Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, February 5, 2009

King vs. Meyer, and Who Decides What is "Good" Anyway?

The writosphere is aflutter after Stephen King said, in an interview with USA Weekend: "The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good."

After some further thoughts on Erle Stanley Gardner (King: "terrible"), Jodi Picoult (good), Dean Koontz (good and bad) and James Patterson (bad), King said further:

"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."

The whole situation is not without its irony. After Stephen King won a National Book Foundation award for "distinguished contribution" to American letters (and surely books as well), the critic/professor Harold Bloom wrote in the Boston Globe:

"What [King] is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low..."

Aside from putting books in the news, which, hi, doesn't happen very often, this whole spat raises some interesting questions. Or rather one interesting question: who decides what is good anyway?

Is it the readers? After all, if Meyer is so successful she has to be doing something right. And in this world of American Idol, everyone fancies themselves an expert. But surely there is some difference between commercial success and artistic merit, right? Are we ready to crown the most successful books the "best" books?

Is it the critics? Should we leave "good" to the people who devote themselves to sifting through the books and movies and decide what's good and bad? Surely there's something to be said for expertise, right?

Is it the writers? Who knows better than the people who are actually writing the books, right? Or do they?

Is it the scholars? Yesterday's potboilers are today's classics. Yesterday's drivel is today's unappreciated genius.

What do you think?


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Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Willoughby said...

It shouldn't be any one group as none of them have a totally objective view.

In Britain, Charles Dickens is popular across a broad sweep of all those groups, whereas Virginia Woolf is hardly known outside of critical circles.

All of us should agree to some extent on what makes writing 'good'.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

I was a bit disturbed by King's comment about Meyer. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the woman has written books where millions of children and teens want to read and are excited about it. That surely says something, especially when we are told that no one reads and rather play the Wii and watch hours of TV.

ryan field said...

This isn't so much a comment as it is an observation. I've read other opinions (one in Time Magazine) that agree with King on Meyer. I haven't read Meyer yet, but everything I've read about her writing seems to be consistent. And these weren't necessarily negative reviews either. They were more like warnings that ran along the lines won't be impressed with her writing, but you'll love the stories.

Dan said...

The writer and the reader - the writer if he thinks he wrote a good story and contained the proper elements.

The reader thinks it good if he enjoyed the book.

MT said...

High school students often get into heated spats over whatever novel they are reading in a literature course: what is the meaning of this or that book? What did the author mean by X or Y or Z?

What determines meaning? Author's intention, context, text, or reader? The thing is, meaning is produced rather than uncovered in a text. Meaning is produced as a transaction between all four of those elements. Reading is actually interpreting.

That said, I think that what is "good" is created through a multi-directional transaction as well. I'm not saying that both "meaning" and "good" are "anything goes." Based on the author's contexts etc., there are claims that are stronger than others that can be defended through conscientious argument.

RW said...

It's like arguing a matter of taste. No one "decides" whether McDonald's tastes better than Burger King. You can however identify certain qualities--texture, savoriness--and make a persuasive case that those are things that are important that we should value, and you can argue a persuasive case that one contestant meets those criteria better than another. A persuasive case doesn't "decide" it--the issue isn't one that is decidable. But it can still be persuasive.

Critics are important, because they customarily try to establish what the criteria are that we should judge by--moral seriousness, for example, or the sentence-level grace.

Maria Schneider said...

Meyer's books clearly tell a good story. What they are lacking is editing, which we should fault the publishing house for. Even my 14-year old daughter commented on the lack of basic copy editing in the Twilight series.

Julliana Stone said...

Personally, I don't don't care who you are, I think it's in very bad taste to trash other authors in a public forum. REALLY bad taste and even though I love Steven King....shame on him.

herstord said...

Well, since Stephen King is a reader, a writer, a scholar (Danse Macabre) and a pop-culture critic, I'd say he's got all his creds in order.

There are enough widely agreed-upon objective ways to analyze writing that labeling individual styles "good" or "bad" is legitimate. I'm tired of hearing otherwise.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Good writing resonates with people, regardless of "rules". Obviously these writers have resonated with their audience. They're doing their job and they're good writers. Even Rowling breaks "rules" from time to time. I doubt she cares as she flies from mansion to mansion on her private jet. (That's facetious--I have no idea if she has a jet.)

This question is a matter of taste.

Is Meyers anywhere near my taste? No. I can't stand the perverted notion of a 16 year old girl with a 100 year old vampire. Major perverted ick factor. But she resonates widely, obviously. (And that she does says something awful about the state of "girlhood" today, but whatever.)

I don't particularly like King either, but he sells. He resonates.

King is entitled to his opinions and can spout whenever he wants--just like I did. Besides, his comments were free press for Meyers. He probably just sold more of her books.

Geoff Thorne said...

The only critics I care about are the ones who buy my stories.

Josephine Damian said...

Why any mega-seller would bother to trash-talk another mega-seller is beyond me. It serves no purpose. King should take his cue from Rowling: Shut up and write books.

King's comments will not affect Myer's sales, it'll only make her wonder what the hell is his problem, assuming she's insecure enough to care what anyone thinks.

"Is it the critics? Should we leave "good" to the people who devote themselves to sifting through the books and movies and decide what's good and bad? Surely there's something to be said for expertise, right?"

Exactly, leave the criticism to the critics, like me.

Scott said...

Hey, I like Rachmaninov, but I own more Rock. Still, after listening to lots of Rock, I did go search for other stuff as my tastes broadened. I'm glad I was able to find some.

We need a range of stuff out there, and sellable stories for a particular market are fine as long as the industry doesn't decide that "good" only means "massively popular and profitable".

Perhaps if our banks hadn't let us down so badly, King wouldn't have felt the need to discern.

Josephine Damian said...

Sex Scenes: Oh yeah, she definitely has the jet.

Rick Daley said...

I think there's a difference between being a good writer and a successful writer, and it seems that many do not automatically equate the two.

To me, a good writer is one who can accurately convey their thoughts using the written word. A bad writer is one who does not get their point across correctly, or is largely misinterpreted by the reading audience.

Syntax, rhetoric, and punctuation can be chalked up to elements of style, to a degree.

A successful writer is one who is read, and the more widely read, the more successful the writer. If we are writing for ourselves only and not for a reading audience, I think that can be chalked up as "therapy."

"A wise man speaks because he has something to say. A fool speaks because he has to say something."

Good and bad are indifferent to success. Is a Big Mac good food? Not according to a lot of people. Is McDonald's a successful corporation for having sold billions of them? Yes, without doubt.

Is Stephanie Meyers a good writer? Subjective, reflected upon taste and style. Is she successful? Yes, without doubt.

BarbS. said...

Chacun a son gout. (Sorry, my Mac isn't doing accents today.) To each his own.

Taste. That's all. Some people drool over Rubens. Some prefer Monet. In Don't Drink the Water, Woody Allen has a character say of Jackson Pollock, "His drippings best express my mental state." And I'll never forgive Rodin for the chunk of stone that's supposed to be a bust of Balzac lurking--and leering--deep in the bowels of Princeton's Firestone Library.

I'm not in the mood for King, at the moment. I've never been in the mood for Meyer. So far.

I was never in the mood for Harry Potter, either. But I finally hit the point where I stayed up past midnight to snag the installments the instant they hit the market.

I'll probably get around to reading Meyer, if a friend doesn't foist something on me first.

Wordver is literary advice: BEREDR.

I am. ;)

Jo said...

Supposedly what's appearing all over the web is just an excerpt of an interview appearing in full this weekend. Perhaps it was taken out of context although I think King has a reputation for not mincing words.
However I agree that it's a bit unfair of him to publicly criticize Meyer. She's just starting out in her career and perhaps the worst that can be said about her books (and I have read all 4) is that they would have benefited from some judicious editing, and the best, that she got a lot of people reading which is good for everyone.

selestial-owg said...

Well, as you pointed out, there are those circles who think Stephen King isn't all that impressive either.

Here is my opinion - both King and Meyer have sold a lot of books, so they are both doing something right. I used to read a lot of King, and I really liked it. Over the years though, it became predictable, so I stopped. I've also read "The Host" and "Twilight". There were things that really bothered me about the way she writes, but at the same time, the stories are still good. When looking at Meyer's work, specifically "Twilight", people need to keep in mind that it was (reportedly) her first book, and (according to her website) went from the idea to acceptance for publication in six months. Just hazarding a guess that the time-frame is on the fast side.

I haven't read the other books in the series yet. I will because I have teenage nieces (and a young daughter of my own), and I like to be able to talk to them about something they are interested in.

The important thing here, in my opinion, is something Nathan pointed out. Stephen King just got books in the news (and not the "gloom and doom of the publishing industry" news) - people are talking and arguing books. Seems like, even if this stung Meyer a bit, in the long run, it might not be such a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Insult an author, and you are insulting their fans also. So basicly SK is saying the fans are stupid for reading it and craving more. If you have fans then you are a good writer.

Ryan, if you haven't read it then you have no vote. It's like watching movie reviews and giving your own critique based on other critic's opinions.

I guess at 42 I was looking for safe sex, because I enjoyed all but the last book.

BarbS. said...

What does Meyer think of King?

Had to ask...:)

Merry Monteleone said...

I don't think good and popular are necessarily the same thing - I think, often, very high selling authors have both qualities, but not always.

Who decides what is good? You do. We all do. Every opinion is valid here. I think King's opinion carries a lot more weight than, say, disgruntled writers who pointedly snipe at a successful author - because 1) people who enjoy his work, trust his opinion, 2)he's obviously not disgruntled, at least not due to lack of success 3)he's not making it personal. It's about the writing... a lot of critics can't help but make it derogatory and personal.

I only read the first Twilight. It's great that it's getting kids to read, but it wasn't my speed as far as writing. That's a choice. I can say I didn't like it, I can even tell you why. And it's valid for me. For it to be valid to someone else, they have to trust my opinion on such things or share the same taste. I've liked a lot of things other people haven't and vice versa.

But I don't think you can blame the things people find poorly done in this series on editing. My mom in law teachest seventh and eighth graders and they are all devouring the series. Even the thirteen and fourteen year olds who love it have rolled their eyes over the constant mention of his "ochre eyes"... that's got nothing to do with copy-editing. You might overlook it for the story - they do. But you can't blame it on someone else, either.

Nathan Bransford said...

Please don't blame the editors, everyone!!

The author is responsible for what's on the page (except for typos, which may be introduced at any stage of the process). And you don't know (nor do I) whether the book had already undergone extensive, smart editing before it ended up in the state that you read. You may still feel that it needed more editing. Maybe the editor did too. You just don't know.

leah said...

I don't think what he said was out of line. Surely she's heard worse criticism by now. The Twilight series is fun, but I didn't think the writing was very good either. I thought it was kind of nice to hear someone say they didn't like the books. When I try to say that, I feel like every teen girl within ear shot (and every women between the ages of 35-45) will attack. :) That said, I think all art is subjective. If you love it, that's really all that matters right? Maybe the individual consumer decides what is "good"? I'm not into her writing style, but that's just an opinion (I'm sure she's losing sleep over it ... :). I think it's bizarre that his statement caused such an uproar. It's okay for him to have an opinion.

BarbS. said...

About editing...

Deadline is your enemy. So much content, so little time.

Repetitions like "ochre eyes" are contained, in-story cliches that every writer and editor should be aware of--and beware.

If you're writing, reading and/or editing quickly, you tend not to notice things on pages 50 and 88 that first appeared on page 20.

It's just part of the craft, folks.

Anonymous said...

I've read all of the Meyer books, and I enjoyed them. As a reader, the story's great, and you get drawn in by the characters.

As a writer, I agree with King. The entire time I was reading the Twilight series, I kept stopping and going this is such crappy writing, why am I reading it? Yet, I kept reading, and I have even recommended the books to other people who I thought would like them.

Why? Because the problem with Meyer's writing, in my opinion, is in the construction. There's hardly any external conflict in Twilight until the end. It's all internal. All you hear about is Bella's internal conflict, which I think is why women and girls tend to like the books more overall.

The writing is entirely unbalanced, but you don't read a book for the writing, you read for the story. Stephenie Meyer may not be a great writer. I doubt she'll ever win a literary award, but she is a superb storyteller.

Dara said...

There are plenty of good writers--great writers even--that don't have many sales. It's always going to be subjective.

