is that bestsellerdom currently has an inverse relationship with literary quality - I really don't think this is true. Sure, everyone can list at least one example of a best-selling book that IN THEIR OPINION (emphasis very deliberate) isn't written very well. But I personally can list a whole bunch that are. Maggie Stiefvater's books fly off the shelves, and she's as gifted and skilled as any writer out there. THE HUNGER GAMES are superbly written books. John Green is nobody's hack. Libba Bray's books make me want to weep with gratitude, they're so good.

The second thing is that bestsellerdom should correspond with any one person's standards of quality. I could name a book that I don't think it very well-written, but does that necessarily make it so? What if that book, which I think is such a piece of crap, has millions of fans who love, love, LOVE it? Are they wrong? I have a hard time saying they are, because their opinions are no less valid than mine.

To be fair, the discussion of which books deserve more attention is, I think, entirely valid. I just have trouble framing it around the idea of bestseller status as something that any given author deserves or doesn't deserve.
#2 - February 01, 2012, 01:54 PM

gosh.

anything by francisco stork and andrew smith.

i've been loving hard on these two dude writers in YA.
so original and talented.

i love lisa mantchev's Eyes Like Stars series. so fun, original
and well written, with a completely believable love triangle.

huge fan of our very own dia reeves (i think she's been offline
for a while?): Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry. she takes the
reader to dark scary places in a uniquely dia way.

i can't praise holly black's The Curse Worker's series enough.
i don't think it's as well read as it should be because it's different
than what's out there in YA paranormal currently. but it's so smart,
twisty and well written.

also sarah rees brennan's The Demon's Lexicon trilogy.
my personal favorite is The Demon's Covenant. srb makes you
love a demon like no other. not to mention the strong heroines
she creates. win.

 :bunnyrun
#3 - February 01, 2012, 02:23 PM
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Well, in 2011 I absolutely loved Bronxwood by Coe Booth and Recovery Road by Blake Nelson so I feel copies should've been flying off the shelves. I do find it frustrating when books I greatly admire don't get the readership or attention I feel they deserve. Unfortunately, I usually find the books I enjoy most aren't the top sellers - so often that in fact it's surprising when my taste does align with the bestseller's list. For instance, I really admired Delirium but there was another YA sci-fi bestseller (which I won't mention by name because I don't want to knock it) I read a couple of months ago and the characters felt like cardboard cut-outs to me. I had to slog through it.



#4 - February 01, 2012, 02:24 PM
Film school grad. Time traveller. Billy Bragg fan. Canadian/Irish novelist of character-driven fiction from sci-fi to slice of life.

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To be fair, the discussion of which books deserve more attention is, I think, entirely valid. I just have trouble framing it around the idea of bestseller status as something that any given author deserves or doesn't deserve.

While I agree with the above, I'm going to disagree, for the sake of lively threads, with this:
I could name a book that I don't think it very well-written, but does that necessarily make it so? What if that book, which I think is such a piece of crap, has millions of fans who love, love, LOVE it? Are they wrong?

Quality of writing and how satisfying or enjoyable a book may be to millions of fans are two separate things, IMO. While I acknowledge that there is SOME lack of agreement (such as whether adverbs are permissable or not), I don't accept the idea that there are are no commonly agreed standards on what quality writing is or is not. I think we CAN generally agree on books that are well or poorly written. There is actuallly much more agreement on what constitutes literary value than there is disagreement. But STORYTELLING ability -- which is what tends to make bestsellers -- and WRITING ability are two separate things. (If they weren't, verbal storytelling couldn't exist, but it predates writing.) And a book that has strong storytelling can sell well regardless of the quality of its writing. The reverse is almost never true.

Books that have a high literary quality *can* (not must... but frequently) be seen by readers as harder to read simply because they rely more on techniques such as symbolism, allusion, patterning, understatement, meta-fiction techniques, etc. to carry the meaning -- rather than pure narrative. (And the mere fact that they DO use some of these other techniques can be both what helps elevate their writing quality and makes them "harder.") But that often results in those books feeling less satisfying to anyone not willing to make that effort or who has never learned how to do it, or had much practice.

