As a reader and a consumer, it is our responsibility to be educated. Far too often we follow the flow of social trend and popularity. Writing should not be a popularity contest. Yes, it is true, we come to expect a certain quality or style from known authors and therefore we may purchase the newest Stephen King novel without bothering to look any further than the name on the cover. However, when it comes to new authors, new books, how do you choose what to read? By your purchases, you influence the market. Publishers note trends as they climb. How can we forget the supernatural romance era following Stephanie Meyer’s success? Why do books gain mass popularity, even when written more poorly than others? The answer is simple, the consumer. One person reads a book, usually because someone suggested it to them, be it a friend or Oprah. This person then follows the trend, not wanting to seem ‘out of the loop’ so to speak, and they highly recommend a book to others, based not on their own opinion, but based on the opinion given to them by others. This floods the market with drivel.
As both a reader and a writer, I implore you, my fellow readers to consider what you recommend, and why. Did you enjoy the book, if so what did you enjoy about it? Was it well written? Were the characters easy to empathize with? Perhaps the story was captivating. Was it a new spin on an old story model? Consider the last book you suggested to another. If I were to ask you what you enjoyed about it, what would you tell me? Frequently I am misunderstood in that a person will suggest a new novel to me and insist I should read it. My response is always the same. “Why?” I am not asking why I should read, I am always seeking new work to enjoy. I am, however asking why I should read this book as opposed to another. What makes this one worth recommending? If you cannot answer that simple question with something more thoughtful than “Well, it’s good, I liked it.” then clearly you have no idea what you appreciate about it, and cannot offer me reasoning why this particular book has literary merit.
Let us consider new fiction. Yes, I’ll be the first to say, with the ease in which one may self publish, there is a lot of crap out there. Still, there is much that has redeeming qualities. As one who claims to be a reader, a bibliophile or lover of literature, we should know something about books, about the process, the ways to tell quality from sub-par publishing. So how do we determine what to read next, or rather, how should we? I am by no means saying to start avoiding your favorite authors. I am however, suggesting that you do not simply assume a book to be of quality based on the name you see on the cover, or based on a recommendation from some TV book club. Now, this is not to say that book clubs do not have some benefit for the literary minded individual. However, as the consumer it is our responsibility to examine the one recommending a book to us. Does this person have any idea what goes into writing a book? Can they view a book with a critical eye, knowing how to point out every dangling participle, every sentence fragment, every poorly designed, stereotypical character? Can they note the similarity in writing style between authors? Would they know a poorly written book from an incredibly well written one? If not, should you really be taking their advice?
Again, I’m not trying to pick on anyone here, nor am I trying to tell you not to follow any certain promoters or authors. Imagine what would happen if every author, no matter the level of previous success, was forced to face the same amount of scrutiny as they did before publishing book one. My point is this, we as readers do a disservice to authors globally by listening only to the masses. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen the terrifying statistics on how little people are reading these days. Now consider that the majority of what’s being read is mass marketed, recommended by people who have no more business suggesting books as they do suggesting alterations to theories of quantum physics. How is it any different? Consider the source, then critique that source. Demand to know what merit a book has. We would never buy a car based solely on our mother’s brother’s cousin twice removed saying he likes that one. Why should you waste time and shift the market by doing the same thing within the literary world? Look for something new, something by an unknown author. Find merit where it exists, I assure you, there are authors out there that are every bit as worthy of a read as any Michael Crichton novel, and you will likely never hear about them without looking for them. These authors deserve a chance to be read. If you cannot find a decent suggestion, start looking for an unknown author, you may be surprised at the amount of unknown talent out there.
We like to blame publishers, the Big 5 in particular for this occurrence, however it is important to remember that the market trend is always going to be based on what people are buying. You want to see better movies? Stop paying to go see poorly made ones. You want to read better books? Start by buying better books. If we are to believe that a single vote can have some bearing on a presidential election, why then can we not believe that our purchase of a book from some unknown author will similarly affect the market? Want to see better books? Let that be reflected in your purchasing. If you want to see an influx of new authors being promoted, buy their book! Just remember to read critically. If you enjoy a book, does it really matter whose name is on the cover? Be a responsible, educated reader, and the market will have no choice but to produce better books.