For me, critics don't hold much merit in my book, especially when it comes to movies and books. I've read books that critics deemed "great" and couldn't get past page 50. Generally if a critic really loves it, I probably won't.

While I don't think Stephanie Meyer is as great as she's been made to be (nor are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling) she's good enough to have a fan base. Yes it might be overly emotional teenage girls, but it's there. I think the main reason these writers ended up being as renowned as they are has to do with the marketing. That alone has probably given each of them a significant number of sales, whether or not their writing is up to par.

I'm not really sure who decides what is good anymore since everything is based on personal opinion. Even books that are well written may not be a success because the story doesn't appeal to a large number of people.

But I think the main reason some things become more of a success than others is because of the marketing, not due to the readers, writers or critics.

writermomof5 said...

Ultimately, the people buying the books decide and most of them don’t care about technique or sentence construction. If the concept of the story catches the imagination, those things fly right under your average reader’s radar. In this case, I'd agree with King. I spurned Rowlings for many years and when I recently gave in, the library couldn't get them to me fast enough. My wrist still hasn't recovered from holding an 800 page book until 2am. I also read Meyer. She hit it out of the ball park with the badboy/knight-on-white-stallion combo. Kudos. But I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to make me love the books and there were a few characterizations that made my skin crawl but she was readable.

As far as King? I agree that he’s not a literary writer but his story telling ability is extraordinary, almost magical. I can’t read him, his books give me nightmares, but I admire him from afar.

Again, in the end, the readers decide what is good and I for one would rather have sales than literary acclaim

T. Anne said...

I buy a lot of books I don't enjoy reading in the end. My purchase still helps that book rise in sales at the end of the day therefore giving the illusion to publishers it might be a good book that readers like. Ironically I enjoyed the Twilight series and I enjoy Stephen King.

Of course Stephen King has he right to his opinion as barbed as it was...the arrogance of it all was a turn off though.

mary beth said...

Readers, writers, critics, and scholars are all part of the conversation. What does the question "what's good?" really mean? Good for what and for whom? Stephen King wrote a few negative words about the quality of Stephenie Meyer's writing, but he also wrote a whole paragraph about what the books mean to her readers. I love Stephenie Meyer and Harold Bloom. I also love tofu and Doritos (not together, of course). I think most of us love disparate and conflicting things.

Steve Fuller said...

I would LOVE to sell 80 gagillion books and have Stephen King call me a terrible writer.

Sign me up!

Heather said...

I actually agree fully with Maria Schneider. While, from what I can tell in interviews, Meyer doesn't seem to be the kind of person to take constructive criticism well, I was HIGHLY disappointed in the lack of quality editing in those books. Simple things like redundant sentence structure and basic punctuation and grammar were still present, even after four books.

So, either of two things... the rumors that publishing houses aren't spending enough time editing books are true, or Meyer is insanely hard to work with, and the editor endured the torture because the house was making more money than they'd ever dreamed on her books.

And speaking of the fourth book, Meyer desperately needed someone to sit her down and explain about conflict integrity and the evil of overly convenient happy endings. If I were her editor, I would have marked giant passages of the book and said, "This is what you will be mocked for later, and you'll totally deserve it. Go rewrite."

More than what King said, the fact that there were tens of thousands of teens signing petitions of disgust over Meyer's fourth installment in the Twilight series speaks to her lack of skills. There were groups of people who were actually returning the book after they read it, trying to punish Meyer and the publisher for putting out a book that was so obviously flawed.

On the other side, I did devour the first three books in a single weekend. While her writing is mechanically pretty awful, and her plot/conflict inadequacies make her a mediocre storyteller at best, Meyer creates characters that you honestly care about. You want them to succeed, even when they're being creepy or weird or infuriating. You want to see them happy and to know more and more about them.

And that should be a lesson to all of us who write YA fiction, I think. Maybe even to all writers in general. You can have the greatest plot idea in the history of time, and write fabulous prose that makes the great writers of our time weep with joy and jealousy, but if the reader doesn't fall in love with your characters, none of it will matter.

I think all of the most successful books have one thing in common... relatable characters to whom we can connect... even if we love to hate them or hate to love them.

Anonymous said...

@Nathan 9:10...I think when people blame the editors they are looking to find a way out for the author. True that it is the author's responsibility, but I've read books and thought, gee, WTF? Where IS the editor? I don't want an editor that doesn't take me to task on obvious, obvious flaws.

Who gets to decide if a book is good or not? The person that pays money for it and reads it. Though I agree with his assesment of SM and JP, maybe it was unwise for King to smackdown another writer in the media.

CB said...

This business is always confusing. All of the people in publishing say to avoid cliches in your writing but both the Harry Potter and the Twilight series are full of them. I know it's what sells, but doesn't it counter all of the advice given to new writers? Anyway, more power to King, Meyer and Rowling. They ignored all of the advice.

Nathan Bransford said...

You guys are going to make editors jump out the window with these comments. Anyone walking the streets of Manhattan today, watch out for falling editors!!

I think you have to assume that editors have done what they can. Yes, sometimes an author can reach the point that editors will just defer to them. But not often. Editors try really hard to get the book in the best shape possible.

Bottom line: it's the author's responsibility. Don't blame the editor without evidence.

dan radke said...

Keeping with the fast food analogies, isn't King saying Meyer sucks akin to a Big Mac telling the Chicken McNuggets that they taste like crap?

If only that Double Double Cormac would chime in and crush them both.

Jinx said...

Oh my. I read this article yesterday and had to giggle. I have most of King's collection--Gerald's Game being the worst I've ever read in my life (and I couldn't finish it)--and I've read only the first chapter of Twilight by Meyer. In that first chapter, I could see what draws people (namely teens) to read it, but I just couldn't get past that point. That's not to say it's bad or good, it's just not for me. =) And while I have a good portion of King's collection, I have yet to read them all, but The Stand is my favorite.

My opinion is that it all boils down to marketing. It's like the new song from such-and-such band that the radio plays over and over and over until you're singing along without realizing it even though you hate the song. It is why I no longer listen to radio, or watch TV for that matter. I don't like being inundated with crap.

I don't think "good" or "best" should be based on or measured by success. I don't understand why anyone listens to critics (I know I don't). I'd rather decide for myself. Writers themselves can't be fair judges of what is good or not because, well, they're writers. Readers read what they personally enjoy reading, so what they like, I may not (as in the case of Twilight, which I find very disturbing on some levels re: teenage girls). And scholars, well, their egos tend to get in the way of quite a bit, but they are the most educated of the bunch. However, they tend to lean toward the classics, right?

So now that I've said all that and have actually thought about it, I think "good" writing is essentially showing that one has a good grasp of the language in which one is writing and can tell a compelling story that keeps you reading. Do King or Meyer show this ability? Maybe, maybe not. It's all freakin' subjective anyway.

Stacey said...

My thought on Stephenie Meyer is that Twilight is a story, and she is a great storyteller.

If you read the HOST however, he writing becomes much better, and you can see she has the potential to become a great author.

There is no denying it, she is commercial, but I don't think that's bad. I don't always want to have to pull out my dictionary when I'm reading a book.

Also, um King? Really? I have never even been tempted to read his stuff, yet I would go to a midnight release for Stephenie Meyer's latest book, and the midnight showing of her books adaptation into a movie. Maybe he's just jealous? ;)

Justus M. Bowman said...

I think it is nice to hear Mr. King's honest opinion. If his point-of-view is deemed unacceptable, what sort of society are we promoting?

As far as who should decide the quality of books, that's a question I don't care to have an answer to.

Meyer sold books. The end. Maybe she's great; maybe she's terrible. Either way, she's rolling in dough.

If I like a book, I read it. If I dislike a book, I don't read it. It doesn't matter how many stars Critic X gave it.

Kristan said...

I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. Art is subjective and always has been.

(Sometimes it's more polite to keep one's opinion to oneself, however.)

Stacey said...

Nathan, the copy edit thing really is true. In SM's last novel in the twilight series "Breaking Dawn" there were so many typos I almost had to put the book down.

On her website she had released some teaser quotes before the books release...and one of the quotes had FOUR typos in it in the printed novel, but was not incorrect when she posted it months before.

There was some major editing issues!

Audrianna said...

I've read the Twilight Series and The Host, by Stephenie Meyer, and I have to tell you, being seventeen at the time of reading them all, I loathed the writing style in the Twilight series. Personally, to me, the writing seemed immature and I really, really got tired of hearing how much Bella thought she was ugly and how beautiful Edward was. But, hey, she is doing really well (take Breaking Dawn at number one on the NY Times Bestseller list a week or two ago...again).

Now, I will say that the Host was better written - to me. And I enjoyed the book much, much more than the others she's written. But I think we all grow better in our writing the more we write, so maybe that's what is happening with her. I mean, I just started writing this last summer and the difference from the first manuscript to the third it HUGE (Sorry about that first one Nathan!)

As for who determines what is "good", I think it really depends on all of our opinions. For example, in Meyer's case, obviously the agent that selected the book to take on thought it was good. The reader likes it (LOVES it and wants to marry Edward - from the tween girl next door). My mother, who read the series after me, loathes it.

So then, the question becomes, can we all listen to other, different, opinions and accept them without creating a huge fight?

Probably not. If it was our "baby" on the chopping block, we'd be hurt or upset at Stephen King's comment, as Meyer probably will be.

Anonymous said...

@Nathan 9:33 --

I think editors do the best they can. I think it must be god-awful to have to edit a book that you, personally, don't care for, because where would you begin?

I also think it's a question of deadlines -- as I think Merry pointed out above -- an author can only fix so much in a short amount of time, and after slaving on certain parts of a book that they took a year to perfect, having to add a character or redo a whole ending, well, those parts just naturally aren't going to be as polished.

It just shows more if it's a series like SMs, I think.

Every job in this business is hard.

ryan field said...

Nathan's right about the editor thing. Especially copyeditors. I've never met one who didn't do the job.

I can't comment on Meyer's writing, because I haven't read her books. But I've been through my share of editing and I've never been disappointed. Frustrated sometimes; but not disappointed with the end result.

And it's the writer's job to get the book submitted as perfectly as possible.

Nathan Bransford said...


That may be so, but please remember this post and the different stages typos can enter a book, many of which have nothing to do with editor or author.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm with Nathan on the editor comments. As an editor, I can only do so much to make a flawed product better. And editors are always working under tight time constraints, especially when trying to get a book out the door quickly. The same could be said for the later Harry Potter books as well. But I've always suspected that they weren't as heavily SELF-edited as the earlier books.

Heather said...

I don't mean to place all the blame at the feet of the editor. I've known many writers who are unwilling to accept editorial input, and their writing suffers for it.

Also, if you're dealing with really flawed text to begin with, editing to perfection is next to impossible. You'd have to take several passes at it and that would most likely take more time than the editor is given in a publication cycle.

I would say that Meyer's writing shows her lack of craft building. It's obvious that she didn't spend time in a critique group honing and questioning and building like most writers do.

(Oh, and I actually thought The Host was the worst book of the lot... because not only was her writing skill left unimproved, but it was so hard to care at all for her main character that I had to force myself to make it past the first 100 pages or so. It was a brutal read.)

Anonymous said...

I'd rather read a book with a good story. Than a book written by a good writer. If that makes sense. LOL

I've JKR, and SM, but never SK. He is not my thing. I tried a couple of different times.

It makes me wonder if he's jealous that they are selling books so easily.

Someone mentioned marketing. I read SM before it went crazy, and I read it based on word of mouth, not marketing. Had never even heard of her before. Same with JKR. Very few books I pick up because of marketing, unless I am desperate then I will walk into B&N and look. SM was not on the end cap when I read Twilight. A few of her words irritated me, but it was a good read.

Crimogenic said...

Ultimately it's the readers that determines if a book is good regardless of literary merit or good storytelling (and all those other factors involved). Readers are the ones with the cash and they speak the loudest.

Vancouver Dame said...

What is Good? or What sells? Both King and Meyer sell books very well. They appeal generally to different audiences, with Meyer's books appealing to a very fickle YA audience (mostly female) I checked out Meyer's books, and they are written for the level that she is targetting. I don't think you can judge literary works in the same way you judge genre books or 'best sellers'--and what I consider the worst drivel - celebrity books. I would think the deciding factor for quality would be the story and how the reader responds. Is the author a steady best seller or a one time wonder? Sometimes publishers will stay with a dying horse even though the books end up in the extreme discount bin ($2).

