People are sometimes surprised when they ask what I read and I answer, everything. They assume professional writers and editors have such refined tastes that we limit our reading to authors such as Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and the occasional Philip Roth.
While I can’t speak for all of us in the publishing world, most of us probably try to read whatever we can get our hands on, especially those books, well-written or not, that have become bestsellers. We want to know why. How did the author capture such a large audience? What is it that resonated with readers?
In a USA Today interview, Stephen King, the master of horror fiction shares his thoughts about the writing gifts of some other bestselling authors. His verdict on two prolific blockbuster authors:
“You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful.”
But here’s where I really relate to King. After pointing out that Stephenie Meyer, author of the popular Twilight vampire books, isn’t much of a writer, he shares insights on why she’s a success:
“People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”
All writers of fiction should do the same kind of analysis, especially when reviewing books that are similar in some way to their own. What is it that sets the book apart and draws readers in? Rarely is it the quality of the writing. More likely, it’s something about the story or the characters or both.