So anyway, rant over, but I'd nominate:

- Jenny Moss' TAKING OFF
- Many National Book Award nominees, such as Laini Taylor's LIPS TOUCH. (Just because you've heard of a book doesn't make it a bestseller. Editors say that award recognition in general, and NBA recognition in particular, rarely has much impact on sales. There are plenty of award-winning books that don't sell well. This is the crux of our awards vs. bestselling dichotomy.)
- I'll assume it'll be a bestseller if it's not already, and I've already raved elsewhere, but Maggie's The Scorpio Races.
#5 - February 01, 2012, 02:26 PM
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I want to say I agree with both Mike and Joni. One of my goals right now is to read more really popular books, to try to understand better what "everybody" sees in them. And I have to say, I don't think there's a secret. As a group, bestsellers are no better or worse than non-bestsellers, as a group.

But I do find it interesting and kind of disappointing that the first five posts of this thread mentioned books by (perfectly wonderful) authors who are ALREADY bestsellers: Maggie Steifvater, Laini Taylor, and Holly Black. Really, Blueboarders?

#6 - February 01, 2012, 03:59 PM

Mike Jung

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Put 'em up, Joni!  :batman ;)

Lively threads are a good thing! Your points are well taken, of course. But I only partially agree that there are widely accepted definitions of what constitutes quality writing. This is just my opinion, naturally, but I tend to think storytelling vs. writing is a bit of a false dichotomy. Book-based storytelling is actually a writing skill, if you ask me - I don't think oral storytelling (or visual storytelling skill, or kinesthetic storytelling skill etc.) automatically translate into the ability to WRITE a good story.

And I like anon's point very much - on the whole, looking at something like the full spectrum of each group rather than specific examples, best sellers and non-best sellers aren't all that different in terms of overall literary quality. I was actually using Maggie as an example of a best seller, but I certainly have thoughts about non-best sellers I'd like to see enjoy huge commercial success. Joanne Rocklin is one of the best MG authors around, I wish ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET had its own display in every bookstore in the country. Kurtis Scaletta writes terrific, under appreciated books for boys. Kevin Emerson's CARLOS IS GONNA GET IT is a stunner. I want Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich's 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO to have a million copies in print. And on and on and on...
#7 - February 01, 2012, 04:26 PM

anon, i guess it's all relative as to what
defines a bestseller.
but i personally do NOT believe the curse
worker's is getting the love and attention it deserves.

sorry you took issue with this one among
the ones i listed.

but yes, *really*. =)

joni, i'd venture that quality of writing isn't
always necessary to write an enjoyable novel.
(or for that matter, to have a best seller.)
#8 - February 01, 2012, 04:36 PM
« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 04:41 PM by xiaotien »
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Mike Jung

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I TOTALLY FORGOT TO LIST CINDY PON! Everyone should be reading SILVER PHOENIX and FURY OF THE PHOENIX!
#9 - February 01, 2012, 04:52 PM

*slips a fiver to mike*

eunuchs need love too.

haha!

let's just say that i've made peace with the
fact that i don't really write commercial. and
by that, i don't mean my writing style or anything.

but who the heck has a teen eunuch anti-hero in YA?
yeah. only me. ha!

so i think that there ARE ways to define books more
likely for commercial success. and trends are one of them.
they are not a guarantee for success, but it never hurts to
catch a popular trend. if you've written a strong novel AND
it is riding a trend, you're more likely to get the marketing dollars
to back you and be shelved more widely, etc.

so many factors in so many different areas.
#10 - February 01, 2012, 05:08 PM
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Quote
As a group, bestsellers are no better or worse than non-bestsellers, as a group.

I don't think we can even really say that. This is all totally subjective. What criteria would you even use to determine whether they're better or worse?
#11 - February 01, 2012, 05:11 PM
Film school grad. Time traveller. Billy Bragg fan. Canadian/Irish novelist of character-driven fiction from sci-fi to slice of life.

Mike Jung

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I don't think we can even really say that. This is all totally subjective. What criteria would you even use to determine whether they're better or worse?

C.K., I think the subjectivity is a big reason why we CAN say that. Determining that one group is clearly better or worse than the other in terms of writing quality would require some kind of objective measure that we just don't have. Although I get your drift, it might be more accurate to say that it's simply not possible to make any kind of side-by-side comparison of the two groups, especially since this thread is showing that we don't all define "best seller" the same way.
#12 - February 01, 2012, 05:24 PM

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Mike, I understood that for a second and then my head exploded a little.  :stars But I thought the whole point of the thread was that we were talking about books we thought deserved more success? Not scientifically or anything but, you know, just our opinions. Okay, my head is starting to explode again.  :evil:
#13 - February 01, 2012, 05:31 PM
Film school grad. Time traveller. Billy Bragg fan. Canadian/Irish novelist of character-driven fiction from sci-fi to slice of life.