King said in 'On Writing' that he writes what he likes to read. Perhaps Meyer does the same. Neither are my favorite novelists.

I have to agree with Nathan's comment "But surely there is some difference between commercial success and artistic merit, right?" I think there is. After all erotica and romance sell very well, but I would be surprised if they won literary awards - other than in their own genre. With the internet, we can all offer our opinions, but I think judging by popularity has nothing to do with the quality of the work. I prefer the honest agents over the untrained eye of Mr. Everyman/woman. Success in monetary terms may be different in this techie age, but quality will endure longer than drivel. Have a look at the books that are read over and over by choice. They usually are well-crafted tales, with strong writing skills. That should be the judgement not popular taste when it comes to awards. Perhaps the stuffy professorial types are just experiencing the 'sour grapes' factor.

Jinx said...

I mentioned marketing, and since I live in AZ (where SM lives), I saw the newspaper articles and whatnot before Twilight released. And let's not forget that an advance that HUGE makes headlines.

I didn't read JKR until right before the 5th book came out, but I certainly heard about her well beforehand.

BarbS. said...

Hi, Anon 9:47, that was me about editing on deadline! (Waves)

I'm not sure that non-fiction editors have it worse than editors of fiction. When I edited books about various species of small mammals, my publisher constantly reminded me that accuracy of fact was the author's problem. BUT...we couldn't print anything that wasn't correct.

Aside from that, we had the same problem that editors of fiction have: often the writing was well, you-know (as in you-know-what). The writers were specialists in their field, not people with a firm grasp of usage...punctation...spelling...

They needed ghost writers, really, despite their Ph.Ds. And we were on merciless deadlines!

Anonymous said...

From the link to Harold Bloom's article:

He says: "...Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon ... Philip Roth ... Cormac McCarthy ... and Don DeLillo..."

Um, great, so what books are you going to read for the other 361 days in the year?

If Harold Bloom is that narrow-minded about what constitues a good book or gag, "Worthy author" he must be very uncomfortable walking into bookstores. His favorite authors are just fine, some of them brilliant. But to cut youself off in that snobby way and then claim SK doesn't have the right to earn an award, seems bizarre.

Sometimes a book has no other purpose than to just be fun. I like literary books, too. In fact, my list of favorite books is mostly literary. But I also know the value of a fast-paced read. Of sticking a book in your bag and reading in the spare minutes of your day. Books are a love affair. They aren't supposed to give you a headache. That's my definition of a good book -- one that doesn't give me a headache.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I see where you're coming from. When I first read about King's comments I thought, you're soo right. I was wondering what was wrong with me because I feel that JKR is a genius in her own right; Meyer's writting just left me wanting more substance as a reader; and I know that James Patterson sells a ton of books every year - but they tend to be hit or miss in my view as a reader.

But who does decide what good is. Good is a relative term and I wouldn't want someone to say that what I thought of as a magical story, is crap. Who would? So, to each it's own.

Cat Moleski said...

None of the above: only time will tell if a book is 'good' or 'bad'

Eric said...

King probably thinks he's a better writer than the average reader here too.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, you just say whatever you want to, honey. The rest of us will just wonder isf you suffer from some sort of dementia or something; (reading a book meant for YA and expecting to connect with it.)

Christopher M. Park said...

What does "good" mean, anyway? Each of the authors mentioned has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their books. King's pacing is pretty slow (in the older classics of his that I've read), but his character development is excellent and he's extremely adept at generating fear.

Rowling creates incredibly intricate stories, whole worlds populated with interesting people and places. Her pacing is also good, but people have complained about some specific smaller things in her style, like "saidisms."

Meyer is great at capturing certain types of romance stories and blending them with largely-unpredictable sci-fi/fantasy stories. There are some problems of repetition of certain words and phrases, among other issues, but she also does manage to avoid the common tropes of television and movies -- things tend to be resolved in un-cliche ways, even if there are some cliche parts in there overall.

Is there any writer who is perfect? Is there a perfect novel? What would that even mean? This is like trying to pick the best fruit -- not your favorite, just the best. Are strawberries better than pineapple because they don't have spines, or are oranges better because they are bigger than grapes? Maybe coconuts are the best, because they keep more people alive on desert islands.

The whole discussion, while intellectually interesting at times, ultimately seems futile to me. You can compare specific aspects of writers works, you can pick out specific things one does better or worse than others, but among all the commercial, scholarly, or critical successes there is enough of SOMETHING that is being done right that to compare one author to another is a pretty imprecise thing. The skill gap between these three particular authors is not vast enough to be something quantifiable, in my opinion.

In general: if a work has merit to someone, it has merit. Scholars, critics, and the public are never going to pick the exact same selection of works, because the criteria by which they judge is so different.

BarbS. said...

I think one of the things we should consider is what happens when one author trashes another. Is SK so full of himself that he thinks his opinion will make people buy his books, or is he clueless about the role of his opinion in the greater scheme of things?

Do we want to support somebody who's so quick to humiliate a colleague in public?

Had to ask...

Sign me I, Nessi, after the wordver: inessi

--NOT from Loch Ness, thank you! ;)

Steve Axelrod said...

It seems fairly simple to me. Readers, for the most part, have an overwhelming primary, even feral (perhaps carnal) interest in story, by which I mean plot: someone does something which causes a cascade of dire consequences ... tough choices have to be made, the stakes crank up, another bold action ... more consequences, with the momentum building until the breathless conclusion.
This basic narrative strategy binds writers as diverse as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Stephanie Meyer and King himself.
When there's some other engine under the story line, some powerful social consciousness or unique perception, some gift for language, then you get the best kind of literature -- from Anna Karenina to The End of the Affair,
from Oliver Twist to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The best purveyors of page-turning literature today?
Ian McEwan (Black Dogs; Atonement)
Michal Chabon (Kavalier and Clay; The Yiddish Policeman's Union)
Colin Harrison (Afterburn; The Havana Room)
Stephen King? He's trying way too hard lstely. His new books are unpick-upable.

Heidi said...

I agree with anonymous 10:11. SM's ardent fans will be ticked by SK's comments.

I don't think SM will give it too much thought, though. She's too busy consulting on pre-production for the second movie.

P.S. I like both SK and SM, but for vastly different reasons. It's all subjective.

Anonymous said...

WHOO HOOO!! Well said Christopher M Park.

Jinx said...

Well stated Christopher M. Park! =)

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I appreciated King's honesty. He doesn't think Meyer is a good writer. He also doesn't think Patterson's a good writer. Or Koontz, all the time. That's a fair comment. (I don't think Stephen King is good all the time, either.)

Part of the reason why I appreciated King's comment was because I thought it was about the work. He didn't make it personal. He didn't critique Meyer's personality, or her religion, or the fact that she's fairly new to writing. He said that she's not a good writer.

And, judging by the other examples he used, it's pretty clear what he thinks good writing is and why Meyer would fall short of that definition. I also think that his comments make clear that he sees and understands much of what makes Meyer's work commercially successful, but to him, that's not the same as "good writing."

I've heard comments about King being jealous or rude for saying such things, and I have to shake my head. I highly doubt that Stephen King is jealous of Stephenie Meyer, and I don't think his comment reflects jealousy.

I also don't think it's rude for someone to give his honest opinion about a book, and if I ever have a place secure enough in the publishing industry that giving my honest opinion won't have serious blowback, I'll tell everyone that I thought Twilight sucked* and then I'll sign my name to it.

*I also thought Duma Key sucked, by the way--I'm not a King apologist.

Yat-Yee said...

I think it's a healthy society that allows a writer who's had his share of acclaim and popularity as well as detractors to speak his mind AND to allow public discussions on the matter.

Jarucia said...

Having read all of Meyer's (except for Host), all of JKR and a good deal of King's, I can say Meyer's is so-so as a story teller and her writing is infuriating, BUT she does some pretty good characterization, especially in book one.

JKR's writing is almost like regular speak, which makes it fun, but is generally not great technically. She's very good with details that make us ignore the so-called bad writing of hers. I can't stand that she went unchecked in her side stories and long-windedness after book 3. She demonstrated little self-control and became too indulgent as a writer as the series progressed.

I still can't understand the epic involvement of the SPEW effort. I've never had a kid tell me they thought that was interesting, really understood what it was about, or even remembered it. Heck, I've done Union work and while this topic was accurate, she bored me to death with how she approached it.

As for King, I'm always surprised how he manages to tie all the bits in his stories together by the end. He's obsessive, I guess. However, he too takes plenty of liberty with his actually writing. With my mind turned on as 'editor' good god if he isn't all over the place.

What I don't get is the INTENSE demand put on new writer's to be so pristine with their MS's but then, for our examples, there are SOOOO many books published that are poorly written with, at best, a semi-interesting story.

Drives me nuts.

Luc2 said...

I decide what's good. You decide what's good. Everyone decide what's good, and in the end it's nothing more than an opinion. Whether it's a critic, a reader a writer or a scholar, in the end, there's always an element of taste, subjectivity.

And what's the big deal? King is entitled to his opinion. So what if Meyer made millions of teens read a book. If Obama saves millions of jobs, nobody's entitled to be critical bout him?

King does what we are learning on this blog and others. he's out there, saying stuff that puts him in the spotlight. A good position to sell his next book. I'm guessing the spat won't make him lose one minute of sleep.

What's this touchiness that writers shouldn't criticize other writers? Are writers so fragile that they need such a self-censuring, and keep the criticism behind closed doors?

First Nathan doesn't allow us to use 'crap', and now this?

Besides writing and reading, I like sports. And one of the best things about sports is that you can whine about everything: the opponent, the referees, the rules, management and even about your own team. Why can't I have that pleasure with writing?

And now that I mentioned 'crap' and 'sports' in the same post, what's up with the Kings? They can't be that bad, right?

Nathan Bransford said...


The Kings are indeed that bad. They're not even tanking. They're just really that bad.

Also, I never said you couldn't say "crap," just that I loathe the word "trash." Doesn't mean I'm putting a sock in anyone's mouth.

Karen C said...

Falling editors?
I hope not!

All editors, please remain safely in your offices. (and read that submission I sent you)

Who gets to decide what makes a book good? The person who picks it up. We are all readers ultimately.

If you can't finish a book, it is really bad.
If you finish it, but trade it in for credit at your favorite used bookshop, it was OK.
Finish a book and put it on your shelf, it is good.
Finish a book and pick it up again for a second read, it is great!
Read it so often the spine wears off. Fantastic!! (That would be my copy of THESE OLD SHADES -- c'mon Sourcebooks, reissue this one!!)

Luc2 said...

Nathan, don't underestimate your influence. I didn't use that other word for crap because I was afraid to offend you. I may query you same day, and although you may not put a sock in my mouth, you could trash my novel. ;-)

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

So they meet at a dinner party…

SM: Think your writing eclipses the Twilight saga, do you?
SK: I just don’t like that dead-zone-just-after-sunset thing you’ve got going on…
SM: Bite me.


I'd love to read her query letter(s).

Anonymous said...

Insulting someone's work isn't personal?

To me when it come to writing it is. A part of me goes into every story I write.
I hurt when I see a rejection from an agent. I know I would be hurt if a famous author that has been in the business for years insulted me.


I have sidelines in all of my books. That tie to other books. Read HP and seriously don't know where you are coming from. In creating sidelines you make the reader look for your next book to find the answers. Which is what someone said SK does in his books only he ties them together at the end of that single book.

As for SPEW there was a message there, try reading it again. It was a clue to Hermoine's personality and a message to the world. My children loved every word in HP. Both HP & Twilight they read over and over. A few of SM's words were repeated often, but worth the irritation.

Kate H said...

Well, of course I believe that I personally know what is good writing and what is bad. And everyone else believes they know (at least, most everyone who would want to be involved in such a discussion).

All the groups you mention have their own prejudices, blind sides, and foibles. No one group is to be trusted blindly. I think the truest test is what survives--not just in literature classes, but what people still want to read long after the author is dead. I suspect that neither King nor Meyer may pass that test--maybe not even J.K., though I think she may have a better chance.

In the meantime, perhaps we all need to accept that personal taste has a lot to do with these judgments, and learn to take recommendations from people who share our taste. What's the point, ultimately, of judging how authors compare to one another? The marketplace and the figurative Literary Hall of Fame both have room for a lot of variety.

