A Book’s Secret Formula

Have you ever felt that you are reading different books, yet it’s the same story over and over? You have a different setting, characters with different names, a slightly different plot, but essentially, it’s just about the same thing. Well, sometimes I have this feeling, specially when I’m reading YA and chic-lit. This lead me to think perhaps there’s a secret formula only accessible to authors, telling them the basics to write a best-selling plot, and then they just add some little adjustments to imprint their brand in the story.

I’m not saying this happens all the time or that there is some sort of written guidebook that teaches authors how to write a successful book. But, you must agree with me that sometimes we get a few déjà vu feelings while reading.

Take Nora Roberts, for instance. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her books, but she writes entertaining chic-lit. A couple of years ago I read her books like a crazy person. *It was a NR phase.* I’ve read more than a dozen of her books so far, as well as some other chic-lit authors, and I see a pattern. With NR trilogies we always have a kick-butt/tomboy heroine, a force of nature/incredibly sexy heroine, or a quiet/angelic/peaceful heroine. Sometimes they have read hair, sometimes blond, occasionally black or brown… Sometimes they work in the police force or have artistic professions… But it’s always the same! The same insecurities, the same main personality traits, the same obstacles and the same dazzling irresistible men to sweep them of their feet (again, always sexy and incredibly skilled in bed, usually dark-haired, but we also get some blond specimens along the way). They meet, they feel attracted to each other. They either have their fears and traumas to deal with, or there’s an outside force that is keeping them apart… or there’s both! After some tears and hot sex scenes, they find their way to each other and live happily ever after. This is the pattern. It makes me sad that it’s so far from reality, but I liked them because I need a break from it sometimes. Hey, dreaming never hurt anyone. It’s just annoying that after some time, the “dreaming”/reading is always the same. No surprises, not plot changes, nothing refreshing.

Now let’s get to YA books. I’m not an experienced reader in this genre, but as far as I ventured myself, I can see a pattern as well. Beginning with dystopias/alternate fantastic universes and ending with love triangles. Again, the same thing over and over. There’s either the kick-butt heroine or the insufferable whining heroine. When it comes to the latest, her main actions are complaining about everything and nothing, all the time. The two of them never seem able to make up their minds about the person they love. The boys they love are always a) very dark, mysterious and sexy, or, b) the boy next door, cute, friendly and reliable. A devil and an angel. Plus, they always have a world crisis sort of situation to solve. Oh, yes…and the main character is always a girl!! Why can’t we have more boys as MC’s in YA? *If you know of an non-realistic YA with a boy as a MC, please let me know the title! I would really like to read it.* 

Please, do understand that I’m not ranting against chic-lit and YA. I read both genres and I like them. Nonetheless, to be honest with you, I would like some variety. It seems that we find this constant repetition mostly in these genres! It also looks like these are always best-selling books. So, this got me wondering…

Is this a “formula” that helps an author get popular? A “formula” that publishers are betting on because they know the books practically sell themselves? What does it say about us, as readers? That we like to read the same story over and over? That we’re not choosy or demanding about the originality of the books we read? That we are easily satisfied?

Let’s discuss! Post a comment below and let me know what you think about this, or if you share my thoughts about the existence of a “formula”, particularly in chic-lit and YA, but also in other genres.

If you want to know what other topics people are discussing in the book blog world, check out Oh Chrys! blog for weekly updated lists.

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16 thoughts on “A Book’s Secret Formula

  1. Yes, I think there is sort of a formula that authors and publishers try to use to sell books. They look at what’s selling now, try to pull away the bits and pieces they think are the cause, and shove it all together in one book in hopes that it will be one masterpiece! Of course, that doesn’t work out. Too often we’re just stuck with these feelings that we’re reading the same things over and over again! It’s sad how hard it is to find originality. I mean, yeah, there will be similarities between a lot of different books, but can’t someone just try to take a risk and put themselves out there? I mean, that’s why I liked CInder. While there was a lot of predictability and some commonalities with other YA books, the author really tried to be original by bringing in interesting concepts and unique ideas. We need more “new”! I want to be surprised and blown away by a book. Not bored because it’s all the same!

    Okay, enough rambling. Sorry! ><

    • I like rambling, Asti!! 🙂
      It’s really sad, isn’t it? Well, that’s just what they do, since the major publishing houses see the book world firstly as business (again, sad but true, even though I understand why they do it). For the last couple of years this repetition is being much more obvious, I think. Or perhaps is just because I started to read almost completely in English for the past 4 years. Anyway…today I was just craving for novelty!

      I have to get Cinder soon. It’s on my wishlist for ages now!

