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Recently on Twitter, another author I’m acquainted with tweeted that she didn’t think she would ever reach the levels of the authors she admired. She then went on to say that while she aspired to “champagne quality” writing, her stories usually ended up being “boxed wine” quality.

First off, what’s wrong with boxed wine? The first sips of wine I liked came from boxes. And price, prestige, method of preparation, or recommendation of experts is no guarantee of quality or tastefulness. Just check out this hilarious video on the subject.

And second, just because you think your work isn’t as good as your heroes or as prestigious as other stories doesn’t mean it’s bad. For starters, you think the writers you aspire to be don’t have their bad days? Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert probably bemoaned that they would never come up with stories as influential as those of Mary Shelley, HG Wells and Jules Verne. Every professional manga artist, including those who have made the most famous series like Eiichiro Oda, Rumiko Takahashi, and Naoko Takeuchi, have lamented they’ll never be as good as their favorite artists despite all proof to the contrary. And God knows HP Lovecraft, one of the most influential and controversial writers in horror, worried that he would never measure up to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Chambers and Arthur Manchen.

(And if I’m being honest, between his prejudices and his hyper-Victorian style of writing, he never did.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because another work is considered “prestigious” doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, the word prestige comes from the Latin word for “illusion.” And that’s what prestige is: an illusion. A bunch of critics or purveyors or publishers came together and agreed that because a work of art has certain qualities or is being sold in a certain place (like a fancy, pretentious art gallery), it’s considered “good” and worthy of being worshipped. But beyond making sure that it’s been edited well, that’s no guarantee of quality.

An example of a bestseller whose quality is questionable.

Neither is being a bestseller, honestly. The way a bestseller is defined is often based on how much a publisher thinks a story will do and how much marketing is done for the book. Most bestseller lists can be gamed for profit, such as happened with Lani Sarem’s YA novel a few years ago. And many bestsellers fade into obscurity after a few years, rather than having staying power. It has nothing to do with quality of the story itself (just look at my review of Nothing But Blackened Teeth, which has attained bestseller status, if you don’t believe me).

You know what is an indicator of quality (beyond editing and not having anything offensive in the content)? An audience’s reaction. Fiction is often an escape and helps audiences heal from our awful reality, or at the very least bring joy and give readers a feeling that their interests are shared by others. So if your work brings people joy, then that’s a great sign of its quality. Doesn’t matter if it involves college professors and literati types scheming and having sex with one another; fighting aliens in another solar system; or having a love affair with a powerful man in a universe where humanity is divided into castes based on supposed wolf pack heirarchy.* Just as long as your audience gets joy from reading it, then it’s quality.

You especially see this in the horror genre. You have your Gothic and ghost stories with flowery language; serial killer thrillers that gush blood and gore; Nazi zombies that bite your face off as they propagate a toxic and deadly ideology; and even stories around killer cows or living poop monsters or other ridiculous ideas. All those are stories in the horror genre, and very few within the genre will judge you for it.

Plenty outside the genre will, though. Horror as a whole is still looked down upon as a genre, even as it proves more profitable and popular every year. But that’s another thing: tastes and what is considered prestigious changes all the time. Shakespeare, opera and even lobster used to be considered low-class. Now they’re fancy and high-falutin. Perhaps in a hundred years, your “boxed wine” fiction will be taught in high school and college classes, working on horror and superhero movies is a highly sought-after privilege, and a restaurant is considered luxury if it serves real bacon. You never know.

All that being said, this might not make you feel any better about your stories. These feelings might come from stress, anxiety, depression, or dating a demon fairy who scares people with a twitch of the face rather than trying to write stories. But if learning all this helps you feel like your work is champagne quality, then mission accomplished. Because no matter what your story is about, how flowery the writing is, or who’s hyping it up or buying it, if your work is enjoyed by someone, that’s what matters most.

Better have an editor check it over first. They catch stuff you’ll never see in a million years before you get to the publishing phase.

You may think your story is a boxed wine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or low-class. The exact opposite, in fact.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back Monday for something special (you probably know what already). Until next time, good night, Happy Thanksgiving, and pleasant nightmares!

*This is an actual subgenre of romance, and it is apparently very popular. I won’t judge anyone who likes it, but I will say that wolf packs aren’t actually based around alphas, betas and omegas. Research has shown that wolf packs are really alliances of small, nuclear families and lone wolves adopted into the pack. The more you know.

Comments
  1. What an inspirational post, Rami.:-) I have one little niggle, though. Just because someone writes something offensive, it doesn’t mean it’s not quality writing. Say, Chuck writes a great novel in which his main characters trash Trump, and Sue writes a wonderful novel in which her characters trash Obama. Both authors are guaranteed to offend someone. As a real life example, I liked Morrison’s Dead Inside and Larocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse. They are well written, but they offended a lot of people.
    I hope you’ve had a good Thanksgiving day!

  2. Lovecraft once said something along the lines of, “There are my Poe pieces and my Dunsany pieces–but alas–where are any Lovecraft pieces.”

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