Bestsellers Don’t Have to Follow Rules and It Irritates Me

What’s in a name? For one thing, certain names sell books. Those bestselling authors no longer have to follow the “rules” to get published or sell books.

I think that stinks.

Seriously. Furthermore, it’s one of the main reasons I rarely buy and just as infrequently read books written by multimillionaire bestselling authors.
You know, authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, Dan Brown, Danielle Steele and even Nora Roberts.

However, I read books that my sister passes along to me. In this case, it was two books from the CHRONICLES OF THE ONE series by Nora Roberts.

Here is the complete CHRONICLES OF THE ONE series

I have read other books by Roberts loaned to me by my sister and my mother-in-law, but I’ve never purchased a book by her. Nor will I. She has a large fan base, so I’m pretty sure she doesn’t miss me.

But I really loved Year One, the first book of this trilogy.

Why Year One Resonated

My sister handed me the first two books, exclaiming how she couldn’t put them down. I read the back of the first one and realized it was an apocalyptic novel. Yay! Dystopian and post-apocalyptic books are some of my favorites.

Since my sister recommended these books, I couldn’t wait to dive in.

And dive in I did. The first chapter introduced us to people who would soon die. In fact, it showed us where The Doom came from. Reading those early chapters felt a bit surreal.
It was March and April of 2020 in New York City all over again. This time, it was happening in the fictional New York City.

Riots and looting and terrorizing of innocents could have been ripped from our headlines. Schools closing and hospitals overflowing were all too real.

And then the fiction came in: the awakening of magick within people who weren’t affected by The Doom. But not all of the immune had magick.

Aside from the strange echo of reality, this book resonated because:

  • I cared about the characters
  • They were struggling to survive
  • I knew their dark insecurities and/or greatest desires
  • People took care of each other
  • The light won in the end

I won’t give away anything, but this was a well-crafted story. The point of it was to find and/or make a refuge for these magical and non-magical people to live together. They didn’t want to simply survive.

If you love post-apocalyptic fiction, you’ll want to read this book.

It didn’t check all the boxes a fantasy usually needs to for me. For one thing, I never understood the true source of the magick or why it chose certain people. Although Fallon said, “Everything has a price” in the second book, I never saw the wielders pay much of a price (other than being tired and needing sleep).

The villains were stereotypical. And Roberts chose to pigeonhole religion as persecutors of the light that would save the world. It grated on me that witchcraft could be seen as both light and dark practitioners, but those who claimed to serve God were all people who thought witches were evil and should be eliminated.

Overall, though, this is something that became more fleshed out in book two and three and didn’t shine through in this first book. For that reason, I could give the first book five stars without a single qualm.

Why the Rest of the Series Fell Short

The biggest reason the other two books didn’t resonate with me had a lot to do with the fact that the characters and setting I loved from the first book didn’t get any page time until well past the midpoint of book two.

Also, I started to see obvious “I don’t have to follow the rules of good writing” places in the text. The biggest one was what I consider “head hopping.”

Roberts would be telling the story from Fallon’s perspective, and then suddenly Mallick would have an insertion like “He watched her study the book and knew he hadn’t waited in vain.” (No, that it not a quote from the book, but there are numerous times when things like this will pop up in the narrative.)

Beginning writers will be told this is “head hopping” and a huge “no no.”

Pick a character. Tell the story from their perspective.

I kept wondering if Roberts was telling the story from the omniscient perspective, in which case things like that are fine. The narrator sees all and knows all and often tells all.

Some epic fantasy and science fiction is written from this perspective. I don’t prefer it. John Flanagan is one of the authors I’ve read regularly who writes using omniscient, but it tends to keep a reader from connecting deeply with any one character.

I don’t think Roberts wrote consistently from the omniscient point of view, but she slipped in many little asides. And they drove me crazy.

By book three, I was noticing them more than I was engaging with the rest of the story. This is because Roberts tried to cover too much territory and explain too many things in the final book of the trilogy.

And the ending? From all the buildup, I expected a good payoff. The One would save the world. Nope. She didn’t. She would have failed if not for …well I can say because that would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the series (and I despise spoilers).

But not as much as I detest books that promise a payoff and don’t deliver it. That’s how I felt about the final book in this trilogy.

But this isn’t a book review post. It’s a post about bestselling authors breaking good writing rules and everyone pretending it’s fine and dandy.

Why They Can Break the Rules

Those big names sell books. Those authors have millions of fans (although I can’t promise you that those fans have read all their books) who will buy every book written by those famous authors.

Because of this, publishers are guaranteed to sell millions of books and make huge profits.

Also because of this, some of these authors have sacrificed quality for quantity. Their earlier books are better than more recent ones, and I will tell you, this is not the norm.

For me, I love seeing that my technique and voice get more honed with every manuscript I finish from draft through revisions. I learn more and write better through the process of working with an editor and learning what it means to professionally polish a story.

Do these big name people even go through three editing passes anymore? Or do they turn in a manuscript and never see it until the galleys come their way?

I don’t know, but I do know I’d rather read a dozen books by a relatively unknown author who writes according to the rules of grammar and delivers a satisfying story, than to spend thirty bucks on a bestseller.

But I doubt I’m the normal reader.

Do you read bestsellers? What rules have you noticed these authors breaking? Does it bother you?

6 thoughts on “Bestsellers Don’t Have to Follow Rules and It Irritates Me”

  1. I find the well known authors pump out more books at higher prices with the same old plots. Give me a newer author who is coming into their own with a greater effort to be imaginative and creative, and at a reasonable cost. I can get a whole variety of books for the crushing cost of one book from a big-name author!

    1. Amen! Most books by big name authors I read are those I check out from the library or borrow from a friend. Most of the books that I’ve loved the most in the past year are written by indie authors and I love being able to support them by reading and reviewing their titles.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I think some authors become the victims of their own fame, because their publishers want to get their next book out asap and don’t give it the layers of editing it needs to really shine. Not just line edits and proofreading but also developmental edits.
    Many of my favourite authors were massive best-sellers who never flagged, like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Some books were better than others, but that’s only to be expected with dozens of books. But there was no trend downward!

    1. I really didn’t mean to say or imply that many bestselling authors aren’t excellent writers, just that if they do sophomoric things, it’s okay. It doesn’t affect their reviews or bother their audience. Doesn’t it bother them? I would never want to put out anything less than my best work. Anyone can write a “not great” story, though. I don’t know if I’ve read any author that I didn’t find some of their books more to my liking than others.

      1. I suspect it does bother some readers, but when you’ve got a whole battalion of fans, those few people going “aargh” don’t really register. And while it might bother the writers to be caught doing a rush job, they may not be given enough time to polish the way a small independent author would. Big money contracts can be golden handcuffs. Lucky me I’ll never have to worry about that!

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