I love Chuck Palahniuk. When grabbing his work, I can be sure that I will enjoy what I am about to read. From “Fight Club,” to “Invisible Monsters,” to “Beautiful You,” I have rarely been disappointed. There’s good reason he’s been one of my favorite writers, and an inspiration to how I approach my own writing. He reminds me not to be so goddamned precious about what I write. You can tell by what he writes that he has fun with it. And that above all is what I strive for (besides a career): fun.
But this isn’t about that. This is about something entirely different.
Many years ago I picked up “Haunted.” Like all of the other novels from Chuck that I had read prior to “Haunted,” I expected I would enjoy it. Maybe be grossed out, but enjoy it nonetheless.
Not the case.
I couldn’t read it. I tried. Several times. It was bad. Not gross bad. I got past the scene where a character had to bite through his own intestines to save himself from drowning (happened very early on). The rest of the book was just bad. I couldn’t get into it. In fact, it was so bad that I had trouble picking up the next CP book. I eventually did and count “Haunted” as a one-off flop, but the point I am about to make in this essay remains.
Chuck Palahniuk is an established, traditionally published writer. Now he can be considered a niche writer as his style and choice in topics are not something I would call mainstream, but he has mainstream popularity. Regardless of his standing, I trusted his work. I trusted that I would enjoy all of it. Not the case.
It was another lesson that Chuck taught me indirectly: not everything you write is going to be a hit, even for your own audience. Even for people who would otherwise laud praise onto you.
So we come to the point of independent writers: writers who have either failed to get a contract with a publishing house or who, like myself, simply refuse to even bother with that route. My point about these writers (yes, including me) is that there is no reason to declare these writers any less worthy of being read than any successful traditionally published writer. One can assert that there are fewer tools available to the indie-writer that may impact the quality of the work, but I’ve also written to how that is more or less subjective. A great editor can do a shit job just as much as a shit writer can produce a pop hit. Covers can do a book justice or have little to do with the content inside.
I was sure that I would enjoy “Haunted” and that anything Chuck produced was gold up to that moment. I was wrong.
I had no idea that a small novel “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, an unknown writer by my reckoning, would haunt me to this day.
I wouldn’t think that books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Twilight” would find massive success despite what I call terrible writing, but they did.
When first reading Hugh Howey, I did not expect that I would find another favorite author and consummate inspiration.
The point is that until you open the first page of a book, you cannot understand the journey you are about to take. No matter the writer. No matter anything but the words inside and your own willingness to take that ride.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, or the house it’s published by. Just read it and find out for yourself.