How Do Bad Books Get Published?

“How do bad books get published?” When I give advice and say that a manuscript has to be amazing to get published, this is the first thing people usually ask. Believe me, I’ve let myself think this plenty of times, usually when a fantastic manuscript from one of my clients gets rejected. (Yes, agents get rejected… We submit manuscripts to editors and they reject our submissions, too… check out tips for dealing with rejection here.)

how do bad books get published, crappy books
“How do crappy books get published?” Instead of stewing over this question, focus on filling up that blank page with your story.

How Do Bad Books Get Published?

But the simple fact of the matter is, there’s no accounting for taste. And there are a lot of readers out there. Publishers have to cater to specific audiences and specific interests. If a paranormal NASCAR romance novel isn’t for you, it very well could be for plenty of other people (in fact, the sad truth is, it’ll probably find more readers than your achingly beautiful literary masterpiece, but such is life). That doesn’t make paranormal NASCAR romance crappy books. It just means you have standards. (Just kidding!) And if the writing on a bestselling vampire series, let’s just say, cough, isn’t up to snuff, that’s probably because the idea was so commercial that it came first and the literary nature of the writing came second.

Focus on YOUR Writing

There’s a time for writers to be very aware of the marketplace. It’s when they’re reading analytically or researching comparative titles or getting to know what’s getting published today and what the trends are. There are other times, though, when a writer needs to shut the marketplace out, stop comparing themselves to other books and writers (many of who are more successful, simply because they’re further along in their careers… by the same token, though, all the pitfalls and struggles they’ve had aren’t exactly written on their cover flaps for all to read, so you never know) and focus on the work of writing. Because let’s face it, “How do bad books get published?” is a question for the bitter. It’s usually uttered after a rejection or a negative critique. And who wants to be bitter?

Patience, Young Grasshopper

If you follow the logic of “How do bad books get published?” then… you’re saying that you want someone to publish your bad thing? Because that’s what it sounds like: I know my manuscript needs work but so many crappy things get published so someone just publish this hot mess already so I can get the book deal and the millions of dollars and wah wah wah!!! Why would you want to publish something for the lowest common denominator? Just having a publication credit won’t change your life. Then you’ll have a book out — a crappy book, by your own admission — and you’ll have to worry about sales numbers. And if your first — crappy, let me remind you — book doesn’t sell, you won’t be able to interest anyone in a second one that might be better quality (the one you should’ve waited for and published first).

So stop getting impatient, stop chasing publication for publication’s sake, stop looking around and getting bitter, and focus on how to create a story and producing the best, most polished, most anti-crappy manuscript you possibly can. How’s that for writing advice?

I would love to be your fiction editor and help you learn how to create a story. I work with writers of all levels, from those who are just beginning, to those who are polishing a finished manuscript.

27 Replies to “How Do Bad Books Get Published?”

  1. Sweet. Love your humor, Mary. Stop getting impatient. . . . stop chasing. . . stop looking around. . . . Right on!

    I get asked all the time, “Are you published yet?” When I say no, they shake their head, “But it’s been over a year . . .”

    I just chuckle. They may ask, “How can you stand the waiting?”

    I smile and say, “Well, I keep on writing as I wait.”

    Seriously. That’s all us writers can do . . . keep on writing and learning the craft while we wait. Great post.

  2. You’re so right. I’d rather wait and write the most awesome, amazing manuscript then to just get published for published sake. Boy, have I learned that’s not the way to go.

  3. If you follow the logic of “But so many crappy things get published!” then… you’re saying that you want someone to publish your crappy thing?

    So very, very true.

    Thank you for such a succinct and perfect advice.

  4. Just a little writer’s humor:)
    Don’t get mad get even with all those nobodies

    To be sung to the tune of, “Go Eat Worms”


    Nobody likes me.
    Everybody hates me.
    Guess I’ll go write words.
    Great big wordy words,
    Itsy, bitsy turdy words.
    Oh, how the big words squirm!

    Bite the verbs off.
    Suck the adjectives out.
    Throw the nouns away.
    I don’t know how
    Man can live on
    Vowels three times a day.

    Everyone’s a critic, way too analytic.
    Nobody likes my words.
    Sticks and stones break my bones.
    Step off, leave my words alone.
    Oh, how the readers squirm!

    Those nobodies will be sorry
    When they publish my story
    And everybody loves my words.
    The great big wordy words,
    The itsy, bitsy turdy words.
    Oh how I’ll watch them squirm!

    Nobody likes me.
    Everybody hates me,
    Guess I’ll go write words….

  5. Your last paragraph is the clincher. I’m printing it out and taping it to the wall above my writing desk. Thank you!

  6. “. . .someone just publish this hot mess already. . .”
    Lol, that’s awesome.

  7. I want to be published but I also want to be proud of the book because once it’s in print, that’s it.
    As for the “crappy” books that get published, if I come across one I tell myself that there were people somewhere that believed in it (agent, editor) which is pretty impressive in this day so it must have some merit to it. Not succumbing to the bitterness is a dail struggle….

  8. I agree totally about the sentiment and yes we should keep practicing our craft to get even better at what we do. It is difficult however to see publishers put out inferior books when their lists are so limited. This isn’t just in comparison to my own MS, but those of fellow writers as well. There is no accounting for taste and there are some very popular PBs which I find disturbing and creepy. But, I don’t think anyone can deny that some books are just a waste of trees.

