“Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing


angry crowd

The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me to thinking about popular writing versus good writing. Not that they can’t be one in the same, of course. Often they are. It’s just that, well…often they’re not.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t give an opinion on it. A lot of people I know have, however. Read it, that is. Not one of them liked it. As a matter of fact, several couldn’t get through it. These are people who, in my humble opinion have some pretty good tastes in literature. And most professional book critics seem to have torn it apart.

And with ‘Fifty Shades,’ not only has it become a runaway best seller, they went and made it into a flick which is doing very well in the theaters. On top of that, there’s a sequel planned, I understand. The writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is obviously very rich at the moment and probably isn’t caring very much about what the critics think. And why should she (Or is it a “he”) care, anyway. She’s giving the public what they want and they’re eating it up. And copy-cats have sprung up. One is called ‘Fifty Shades of Blue.’ The author is I.B. Naughty. Ya’ gotta love that one!

So, as a new writer, I can’t help but wonder how much I really need to work to try and turn out a successful book. I can’t help wondering if I’m trying too hard. Maybe I didn’t need to take three years to write ‘Jenny.’ Maybe I could have slapped a few hard core sex scenes in there and not worried so much about the story. If that’s what the public wants, why not give it to them? After all, there’s nothing wrong with sex. Right? It’s good. I’m not a Puritan, I’m all for it

But how would I feel about it, even if the book sold well? Roll around in my money and not care whether or not I’m considered a “serious” author? Or guilty that I had sold out? Hmmm…money would buy a lot of pretty things. And my wife really wants a house on the beach… (Sigh!).

There’s always a pen name, of course. Yeah…that would work. I.B. Naughty seems to have been taken. But I’m sure I can come up with something. How about Hugh R. Hornee? That’s not bad. I could write as Hugh and watch the money pour in while I satisfy the literary part of me by writing my “serious” book. I’m weak, though. I’m afraid that if I did that and started to see thousands of dollars rolling in from Hornee’s work I’d kick the “serious” work to the curb. Hell, if Hugh R. Hornee’s novels just bought me a yacht, screw Joe Bucemi and his high-falootin ways!

But, what if you can’t have it both ways? What if it was time to make a deal with the Devil? He gives you two options. You can write a trashy book that critics are practically laughing over, but sells a million copies and gets you a multi-million dollar movie deal. Or you can write one that is generally regarded as one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature ever seen by human eyes. The trouble is, hardly anyone will read it and you will barely make enough money on it to pay your electric bill. Ironically, it will become popular ten years after you’re dead.

Hmmm…again. Would I start to think of all those pretty words, or all those pretty things and that house on the beach? I would have to make sure my wife wasn’t in the room while I was making my decision. I know which one she would pick.



4 responses to ““Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing

  1. Hmm, this one’s tricky. Honestly, I haven’t read the series, so I can’t judge either way. I have friends who have read it, loved it, and read it again. And saw the movie. Then I have friends who read it and hated it.

    But I think I look at the matter differently, less good writing verses popular writing, and more each author needs to write what they want. Whether it’s full of sex, gore, dystopian, or what not. Stick to what you want and not what others tell you what is good or bad, right or wrong, popular or loner – just write and do the best that you can.

    And I will never, ever call you Hugh. Just sayin… Lol

  2. I have to take a slightly different view than AJ. I read the books and, believe me, they were some of the worst I have ever read. Part of it was the writing. Part of it — a large part — is I have friends who are in the scene, so to speak, and who cringed and cursed when they read some of what she wrote. Also, I found myself wondering who sort of sales it would have had without the massive push it got from the publisher. But, then again, I have friends who loved it. So…shrug. To each his own.

    And I will call you Hugh 😉

  3. I’m considering having my name legally changed to Hugh. Imagine the look when someone asks, “What’s your name?”

  4. I like this post Joe. It’s tough to see books we consider poorly written raking in the dough, when more literary work struggles to have a chance. But I have enjoyed a lot of books that are huge commercial successes that no self respecting English professor would ever have on their syllabus. I enjoy popular fiction as much as literary fiction. I think each has their place.
    But when a book is very poorly written, like 50 shades, and is making tons of money, it does kinda hurt the writer in me. And no, not a hurts so good way at all, Hugh.

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