      • Exactly! I feel like learning about the publishing industry this next year is going to put me in an interesting situation because on the one hand there’s always going to be the reader in me who wants to scream about things being overdone or the lack of originality or any of that, but then there’s also going to be that part of me who wants to publish books and see it as a business and work hard to keep books alive and well in the hands of others. I’m sure those two halves of me can live together happily, but I’m sure it’ll take some adjusting to as I look at everything from the other end! Do you know what I mean, or am I just being crazy?

      • Oh, how well I know what you mean!! For the last 5 years I’ve been having this inner battle between the reader and the business woman. There were times when my reader self felt outraged and betrayed by things I’ve seen and learned, while the business woman says “there’s no other way to do it if you want to pay your employers and publish yet another book”. So, yes, I know what you mean. Still, I’m happy to have this struggle inside of me. It means that I can still look at books with love and “humanity”, not just the marketing business objectivity, and profit focus we learn to have if we want to have a shot at trying to be successful in this world. It helps somehow to have some balance.
        I’m very excited that you’re going to London study publishing. 🙂 I’m always over excited when I know someone is choosing this career path!!

      • I’m pretty excited too! And it makes me happy I have someone to talk to about things like this when they come up! You better block me from your blog and email before it’s too late! 😉

      • What!? No! I’ll never do that. 😀 I love to discuss publishing! And now that I finished studying, am far from home and looking for (hopefully) a bookish job, I don’t have as many opportunities to talk about it as I did before (at least until said bookish job comes up). So, do invade my blog any time you want to. 😉 You’ll surely learn a new perspective about publishing, focusing on UK and perhaps US market, too. So, we can share knowledge and experiences! It will only add to our self professional growth, and it will be fun as well! 🙂

  2. I totally agree Pat, once publishers see a formula is working they just keep churning out the same old stuff over and over. I read a lot of NA books lately but now am tired of them as its basically the same plot rehashed. I love originality and would to see more of it. Part of the reason I genre hop is so I can mix things up a bit as I would tire of one genre very quickly if I stuck to it.

    • I know what you mean, Trish. I genre hop, too. I keep jumping between classics, fantasy, YA, chic-lit, occasionally some crime novels, sci fi, historical romance and fiction. I read just about every genre, not just because I like to get out of my reading comfort zone, but mostly to escape this routine and constant repetition we get all the time. I have never tried NA, though. Is there a book in that genre you would recommend in particular?

      • Colleen Hoover, without a shadow of a doubt. Try Hopeless or Slammed, both of these set the bar for me in NA books and so far no other book I have read has reached the heights of these two. If you do check them out, let me know how you get on!
        I genre hop for the exact same reasons as you. It keeps things feeling fresher. Reading all those NA books gave me a break from YA and now I’m loving YA again. I think I’d have book slumps all the time if I didn’t genre hop.

      • Oh, I’m definitely checking them out! 😀 I looked for them on Goodreads and the synopsis of Hopeless really got me curious and intrigued. I’m going to look for them next time I go book shopping. 🙂

  3. Before anything else, I’ve read one of Nora’s books but that was so long ago. I am more of a Judith McNaught and Julia Quinn fan.

    Back to the real topic, I am not really sure since I’m not a writer but based on my judgment, they have the same kind of recipe. Most romance and Y/A books are overflowing with Mary Sue characters that it’s sickening sometimes. And then the overused plot line is all the more annoying. That’s I why I continuously read in the fond hope that one day, I’ll be able to experience that refreshing feeling again. The one I had with Harry Potter, The Giver and The Hunger Games.

    Whenever I am exhausted reading Y/A and romance books due to their predictability, I just stop and read a Middle Grade book. That saved me from a lot of getting disillusioned moments.

    • Hey Charlotte!
      I’m also a Julia Quinn fan!! 🙂 Never read anything from Judith McNaught, though.
      Oh…those Mary Sue characters!! They bore me to death and I just want to slap them sometimes. I don’t get why authors always write female MC with unrealistic perfect looks, who are exceedingly attractive and talented. I mean, women in real life are not that perfect and that’s the beauty of it. One thing I like about Catherine Anderson’s books is that heroines are flawed and overall more “normal”, you know?

      You got me curious with The Giver! Never heard of it before. And you’re right, reading different genres does help prevent the feeling of complete disappointment.

  4. Pingback: Life as a Genre Hopper | The girl who keeps reading

  5. Oh, tell me about Nora Roberts (eye roll), but all romance/chick-lit is a formula. You accept it and move on. For that matter, most crime and Fantasy novels are also formulaic, I think the trick to not get tired is to move from one formula to the other 😀

  6. Pingback: Bookish Recap: August 18th – 24th | A Bookish Heart

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