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Bulletin Board > What is a "good book"?

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message 1: by S.A. (new)

S.A. (suerule) | 12 comments Setting an acceptable standard of QUALITY is one of the biggest issues facing the rising numbers of self-published authors. With no publisher or editor in the publication process, how do we distinguish the dross or even the mediocre from the excellent writing that is coming out of the indie sector?

Is there a Goodreads definition of a "good book" that the majority could subscribe to?

Assuming there isn't, what do others think of the following 4-point definition. The idea is that a competent book scores reasonably well in all four criteria, a good book scores highly on one or more criteria, and a great book scores high on all four criteria:-

1. Technically competent writing. The use of words displays a good grasp of the rules of grammar. If the rules of grammar are broken, they are broken consciously by the author for good narrative reasons.

2. Rounded characters. The story is realised through the behaviour of credible, complex characters.

3. Good storytelling. Credible plotlines with no glaring continuity errors; intelligent story creation based on good research; competent creation of dramatic tension; no farcical deus ex machina resolutions (“with a bound, Jack was free!”).

4. Depth. Stories that in some way, however small, encourage the reader to think.


S.A. Rule


message 2: by Cleveland (new)

Cleveland | 60 comments Hi
What you write is fine.

But consider a good book as one when the characters are talked about.(Your note 2 touches on characters)

and

A bad book when the author is talked about.

Often it is as simple as that.
I review for two main line authors, write my own narratives, and ghost write prose, poetry too.That means I am able to taste some good and bad writing. I hate to cringe when asked to read work that simply needs 'fixing.'

Often it is easy to fix and writers only have to go that extra half a mile to fix. What a tool the web can be... if we use it. That's the 'rub.'

(Aside when I review anything I use the 'find' facility. That tells me a lot of misused words, wrongly used words, repeated words, helping verbs, incorrect titles, flat writing, consistency, tension, dialogue, plot points and a thousand other things that make up the big picture).
Bottom line : If I can use the find facility so too can the editors who look at work sent to them. Sobering thought.
Best
Cleveland
House of the Skull Drum(latest A novel)


message 3: by Adam (new)

Adam Santo (locoduc) | 20 comments They are good points. I like it.
Adam Santo


message 4: by S.A. (last edited Dec 19, 2010 07:10PM) (new)

S.A. (suerule) | 12 comments Simon, I don't think much of "what other people are saying" as a measure of a good book. I think there are some objective criteria we can put in place to measure the quality of a book entirely on its own merits.

Good writing doesn't just happen by magic, thought it may seem that way. It can be analysed. Unless it's changed since my dim and distant schooldays there's an academic subject called "English Literature" where one studies and takes apart works of great literature to see what makes them tick. Working with my daughter to do her creative writing degree I learned a lot, as I have attending creative writing classes myself. I learned to understand some things I was doing instinctively, so that I could do them better. Good writers are always studying and learning their craft, no matter how many books they have under their belt - it is always possible to do it better.

As to books that have won awards...nah. For one thing, a book has to have been entered in the competition. And we don't know what criteria the judges making the awards are using - it all seems very subjective, and I'm trying to find something objective.

My criteria are things that can be judged pretty objectively - either the writing does obey the rules of grammar or it doesn't. Either the storytelling creates dramatic tension (page turning qualities) or it doesn't. Etc.

I am not seeking to "Narrow the field to find the best of the best books out there" I am merely seeking to set a benchmark of competence for those of us who haven't written great books, but have written good books, and deserve to be read. As distinct from some self-published self-publicisers who have the arrogance to assume they can just foist any self-indulgent tosh on the public and demand payment for it.

The ultimate arbiter remains the reader, who either likes a book or they don't; but for the newly published book, surely an objective benchmark of quality is a valuable guide for readers swamped with indie titles.


message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Round | 41 comments Self Publishing magazine has reviews of self published books and it is amazing how many of them are criticised for lack of editing. There does not seem to be anywhere they are compared with other published books. They are either ignored or dismissed.
It is rather like folk music- a little gets discovered but most is just enjoyed in clubs, where people can purchase self-made CD's.
I don't know how we can set a standard. Each of us has to find their own loyal band of readers.There are dreadful books out there just as there is dreadful music.
JCR


message 6: by S.A. (new)

S.A. (suerule) | 12 comments Each of us has to find their own loyal band of readers.There are dreadful books out there just as there is dreadful music.

Yes, but you only have to listen to one song to know its dreadful. How can a reader tell a book's any good without forking out to buy it?

The music analogy doesn't really work. A club or a pub or a festival will pay me to do a gig. I play one gig, I can reach 30 people in a folk club or several hundred people at a festival, and if they like it they will come and hear me play again. Every book sale is a one off, and no-one except the reader is paying me anything.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

For a reader, the answer is simple - Any book you read and like is a good book. :) Writing quality isn't always the reason a books succeeds - and there are many 'blockbuster' books that fit into the poorly written category, but gained readership.

For authors - it is much harder. The pressure the publishers put on each new author to hit a ball out of the park on the first book is ridiculous. It takes time to build an audience. To separate one's book from among the hundreds published each year. Even those 'blockbusters' mentioned earlier, were not overnight successes.

