Would you rather be a good storyteller or a good writer?


I AM ADMONISHED on a weekly basis.

Sometimes daily.

“You showcase books on Caleb and Linda Pirtle,” I am told.

“We do.”

“Don’t make mistakes,” they say.

“What kind of mistakes?”

“Be careful when you choose books to promote.”

“What should I be looking for?” I ask.

“Good writing.”

That’s what it’s all about.

When they say that we should publish books with good writing, they mean something else.

Don’t publish books with bad writing is what they are really saying.

“What’s good writing?” I ask.

“You know,” they say.

“I don’t.”

“You’ve read a lot of books,” they say.

“I have.”

“Then you know what good writing is.”

I don’t.

I know what I like.

I don’t know what everybody else likes.

Once I tried to figure it out.

I don’t bother anymore.

I’ve read books that may have sold only a few dozen books.

And I loved them.

I’ve read books that have sold thousands, even millions.

And I hated every word.

Don’t like the authors.

Don’t like the books.

Won’t read any more of them.

I have no idea what good writing is.

But I know what makes good books.

Somerset Maugham is the one who finally explained it to me.

He said: “If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.”

And it doesn’t.

Readers remember stories.

They seldom remember words or how beautifully they were strung together or arranged into sentences.

For example, I’ve heard a lot of readers and writers criticize the pure, literary writing talents of Stephen King.

He’s not a stylist, nor does he claim to be.

King says simply: “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

Millions love his stories.

So tell a good story.

That’s what readers want.

It’s not so much about the writing.

It doesn’t matter.

What makes a book good?

It’s always about the storytelling.

I have never heard anyone finish a book, set it aside, and talk for hours about an author’s use of adverbial clauses or, God forbid, that he hung a participle out to dry.

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