The Art of Writing Bad Books

By Romana Petkovska | Magazine | December 14, 2021

Cover Illustration: A stack of books with a post-it quoting Oscar Wilde. Romana Petkovska / The Amsterdammer

Magazine Reporter Romana Petkovska debates whether a book can be objectively classified as good or bad based on a variety of factors.


A reader and a writer – these two people may seem similar. However, there is a slight difference between them. In some way, they have a lot of common views and opinions, some writers agree with readers, and some disagree. But first, who is a writer? A writer is a person who writes, obviously. Once they get published, they become published authors. Although not all authors are professionals, let’s pretend it is true for now. And who is a reader? A reader is an ordinary person who loves to read and enjoys stories. Defining them is pretty simple, so where is the catch? We can find lots of discussions on the internet in which people argue whether a book is a piece of art, if it is actually good, and so on. In this article, I would like to look at how evaluating books tells you more about who you are rather than about the book itself.

Can a book be bad? Is the act of rating books subjective or objective? Is there actually a difference between a reader and a writer when they read a book? I asked a group of passionate readers through social media if they think that a book can be bad, and I mostly got answers saying that different categories of content have different fans and thus, books are never bad – they just do not always find readers who like them enough. A smaller group of people – not just readers, but students of literature or simply those who write – have a different opinion. For them, a book can be bad: it can be badly written, badly edited, have a bad writing style, bad grammar, etc. Oscar Wilde once said: “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” This is another point of view on how to assess the quality of books. However, we cannot say that a story is bad because of its unhappy ending – a lot of classics ended unhappily, and they are considered masterpieces.

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” – Oscar Wilde

A writer sees a book differently. They know that behind a story there is hard work, lots of caffeine, stress, anger, and probably an unhealthy sleeping schedule. Before a book gets published, there are so many people who read and edit it to make it better and more readable – an editor, a publisher, a printer, a marketing person, and so forth. A story takes a long journey from a laptop or piece of paper until it is an actual book in a bookstore. I, as an aspiring writer and a huge bookworm, see all these things when I read a book and sometimes, I ask myself: how could all these people let it be published with so many mistakes, such a bad writing style and so on? Then, I cannot rate that book with 5 stars, because even if I enjoyed the reading (at least a little bit), I could not bear that the book is in fact bad. A reader – mostly, but not always – sees a book just as a final product.

There are a lot of books on the market that have cheap storylines with cliché characters, which can be good too, but must be well written. However, when it is not, the book can be very annoying. A reader may say that it is not their cup of tea and that for someone else the book can be good. On the other hand, a writer is most likely the one who sees that the book is just bad, nothing more, nothing less.

There is a difference between whether a book is good or bad and whether someone likes or dislikes a book. A lot of people mistake these two. Someone can say that subjectively a book is good, but is that still true when we look at it less superficially, more in depth and more objectively? Non-fiction is not the only genre that can be evaluated objectively. On the other hand, it is interesting to see what other people think, for example: “You can only rate books subjectively, what else is possible?” or “Every opinion is subjective, however hard we try to be objective”. I also received more interesting opinions saying that all books are art and are thus about being subjective, because art is not a machine, but about expression and conveying feeling. 

Books can be evaluated objectively if we look at them less superficially. However, the rating we give them is mostly based on how we interpret each book and what each book means to us.

A stack of books with a post it quoting Oscar Wilde. Romana Petkovska / The Amsterdammer

Romana Petkovska is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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