Do I Grade on a Curve?

January 20th, 2010 • Kate

sophie-kinsella-twenties-girlSo I recently finished reading Sophie Kinsella’s novel Twenties Girl, which I enjoyed (and stayed up late finishing), though I felt it suffered, at first, from some of the same problems I find in Kinsella’s insanely popular Shopaholic series. Namely, that the main characters seems SO CLUELESS at times that you want to reach into the pages and smack her upside the head, or in some other way, stop her from making a HORRIBLE decision.

That being said, I still finished it, and after I got past a few of those horrible decisions, I really enjoyed the book, and was, perhaps, even more pleased at the happy ending.

But I have to wonder: if I were reading this book as an agent — if the opening chapters came to me by submission — would I have kept going? I don’t know. In my pleasure reading, I think I do “grade on a curve,” somewhat, in that I trust a published book has gone through a rather vigorous vetting process. An agent liked it, sold it to an editor whose acquisitions board agreed, got their sales and marketing team behind it, a book store agreed to stock it, as did my local library, etc. etc. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through, and I have to trust that those hoops make the book better.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t been disappointed by published books in the past. I know that some authors at a certain level of success have their books published perhaps more quickly that a new author might, without the close, careful editing that a debut might receive. I’m not knocking editors at all — I know hordes of brilliant ones, who do amazing things with their titles — but sometimes a book may be delivered and published with a shorter turnaround that makes it hard for editors to do the jobs they’re hired for. Some authors may even believe their words can’t be improved by an editor’s hand, and don’t let their books be edited.

Anyway, all this is just to note another Recent Read, and open things up for discussion — have you been disappointed by published books, maybe by authors you’ve loved in the past? No names, please, but I’m curious if you kept reading them.

Full disclosure: By my nature as a literary agent, I get a commission on sales of books by my clients, through any eventual royalties. My links to any Amazon pages also earns me a small fee, if you click through and buy a copy. Though you should also feel free to support your local library — which is where I got my copy of this title.
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17 Responses to “Do I Grade on a Curve?”

  1. Jade Says:

    I usually treat authors with the same respect I extend to bands. If they put out one bad album then they have the next one to win me back. Two strikes and they're out.

    There are several authors where I've found their later books aren't as good as the ones that won them their fans. When this happens, I usually stop reading them. There are too many amazing authors out there for me to be wasting my time on the same plot re-hashed over and over again.

  2. Maria D Says:

    I find myself disappointed by a lot of supernatural fiction. I read the back cover and the premise often sounds like something I'd love. But once I get into it, it either falls flat plot wise or it starts relying on tons of YA cliches, like the unattainable boy/girl, the love triangle with monsters, etc. Sometimes it works and I have no problem with it, but more and more often I'm finding books in which they feel like an afterthought, or the author added them because they thought their book would sell more copies if it had that romance.

  3. Mandy Says:

    I've definitely been disappointed, more specifically when I was reading a 500 page book that led nowhere. It was by an author I trusted to write. However, when its an author I trust I usually give them the benefit of a doubt and read the next few. However, I agree with Jade. I can only take so much of bad writing before you lose my trust. Though I usually go with three strikes they're out.

    I'm a little stiffer with new authors, but I do always make myself read the book all the way through. Usually I find some redeeming quality in the book to make me want to pick up the next one and usually the second book gets even better, thereby hooking me to the author. However, there have been times when a series never gets finished because the plot and characters offer nothing.

  4. Delilah S. Dawson Says:

    Yes! I read a book that is the first in a paranormal series, and the writing is so horrible that it makes me angry that it was published. I noticed the latest in the series on the shelf in B&N on a day when I received two form rejections and kinda threw up in my mouth a little.

    I hate feeling jealousy, but… yeah. I still do.

  5. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I have always been one of those people who has to finish reading a book or watching a show even if it is bad. But I am starting to change and will walk away from a bad show.

    Books though are hard for me to stop reading. I can only think of one I had recently that I decided not to finish. It was a YA book and the writing itself wasn't as bad as others I have read- the story was just so boring and slow paced.

