What makes a “good book” good?

You know it when you have it in your hands. You can’t put it down—the story, the message, the new skill you’re acquiring—something in that book makes you want to keep reading.

I get so much email traffic on “how to market your book,” or “how to get your book noticed.”

Sometimes the author’s advice is really good. Sometimes, no so much.

But what these marketing experts and sales gurus aren’t talking about is the one fundamental that must be absolutely “in” before a marketing campaign can be successful. Does the reader of your book find it enjoyable?

I’ve had my hand in publishing well over 300 books over the past fifteen years.  Whether that was my own book published traditionally through Routledge (The Spell Cast by Remains: The Myth of Wilderness in Modern American Literature. It’s on Amazon and in all the university and other research libraries across the country) or helping authors “do it themselves,” I knew that unless that book was “good,” then it wouldn’t have a chance of actually selling well.

But that begs an obvious question: What actually is a “good” book?

I’m an English professor by training and have taught at some of the top private universities in the country (New York University was the feather in my cap on that one.) I started teaching writing way back in 1993.  I’ve helped hundreds of frustrated students take their essay and turn it into something meaningful.

I tell you this for one reason: good writing can come from anywhere. It can be written by anyone.   And it always has one fundamental—it’s enjoyable.

My publishing company, Hugo House Publishers, Ltd., has actually surveyed hundreds of readers on this at least a dozen different times. We ask the question: what do you want in a book. The answer is overwhelmingly: an enjoyable read.

So…a good book is enjoyable. Wonderful!

Now what the heck does that mean?

It’s enjoyable to the specific audience it’s being written for. You can’t please everyone, and if you say “everyone should read my book,” then you’re not going to hit a high mark on “enjoyable.” You’re writing to individuals, people who care about what you’re wanting to say.

The writing is focused. Have you ever read something that jumps from point to point? It’s annoying. Col. Pat C. Hoy, II , (Instinct for Survival: Essays) a wonderful writer in his own right and an amazing writing teacher, had the best definition for an essay. It’s a piece of writing with a beginning, middle, and end, and presents an idea in an interesting way. I’ve learned that books follow that definition too—no matter what kind of book you’re writing.

Good writing flows.  There’s a LOT that goes into making writing flow. It has to do with making connections clear, with introductions and conclusions that are in sync.  Good writing is structured, but getting it to flow is the art, I have come to believe.   It requires writing and then re-writing. Re-seeing (which is revision, if you deconstruct the word) the work you’ve created from the eyes of a reader.

I’m not going to cover everything here. I can’t. It’s a blog post. I mean really, how can 500+ words compete with the many towers of books that have been written on the subject?  It can’t.

But I can leave you with this.  A book is enjoyable because it is interesting to the reader.  It says something the reader needs or wants to hear, and it does it in a way that isn’t overdone, that is conversational, that has something (hint: stories) that a reader can think with, use, come back to.

Good writing communicates.  Good communication is enjoyable.

(and yes, that’s the set up for the next blog. Want to know more?  Let me know in the comment box below! That is communication, after all!)