I feel like I should write this post before I get too far down the path to becoming a published author. So, while I’m still more reader than writer and not yet a published author, my thoughts on what makes a good author:
As a reader, I tend to find books mostly through browsing, sometimes through recommendations from friends or family, but usually I read the authors I know and like. And, when they’re being especially slow in publishing something new, or when I’m reading more than they can keep up with, I branch out.
Until I decided to start writing, I did not frequent any writing or fan forums. So, when I finally did start reading those forums, I was a bit surprised by some of the views I found there about authors I’d read and enjoyed.
A good example is Stephenie Meyer. I don’t do vampire books. They’re not my thing. Generally, I wouldn’t have touched those books with a ten foot pole because of that. But, a few years ago, one of my friends recommend the Twilight books to me. Here was a woman in her early 30’s who was married and worked insane hours at her job who was telling me that, not only had she finished the entire series in three days, but she had started rereading it immediately. And she wasn’t even much of a reader. On that strong of a recommendation, I went out and bought the books. And they were an easy and enjoyable read.
Did they teach me higher truths about myself and the universe? No. Did Stephenie Meyer make it to my “favorite all-time authors list”? No. Have I seen any of the movies? No. But I enjoyed the books nonetheless. And my mom has since loaned me her other books and I’ve enjoyed those as well. Meyer has an easy writing style, writes stories that go somewhere, and keeps a reader engaged. I’ve yet to have to drag myself through one of her books. So, from my reader’s perspective, she’s a good author.
Now, if you go read about her on one of the writing forums (and I’ve seen this on the two writing forums I’ve lurked), people are full of nasty comments about her writing. Maybe when I get far enough down the track to being a published author (or not being one but having tried for years), I too will change my mind, because reading books as a writer does change your perception of them. (I’ve already lost a few authors to the reading-as-a-writer effect.) But for now, I think she delivers a product that people enjoy. So, for what she’s trying to offer, I think she succeeds.
Another one I saw the other day was Terry Brooks and his Sword of Shannara series. A well-established author was basically saying that the books weren’t very good and were derivative since they were based largely on The Lord of the Rings books. But, I’ll tell you what. I read and loved the Original Shannara Trilogy and the Heritage of Shannara Trilogy. (He lost me later on – I have a pet peeve for introducing technology into fantasy settings – but those first six books were great.)
And, another shocking confession, I have never been able to finish Tolkien. Someone gave me The Hobbit when I was a kid and I didn’t make it fifty pages. Last year I decided Tolkien was one of the masters of the craft and I really should read him, so, once again, I tried. I think I made it about six hundred pages (through Book Three) into The Lord of the Rings before I stopped this time. I could appreciate his skill for description, but I still wasn’t engaged in the books. When I reached the end of one of them, I put it aside and started to read others that excited me more. (I usually have about thirty sitting there begging to be read at any given time.)
I can see Tolkien’s skill, but for me Brooks was more accessible and his was the story I actually read as a young fantasy fan. I think they’re both good authors, but for different audiences.
So, what makes a good author? For me it’s someone who can deliver to their target audience a book that audience will enjoy. And who does so in such a way that their readers stay engaged until the end of the book.
Later I’ll follow-up on this post with a few thoughts about staying power, but I think this post is already long enough as is.