    There is another famous romance writer who puts out several books a year that I stopped reading after a few books because they were so formulaic. I recently picked up more of her work and loved it. I think maybe she was going through a slump at the time I read those books.

  6. amy sue nathan Says:

    I have read books by authors who've published multiple books and was sorely disappointed. In one women's fiction title a subplot was dropped completely. Know what I did? Went back to my WIP page by page to make sure that all the threads went where I intended and that I didn't leave anything out that should be in.

    But I also think that books fill different needs. If you're reading Sophie Kinsella then a clueless protagonist is expected, even if it makes you pull out your hair. I think people expect that in her books. I look at those kinds of books like fairy tales — couldn't be and shouldn't be — but many times great stories, thoughts and lessons.

    I like to read all kinds of books that have made it to the book shelves. It reminds me that publishing — and reading — are completely subjective.

  7. Abby Stevens Says:

    I've only ever put down two books in my life. One was an appallingly badly written novel about Katherine of Aragon. I could not BELIEVE such a novel could be published. It was a bit discouraging seeing something like that in print, stocked with multiple copies at my local B&N. Seeing things like that sort of underscore the impression that it isn't about your talent, but who you know (though I know that's not necessarily the case).

    Besides that, I was assigned to read a certain classic while in high school that I thought was unbearable – I couldn't get past page 100. Only time I've ever watched the movie instead of reading the book.

  8. Julia Says:

    Timely topic! I recently picked up the latest in a mystery series by a famous author whom I have loved in the past. This book is so lame I can't even believe an editor looked at it. There are at least two other mystery series I used to love – but the writing and/or plots have gone so far downhill that they are (to me) unreadable.

    Considering the genre, mysteries are formulaic. Yet, certain authors never fail to write good readable books, even given the nature of the beast.

    I just got a notice from Borders that one other mystery author (whose series I love) has a new book out. Yes, hope springs eternal & I will pick up a copy. I hope I am not disappointed.

  9. callie Says:

    I have two particular authors who I really like, but only off and on. There older stuff was pretty consistent, but over the last five years or so it's really hit or miss. The thing is, I never know. Some of the later stuff is brilliant, some awful. That means I keep going back for more and get annoyed when I'm disappointed. It's very clear to me that if some of their latest stuff had been submitted by a new author it would've never been published. I guess that's the way it goes though. You get big enough and you can sell by name alone.

  10. callie Says:

    Oops. "Their" older stuff. I hate looking like an idiot on here.

  11. Abby Stevens Says:

    Maybe Kate/Daphne can enlighten us on this more, but it is my understanding that a few prolific authors are not, in fact, one author but several writing under the author's name brand, per sae. That way the publishing house can make money off of an author big enough to sell books just by their name being attached to it without having to push said author to actually write 3 or 4 books a year. It is possible that the waivering quality of certain authors could be attested to that?

  12. Stina Says:

    Have I been disappointed? Yes! There's one author who-shall-not-be-named (there's a clue), whose last book could have been better edited. I mean, I know the mc was bored during long stretches of the book. But really, did the reader have to be bored too? I ended up skimming through large sections of the book just to get to the action. Not good!

  13. Abby Stevens Says:

    Oh no, Stina! If I read your clue correctly, I LOVED that book. But then again, I am a huge [redacted] fan, so it would have had to be pretty bad to disappoint me!

  14. Stina Says:

    Abby, I was a big [redacted] fan too. Fortunately the romance still had me hooked. I just HAD to know if [redacted] and [redacted] got together in the end. 😀

  15. Abby Stevens Says:

    Ooh, then I'm sure you were well-pleased with that aspect of the book! 🙂

  16. Stina Says:

    Yep! 😀

  17. Kathy Says:

    I read a novel that had three parts to it. I enjoyed the first two parts but felt the last had been rushed to publication. Still I liked the book a lot.

    Another book I read was so terribly written and plotted, I couldn't finish it. It might have not been to my taste.

    Then there are those that needed much more time before getting published.

    Gives me encouragement that my WIP will succeed since I've been revising and revising and … 😀