Mandajuice said...

I think good writing is ultimately decided by the reader. I personally ADORED the Twilight series, read all 2600+ pages in less than a week and began enthusiastically recommending it to all of my friends (the 30-year-old mom set). As for King? I've never made it through a single one of his books. (Two pages of description about a clown! It's a CLOWN! Say SCARY CLOWN and move the friggin' story along, Buddy!) (Sorry.)

No one reads Meyer and expects great literature! But the same is thing goes for King. The true asshattery of his comment is that he's gone and insulted a huge section of the reading population. Who is he to say what I should like?

Scott said...

In the end, the reader decides whether a book is good, bad, indifferent, or whatever (all of which are subjective terms).

So, if a critic deems a book horrible, is the book actually horrible? If Stephen King deems a book horrible, is the book horrible? If Joe/Jane Reader declares a book horrible . . . well, you get my point. I may absolutely love/hate a book, but does that make the book good/bad? No. It only makes the book good/bad in my personal opinion.

Example: movie critics raved about Forest Gump. I hated the movie. I thought it was one of the worst movies I had ever seen. I'm sure I was in the minority. In the end, I do not read movie/book reviews. I go to Borders, pick up a book (mostly because of the cover),read the back/inside flaps, and then read the first few paragraphs of the book. Decision made. Now, I once passed on buying Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay because the inside/back cover, and first few paragraphs did nothing for me. A friend eventually gave me the book. I did not read it for years. I finally did. It is one of my all time favorites books that I read every couple of years. Go figure.

So, while Stephen King might declare that Stephanie Meyers 'can't write worth a darn', that opinion is not going to influence me in the least, nor are the critics opinions, nor the opinions of scholars since taste (in books, food, wine, clothes, etc.) is subjective.

Sorry for the long comment. I was on a roll.

Sierra Rix said...

To SKing, I say, move on if it’s not your cup of tea. I, personally, think SK is a good writer, but his stories creep me out and I’ve never enjoyed them.

The question is whether the author and book are a package deal? Can you love or acknowledge the success of a book, the story, the characters and pan the writing? For me, no; if I like a book, I can have issues with the writing, but I can’t be honest and say the writing is terrible.

The author has succeeded in pulling you in and endearing her characters to you – she’s done that with words on paper, so she’s done her job with some level of success. There is always room for improvement. Someone mentioned the repetition in Meyer’s descriptions, I hear ya! Writing is a craft where there is always room for improvement; but being a good story teller is a rare talent.

Anonymous said...

"I think the truest test is what survives--not just in literature classes, but what people still want to read long after the author is dead. I suspect that neither King nor Meyer may pass that test--maybe not even J.K., though I think she may have a better chance."

I really liked that Kate, and agree totally. HP reminds me of the Wizard of OZ as far as surviving.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Readers: We all like different things. Good is subjective based upon biased opinions.

critics: Dare I say "jaded"? When is their opinions based on reading too much. It's all just work to them so how can they judge fun, and isn’t that what these books are for?

writers: Hey, I'm STILL missing things. Everyone is. No writer is perfect and many break rules to get the idea through. Still, those rule breakers make it through for various reasons. How can we judge based on our knowledge if it doesn’t seem to apply?

scholars: They're great if you want to discuss what MIGHT be a classic in a hundred years, but we're talking now.

All of this is my own limited opinion, but I think "good" and "bad" are silly terms. It's all subjective. After all, someone out there may actually think William Shatner is a good singer. Who said my opinion is better than yours?

Did Meyers break rules in her writing? Yes. Is it up to King's tastes? Apparently not. Did she inspire and entertain people? Yes.

So, who gives a darn? Everyone is "good". Everyone is "bad".

Nathan Bransford said...

I guess one question I have is that a common frame for some of the comments in this thread are, "Stephen King's books suck, who is he to tell me what I should and shouldn't like?"

Devil's advocate: Who are you to say his books suck and decide what he should or shouldn't say?

Allison Brennan said...

What Selestial said: King got books in the news. King writes book reviews, has an entertainment column, is known by virtually everyone even if they haven't read his books, and is well-respected even by those who don't enjoy his book. I, personally, love most of King's books but sometimes he missed the mark. I still buy every title the day it comes out. There's only five or six authors I buy everything they write immediately.

I haven't read Meyer, but my daughter devoured the books as well as many other authors (Libba Bray, PC & Kristin Cast --and Lemony Snicket when she was younger.) I know a lot of adults who read and enjoyed Meyer. Yeah for reading. Yeah for books. Reviewers may be good judges, writers may be good judges, but in the end, the best judge is the person willing to spend his or her hard earned money and valuable time on a book. IMO.

Captain Hook said...

Why does just one group of people get to make these decisions?

Each person must choose what they feel is good and want to read. If you get a group of 20 people together - scholars, readers, critics, writers, etc. - those 20 will vehemently disagree on what is constitutes a good book.

Some of us over on were discussing this very topic the past few days and opinions are varied. However, the one thing we all agree on is that no one should try to force their opinion of what is good on anyone else.

One friend is a sci-fi fanatic and adores Terry Pratchett. She sent me a copy of his Guards! Guards!, and I could not read beyond page 13 because I hated it so much. Where as I liked Twilight and she didn't.

In many respects (and I know someone is going to yell at me for this), what a person choose to read and label as good is a s personal a choice as abortion is.

And I'm going to shut up now :)

Sarah said...

I agree that folks are allowed their opinion. If you want to be a good writer, you'd better be able to handle the opinions from beta readers, editors, etc.

King's comment irritated me because it sounded pompous, not because I like Meyer.

I also think it's possible to spin an engrossing story and be a fair-to-middlin' writer. I hate flabby writing. It's distracting and pulls me out of the story.


Beautiful writing- with sentences that sing and words that enchant- can't cover for a poor story. That irritates me more, because it seems like the author is writing for himself, rather than the audience. It's self-gratifying and pretentious.

And Nathan, we're not picking on editors. It just scares some of us to think that an editor would let our manuscript out to play when it still needed work.

JS said...

It makes me wonder if he's jealous that they are selling books so easily.

Oh, for heaven's sake, Stephen King is not "jealous" of Stephenie Meyer. That's nonsense. Stephen King was a best-selling author when Stephenie Meyer was in diapers, and he's still a best-selling author.

Life is not high school. Grownups do not criticize each other because they're "jealous".

JS said...

It just scares some of us to think that an editor would let our manuscript out to play when it still needed work.

Publishing schedules aren't set by editors. Editors do what they can to get the book into shape in the time they're allotted.

Josh said...

Not to get all philosophical here, but I think it comes down to what you want out of writing. What is the point? Is it to entertain? is it bringing some new perspective to the world/reader? Is it giving someone a little relief from real life? Is it to make money?

We're all at different levels of taste, intelligence, and perspective. The fact that Meyers book connected with whole bunch of people-- many of them outside of the YA genre for which the book had been intended, says to me that it was a success. It sure made a whole lot of money for Meyers, so much so that her kids probably don't have to worry about anything ever again in their lives ... that seems like a success too.

Do you think someone like Rushdie couldn't come out and say King's writing is tripe. Geez there is always someone who is going to better than you when comes to ability, money and success.

All I take out of King's comment was that Twilight didn't connect with him.

There was a quote on Fraiser that I used to get a kick out of ... Frasier's brother Niles said, "Popularity is the measuring stick of mediocrity" and Frasier is quick to point out that that Niles was just jealous.

I wish it wasn’t such a sin to be popular in the art/writing community.

L.C. Gant said...

I think all groups of people--writers, readers, critics AND scholars together--determine what is good writing. You need all of their opinions because each group has a unique perspective to add to the mix.

So, I don't have a problem with Stephen King's comments, although I find them ironic because I don't exactly consider him a literary genius. A great commercial success, certainly, but to me, he's no Steinbeck or Hemmingway.

As many have already mentioned, I think commercial success is often indicative of good writing, at least to a certain extent. Teenagers aren't idiots, so if they love the Twilight series, there must be something redeeming about it.

I read all 4 books for reference purposes; I found the writing mediocre at best, but I see why they're so popular. What disturbed me was the message it sends to young girls about self-worth and the types of relationships they should want.

But that's another discussion entirely. Bottom line: I get King's perspective and I get why people love Meyer; in a weird way, they're both right.

Loren Eaton said...

"Hullo, pot, my name's kettle."

Kat Harris said...

Uh ... isn't it subjective?

Isn't that what we're always told?

There are books out there that have been lauded as the greatest thing since the Internet, but I wouldn't touch them with a 39-1/2-foot pole because they just aren't for me.

Yes, there is the proper way to construct a sentence and tell a story. But "good" is opinion of the reader.

King is entitled to his opinion.

So is Harold Bloom.

Stephen Duncan said...

With all due respect to Meyer, she's a Big Mac. Sure, Big Macs are tasty and filling, but not really *good*, are they? A fillet from Spago - now, that's good. But which one has served over 10 billion?

Anonymous said...


Don't be angry with me. I adore your blog, and love that you stir the pot. But here is the dif in my book (bad pun). What is being said here will be seen by a couple hundred? bloggers (sorry if that is way off). SK's message was seen around the world. I pulled it up on my yahoo home page with a big ole headline for Pete's sake. What we say basically means nothing except to us; maybe if were lucky it will reach ears that matter, and maybe prevent each other from becoming so full of ourselves we say stupid things and slam each other.

What if SM loved SK before and he was a role model? What if SM's fans also adored SK and he basically just called them stupid to the whole world? I could care less that a nobody here and there says I'm dumb for liking SM, but if I was a SK fan I may consider boycotting him after that.

PS I will boycott him, not that he'll notice. I never read anything of his, and now unless someone comes to me and say this the best thing going like they did SM's work, I never will.

Marilyn Peake said...

I think it's fine to publish books that are only fairly well-written if the public loves them; but, when the rules for major literary awards and good reviews are changed in order to honor an author primarily because they've achieved commercial success, then commercialism has definitely triumphed over the pursuit of great art. That bothers me. Why not be honest, and just come up with new awards for commercial success alone, rather than blur the lines between popular but mediocre and truly great writing? (And extra kudos to those books that are both great and popular.) When a conversation about Stephen King's comments came up on this blog late yesterday, here's what I wrote...

Interesting comments by Stephen King, especially since he's been called a hack writer by others in the past and his winning the National Book Award stirred up so much controversy. I remember reading another quote from Stephen King a while back about his own writing, in which he basically said that he writes with varying levels of skill, depending upon what he's able to come up with at a particular time. Personally, I think the writing in his Dark Tower series is brilliant. Here's an interesting excerpt from a New York Times article about King winning the National Book Award:
Told of Mr. King's selection, some in the literary world responded with laughter and dismay. "He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls," said Harold Bloom, the Yale professor, critic and self-appointed custodian of the literary canon. "That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy."

Richard Snyder, the former chief executive of Simon & Schuster, which is now Mr. King's publisher, and a co-founder of the awards organization, said, "I am startled every time you say it." He added: "You put him in the company of a lot of great writers, and the one has nothing to do with the other. He sells a lot of books. But is it literature? No."

Ten years ago Mr. King and another blockbuster author, John Grisham, bought tickets to the annual awards presentation on the premise that "that was the only way we were going to get in the door," Mr. King recalled in an interview. At the time, he said, he was pleasantly surprised then that "nobody treated us like poseurs and hacks, which I think was what in our hearts we really expected."

Nathan Bransford said...


Is King really insulting Meyer's readers? Setting aside whether or not you or I agree with him, he's saying he doesn't think she's a good writer but understands why her stories connect with readers. Is that really a grave insult?

Merry Monteleone said...

Anon 10:42,

Insulting someone's work isn't personal?

To me when it come to writing it is. A part of me goes into every story I write.

I get why you percieve it that way, but it's NOT personal. Editors and agents don't giggle over your submissions and take glee in rejecting you. okay maybe if you sent them something insane, like a singing teligram of your query on a planet of the apes novel delivered by a singing monkey.

I saw the quotes by King and I'm keeping in mind that it was an interview. I'm guessing he was asked a question before he made that statement. Should he have lied?

He's allowed to have an opinion and his statement went on to include things he thought were good about Meyer's story. They also were on her writing, not her as a person. There is a difference.

I think authors should have a thick skin about this. Everyone has an opinion and they're entitled to it.

