In the annals of Great Ways to Annoy Literary Agents (TM), saying you wrote your book because you couldn’t find any good books to read (or, its crass corollary: because so many books are “trash”) may not be in the top 10, but it is at least in the top 5,000. (The list is infinite, by the way – this blog may be here a while).
Let’s examine why calling most or all or even some books “trash” is akin to slowly inserting a sliver under your prospective agent’s fingernail while hitting them over the head with a wet fish:
1) The agent is currently working their gluteus maximuses to the maximus to sell books that are actually really great, and is probably having a hard time with some of them because this business is too tight to sell all of the really good books agents come across, let alone anything that could remotely be considered “trash.”
2) The agent has represented any number of incredible, awesome books that are just sitting on bookshelves waiting to be discovered by people who are overly quick to dismiss everything or lots of things as “trash” and not quick enough to go looking for said gems when in fact there are way too many good books published in a single year for anyone to read in an entire lifetime.
But let’s be honest, hmm? Avoiding the list of Great Ways to Annoy Literary Agents is not the real reason aspiring writers should hesitate before bashing swaths of literature as “trash.”
Here’s why: when a writer calls a book “trash” they have closed themselves off from learning anything from that book.
Taste is extremely personal. Amateur cultural anthropologist Nathan’s theory (that’s DOCTOR Amateur Cultural Anthropologist to you) is this: we are hard-wired to want to be a part of the “In” group. We want people to like us, and we want people to like the things that we like. When something that we can’t stand becomes very very popular some sort of survival instinct kicks in, and we want to tear that popular thing to shreds so that we are not left out of the group. And we will even turn ourselves into Crazy Raving Lunatics in order to make this happen.
Horrible Amazon reviews, irrational hatred of Stephenie Meyer or Dan Brown, slandering of books as “trash”: one part jealousy, five thousand parts making taste overly personal.
People very quickly forget that every book they consider “trash” is someone else’s most favorite book ever. And what happens when writers of all people do this is they turn the book they hate into the “other.” The book (and the author who wrote it) becomes the enemy. And then they learn nothing from it.
Every popular book is popular for a reason. Sure, chance is a big reason, but if thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people like a book and are talking about it and passing it along to their friends: the author has done something right.
It may not be a great work of literature, it may not be something that you personally would want to read, it may have some typos, it may drive you to the brink of insanity. But the author has done something well if they are published and their books are selling. If you have hopes of reaching a big audience someday you would do well to absorb and learn from what that “something” is.
In other words: sure, go ahead and irrationally hate something. It’s in your DNA! (Note: probably not true) But try and resist the “trash” syndrome, especially if you’re a writer. Not only have you probably stopped learning, but don’t forget: someone else thinks your books are trash too, and they’re no more right than you are.