Mike Jung

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Sorry C.K., didn't mean to make your head explode! *head explodes in sympathy*

I think mentioning books that we wish were more successful or visible or celebrated and so on is a great thing to do! I just had difficulty with the idea that there's some correlation between commercial success and bad writing and an opposing correlation between lack of commercial success and good writing. Bestsellers=bad writing, non-bestsellers=good writing, in other words. I just don't think that's true, so being able to say "On the whole, the writing quality of all bestsellers is higher/lower than the quality of all non-bestsellers" is not, IMHO, a valid thing to say. And by the same coin, maybe it's equally invalid to say "On the whole, the writing quality of all bestsellers is about the same as the quality of all non-bestsellers." Maybe the answer is "It's all pretty @#$%ing subjective so there's no answer, let's just go have a beer and talk about the Hunger Games movie..."
#14 - February 01, 2012, 05:48 PM

Mike Jung

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*slips a fiver to mike*

Five? That's it?? FIVE DOLLARS??

;)
#15 - February 01, 2012, 05:52 PM

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Maybe the answer is "It's all pretty @#$%ing subjective so there's no answer, let's just go have a beer and talk about the Hunger Games movie..."

:werd


#16 - February 01, 2012, 06:08 PM

Five? That's it?? FIVE DOLLARS??

;)

bribe in direct correlation of best selling status
of my novels. HAHAHAHA!

seriously tho, i don't think there is a formula, subjectivity
aside.

i think what WOULD be interesting is to look at novels
that were best selling that did NOT get a strong marketing push
and see what was it that made them be break outs?
tho i don't know off the top of my head which these novels
would be. i know Twilight had a strong marketing push for certain.

what about harry potter?

i honestly don't think "break outs" from midlist happens very
often at all.
#17 - February 01, 2012, 06:23 PM
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I don't know how it did in sales either way, but I don't see it talked about much: Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King.

And Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi. (award winner, though. Dust might have been, too.)

And Tell me a Secret by Holly Cupala, which I found very impressive for a debut novel.

But one thing this thread is making me realize is that in my limited reading time, I rarely get past three sets of books: award winners (which I want to keep up with), buzzy books (which I feel I HAVE to keep up with), and books by my friends (which I buy but sometimes take years to get around to reading because I'm "keeping up" with the others. I'm probably not reading enough to have a long list of "unknown" books to recommend because if they are that unknown, I probably haven't read 'em yet -- unless they're written by friends.

And I think that's sort of the Catch 22 of this whole proposition (and part of the answer to why some of the books named in this thread are by bestselling authors).
#18 - February 01, 2012, 09:56 PM
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 12:05 AM by Joni »
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

www.jonisensel.com

Oooh, ooh, I have one! Not any kind of contribution to the lively conversation going on, because you all are much more eloquent than I, but an actual book I wish more people would love:

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.

That's all I can think of now, but I love to hear about books that people love that maybe I haven't heard very much about before.
#19 - February 01, 2012, 10:05 PM
I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

First off - I agree with this:
Quote
Quality of writing and how satisfying or enjoyable a book may be to millions of fans are two separate things, IMO. While I acknowledge that there is SOME lack of agreement (such as whether adverbs are permissable or not), I don't accept the idea that there are are no commonly agreed standards on what quality writing is or is not. I think we CAN generally agree on books that are well or poorly written.

And I'm gonna even say that one of the author's Mike mentioned initially (not Maggie - adore Maggie) has some issues with structure. I think you can *love* a book that has some technical issues. But it doesn't mean they aren't there. I think taste is subjective. I think some rules can be strategically broken, but I think sometimes things are fumbled, and maybe we love the book anyway, but maybe that's the thing that takes one reader out of the fictive dream and that reader just really dislikes the book.

So, I *do* think it's a fair question. Some books are beautiful and just get overlooked for whatever reason. Just like there are some amazing singers that never make it out of the local scene. I also don't think it diminishes the bestsellers in anyway to say "Hey, good for you, but why didn't A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Ann Schlitz sell a million copies?"

I think as author's we know that some books are quiet and don't have the high concept that might make them have broad appeal - but the crazy thing about this industry is that some do, and are wonderfully written, and just don't get the attention that others' do and it doesn't make sense.
#20 - February 01, 2012, 10:43 PM
Robin

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Joni--I think Tell me a Secret was Holly's debut.  Don't Breath a Word is the one that just came out, right?