(by the way, I agree with you on the spew thing - it also tied in and gave more to house elf story lines throughout the following books... plus, how many kids read all of those pages with relish. There were a lot of them hoping for more and more pages with each subsequent book. A first time author couldn't get away with that page count... but JKR did it from book IV on, if it didn't work, people would've lost interest long before she hit the last installment)

As far as all the comments out there about King being jealous... umn, I'm kind of hoping you're being sarcastic.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bryngreenwood said...

I simply think that King has reached an age where he's allowed to be a curmudgeon. It's not as though his opinion will affect Meyers' sales. Also, it's certainly no worse than some of the reviews I've read of the Twilight series--why is it different that he's a writer instead of simply a critic? Frankly, if he said my writing was no darn good, I'd be flattered that he'd even read my book.

Ink said...

To me it's all about intent. A story has its own internal logic, and a good story teaches you how to read and experience it within its own narrative. The story creates its own expectations, and much of its quality, of whether it's "good" or not, is dependent upon how well it satisfies those expectations.

Different books are written for different reasons. Their intent is different, and so to evaluate them against each other may be difficult. I've read the first few books in the Harry Potter series and I like Rowling. Like many, she has her talents and her flaws. She's not a deep writer, but she doesn't try to be (at least in the first novels). To expect that from her when it is not part of her intent seems a sort of false reading, an odd sort of vanity on the part of the reader. I'm guessing the same would go for Stephanie Meyer. If the intent is entertainment and not art or moral seriousness... why would the book be evaluated against those standards?

Books, I think, set forth their own standards, their own goals. You can often tell on the first page what some of those goals are (first page contest, anyone?). You can pick up Harry Potter and have a feel on the first page what the story is going to offer... and what it won't. Same for King. He tends to want to entertain, too, but he wants a little more depth and thematic complexity as well. You can usually see that on the first page.

Now, pick up Moby Dick, and you'll find that things are a little different. The expectations it sets out are different. Cormac McCarthy... pick up Blood Meridian and you will see an expectation of a stark and strange verbal wonderment. To me, stories teach us about themselves, and it's how well the story lives up to its own self-created expectations that leads to a determination of whether it's good or not.

A mystery novel that sets out an expectation of clever suspense... and then turns out to be predictable and dull? A failure on its own grounds (though, of course, how predictable and dull it is will be a subjective matter). But to call out the mystery novel for also failing to be a revelatory exploration of the human condition seems beside the point. That was never a part of its promise.

Something to think about when writing, maybe. What are our own books promising to the reader? And do we back it up?

Had a few ideas about cliche too, but I've taken up enough space here.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Anonymous said...


"Grownups do not criticize each other because they're "jealous"."

They don't say stupid stuff publicly either.

Ulysses said...

Who decides what's good?

As I've said before, it's all for the readers, folks. They decide. Everyone else is just offering opinions.

What intrigues me more is the question, "what do you mean by writing?" It seems whenever I hear someone talk about someone else's writing, they're lumping together language and storytelling.

Orson Scott Card, who's also roused some ire with his opinions on various topics, once wrote in an introduction (forgive my failing memory for not knowing which one) that the story was paramount, and the words were the way the writer placed the story into the reader's mind. I agree with that, and I think it's a viewpoint about which more should be thought. I think many fiction books out there have only a passable prose style, but it's sufficient to place a compelling story into the reader's mind.

It sounds to me as though King is not criticizing Meyer's storytelling abilities ("People are attracted by the stories, by the pace...") but her use of language, which apparently is in a style which doesn't appeal to him.

Ashley said...

It depends on you definition of 'good'. Scholars and Critics judge what books are well written and have literary merit (which in my opinion, doesn't exclude commercial novels). Readers are the buyers, they decide what's good enough to sell. We writers write for the above groups, but mostly the readers (though the groups are not mutually exclusive). Writers decide what's good as readers, but not as writers, because ultimately, an agent has to open that door to publishing for us.

I haven't read Meyer, I haven't read King, and don't have much of an interest in either. Though, I find it really interesting that nobody has jumped up to defend Dean Koontz or James Patterson. King said they were bad too (also said Koontz was good), and yet that doesn't upset anyone here? Has everyone just accepted that Patterson can't write well, and Koontz has hits and misses?

Why so defensive of Meyer? Is it just because Twilight is hot now? Or because she's new? Is it that she's a woman? I'm terribly curious to know.

Jabez said...

It seems pretty self-defeating for any writer (or aspiring writer) to think that "good writing" vs. "bad writing" is just a matter of subjective taste. If a writer thinks that, how could she ever improve? Write stories more to their own personal taste? Write stories more to the personal taste of more people? However do you manage to do that?

I think there are objective ways for writing to improve, and therefore objective ways to measure "good" vs. "better" (or "good vs. "bad"). Or, if not objective, at least subjectively based but nearly universally recognizable.

Zoe Winters said...

I'm not sure it's a question of artistic merit, art runs the gamut covering all sorts of things.

I think it's more a matter of technical proficiency. Meyers is a bit of a "lazy writer" but then a lot of us can be. Then again, she's sold a crapload of books and while I read Twilight and enjoyed it, there were places where it felt like she phoned it in. And it's harder to accept someone succeeding who is that sloppy. Whereas, JK Rowling, she's IMO a very good writer. Her world is SO much more intricately woven.

But I think King was just sharing his personal opinion. And it's not like he was saying "he" was a great writer. He compared her to Rowling. Which I think is a valid comparison, since in many ways Twilight is like the YA Harry Potter. But it goes back to the "famous people can't have opinions" thing. Everyone goes to terror level orange if a famous person dares to have an opinion on anything.

I think almost any time something appeals to "the masses" it's not likely to be the highest literary accomplishment according to the Literati. Because your average person just isn't looking for highbrow art, they're looking to be entertained.

I'm reading a book right now where I felt like in the first few pages that the writing was subpar and really lazy. That it was a bit "plain." But by page 5, the author had me laughing out loud, and finally at page 108 I HAD to put the book down to sleep, but didn't want to.

I'm being entertained here and the deeper I go, this woman is really funny and engaging, and creative and quirky as hell. Is it high art? No.

Do I care? No.

I'm enjoying this reading experience far more than I'd enjoy a book that would make me a consumer of "great literature."

I think what's "good" is very individual and it depends on how you're defining good.

Allison Brennan said...

King's comments don't bother me primarily because he isn't saying that the books shouldn't have been published. Far too many critics will completely diss books (or an author) and say they are hacks, the book shouldn't be published, etc. He appreciates the book's popularity and how it resonated with its intended audience: teenage girls (and a lot of boys as well, unless they were reading the books just to get "in" with a girl they liked . . . ) For me, I can't read about good vampires. Give me Bram Stoker's Dracula or SALEM'S LOT any day over Edward. (Edmund?) But my daughter loves the Meyer's books and I'm glad. Stephen King probably wouldn't like my books, and that's okay--and I'm the first to admit that he is my mentor and a huge inspiration.

other lisa said...


Okay, I have strong opinions, and I think I can usually back them up.

But rather than my opinions, I would like to share this piece of fan-made art - Bella's Womb.

Also an interesting discussion about the messages of Twilight over here.

Rick Daley said...

I think we should just judge all books by their covers ;-)

Joel Hoekstra said...

I agree with Geoff Thorne: from the writers point of view, the people who actually pay money to read their words are the only critics that "matter" when it come to deciding what's "good" or "bad."

After I finished reading a book, what makes the book “good” or “bad” in my mind is whether or not I was satisfied with the ending. Did the main characters accomplish their goals (or not)? Was the conflict resolved satisfactorily (or not)?

Outside of satisfactory ending, the books I “love” are the ones I keep coming back to, the ones I deem worthy of re-reading. Perhaps I’ll notice something I missed the first time, or perhaps I’ll feel differently about a character’s actions/decisions because I’m a different person than I was before. Maybe I’ll root for a different character than last time, or maybe I’ll discover a plot hole that I willfully ignored because the author succeeded in diverting my attention from it.

In order to generate that kind of interest, I really have to care about whether or not the protagonist can overcome whatever obstacles are laid in his/her path. Or perhaps the world that character inhabits is so different from my own that it’s worth my while to go back and explore some more. Which book posited a moral dilemma that is relevant to my own life? How did the author resolve that dilemma in the plot? Was the resolution plausible? Was it just wishful thinking? Do I still agree with how the conflict was resolved or has my thinking evolved on the subject since then?

The number of books I “love” can probably be counted on one hand. These are what I consider to be “good” books. The writing in these tomes may not be perfect. There might be the occasional spat of Lists in the descriptive text, or not enough descriptive text, or overused phrases, etc. None of that matters in the final analysis. What matters it whether or not I love the book enough to pass it on to the next generation, typos and all.

King and Meyer’s words will both be with us so long as their books are loved, regardless of their literary “merit.” ;-)

A "well written" book I don't love is just going to sit on the shelf...gathering dust.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

I have always been a believer in letting the market decide. If you follow that thinking then both King and Meyer are good writers. Whether one or the other calls the other one a bad writer is immaterial because it comes down to taste, and in matters of taste, there is no right answer.

JS said...

Anonymous wrote:


"Grownups do not criticize each other because they're "jealous"."

They don't say stupid stuff publicly either.

Please understand that Stephen King is a critic as well as a novelist.

I understand that you don't agree with his opinion of Stephenie Meyer's writing. That's fine.

But he's a critic and a novelist and that's his opinion. And because he's a really famous, really successful writer, his opinion makes headlines.

Your calling it "stupid stuff" doesn't make it so, any more than someone's suggesting that he's "jealous" makes it so.

Again, life != high school.

Anonymous said...

Yep I have to say I feel insulted by this "And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet."
and if you think I'm dramatic go check out some of the fan blogs. They would throw him under the bus if they saw him. And apparently jealousy is a common sentiment from them (no matter the age difference.) There is backlash whether we think there should be or not.

Christine said...

There is a reason why blockbuster movies don't normally win Oscars.

When Meyer, a not so good writer finds her massive market (from 10 year old girls who wanted to be bitten by Robert Pattinson to 80 year old grandma who dreamed about becoming Mrs. Cullen), then she has her success.

Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

For me, the bottom line is not who's a good writer or who's a bad writer but, rather, why did Mr. King feel the need to say this out loud? What did it get him -- other than a bit of free publicity, maybe? This made him sound like he had a mouthful of sour grapes -- and whatever for?

Nathan Bransford said...


You really find that insulting (honest question)? I've read some very positive reviews that talk about how Meyer tapped into that very same feeling that King is describing, namely the balancing of desire/sex and restraint and exploring that tension, which, although I never was one myself, seems to be of some importance to teenage girls. Meyer explores it in a safe and yet dangerous fashion.

Lupina said...

It's a wide, wide world out there. There is room for every quality of literature, as long as something about it enables it to gain an audience. People watch crummy sitcoms and soaps and reality shows for fun, but no one is surprised when My Big Fat Ugly Fiance doesn't win the Emmies.

And Stephen King has every right to critique other writers, probably knowing full well that he risks having it thrown right back at him.

JS said...

Why so defensive of Meyer?

Meyer has a big Internet fan base. Koontz and Patterson do not. This may be because the former's writing is targeted at teens, while the latter two target adults twenty-something and up.

I think that a lot of the people who are so vociferously defending Meyer here aren't actually regular readers of Nathan's blog, but people who have "Stephenie Meyer" on Google Alerts and/or who were sent here by an online Meyer fangroup.

BarbS. said...

Other Lisa,

Please remind me to never, ever take a mouthful of tea when I go to click on things like Bella's Womb.

It's a good thing she wasn't having octuplets.

I DID write octuplets, not octupi, right? I can't see, really...all that tea I sprayed...

Wonderful. Wordver is a car advert: ford

JS said...

Why so defensive of Meyer?

Meyer has a big Internet fan base. Koontz and Patterson do not. This may be because the former's writing is targeted at teens, while the latter two target adults twenty-something and up.

I think that a lot of the people who are so vociferously defending Meyer here aren't actually regular readers of Nathan's blog, but people who have "Stephenie Meyer" on Google Alerts and/or who were sent here by an online Meyer fangroup.

Mira said...

I think Stephen King is saying that Myers isn't a great craftsman.
He's done this before. His book 'On writing,' is filled with judgements of other writers and whether they are good craftsmen or not.

