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Thursday, August 9, 2012

GUEST POST: Fantasy’s Quality Conundrum by Grub Street Reads

Fantasy’s Quality Conundrum
When No Rules Apply, How Do You Judge Quality In Fantasy Books?
By Jessica Bennett

I think a lot of people assume that fantasy is easy to write. After all, the author gets to make everything up. There are no rules, no boundaries, no limits. I agree to some extent. Bad fantasy is really easy to write.

Good fantasy, on the other hand, is extremely challenging to write — at least in my humble opinion. Fantasy authors don’t get to work within the established confines of a known world. They have to create a completely unique world where the sky might not be blue, a young peasant girl can grow up to be a powerful sorceress and the dead may not stay in the ground to accommodate the worms. One of the most well-known maxims of the writing world is “write what you know”. Fantasy authors chuck this bit o knowledge out the window, by writing about all sorts of things they don’t know like what the talons of a griffin feel like or how to weave a love spell.

The fact that fantasy is so difficult to write is — again, just my humble opinion — why great fantasy is so hard to come by and why you could probably trip over a dozen mediocre fantasy books in just one short stroll through Amazon.

Here’s the part where you wonder who exactly I am and where I get off making broad statements about good and bad fantasy. After all, how in the heck can I or anyone else judge what’s a good fantasy book when there are virtually no rules or limits to what can happen within a fantasy story?

Let me start out by introducing myself. My name is Jessica Bennett. I’m an indie author and passionate reader. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres to read, and the one I always go to when I really need to get away from life for a while.

I am also the co-owner of a company called Grub Street Reads, which evaluates and endorses quality indie books. My business partner, Leslie Ramey, and I created our company, because we truly believe that the rapidly-growing indie book market is in need of a quality standard.  Leslie and I spent a lot of time developing an endorsement standard that could be applied objectively and consistently to any fiction or creative nonfiction manuscript regardless of genre or specific plot points, including fantasy.

We’ve gotten questions from readers about how we can possibly apply a single standard to so many different kinds of books, especially fantasy.

As it turns out, even though the rules within a fantasy verse are as flexible as Play-Doh, the components of good writing are as solid as ever. These components include things like well-developed characters, a consistent plot, strong pacing and few (if any) grammatical mistakes.

For instance, a fantasy book may feature a fearsome troupe of trolls called Gruesome, Bone Cruncher and Todd. This is all well and good, but if Gruesome, Bone Cruncher and Todd don’t each have distinct personalities, strong motivations and believable reactions to plot twists, then readers aren’t going to develop an emotional bond to them. Good pacing is also critical. If the prince gets lost on his way to rescue the princess or decides he needs to get a workout in at the gym first, then readers are going to put down the book faster than a dragon can belch fire.

Grub Street Reads is just getting off the ground (we officially launched in July), but we’ve already gotten to add some great fantasy novels to our endorsed book library. If you’ve been burned by poor quality fantasy books in the past, come on over to the Grub Street Reads Endorsed Library. Our library includes only those books that have passed our quality standard. These books are low on cost and high on quality. And don’t forget to check back — our library grows each week.

What do you think of our idea? Could the indie book market, fantasy novels included, use a quality standard? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.


Grub Street Reads’ mission statement is simple: Support the indie book movement. Support good books. Give readers the excuse they need to try a new indie author.

To do that, Grub Street Reads has developed a clean and simple endorsement protocol, meant to shine the spotlight on good self-published books and protect readers from those that are not yet ready for the marketplace.

In short, Grub Street Reads wants to be the quality standard for the indie book market, and believes their company can be a very good thing for indie authors and the readers who want to buy their books…


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great idea. I'm off to check it out :)

Anonymous said...

I had a little chuckle when this popped up in my reader - a few days ago I had a bit of a rant about this very thing! Great idea, I'll definitely be stopping by now and then :-)

M. R. Mathias said...

The problem here again is some organization or "Group" of people is trying to decide what readers get recomended. The whole idea that we, as readers, cant determine the dreck from the rest is as absurd as it is insulting.

I'm not saying that some indie stuff isn't terrible. What we need is a group like this to filter published fantasy books and tell us what other Great Novel they copy-catted so we can find the original stories and characters that can only come from un-controlled writers easier. Seriously. If I spend a buck on indie and get a lemon, so what. Its just one less sugar loaded soda I'll drink later.

Indie books at Amazon are cheap. .99 - 2.99 mostly. EVERY reader should buy 10 of them a year just to be a good person. I'd bet 7 of the 10 were as good as any of the GOT/Twilight rip-offs coming from the big 6.

Seriously. Start filtering ALL Fantasy Books and quit singling indie out. Indie is #1 in NYT.

Liviu said...

I agree with Mr. Mathias here that you can see the whole idea of "deciding for readers what is quality" as maybe not insulting but say condescending, but in a general sense the idea of promoting specific books and in particular looking at the indie market is not bad, especially considering that it is sadly shunned by many online outlets - see the "why I do not review independently published books" silly posts that sometime show up online

After all here at FBC we have promoted and recommended quite a few indie novels from the beginning so even before the current Amazon-led boom...

So maybe with a bit more humility, Grub Street Reads will become a destination for us the readers, though only time and success will tell.

M. R. Mathias said...

I wasn't really saying that I was insulted here guys. The gist of this idea is fantastic. I was using the expression loosly. I get excited. :-) lol I am not against something like this. I am against something like this that is ditected at indie, thats all.

Liviu said...

I think that the idea is to offer a "review market" for indies that is authoritative in the way places like publisher weekly, NY Review of Books etc are perceived to a degree or another to be for mainstream books, as well as compensate for the refusal of so many online review sites to deal with indies

And I agree that the goal itself is commendable but there quite a few pitfalls, so only time and success or lack of such will decide

Katie said...

I don't think any body should be setting standards for everyone. It's oppressive.

Robert said...

Personally, I think quality control is a great idea for the indie book market. To me, the whole indie/e-book movement is very reminiscent of the mp3 movement back in the late 90s/early 2000s where basically anyone could record a song (or in this case, write a book) and call themselves a musician (or an author).

The biggest difference to me is not money, but time, which in my opinion is much more valuable. I can listen to a sample on iTunes, Soundcloud, Youtube, etc., and in just a few minutes know whether or not a song is worth purchasing or listening to again. A book on the other hand can take considerably much more of my time. True, I could read a sample, but what does that really tell me? In a single chapter, or even three, I could probably glean an author’s writing style and prose, but what about characterization, plotting, the world-building and so on? Heck, I’ve read books where it’s taken me 100-200 pages before I really got into it, so a sample wouldn’t help in that case.

Plus, I’m not a very fast reader. In the time it would take me to read a single sample, I could probably listen to a dozen or more different bands/songs on iTunes.

As for quality control for major publishers, there’s really no need. Between the blogosphere and websites like Amazon or B&N, I can just Google a specific book and instantly find out the ‘buzz’ on that particular title and know whether it’s worth my time or not. Indie books on the other hand, do not enjoy that kind of exposure. Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part the indie book market could definitely use more help and that’s where a website like Grub Street Reads could make a difference…


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