I have not read either:(  Because I fall into catagory:"books by my friends."
#21 - February 01, 2012, 11:16 PM

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Joni--I think Tell me a Secret was Holly's debut.  Don't Breath a Word is the one that just came out, right?

Oh, you're right. Secret is the one I meant. (Haven't read Breathe yet). Guess a hazard of related titles is telling which came first!
#22 - February 02, 2012, 12:03 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

www.jonisensel.com

i think what WOULD be interesting is to look at novels
that were best selling that did NOT get a strong marketing push
and see what was it that made them be break outs?
tho i don't know off the top of my head which these novels
would be. i know Twilight had a strong marketing push for certain.

what about harry potter?

i honestly don't think "break outs" from midlist happens very
often at all.

Really interesting thread, and I think Cindy poses a great question. Not that I have any answers, but I think she's right about Harry Potter. Are there any others we can think of?

And honestly, I'm not trying to be all, "I agree with Cindy!" but I think Holly Black's Curse Workers series is amazing and I've been surprised it hasn't been talked about more.
#23 - February 02, 2012, 01:49 AM
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Julia's Kitchen is a book that I definitely feel like more people should know. Brenda Ferber is from the chicago area which is how I know the book. Julia's Kitchen was her first book and the way it unfolds is really impressive and just overall the whole book is masterfully done--it's about a girl who's mother and sister die in a house fire, and boy could that be a very difficult story to write, somehow Julia's Kitchen manages it really deftly. 



#24 - February 02, 2012, 03:30 AM
Keith McGowan, www.keithbooks.com

Woods

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But I thought the whole point of the thread was that we were talking about books we thought deserved more success? Not scientifically or anything but, you know, just our opinions.

That is exactly what I meant.
#25 - February 02, 2012, 04:57 AM

There's a adult novel I read a year or so ago, called, A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, by Lauren Grodstein that was probably the best book I read that year. Phenonminal. Themes of jealousy woven in. I'm pretty sure it got a ton of good reviews, but I don't know if anyone read it, and I doubt it was a bestseller. I'd never heard of it, only stumbled across it on a library shelf. Compare that to another book I read that year, Anita Shreve's, RESCUE. Flat, one-dimensional characters, cliched. It had a massive displays and table placement at bookstores -- because Shreve's a "name."

That's too bad, imo. That name wins over content. I mean, of course it does, but it's too bad.

I felt the same way about P.E. Ryan's YA, THE SAINTS OF AUGUSTINE. Really great book about two friends, one gay, one straight. It blew WILL GRAYSON out of the water on all fronts. But I doubt very many people (outside of BB) read it, while GRAYSON was a bestseller.  
#26 - February 02, 2012, 06:35 AM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

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I want ecb's books to be all over the bestseller lists. And RJ Anderson's. And Brandon Sanderson's MG Alcatraz series. Those are three series whose progress as a series I really want to see to the end!!
#27 - February 02, 2012, 06:49 AM

Linda

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The Other Felix, by Keir Graff.

A wonderful younger mid-grade. I just reviewed it:

http://www.lindazinnen.com/2012/01/other-felix.html


#28 - February 02, 2012, 07:06 AM

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Very interesting thread.  I tend to read books which aren't typically bestsellers, though I love dystopic books (long before the trend), so some of my favorites followed the trend.  A couple of my personal favorites (who I rarely see mentioned anywhere) are Donna Frietas (I've loved all of her three books so far -- each a stand-alone) and Justina Chen Headley (also writes stand-alones).  Of course, both of these write contemporary, so they won't get the buzz or attention that a dystopic or urban fantasy might.
#29 - February 02, 2012, 07:15 AM
Robin
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CC, I'm adding A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY and THE SAINTS OF AUGUSTINE to my TBR list!

Quote
That's too bad, imo. That name wins over content. I mean, of course it does, but it's too bad.


It's a shame. Seems to be the same in the music and movie industries  :(

Quote
i honestly don't think "break outs" from midlist happens very often at all

It does seem that mostly it's the books that publishers throw the most money and attention at that hit it big. I'm not sure about Harry Potter's initial marketing push but didn't it get a really tiny advance, like, 2,000 or 3,000 pounds?
#30 - February 02, 2012, 07:33 AM
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 07:47 AM by C.K. »
Film school grad. Time traveller. Billy Bragg fan. Canadian/Irish novelist of character-driven fiction from sci-fi to slice of life.

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