(As an aside, I thought his book 'On writing,' was the least useful book about writing I've ever read. There were maybe 2 pages that I found at all useful out of the whole book. The rest was biography or potification. Useless.)

I wonder why Stephen does this. Has anyone asked him why in any interview? I'd be curious as to his motives.

Is he trying to 'save' the state of writing, where books that are published are better crafted? Or does he just want attention? Or both.

Nathan Bransford said...


Actually, judging from the incoming traffic, all appears normal. I think Meyer fans and blog readers overlap some.

JS said...

why did Mr. King feel the need to say this out loud?

Because he's a cultural critic as well as a novelist. He writes a regular column for Entertainment Weekly, for instance. He's written a couple of books about writing. He's written about film and TV.

Critics have opinions. That's what being a critic is about.

Calling any of this "sour grapes" or King looking for "free publicity" is nonsense. He was doing an interview and was asked what he thought. He said what he thought.

That's how it works.

Anonymous said...

An old woman does find implying she read a book for safe sex insulting. Check out the new's pages.

BarbS. said...

Oh! Other Lisa,

I forgot to say thanks for the link! Hysterical...and clever as anything!

JS said...

Nathan Bransford wrote: Actually, judging from the incoming traffic, all appears normal. I think Meyer fans and blog readers overlap some.

I bow to your wisdom, then.

But I have seen Twilight fangroups make calls for their membership to comment on articles and blogs that are seen as overly critical of Meyer in the past.

Nathan Bransford said...


The quote: "And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet"

I don't think he's talking about women.

Anonymous said...


I love you to death, but if she is a bad writer and safe sex for girls, why would old people read it? And lots do. What is left?

T. Anne said...

Other Lisa...
So wonderfully gross. I should be so lucky to have fans like that. Apparently I have the lousy writing part down pat (so say the query wars). ;)

BarbS. said...

Ohdear...I suppose, when all is said and done, it would appear that SK has done what he's always done...

He's opened a can of worms.

Get it? Worms? Graveyard stuff?

Ak. Pretty bad when you've got to explain them, LOL ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


Not sure I completely understand the question, but I think King was talking about one important slice of the appeal. Surely there is never ONE reason why people do or don't read a book. I just think he was talking about a particular one that may be common among Meyer's young fan base. Older people might get something completely different out of it. I don't understand how all of this is mutually exclusive.

J. M. Strother said...

Time is an exceptional judge. Will people still be reading Meyer in fifty years? Rowling? King? Perhaps all are destined to become classics our grandchildren will read. Or they may all fall into the out-of-print bin. If I was betting, I’d put my money on Rowling and King, but only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Ah ha,
Pretty much my point.There is more to the book than what he wrote.

Love you and keep stirring. (I mean love you as in your blog, not you personally, although I do really like you a lot. Not a lot in a perverted way, just OH never mind...You know us old women and our hormones. BLUSHINg :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the question isn’t so much “what is good?” as it is “what is good enough?”

An agent has to decide if what I’ve written is good enough to represent. A publisher has to decide if it’s good enough to publish. A reader has to decide if it’s good enough to spend money on.

There are a few writers who are universally accepted as excellent. There are many who are viewed as good. But whether you enjoy a published writer’s works or not, you have to acknowledge that on some level they were good enough.

I do like the discussion on language vs. storytelling. That’s useful to me as a writer, to remember that the two together give me a better chance of surpassing “good enough.”

Anonymous said...

What is a deep story? I don't get it. Is it detailed, or hidden meanings? What is deep?

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between saying (as SK did) SM "isn't good," and saying, "I don't care for her style. One implies an absolute -- that she sucks, the latter makes allowance for the fact that others may find her work interesting.

I'm not a fan of Stephenie Meyer, but it does seem harsh for a best-selling author to label another author as "not good" publically.

Though they've both probably increased their sales dramatically from all the hoopla. Quick, someone get online and tell me I suck, maybe the editor that has my fast-fading novel will decide to buy it!!

Christine said...

If you read Meyer's website, it took her 6 months from dreaming about the story to getting the book deal. Yes, 6 months and not a whole lot of query letters. And she openly admitted that her query letters were awful.

The story sold her books. Who cares if she can’t write.

PLOT! PLOT! PLOT! Like Nathan has always said.

Adaora A. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
:)Ash said...

I found it to be a hilarious statement, coming from King. He and Meyer have the same best-selling quality: creativity. Neither are masters of language.

And JK Rowling... well, there's no comparing her to anyone. She's in a league all her own. In fact, she may be a witch herself...

Polenth said...

I think it's a personal choice. I know what's good to me, but I can't predict whether someone else will think it's good. I tend to word book opinions in terms of "I didn't like it" rather than "this is bad" for that reason.

I don't see a problem in authors having opinions on other books. I don't think your right to share your views is surgically removed when you become famous. If we can discuss books/authors we love/hate, so can he. You might not like what he says or how he says it... but that's life. Everyone's different.

Though if my book was slammed by Stephen King, I'd be happy. You can't buy that kind of publicity. Think how many people will buy the book just to see if he's right.

AC said...

It ought to be a little of everybody deciding what's good--just as it has been.

Most of us read for different reasons, so we want different books at different times. If I want brain candy I'll read something like Twilight. If I want to be edified I'll read something else, and educated, something else. There's room in bookland for King, Meyer, Rowling and everyone else.

Although I will say King is right on the money that Rowling is head and shoulders (and probably knees and toes) above Meyer in terms of both writing and plotting. Doesn't mean Meyer doesn't deserve her success.

wickerman said...

Someone help me! I'm confused! Why is it that Stephen King (or Meyer or ANYONE) feels his opinion is worth jack (you know what!)? Who cares what he thinks! So he has sold a lt of books - milli vanilli sold lots of records - does that mean they are great? (My apologies to anyone too young to know who Milli were.)

Now, I'm not really comparing Sk to Milli Vanilli, but come folks! Really - WHO CARES? If Stephen King said 'hey I like lamb chops and pork chops suck' would anyone get bent out of shape? Is he an 'expert' because he sells lots of books? He reads alot? So do I. Am i an 'expert' now?

People get way too wrapped up in what a celebrity, an author or an entertainer says. These authors, actors, musicians etc are all wrapped up in themselves to begin with. Seriously, who the hell are they? If you don;t agree with someone - fine. Stephen King is one guy. If you like Twilight, fine. If Stephen King doesn't, how does that hurt anyone else. It doesn't. Yet, for some reason, SK feels like his opinion on other authors SHOULD matter. That makes him a jerk in my book.

I don't read horror and I ave never read Stephanie Meyer - she is writing YA and as a 35 year old guy it just isn't my thing. Hanna Montana isn't my thing either - so why the hell should I care if kids like it? Would it make me feel better to make fun of it? I don't see why.

Good books are the ones you happen to like. IF some nimrod comes along and says 'that isn't a REAL book - it isn't literature' so what? If you don't like Moby Dick - considered by many to be THE great American novel - does that mean you know nothing about literature? Maybe it means you don't like Moby Dick. If you think Twilight is the greatest book ever, good for you - it obviously touched a note with you. It doesn't make you dumb. Arguing writing is arguing taste and taste is subjective.

No one can tell you a book you like really isn't any good any more than they can tell you that anchovies really DO taste good and you are just tasting them the wrong way. Let Stephen King cry about Stephanie Meyer and others all he wants. At the end of the day he is some guy who writes books. Despite what we have all been told, being a writer(or an athlete or a singer) is no greater calling than being a doctor, an accountant, a waitress, a plumber or a janitor. It's just a job. It's a job I'd liek to have, mind you, but it would not make me better than the next person or somehow a fountain of profound knowledge like all of these big shots seem to think they become because they sell books, cds, football game tickets etc... They are just people like you and me. They sit on the toilet every night and stink just like you and me.

Joe Iriarte said...

I think the problem that comes up every time this issue is raised with respect to art is that we claim to be arguing about one thing, but we are actually arguing about another. We're not really arguing about what is "good." We're arguing about what is "better."

If your work of art moves someone, touches someone's soul, it is good. That's it.

Just one, I say. Who can set a minimum threshold, and say that X people have to agree that your work is good? The novel Ordinary People saved my life, I believe. If every other person who'd read that book hated it, would that make it not meaningful? Is there some Platonic Ideal Book somewhere that books are measured against, making them good or bad independent of the effect they create in a reader?

I don't think so. I think art exists only to act on the observer*. Therefore, the only meaningful measure of quality is whether or not a work succeeded in touching an observer, and it's not about discrete criteria, nor is it a numbers game.


Stephen King: Good. Obviously.

Stephanie Meyer: Good.

James Joyce: Good.

Judith Guest: Good.

René Magritte: Good.

Jackson Pollock: Good.

*gulp* Terry Goodkind: Good.

Their works have resonated; their works have been powerful for someone. How can I possibly say that what resonates with me is meaningful but what resonates with you is not? Well that's exactly what we say when we say that Stephanie Meyer is no good.

The problem, I think, is that some people think something is just plain wrong if we equate Meyer's accomplishment with Herman Melville's. So we look for some way to say her art is less good than his. Or less good than Updike's. Or less good than King's. We look for flaws to point out as evidence of this. But it's all bogus, because grammar, characterization, prosody, plotting, etc. are all just means to an end: the effect on the observer. And now we come back to the fact that one observer isn't worth more than another.

All we can make are personal pronouncements. And we can certainly give reasons why we individually feel as we do, but when we try to use those as some sort of objective evidence for the universal truth of our personal pronouncements, we're missing the point. We're either saying that these criteria are more meaningful than the cumulative effect a work has, or we're saying that the effect a work has on some other observer isn't worth as much as the effect it has on me.

I'd say that Stephen King is a better writer than James Joyce. Of course, what I really mean is that King's works have moved me, entertained me, and been meaningful for me, whereas the single work of Joyce's that I read failed to affect me on all three fronts. Does that mean King is really better? No, it means King was more effective in moving me. It would be the height of arrogance for someone else to suggest that moving or impressing some famous literary critic is a more meaningful accomplishment than moving me is, but there's an awful lot of arrogance in the world.

* Of course, the artist is an observer too.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Joe & Wicker

Marilyn Peake said...

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novel received quite a few rejections and scathing comments when she first submitted it to literary agents. From Stephenie Meyer's own website:
I sent out around fifteen queries (and I still get residual butterflies in my stomach when I drive by the mailbox I sent the letters from—mailing them was terrifying.). I will state, for the record, that my queries truly sucked, and I don't blame anyone who sent me a rejection (I did get seven or eight of those. I still have them all, too). The only rejection that really hurt was from a small agent who actually read the first chapter before she dropped the axe on me. The meanest rejection I got came after Little, Brown had picked me up for a three-book deal, so it didn't bother me at all. I'll admit that I considered sending back a copy of that rejection stapled to the write-up my deal got in Publisher's Weekly, but I took the higher road.

My big break came in the form of an assistant at Writers House named Genevieve. I didn't find out until much later just how lucky I was; it turns out that Gen didn't know that 130,000 words is a whole heck of a lot of words. If she'd known that 130K words would equal 500 pages, she probably wouldn't have asked to see it. But she didn't know (picture me wiping the sweat from my brow), and she did ask for the first three chapters. I was thrilled to get a positive response, but a little worried because I felt the beginning of the book wasn't the strongest part.

Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

JS, thanks for setting me straight. I actually have a subscription to EW but find Mr. King's column only mildly entertaining -- I guess I didn't even realize he was a professional critic as well as an author -- my bad! Haven't read his novels in years and have never read Ms. Meyers -- neither one is my thing nowadays -- nothing to do with the talent of either one of them. I guess one author criticizing another just seems in bad taste. But, hey, what do I know? I'm just a lowly reader.

As one of the people who have posted here for the first time today (though I read often), it has nothing to do with defending Ms. Meyer personally -- I would have spoken up no matter who it was.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but Stephenie Meyers did have a 'top writer' friend who was also agented at Writer's House, so excuse me for saying that I don't agree with the consensus that her books were just that good that they went from idea to published in six months. please.

Kate said...

I think King's comments get at the issue of what attracts people to books. And that something is not the same for all readers. Nor is it the same for all critics and all scholars. Some people love a gripping story and care very little about the individual words that make up the story. Other people want to really get to know there characters, but don't seem to care if the story has a plot. Then others enjoy plays on words and want every detail to be perfect.

