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  • Kaitlin M

The Lowest Common Denominator


This concept of looking for the lowest common denominator can be perfectly legit when it comes to things like fractions. When you apply it to intelligence, that's when I start to have serious doubts about the validity of the method.


Here's the problem with mass produced crap tons of novels. (Yes. Crap was an intentional word.) It has to do with reviews. Have you ever spent any time reading Amazon reviews? Have you ever had the thought that the person doing this review is an absolute moron? Have you wondered to yourself why they would start the review by saying that they didn't want the product, bought it as a mistake, or didn't need it? Then they go on to trash the product for reasons that have nothing to do with the usefulness, durability, or even value of that product? And what happens then? They give it two stars or less and that gets tossed into the mix.


And don't forget about the punitive angry customer. The one who actually spawned the need for Amazon and other online stores to create what they've tagged as a "verified buyer" or purchaser. You realize that's because Angry Snippy Sarah gets her panties in a twist about this face cream she bought. She didn't read the ingredients even though she has an allergy to something in the cream. The cream gives her a rash, which is totally on her because she's the dimwit who used a cream she was allergic to. It's not the company's fault. But Angry Snippy Sarah has a pretty large group of friends. And every one of those friends go and leave a bad review for this poor face cream even though they've never purchased nor used the product.


Star ratings. That's what publishers are after. But think about that. A story will always appeal to a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons. Some people will love the story. Others will hate it. It's possible that all of those people will get something from the story anyway. They've benefitted in some way from reading a book. They learned something. They were entertained. They got their damn money's worth. Can you possibly imagine what the Amazon reviews would have looked like back in the day for something like Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice? Good Lord! How about something like Of Mice and Men. Imagine you could have left a review of that sucker when you were forced to read it in English Lit back in High School. How many stars would The Grapes of Wrath have had on its Goodreads description? But those are classic books! Books we would never consider a waste. We would never just ditch them and stop printing or producing them because they made certain people uncomfortable or didn't have an immediate appeal to the masses.


That isn't how it works in the current market, which is sad because that might mean the next generation of classics won't accurately reflect on our culture they way that Jane Austen's books did upon hers. And why is that? Because publishers are so damned afraid of getting one bad review that they cater to the lowest common denominator in their readership.


Do you know how many times I've been told as an author that I can't use a character because they don't fit a profile? I had absolutely no idea that all men involved in romantic interludes are six foot one inch tall with rippling muscular bodies, perfect full heads of hair, are simultaneously assholes with tons of money while secretly being super nice and having hearts of gold. Oh. And they are also bi-curious, totally comfortable with that, and have regularly experimented with lovers of both sexes throughout their lives.


Herein lies the problem. Romance novels have become Soap Operas. Nobody works. Nobody has real problems. Nobody looks normal. If they struggle, it's just a surface thing and that struggle is completely rewarded with a happily ever after that would make any royal princess jealous.


"Ugh! Gag me with a spoon!"


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