Simon is right, that even the most "well-written books needs to gain as many readers as possible to be discovered" no matter how long it has been out. This is where the publishers fail in not allowing readers to find books and yanking them after only a year. Self-published authors have the luxury of time.


message 8: by Karen (new)

Karen (karenvwrites) | 14 comments A good book captivates your imagination and teaches you something along the way. People have different opinions as to what is good. Plot and characters in a fiction make or break a book --non fiction should bring out aha moments in the reader or if its humor you should be lol-ing by the end of it.


message 9: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Comley (melcom) | 50 comments I think you can tell if a book is a 'good book' if people keep talking about it. If the characters or plot stay with your readers for weeks or months or even years after reading it.

Mel


message 10: by Barbm1020 (new)

Barbm1020 I think a good book is one that helps us know ourselves, or takes us to a fascinating world that we could never really visit and gives us a sense of adventure and mental growth at the end of the story. For my preference there should be some challenging ideas and at least a few good laughs. If there's a character who is so endearing that I want to meet them again, that's a really good book.


message 11: by Pat (new)

Pat Whitaker (whitakerbooks) | 19 comments For me, the measure of a good book is whether I feel a sense of loss when I finish reading it.

Good writing, on the other hand, is when the author is completely invisible. By that I mean I am unaware of the writing style, competency, or the author - I'm completely lost in the story itself.


message 12: by Barbm1020 (new)

Barbm1020 Pat wrote: "For me, the measure of a good book is whether I feel a sense of loss when I finish reading it.

Good writing, on the other hand, is when the author is completely invisible. By that I mean I am una..."


Yes, that's my idea of good writing too.


message 13: by Keryl (new)

Keryl Raist (kerylraist) | 55 comments The only objective measure of a book is writing as a technical exercise. Grammar mainly.

Are the characters well rounded? It's subjective. I've read and written reviews where my understanding of the characters was at odds with other reviewers. None of us were wrong, we just had different opinions.

Good storytelling is the same way. My ability to suspend disbelief is different than someone else. Credible plot? Well, I like fantasy so vampires and wizards and things that happen because of them being vampires and wizards are credible to me. Meanwhile I often put down romantic comedies because I cannot make myself believe that anyone has ever acted the way the characters in those books do.

And depth will be very subjective based on the depth of the mind reading the story. Once again, Rom Coms that leave me flat are often considered 'poignant' and 'introspective.' Meanwhile my pet genre is often dismissed as shallow and all action.

However, having a system like the UL seal of approval to show a book meets at least basic grammar levels might be nice.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Keryl wrote: "The only objective measure of a book is writing as a technical exercise. Grammar mainly.

Are the characters well rounded? It's subjective. I've read and written reviews where my understanding o..."


I agree about grammar, Keryl. However, it is those subjective reviews that can make or break a book in the eyes of many. And there is no standard for a reviewer to follow, no course, no training, merely subjective taste. So where authors are held to a grammar and style standard, reviewers aren't. A little unfair to me as a author to adhere to rules, but reviewers don't and can get into a free-for-all in their opinions.


message 15: by Keryl (new)

Keryl Raist (kerylraist) | 55 comments Shawn wrote: I agree about grammar, Keryl. However, it is those subjective reviews that can make or break a book in the eyes of many. And there is no standard for a reviewer to follow, no course, no training, merely subjective taste. So where authors are held to a grammar and style standard, reviewers aren't. A little unfair to me as a author to adhere to rules, but reviewers don't and can get into a free-for-all in their opinions.


Sure. I'm not saying reviews aren't important.

However, the OP was talking about setting some sort of standard of quality for indie books. Now, I can certainly see some sort of "PE" (Professionally Edited) mark like the UL that is given to books with a minimum level of grammatical competence.

Beyond that there is no way to set an objective standard for a "good book."

If you've ever been part of the discussions of Twilight, Harry Potter, the DaVinci Code, Lovely Bones, etc... you know that a "good book" is a very, very subjective call.


message 16: by Barbm1020 (new)

Barbm1020 Having done book reviews, I can offer this: reviewers are of 2 kinds - famous writers whose names will help sell the periodical where their reviews appear, and well-read acquaintances recruited by publishers who can't afford to pay them. So how much do you think any of us really care? It's the readers' reaction to the book that decides its popularity or otherwise.


message 17: by Brenda (new)

Brenda | 88 comments I like that definition Simon.


message 18: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Pilgrim (oldgeezer) | 140 comments I think Simon's definition is something we, as writers should all aspire to. The trouble is too many wannabe writers are too impatient to see their work in print, and don't take enough time to get it right. Result:- what we see at the moment, a flood of mediocrity.
All the best Paul Rix [oldgeezer]


message 19: by Carrie (new)

Carrie (carrieking) | 17 comments Timothy wrote: "I think Simon's definition is something we, as writers should all aspire to. The trouble is too many wannabe writers are too impatient to see their work in print, and don't take enough time to get ..."

Hear, hear, Paul!


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