Actually, nothing. A C or average is a perfectly acceptable grade. It means you did the job. But sadly, we’ve become conditioned to expect exceptional and to feel less if we’re not recognized as such.
As a writer, your story may be near and dear to you, but most readers just want to be entertained. And then they move on to read more. This is the basis of publishing from mass market paperbacks to e-books for publisher from Harlequin to Random Penguin. We only think we need to be the best, brightest, newest because we live in a media-saturated society that’s competing for attention to the frustration of journalists everywhere.
There’s debate on ranking systems, but the 5 point scale has been around for a long time. Here’s a quick reminder of what those grades and numbers generally stand for:
F (1) – Many people say they want to write a book, but many never set pen to paper or type out more than a few pages. If you finish the thing, proofread it, and get it to press, then you’ve succeeded. Just try to make it the best you can!
D (2) – Unacceptable or below average. This is the book that gets in the way of the story. Characters aren’t developed, action is told rather than shown. Even worse, non-standard punctuation, spelling, and grammar add to the confusion or disrupt reading. If you’re going to make the effort, don’t skimp on revising and proofreading!
C (3) – The vast majority of books fall in this category. They may have moments where the story’s told instead of shown, where the phrasing’s awkward, or where the character’s a bit flat, but if the reader is charmed, then you’ve done the job! Good for you! Now do it again.
B (4) – Good, above average, well done. This is what most writers and publisher want and work for. We’d all like something out of the ordinary – characters we can identify with, plots that hold our attention, phrasing that catches our imagination. Read, study, and practice – this is where you’ll end up!
A (5) – Exceptional, extraordinary, excellent. This is the book that not only entertains, but is also thought-provoking or enlightening. The characters are people we can empathize with. The plots highlight conflict universal to mankind, not just the immediate story. The writing is enticing or poetic, compelling our attention. Sometimes this is luck – sometimes it’s read, study, and practice more!
Of course, tastes differ, so that’s where the discussion of degree comes in. But somewhere in these last 3 levels is where the good writer lives, creating the stories that readers look forward to. What’s your definition of good, even exceptional?