Quality, Snobbery, and Sheep

logo-design_snobby-sheepSomething made me laugh on the News this morning. In a blind taste-off for Champagne, supposed experts scored some popular supermarket brands higher than respected brand names. The traditionally respected makers of Champagne obviously sell their bottles at twice the price of the supermarkets, so it raises the question of value-for-money and perceived quality.

Now, I’m sure there are reasons why these blind taste-offs don’t work accurately. For one, they can be swayed by one bad judge who simply gets it wrong, and secondly, the taste of champagne isn’t right or wrong, it’s an opinion. Just like the quality of most art is about opinion. This got me thinking…

There’s probably a scientific study which has proved this already but, I’ve never been shy at proposing my theories to the world. I think there are 3 categories of quality; Poor, Good, and Excellent. Now, let’s see what happens when you take the book world, for example.

Books of actual poor quality usually stand out immediately, everyone agrees that they’re only fit for toilet paper and they sell very few copies. At the other end of the spectrum, the excellent books are the masterpieces. Again, most people agree which these are, there’s obviously still room for opinion but, even if a masterpiece is not to your taste you would still concede that it’s quality writing.

This then leaves us with the ‘Good’ books in the middle. They’re not written so badly that they grate on the reader and yet, they’re no Dickens either. These are the fellas that are most vulnerable to opinion. They’re influenced by reviews, bestseller charts, promotion, a household name, hype, and many more. If there was a simple formula everyone would use it.

The thing is, ‘good’ books are exactly that, they’re good. Most books are good when you think of it. Out of all the books I’ve read, there aren’t many which would fall into the two extreme categories, but out of the ‘good’ books, they have vastly different levels of perceived quality. This is because perceived quality is completely different to actual quality.

As soon as the quality is passable, that’s when it’s opened up to various other factors. Look at the most successful books of recent times. Before I’d read a word of a Harry Potter book, I’d already been influenced to expect poor writing but a good story. In fact, the writing is good but the quality was shot at by the art-snobs and this affects the perceived quality. Just to prove my point though, the actual quality of the writing was good enough to fall into the middle category, and at that point the success can be generated. The more the hype grew so, exponentially, did the sales. Also, Fifty Shades hasn’t done bad and yet the quality has always been questionable. It’s not ‘poor’ though, just not great, so it can thrive in that middle category.

I know there are plenty of other reasons for success regarding both of these examples but they do prove a point that success is not governed by actual quality, it’s about perceived quality. As writers, should we not concentrate firstly, on bringing our writing up to a standard which is passable, but after that, spend more time building up our perceived quality.

We’re all sheep and we all follow the crowds, at least some of the time. Creating a buzz about your book is arguably more important than slaving over a Magnum Opus. I know this once again raises the argument about why you write books, but if a basic desire is to have as many readers as possible want to read your stories, then surely the buzz is equally as important.

Just a thought.

Until next time…

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2 responses to “Quality, Snobbery, and Sheep

  1. Excellent points and a great post! My fear is to be lost forever in the forest of determining how to build perceived quality. Perception is the fickle twin of Success, the queen of Ephemery. Both seem willing to smother some with kisses then in the blink of an eye, tear out the heart of the beloved! I concede your point; it makes me realize how important it is to really determine WHY you write. Otherwise, you’ll fail to focus your creative energies accordingly. I struggle to determine the qualities in works that stand the test of time. Whether loved or hated, the works that remain in the cultural conversation have something special. I think of James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”, considered a classic but often pilloried for Cooper’s ‘unfocused’ and ‘verbose’ style. I do not judge those writers who seek fame and fortune: best of luck. But for me, I find reward in the slow and painful work of honing my craft to provide readers what my favorite authors have done for me: provide a place of refuge for just a little while, to live the stories of others and through that, learn some truth about living.

    For what it’s worth…

  2. Reblogged this on The Lightning Bug & the Lightning and commented:
    Michael Holley’s post makes valid observations about writer and writing that I’d failed to consider. Good thing about blogs like this, you examine your own motivations to clarify and strengthen your resolve.

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