This is why there are so many different genres in the literary world. And it is why Stephanie Meyer can sell millions of copies of a book that Steven King hates. King and Meyer have different writing styles and appeal to audiences with different reading styles.

You could say they are both "good", or they or both "bad", or that "good/bad" are the wrong words to describe literature - be it Twilight or Carrie.

other lisa said...

@BarbS, @T. Anne - happy to amuse, and sorry about the keyboard....

Oh my. Word verification: "hotbode."

Christine said...

To Merilyn

15 query letters land you an agent who could sell you to a big publishing house in matter of months is extremely good fortune. Just ask around here. I bet a lot of writers have been rejected a whole lot more than 15.

Anonymous said...

I have never admired Stephen King more than I do today.

You go, SK!

Carley said...

Wow. This sounds a lot like the conversations my 14 year old and I had regarding Meyer! She loves her, I didn't. However, I read all four books, they were entertaining, a quick read, and perfect for the genre they were written for. She nailed what it feels like to be a teenager. SM got teens everywhere to quit texting and start reading, so I'm not complaining. My teen will now even read things I suggest.(she's become a bookworm of the worst kind) However, I can't stand the middle aged women that went bonkers for her, that is just wierd, and a whole other ball game.

JKR, IMO, is brilliant. Her stories have more depth. SK is good as well, but not my cup of tea. Really, it's all subjective. It's also quite American to have an opinion and voice it. Not everyone will agree but that's what makes us tick. Critics, writers and readers, all have their own input. Some like, some don't, ultimately, it's the readers who make the writer money, the critics who make the books ageless and the writers who give both of them the ability to have a voice at all in the matter.

other lisa said...

@ink - To me it's all about intent. A story has its own internal logic, and a good story teaches you how to read and experience it within its own narrative. The story creates its own expectations, and much of its quality, of whether it's "good" or not, is dependent upon how well it satisfies those expectations.

I think this is exactly right.

gerriwritinglog said...

Personally, I'd like to divide storytelling from writing because I think that's the crux of King's comments.

Quite frankly, Meyer can't write, IMO. Her sentences are loosie-goosie, her descriptions are overwrought, and her dialogue needs to be tightened up with a rachet. I only read the first book, and my eyes glazed over many, many times as the prose ground through yet another iteration of the same thing. I want to go after that manuscript with a pair of scissors and a shredder. She could have done a heck of a lot better at presenting the story she had.

OTOH, Meyer can tell a story. She's got the classic vampire love story down cold, and she knows how to sell it to the teen girl and their romantic mom audience. Large specialized audiences are wonderful. In my opinion, these books are acutally aimed at a subset of that audience, given Meyer's known Morman background. That subset are the good girls who have stayed good and hope to be rewarded by getting their own prince in sparkling skin.

Does Meyer have universal appeal? No. That's King's point, I think. Rowling does have universal appeal. She gets everyone reading.

On the other side of the equation...

King is a writer. His prose is tight, polished,and he doesn't drag things out anywhere near as long. He's master at setting a mood as well as the setting, and he knows how to use words to wind people up.

King as a storyteller? Not to my tastes. What little I've read of him shows him to be a manipulative writer, but not a manipulative storyteller.

I'm glad King spoke up. This kind of controversy is helpful. Makes at least some people think.

Marilyn Peake said...


I realize that. LOL. It's tough to get published. My point was that Stephenie Meyer received scathing remarks from some literary agents, and she got picked up partly as a fluke because an assistant didn't realize how many pages her word count involved.

T. Anne said...

Yes, 15 query's sounds suspiciously low...but when you read anon @12:45 it paints a clear picture.

Now if I only knew somebody who was on a first name basis with a literary agent outside of a blog....

Rick Daley said...

What does Cormac McCarthy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, consider good?

This is interesting, from Wikipedia:

McCarthy...reveals that he is not a fan of authors that do not "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. "I don't understand them," he said. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange."…Oprah Winfrey chose McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road…for her Book Club…McCarthy agreed to sit down for his first television interview…McCarthy told Winfrey that he does not know any writers and much prefers the company of scientists.

Here is a link to the interview on YouTube:

Ink said...

Other Lisa,

Thanks for the seconding, there. And, really, every day that I see a mutant womb hand-crafted from felt must be a good day. I'm pretty sure.

My best, as always,

BarbS. said...

Oh my fellow Bloggerians, may I go off-topic for a moment?

Has any of you had a problem editing old posts on your own Blogger blogs? I just posted a revised first chapter on one of my sites, and the fonts came out HUGE! I looked at the HTML, but all the codes look like the codes on the other posts.

Does anybody out there know how I can get my font size back to normal???? Thanks!

Annie Reynolds said...

Surely writing cant be judged purely by the authors knowledge and application of grammar, punctuation and words that send you running for the dictionary. A good book, a book that has you ready to turn the page before you have even finished the last, is written by a story teller, if they happen to have the knowledge of a university lecturer, great, but the latter is far less important in my opinion.
I have a twelve year old who only wanted to watch Charmed until she was introduced to the wonderful world of Edward and Bella, she is now on her 5th reading of the entire 4 book series.
Stephanie Myer has inspired my daughter to read and her mother to write.

Renee Collins said...


Lots of Grammar Nazis 'round these parts.

jc said...

Here's my formula:

Good books are worth rereading.

By that standard, neither King nor Rowling make it on to my "good" list (although both are entertaining).

Also, while I don't think it's fair to disparage most other writers, once someone has sold a million books (or made a million dollars) I think they're innocculated enough to take a little criticism.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

When I read amateur fiction online, I've found a lot of stories that I thought were good at the time. But come back and read them a few years later, to find them much poorer writing than I remember. Maybe the story ideas are interesting, but the prose is weak and the characterization shallow. I'm not sure whether I was glossing over the flaws to enjoy the story, or whether I simply wasn't experienced enough as a reader to know what truly strong writing was. Probably both.

Meyer isn't necessarily "doing everything right" just because she's making a lot of money. Is McDonalds the perfect eatery? It's a massive, successful franchise and a household name. But that doesn't mean that their funny-tasting, greyish burger patties are an example of food to aspire to.

And in the same way that some people see McDonalds hamburgers as a treat, it's a mistake to assume that all people are adequate judges of literary quality. They're often just latching onto one facet of a story that they like, and maybe glossing over the flaws. There's nothing wrong with that, for your own personal enjoyment. But it doesn't make you a qualified judge.

For those who have read a variety of work and can discuss specifically why writing works, though? I say it's perfectly valid to call an author's work bad, no matter how many copies the book has sold. Let anyone with a little experience and an intelligent voice do the reviewing.

Sarah Jensen said...

Not a King fan.

Loved Stephenie's books, although IMO they could have used a little editing.

And IMHO, James Patterson is one of the greatest writers ever, STORY WISE. I will read just about anything he writes. And almost have, though not fond of the Thomas Berryman Number. Didn't float my boat. He doesn't follow all the conventional rules of writing, ie, passive vs. impassive, but I don't care, I will stay up half the night to finish a book of his that I started.

So, the basic grammatical stuff in writing is important, and editing and whittling down is too, I truly believe that, but if you can't hold the interest of your audience, then what's the point.

And Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson both hold the interest of MILLIONS.

Anonymous said...

We live in a time where mediocrity has become overwhelming, due in large part to simple math. From any angle (writer,agent,consumer) the total amount of people who make up the great mass of the bell curve is catastrophically greater than any other time in history. Thus it's inevitable that more people equals more mediocrity. Be that the curve of intelligence, talent, education, experience or other the unavoidable reciprocal of the bell curve is that while, 'Yes there are also more smart, talented, gifted people' the relative size of the mediocre to the gifted is going to gargantuan.

Thus, you have a strange feedback loop wherein intelligence is shouted down and corrupted in virtual tsunami of basic mediocrity.

Consider that be definition 50% of the world's population is 'below average.' Now recall as well that we are talking about reading and writing here, further we're examining the question as it pertains, in large part, to the market. Which is to say, both that intelligence need not be the deciding factor in human worth or necessarily in literary worth.

Nonetheless, in looking at the above you tell me: how is the 'good' ever going to win out when it's a mathematical certainty that the market, and thus popular opinion, will always favor that which tends towards the medium---where lie the great numbers.

Besides, it really doesn't take a scholar to know that Stephen King would trade his left leg for Cormac McCarthy's talent so what's the real question here because it's utterly obvious that good is good and truth is truth. That's it, that's all, no more complicated than that.

Michelle said...

Well, who buys the books? The readers. Regardless of what critics say, what writers want to write and who will buy their stories is what leads the indicators of what is 'good'.

If it's barf-bag terrible in most eyes, but yet the author is still a best-seller - readers are loyal. They will buy what they think is good for them.

I don't care who gets published, just so long as Palin doesn't get her $11 million advance for her over-exposed life.

Scott said...

King seems to be offering his opinion on authors as a matter of course onto making a point about writing and the reading public. Sure, no one person is the purveyor of all that is quality, but this isn't the first time I've heard acutely harsh criticism of SM's writing.

Which makes me think that, if 9 out of 10 readers think you're a bad writer, yet you've reached a few million readers, you've sold a lot even if there is something to the negative criticism. Bravo for finding your niche. And cliches are only crappy for older readers who've seen them before.

Personally, King has compelled me to seek out SM's books and leaf through them. I want to know what a writer I do admire thinks is bad writing and learn what not to do.

Sarah Jensen said...

Steve Fuller said...

I would LOVE to sell 80 gagillion books and have Stephen King call me a terrible writer.

Sign me up!

I'm with you!!! I want a piece of that action.

Sarah Jensen said...

Just for clarification, I think it's the job of the author to edit. And I also think that those things are personal. I've edited my book a gazillion times, looking for different things each time. I don't expect an editor to do it for me. But I sure am thankful for the friends who do! Bless you all who help!

s9 said...

Was SK being unfair? Oh, yeah... probably. On the other hand, is SM a good writer? I haven't read her books, so I don't know.

I have, however, found this very negative critique of Twilight to be highly amusing.

AmyB said...

I have to say it's the readers who decide what's good. But THIS reader says "Twilight" sucked. :)

Scott said...

Oh, and I wanted to say it again: I think King might be opening his mouth to publishers here, too. In this economy, we're all afraid that accomplished new writers with fresher ideas will be overlooked in favor of more easily sold and disposable fare.

Just_Me said...

Like everything else in this industry, good is subjective. A book I love as a reader and a writer may not be the popular favorite.

In the long run, I guess we see what stories are still selling in 100 years. Tolkein managed, Shakespeare managed, Ovid managed... Will King or Meyers? It's anyone's guess.

What is bad is King picking apart another writer in public. I'm sure the woman has rejection notes framed on her wall, maybe she can add this interview to the collection.

Nigel said...

Er ... I think alot of people are missing the point here about Stephanie Meyer.

She has the clout and the hype not because of the number of books she sold or how many people actually read her book ... but the fact that one of her stories happen to be made into a blockbuster movie.

Nothing wrong with that.

Except that it does not make her the author of a great book, although she did provide huge entertainment for a cerain female demographic and psychographic.

But hey, there are more horrible books, scripts and screenplays that had been turned into movies.

If anything, Hollywood is to be blamed. It will take anything with enough words and try to make a movie out of it. And if enough people read the backs of cereal boxes, we'll soon have a movie about cereal boxes too.

Hollywood has officially ran out of ideas and is now nothing but a machine of re-makes (The Eye, Shutter), sequels (Dark Knight), pre-quels (Star Wars), book adaptations (Ben Button), theatre reproductions (Dreamgirls), biography (Milk), TV adaptions (Sex & City, X-Files), and then there are those curious multiply reincarnation projects like "Brideshead Revisited" which was a book adaption, then TV, then film

Come on, when was the last time you really watched a film of an original screenplay more than worth your price of admission? ... ... oh yeah, Mike Myers' Love Guru ... great, there you go.

So don't blame Stephanie Meyer. She just threw Hollywood a half-baked morsel and it pounced.

Look, ALTHOUGH I personally agree with Stephen King and I am glad someone of his visibility level have the balls to say it, I have nothing except good wishes for Meyer.

I mean, she did it.

She had an idea, she wrote it down, and made something happen. And in this world where the wheel of fortune is round and random all sides, why is there a need to dissect whether a writer/artist deserves this, or that?

Really, no big deal.

I'd say, Do your own thing. Come up with your own ideas. Outwrite Stephanie Meyer, if you have to.

