To follow on from what I was saying yesterday:
There is an excellent article by critic John Crace on The Guardian page about what makes a good book.
He talks about some interesting stuff, much of which seems obvious, yet is often not realised by readers. For example, not all books by the same author are equally good.
Ever looked at the Amazon reviews of one of those prolific authors who wrote a highly popular and fabulous book in the past and people keep on buying them even though they are now writing mechanical not-so-good, rip-you-off potboilers? There's one I can think of whose first book- maybe 30 odd years ago - I loved. You can still find it being sold. It has 170+ reviews with an average of 4.5, deservedly so, about as good as it gets. He followed up with some other really good books about the same world.
His latest book, though, has a 2.5 rating. And it's still on the best seller list. Get with it people; there are stacks of good books out there. If a writer's latest books don't treat you, the reader, with respect, then don't give him your money.
Another point from Crace: hype sells books - it doesn't mean the book is good.
There's a classic SF/F book out there at the moment that illustrates this. It had huge amounts of marketing money thrown at it. I have read it. It's uneven, brilliant in spots, but mostly dull. I suspect it was hyped because a non SF/F editor was impressed with the ideas - an editor who reads very little SF/F and doesn't have a clue about the quality out there. That's what it feels like anyway. It has a rating of 3.5, which means that most people didn't think it deserved the hype. It has been selling pretty well too.
When I think of some of the wonderful SF/F books I've read, which fall by the wayside because of a lack of marketing, it breaks my heart...
Crace also says creative writing courses are a waste of time: I can usually sniff out a book that's been written by a creative writing student within a few pages; there will be no plot to speak of and each sentence will have been polished so many times it will be dead.
Crace again: A good novel should be readable.
And then the clincher: he says some of the best novels are to be found in genre writing. One of the examples he gives is Stieg Larsson. I have just read the first of his 3 books, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I understand it was the second best selling book of 2008 (not sure whether this is just in UK or worldwide in English, or what...) It was a can't put-it-down whodunnit which I loved.
I didn't agree with everything Crace said, but interesting nonetheless.