Friday, January 16, 2009


One of our readers made a good point yesterday. This person commented about my post that for us "good writing trumps all." If that's so, said the reader, how do you explain the phenomenal success of writers like Danielle Steel or James Patterson? Let's face it, in my humble opinion, neither of these authors can (as my dear mother would say) write their way out of a paper bag. Yet most every book they write becomes a bestseller. Where's the justice?

I wish I knew. I really don't. I have absolutely no idea how writers like this become so successful. But, using my knowledge of publishing and publicity and a wild imagination, here are a few possibilities.
  • Perhaps they were innovators; did Danielle INVENT the bitchy female protagonist?
  • Perhaps they were selfless self-promoters with inside tracks to powerful media folks
  • Perhaps they had powerful agents and editors who pushed their books to the top of their publisher's lists
  • Perhaps their books satisfy the lowest desires of lazy readers--action, sex, fantasy--and no effort to read!
  • Perhaps they know something the rest of us don't?
Again, I really don't know. It's probably a combination of all of the above and their publishers' dedication to sticking to what works in terms of sales.

Any of you have any other ideas about how poor writers sometimes get to the top of the heap?


Amanda said...

I think it is just like the other entertainment areas of acting and singing. People who don't have any talent or gift end up having largely successful careers. It seems to be more about opportunity, people you know, and plain luck. I wish it weren't the case because amazingly talented people get overlooked and lost in the shuffle. If only the world were fair.

Adam Heine said...

I always thought that perhaps their first 1-5 books actually *were* good, and they got lazy (or smart - I mean, why work hard when you can hardly work for the same pay?).

Rebekah Mills McDaniel said...

A great agent can generate great buzz for a first novel, but if it's really, truly not any good, the author isn't going to write bestseller after bestseller.

I think the problem is that people (particularly academics and struggling writers) misunderstand what constitutes a "good" novel. A "good" novel isn't necessarily one that is worthy of a Pulitzer, or changes the world, or turns your perception of life on its ear. That's a "great" novel, and some of those bomb, financially.

A "good" novel is very simply, the one that gives you what you go looking for when you crack it open. I've never read Danielle Steel, but I've been addicted to other trash, such as a certain reality show I'm ashamed to name. And it's because I needed what it delivered (a sense of my own superiority over most of humanity), and it delivered it faithfully and on a predictable schedule.

Most people don't read books because they want to be caressed by the sensuous sound of the English language. Most everyday people read books because they want to forget about their lives and be a voyeure of someone else's problems. If a writer's prose isn't so horrid that it forces suspension of disbelief, average semi-educated Americans aren't really that picky about it. They look for the universal, human stuff. The drama of the conflicted relationship. The suspense of the unanswered question. The fight for justice against The Man. And if the writer can deliver that reliably, however clumsily, they'll return again and again.

Not despite of, but ESPECIALLY if the writer uses vocabulary and syntax that Jane Schmo on a paperback budget can relate to and understand.

Anonymous said...

Beauty - and writing talent - are unfortunately in the eye of the beholder. I've read some garbage recently that the critics just loved. Stupid critics.

meltastick said...

It's very frustrating for us writers--who have been writing for years and still nothing--to have to look at such people as Danielle Steel and James Patterson make an insane amount of money for poor (no quality) writing. Stephenie Meyer belongs in this list as well. Her vampire novels have sold like hotcakes, yet the writing itself makes me want to throw myself off a cliff! It's that bad.

But then you have to see who are the ones buying their books. Twilight has a devout teenage girl following that resembles a cult. I hardly see any boys reading Meyer. But girls in the millions are attracted to her books. And let me say that these girls are probably not the brightest stars in the galaxy. Even Stephen King admits that Stephenie Meyer can't write. If The King says it, then I don't have much to add to that.

But I will never understand how Twilight got published in the first place. If I had been an agent I would have turned it down immediately after the first page. Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

It's not about the writing, it's about storytelling. I buy every Danielle Steel book in hardcover as it comes out. Why? Because I know exactly the type of story I'll get, one with warm people who live glamorous, interesting lives and face huge conflicts to find happiness. Do I love her writing? No. I do like her stories and love to curl up with them.

Lots of buzz might sell the first book, but it won't keep people coming back unless they're happy with what they are buying.

Focus on writing compelling stories, big stories that sweep people away.

Danielle said...

Danielle Steel is one of the greatest literary minds of out time and also one of the best selling authors of all time! 11th to be exact.

Danielle can write amazing stories woven with fear and loss and hope and happiness, all the things that we all experience with such passion and zeal that you can not help but dream and believe.

She is an icon and if i could achieve even 1% of her style and pinache then i would certainly feel very blessed!

She can write novels, upto 4+ at a time whilst researching others, having no sleep to meet deadlines and looking after her family. She gives hope to all of those out there that get weighed down with it all and shows her dedication and passion to pass on her brilliant genius and talent to the rest of the world and if you can't see that then what's wrong with the world?!

Anonymous said...

A lot of (untalented) people today are given an opportunity to publish books. Why? Because they're famous. No, I am not talking about actual celebrities (actors, actresses), but simply people that have wealth and are handed everything on a silver platter. I suppose you must have millions to be treated like you are somebody. Just today, I was watching a series-opener of these wealthy sisters. How did one manage to have her own perfume line and another one have her own radio show? By having money! Without it, they would be like me. Another more to-the-topic example would be Lauren Conrad. I cannot belive Harper Collins ASKED her to write a book. What?! And what about all the unknown, actually talented authors? What about them? Lauren Conrad might be a nice person and may enjoy designing clothes, but by far, she is not a writer. I have read the first few pages of her first novel, and it stunk. Stephanie Meyer falls under the same category. It suits people of the lowest intelligence. I tried (many times) to begin reading a novel she has written, and each time, a cell in my brain fries. It's too awful. I suppose you have to be somebody so publishers will pay attention to you. I'm one of those struggling writers. I write because I absolutely love it. I love to read too, and the more I read, the better I can write and the more I am inspired. It makes me feel like it's okay to write what I'm writing and I don't hold back on my imagination. And there is certainly something about Steel's books that sell. I agree, they don't contain the best prose, but they awaken feelings and stir up emotions I never knew I could feel. And it does give me hope.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what you're talking about. Danielle Steel is a fabulous writer who worked hard for her success. Her books are real and artful. She spends 17 hours everyday on her Olympia typewriter until she finishes her romantic novels. She has written over 100 novels and she deserves being the bestselling author that she is. I enjoy her novels.