    There’s nothing any of us can do about it, accept write the best d**n story we can and flood the market with quality reading material for young minds. Each of us should strive to make sure those trees have sacrificed their lives for a worth while book and not just another crappy collection of useless, mildly entertaining drivel.

  9. Bane — Better than the ol’ “hammer on hand” trick I’m used to. 🙂 Thanks!

  10. Love it. The easiest way to deal with our hurt and the painful truth that maybe what we’ve submitted isn’t up to scratch is to point the finger at everybody else. Tastes are so subjective, and although I’m the first to put my hand up and say I’ve thought, “Boy, I’m surprised that got published,” I trust that some writer, somewhere, put their heart and soul into their manuscript, just like me. They did cartwheels when they got that magic ‘yes’. And an agent or editor loved it enough to put their heart and soul into it as well. And publishers put their money where their mouth was and invested. And that’s the very same thing I want to have happen to me.

    I don’t have to understand why a book I personally don’t like was published in order to be happy for all the people involved. I hope that if and when my time comes, even those who don’t appreciate the style or nature of my words will be happy for me. It’s a long, hard road for most of us and I for one am going to be in the cheer squad rather than the firing squad 🙂

  11. You tell it how it is, girl! LOL. I loved the post and it is true: I’m always telling people the same thing. I don’t want to publish crap, I want to publish a book–a smart and shiny book that reeks of near-perfection if complete perfection is unattainable.

    Thanks for another great post!

  12. This made me laugh so hard…..just publish this hot mess already!!

    Thanks for making my day start with a smile.

    And you’re right about so many things within this post.


  13. Dear Mary,

    I read on your above blog post that you are interested in representing a crappy paranormal NASCAR romance. It just so happens that I have just recently completed a crappy paranormal NASCAR romance called “Dwight and Bimbi: A Paranormal NASCAR Romance.” It is a quick read at 350,000 words and will be of great interest to readers young and old!

    In my book, Dwight, a down-on-his-luck auto mechanic in Tennessee, begins to receive nightly visits from Harold the Mechanic Fairy. Harold is a cranky, but wise auto-mechanic fairy with much to teach Dwight in the ways of mechanics. Through his nightly tutoring, Dwight begins to learn all the important things about auto-mechanics to prepare him to be a top-level, ace mechanic for race car drivers. Freshly learned, Dwight strikes off to the NASCAR circuit to ply his new-found trade skills in auto-mechanics. While working the NASCAR circuit, Dwight meets the beautiful, smoking hot, blonde, and babe-a-licious Bimbi, a woman race car driver! Before he knows it, he’s fallen in love with Bimbi, but she doesn’t have time for a two-bit mechanic from Tennessee! So Dwight visits a New Orleans voodoo priestess in an extended, 20,000 word dream sequence, where he convinces the priestess, Mama Voodoo, to cast a love spell on Bimbi! But while Dwight is waiting for the love spell to take effect, Bimbi falls for him anyway because of his no-nonsense ways and expert skills in auto-mechanics! All of this comes to a nail-biting climax during the INDY 500 race, where Bimbi has a chance to win and Dwight has a chance to fix her race-car!

    I am sure you will love my novel based on your desire for a crappy paranormal NASCAR romance. There is something in it for everyone: love, fairies, hot babes, fast cars, long nights of sultry love-making, and tons of in-depth overviews of auto-mechanics. Also Bimbi is a vampire.

    Thanks for considering!

    – Nate

  14. Nate —

    Dear Author,

    It is with deep regret that I decline your invitation to review DWIGHT AND BIMBI: A PARANORMAL NASCAR ROMANCE. As incredible luck would have it, I just signed a very similar title to my list. Best of luck, and I’ll see you on the bestseller lists!

    Mary Kole


    But seriously… HA! I love me a good joke query. Thanks for the chuckle. (You think I’m kidding? I’ve received multiple joke queries each from most of my closest friends. They know how to lighten up a slog through the slush!)

  15. This is some of the most solid writing advice I’ve ever read. There is a lot of crappy fiction out there, but it’s important to use that stuff as inspiration to make your own writing better. It’s easy to be better than a published writer in your head, quite another thing to demonstrate it in life.

  16. Hi Mary,

    I love your blog so far, it is very funny and gives sound advice. I get on the internet every morning to read your blog, and it never fails to put a smile on my face when I set my word count for that day. It helps me greatly, because I know how it feels to read a crappy book. As an Aspiring editor, I tend to want to go and correct these problems, but I know that I cannot. I will continue to work on my craft, and grow. I am actually, -if you want to believe this- looking forward to my first rejection so I can better my writing. I also have a question for you, if you don’t mind me asking. What classes should an aspiring editor take in university? I know that I am supposed to have a Bachelors in English Degree, but no one has even taken the time to tell me which classes would help in this future career. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question and reading my comment.

    – Tina

  17. Crappy novels get published because the truth is there are very few great writers so if they don’t publish mediocre and crappy novels they would be out of business. No matter what they tell you it comes down to dollars and cents. If an editor thinks he can sell it he will if not he or she will reject it period writing has only a little to do with it or do you think the twilight saga was great fiction.

  18. Yes, that is excellent advice. But can those of us who are both writing AND looking at the marketplace as a whole in separate roles OCCASIONALLY complain that there is too much crappy stuff out there? Maybe on alternating Wednesdays?

  19. When I read a crappy novel, especially a crappy best-selling novel, I try to use it to improve my writing. I break it down to determine what didn’t work for me – from an undeveloped character to a bad plot line to writing structure. It helps me to see the parts of my work that need to change and improve and helps me to avoid the mistakes the other writer made.

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