That might be the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How marvelous.

Or, How to lose fans and alienate people;

Or, Friendship and editors don’t mix;

Or, How to know you’ve made it, publishing edition;

Or, Playing chicken with the Big 6

I just read what is quite possibly the worst romance I have yet encountered, and considering my old low was the line “Oh, Logan. You’re completely inside me at last. How wonderful,” this new kind of low is impressive.

I am actually not being completely facetious when I say I am impressed. The piece was a work of art in terms of dross. The author had to try pretty damn hard to write a story this poor – there is simply no way this was written with the intention of being good or written this badly by accident. No, no, no, it was clearly meant to a defining moment in bad literature…a sort of Bulwar-Lytton approach, except to an entire novella and not just an opening sentence, a Tarantino/Rodriguez challenge to make the best worst film ever, except in romance writing. (I have not yet identified the Tarantino in this parallel, whose book turned out so secretly awesome her partner accused her of cheating because it was against the rules to write something objectively good…this one is clearly the Robert Rodriguez.)

So what was so terrible about this particular novella?

First, probably that it was by an author whom I trusted based on past work. She’s been slipping for a few years now, but I thought this one might be more inspired. Her name was the reason I bought the collection. She just convinced me to drop her from my list of authors I will purchase without vetting the book first. Or possibly even considering buying again ever.

Then we have the nonexistent characterizations and ham-fisted cultural stereotypes. There’s the southern European princess from the culture of “hot-blooded, sensual” types, and on the other side is the “northern barbarian” with no feelings, blond hair, and a giant penis. The characters do not exist outside of romance cliches–that she is secretly a scholar and he is a misunderstood warrior who wants to be a peacemonger–and the cultures they represent. Also, their two completely different cultures? Exist in some magical realm wherein it takes less than one day to travel from Greece to Germany. On horseback. I guess the reason she made up two countries was because she didn’t have the spare 10 words in her length limit to preface their arrival in the north with something like, “After weeks of travel…” Excuse me, a spare FOUR WORDS.

The plot is almost nonexistent. It’s basically a series of things that happen, where everything magically goes the heroine’s way. For example, she has to find the princess who ran off with the gypsies? The royal guards have been searching for days, but she finds her in one afternoon, no problem! There just…aren’t any real conflicts or problems, only vaguely inconvenient circumstances that, yes, make her make a decision she otherwise wouldn’t but seem to have no heft, no actual sense of threat or consequences.

I am not sure the couple has a single conversation in the course of the story. We are told they do (I think) but never see one. Then we are told that they are in love, but, again, never see any evidence of that. At the end there is a magical plot moppet who appears in her womb after a week of sex, ready to force the hero’s hand if he doesn’t come around on his own! It’s so magic!

The whole thing was also written in a stilted voice, as if even the narrator is bored by this story. As, to my opening point, I am sure the author was.

So.

How does such a lazy, trite, unengaging story get published? Here are my theories:

1. She is friends with her editor, and her editor has no spine to tell her this one blew.

2. She is an author who has always been heavily edited/coached, but she is either with a new publisher or a new editor who didn’t realize until too late in the production process to fix things what kind of writer she is.

3. She has reached the kind of sales status that means people buy her on name recognition, thus her publisher has no vested interest in quality control with her writing because “fans will buy it anyway.” Thus this type of story slips through uncorrected and unchecked because fixing her work is now unnecessary to their bottom line, thus a waste of resources that could be spent correcting the next author they think could attain this sales bracket.

4. She didn’t want to write this piece but was either contractually obligated to or strongarmed by her publisher into doing so with a threat of not getting her contract renewed if she didn’t send them a novella on this theme.

5. She actively tried to write the worst story she could, either as an experiment to see how much editioral attention she still gets or because she wants out of a contract and is hoping her publisher would drop her if she delivered a sub-par product.

Anyone care to toss out any other theories? Any guesses as to what the writer and the story is?  No internet research, please–guess from your own bad reading experiences, whether they fit this plot or not!

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4 Comments

Filed under Publishing, Rants and Storms, Reflections on Romance

4 responses to “That might be the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How marvelous.

  1. I don’t read romance, so I couldn’t begin to take a guess, but maaaaaaan do I know this whole scenerio well in my own genres. Great stuff, great stuff, then *BOOM*, it’s a bloodbath. They leave me with my head titled like the RCA dog, wondering how the hell they could publish something so… well, BAD and discard their sense of dignity.

    • Yes, this phenomenon DOES rather lend itself to that head cock, doesn’t it? I just read something like this novella and wonder how it got published. Like there really aren’t any QC measures in place? Really? I guess the difference is, you can’t sue an entertainment company for boring you or providing a sub-par product the way you can contaminated food or defective machinery. So they have no impetus to change.

  2. Another theory: she wrote this early in this career, and because she now has name recognition, her agent or some editor asked if she had anything else that could be published. One of my childhood friends won an award from RWA for her first book, and she said her agent had her drag everything she’d ever written out of the attic, looking for something else they could sell.

    Also, the standard contract usually gives the publisher the rights to the author’s name, unless the author crosses out that clause. Are you certain the credited author really wrote this, or could it have been ghosted by some in-house writer when the publisher cashed in on this clause?

    • Wow. I hadn’t thought of it being an old piece. I doubt it, just because the author’s been publishing for close to a decade now and the theme was very current events.

      Now, it DID occur to me that it had been ghost-written, because it really didn’t sound like the author, but her books have been in such a slow decline (for me and what I like) that this didn’t seem an unbelievable low for her to hit on her own.

      Still, the very thought of giving someone the right to publish whatever they want under your name, regardless of whether you wrote it or even knew about it? Shudder. In and of itself a reason to either avoid publishers or go in armed with an IP lawyer and absolute willingness to walk away….

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