Do whatever.

As makers of works, don't target any demographic to write for, or look at what the next person is doing. Just dance to your own tune and keep writing.

Write for yourself, and songs of ingenuity will flow.


Nathan Bransford said...


I would actually argue that the movie was made because Stephenie's books were so insanely popular, not the other way around.

Diana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison Brennan said...

Nigel, TWILIGHT and the sequels were huge hits long before the movie came out in November of 2008. I believe TWILIGHT was first released in 2005. It, and its sequels, enjoyed dozens and dozens of weeks on the NYT bestseller list before the movie was in production. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon after her books became a success.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought and it's just my lowly opinion the movie was horrible, and did the books a huge injustice.

jimnduncan said...

Perhaps I am wrong here, and being the editor that you are Nathan, feel free to chime in, but unless someone gets panned by a LOT of people, someone's opinion about an author's writing even from someone as notable as SK, really has no effect on anything. I've actually never met anyone who bases what they read upon some particular critics opinion. Be kind of sad if they did.

Anyway, I'm not sure why it's such a bit deal that King doesn't think highly of SM's writing ability. He certainly agreed that her storytelling struck the right cord with the intended audience. There are lots of writers out there who are not the greatest craftsmen when it comes to writing, but they know how to tell a damn good story.

What bugs me the most about some critics at least, is the notion that all writing should be of 'literary' merit or it's not worth reading. Some seem purely interested in writing as an artform, in the skill to use language. I've read a number of books (or tried to at least) where the skill with language was nothing short of amazing, but the 'story' generated no interest whatsoever. Their craftsmanship was stellar, the overall presentation was blah. You can say the same thing about any artistic endeavor. The lasting examples of any artform tend to resonate not only on a surface level, but hit some deeper chord as well. Of course you then get the whole, "If you don't see the greatness in this art then you don't know what real art is,' which of course is a big bucket full of bs.

People pay too much attention to critics. Even if they know what they are talking about, and many of them do, it's still an opinion, and we are all entitled to them. SK thinks SM is a poor writer. It's not an insult. It would be an insult if he was somehow saying that she was less of a person because of that, or that her readers were deficient because they like her writing. People read way too much into things like this.

There are great writers. There are great storytellers, and there are some who are both. A lot of critics out there think you have to be both to be worth reading, which of course is an opinion they are entitled too. My opinion...the world would be a better place without the opinions of critics :)

J Duncan

Mira said...

I thought and thought about who decides what is good.

Aside from the obvious answer (me), I decided that my criteria is not the quality of the writing or the story.

My criteria is the effect of the writing on the reader.

Truly great books change the reader in profound ways. They may give great insight, develop character or inspire actions.

A super-duper great book can change the world.

According to that standard, I will say that King's books are deeper. They deal with darker unconscious urges and he's exploring something of more depth than Myer's teenage wish fulfillment romances.

That said, I read Twilight in one big gulp, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I refuse to read Stephen King because he scares the hell out of me. I read Salem's Lot and couldn't sleep for weeks, because I was sure the vampires would knock on my window, and I'd be compelled to let them in.

Actually, reading Stephen King had a terrible effect on me, so by my standard, he's a terrible writer.

So there you go.

Anonymous said...

Story, not writing, trumps all...

Carley said...

I have to ask, has anyone read the'Vampire Diaries' by L.J. Smith? They came out ohhh, around 1991, you know, when SM was in High School. Just wondering what you thought of those if you read them! :)

Anonymous said...

I would still like to know the definition of deep writing? A story with lots of twists and turns? hidden meanings? crazy plots? big words?

I am seriously asking this question, someone please answer.

I am trying to figure out if I am a bad writer or not. Maybe my stories ar too shallow.

Nathan you started this, please answer.

Anonymous said...


I liked them, but then I am old and liked Twilight too. I don't want to seem bonkers or wierd.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between good writing and good stories, and our goal as writers should be to produce "a good story, well-told."

I don't happen to think Meyer is a bad writer -- she's good enough -- but I think the real power in her books is in her stories.

Anonymous said...

Every time I allow myself to contemplate whether I'm a good writer or a just a wanna-be hack, all I want to do is crawl under my bed and try not to vomit. I avoid this line of thought completely.

If, by accident, I run across a harsh critic, I just put on my iPod and listen to Fall Out Boy's "I Don't Care." It’s really great. You should try it.

I think that no matter who you are, what you write, how many people shell out the cash to support're never going to be "good" until your royalties have managed to support your descending line long after you’ve been dead.

So, does it really matter whether people think your work is brilliant? By the time the world reaches a consensus you won't be around to bask in the light.

My opinion: I adore every writer that’s brave enough to bleed their heart onto the page. I really wish critics didn’t exist. And I thank God every day that I write under a pen name.

Oh, and I think both King and Meyer rock.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:39

Love Fall Out Boy. It bothers me to be criticized too, I'll give you solution a try.

Merry Monteleone said...

I don't think the movie has anything to do with this discussion.

How many of Stephen King's works have been made into movies now?

Delores Claiborn
The Green Mile
The Body (Stand By Me)
etc... etc...

Screenplays and novels are completely different artforms - a film takes many different talents to make it work, from the writer through the director and actors... they all have to click to bring even a brilliant story to life.

Anonymous said...

I'm horrified at how many writers and industry experts are horrified that King said what he said, and that it is coming across as so very controversial.

If I were Meyers, I'd be sure to take it as the compliment it was. I think someone like Stephen King, who is an icon on so many levels, has the right to judge. I as a reader have the right to judge what I think of his expert opinion.

I don't have the right to say, however, that he shouldn't be able to have it, or shouldn't share it, just because he's sold a million books and so has she.

The master may criticize the student, the parent the child, the wizened old proven writer the neophyte rock star novelist.

Anonymous said...

HA HA!!! Oh the absurdity of it all! :-) My students are obsessed with Stephanie she couldn't be that bad. It is that Steven King is a has been and Stephnie Meyer is the here and now?

Mira said...

Anon 2:36 - I think that's an interesting question, what is depth in writing.

I think for me it's about the purpose of the writing.

Using writing to entertain is valuable, but it's more surface.

Using writing to explore the human condition, or universal truths, or the meaning of life in general, etc., etc. is deeper.

Using writing to scare someone into believing they will become a vampire is just plain mean.

Those are my thoughts anyway.

Merry Monteleone said...

Anon 2:36

I would still like to know the definition of deep writing? A story with lots of twists and turns? hidden meanings? crazy plots? big words?

I think you're liable to get as many different answers as the original 'What is good anyway?' question got.

For me, there are snack books - which are light and fluffy and pure fun. They don't make you think, often they're full of great humor and one liners... but they're occasionally forgettable when you put them down.

They entertain, which is what their authors set out to do... There's nothing wrong with a snack book - hell, what would we all do with no chips and salsa or cheese doodles between meals?

Deeper, for me, means that the story keeps you riveted, the characters are not only engaging but the writing drags you so far into their world that you KNOW them. They are alive to the reader. Deeper makes me think about ideals in my own life and the world at large. Deeper means that the last word on the last page leaves me with a sense grief or mourning because I have to leave that world.

Deeper I'll remember forever and I can reread again in a day or a year and still be glued to the pages.

MzMannerz said...

The reader decides if the story and writing are good. The decision is freshly made each time a reader cracks open an unread book.

King's entitled to think anyone's writing is bad, and Etta James is entitled to think Beyonce is overrated, and Christian Bale is allowed to react as if he'd been punched in the face, not distracted.

Doesn't make it the truth for everyone else.

Nathan Bransford said...

Re: deep writing.

I think it's a combination of craft, meaning, and style.

Craft: perfect word choices, purposeful phrasing, realistic dialogue (or unrealistic if the situation calls for it)

Meaning: some elucidation of deeper truths that resonate with our understanding (and lack thereof) of life in a profound way.

Style: such unique writing that someone could pick up a book and say, "That was written by X." Writing that can only be imitated, never duplicated.

DeborahBrent said...

Like the rest of us, Mr. King has a right to his opinion. There is a differece between a great writer and a great storyteller. It has been my experience that great technical writers are boring, but give me someone who loves the story they are telling and I'll show you a great storyteller, no matter their level of compentency as a writer.

Anonymous said...

i am a bookseller and HATE stephenie meyer!
she is a shocking author!
good story line, badly written.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Stephen King is the Portland Trail Blazers.

Stephanie Meyer is this year's version of the Sacramento Kings.

Sorry, Nathan, but it was too easy to pass up. I can't believe they were down 50 the other day to the Suns...

King all the way. He's the Dickens of the Twentieth Century, and his stuff is generating a wave of new scholarly regard. That bolsters his cred., but the simple fact is that he's a tremendous storyteller. The Dead Zone, Bag of Bones, Carrie...shoot, there's a lot of great writing in there.

I used to have a colleague who kept the Bloom article on the door of his office. He had a hard time filling his lit. classes.

K.S. Clay said...

I think some people are missing the point: King didn't say Meyer's work was without appeal and he didn't say her fans were stupid. He said that she speaks to a particular audience (young girls) who are drawn in by certain aspects of the stories (the romance, the story's hero) which I fully believe. He mentioned other writers as well that he said he thought weren't very good as writers in general but who were popular and appealed to audiences for other reasons so how come it's only Meyer that everyone's up in arms about? Besides, he's right. People are drawn to books for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's the writing itself. Other times it's the story, or the theme, or a particular character or subject. As for who determines writing quality, that's difficult to say because some of it is subjective and so we all make up our own minds. I wouldn't take King's word as gospel but the man is just as entitled to his opinion as anyone else.

Carley said...

Anon 2:38,
I'll assume you're not overly wierd or bonkers. (Unless you went to the 12am opening night showing of the movie decked out in your Twilight shirt stating either team Edward or Team Jacob) but I was wondering did you find the two series at all similar? My teen was so angry at LJ Smith when she read them after Twilight. She was positive that LJ Smith copied SM. Until I showed her the copyright of 1991. I thought it was interesting.

Country Mouse said...

I agree wholeheartedly (like the adverb?) with King-- however, in truth, I believe both authors (King & Meyers) seem somewhat allergic to a good editing. That said, I have read some of Stephen King's work, and have enjoyed it (when he's not being so long-winded). Stephanie Meyer, on the other hand, I couldn't get past the first chapter. She may be an okay story teller, but her "style" of writing is maddening. My .02

K.S. Clay said...

Oh, and Carley, I have read The Vampire Diaries (as well as every book published by L.J. Smith save her second one, I think). The first thing I thought when I heard about Twilight was "Hmm. How come everyone's acting as if this idea is so new? L.J. Smith already covered the teenage vampire/human girl love story well." And in Vampire Diaries there were TWO vampires (brothers) vying for the human girl. LOL. I haven't read Twilight so I can't really judge how similar it is, but yeah the story idea made me think of Vampire Diaries too.

wordpress said...

Nobody has a totally objective view of anything. There are plenty of books out there with a huge fanbase that are, from a craft standpoint, poorly put together. It doesn't stop the stampede of readers. So really, since none of us would exist as functional published writers without readers, it boils down to what they think.

Anonymous said...

It is not just SM they are in up in arms about; she is easier to refer to and more widely known at the moment. SK is free to say what he wishes, and the public is free to respond as they wish. Which is pretty much what is happening. Everyone is stating their opinion. I just fail to find the logic in the criticism.

Michael said...

I think everyone comes to a book looking for something different. Movies are the same way. Some people just want to see giant robots beat each other up. They see that, so they think that Transformers is the greatest movie of all time. I like seeing robot beat each other up as much as the next guy, but getting only that doesn't satisfy me. Transfer that to books and you get readers who are only looking to get the literary equivalent of robots beating each other up from a book. They get that, and they think the book is great. Other readers are looking for something else.

I think that a combination of all the people you mentioned determines the quality of a book. We have to figure out who is looking for the same things from a book and listen to those people. Popularity is something, but it can't be the end all in determining quality. Critics might have refined taste, but they could be so detached from popular opinion that their favorites are not entertaining. And I'm with Henry James when he says that the "like" test is still important. Ultimately, though, the decision about what is good is a personal one. I'm reading a lot of comments that say that story is the most important aspect of a book. While it's important to me, I don't know if I'm comfortable saying that it's the most important. What about character? Setting? Style? It's like arguing about which musical note is best. We need them all, and they all need to be played well.

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