Sunday, January 14, 2018

A minor dilemma

One of the online groups I hang out with is doing a group read. I recently downloaded the book they’ve selected and started reading.

I am struggling.

The book is riddled with issues - incorrect grammar and punctuation, inconsistent formatting, and (a more subjective issue) it feels over-wordy, like there’s a lot of fat and fluff that could be trimmed out and tightened up without detracting from the story. I would say this book is a long way from being ready to publish, and I have a feeling the author has never sought genuinely independent critical or editorial feedback.

This all makes it a slog to read as my eye trips up over multiple issues on each page.

However, the issues do seem to be consistent, so I guess the author has been diligent in his own editing. It’s just that he clearly wasn’t diligent enough to actually learn how to (for example) punctuate dialogue correctly.

Yes, I remember having to look up and re-learn a load of long-forgotten rules when I first started writing, but it just seemed a natural thing to want to do in order to express myself clearly.

And, I have to say, I believe there is actually a good story underneath all this distraction.

So, my dilemma is whether or not to say anything to the author.

On one hand, I feel he’s doing himself a disservice. If he were aware, especially of the technical errors, they’d be easy to fix and he’d immediately have a product that didn’t look so obviously amateur. Plus - and this is an entirely selfish reaction - a part of me is angry because this is an example of why self-publishing has such a poor reputation. Every book that gets published with such glaring issues makes it more difficult for all Indies to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, it’s a free country, he’s not breaking any laws, and he may be perfectly happy with his book and how it’s doing out in the marketplace. It’s really not for me to step in with unsought advice.

And then again, I notice these kinds of things because I’ve been so immersed in the writing world that a misplaced period or wrongly capitalized word leaps out and smacks me in the eye. But what about the majority of readers out there? Do they care? Would they even notice? Does it really matter?

So, what would you do?

9 comments:

  1. I wonder why the group selected it then?
    You can always bring that up in discussion. Or send him a private message. Depends on his ego. I'd want to know my book had typos so I could fix them.

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  2. Alex, I'd want to know too, but the thing is I'm new to this group and I don't know the individual so I can't begin to guess how he'll take unsolicited feedback. If I do anything, it would be a message rather than blurting it out into the public forum.

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  3. Hi Ian - it's tread softly isn't it ... I'll be interested to hear how it turns out ... good luck! Cheers Hilary

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  4. A gentle word might go a long way. Examples of the fix, maybe?
    If you say nothing, the author won't learn and is doomed.
    If you speak up, the author might get all emo (do ppl say that anymore?) and hate your guts forever.

    what a predicament. I say gentle and never caustic is the way to go. To say nothing is disingenuous. (glad I'm not you, btw)

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  5. YES, it matters. I've noticed a TON of people ripping on Indie Books primarily because of poor grammar/syntax. If your friend has a prayer of selling the book, it MUST be done right, or as closely as possible before publication or querying. In that vein, you are obligated to say something, for his benefit. However, he is probably going to hear it from a large percentage of the other readers, so keep that in mind. I have often explained grammar rules in critiques for other writers--just the once in a comment bubble, then pointed it out once or twice more so they see what I'm talking about. There are going to be hurt feelings/pride, especially if the writer realizes his work is riddled with the embarrassing mistakes, but better to have that experience now than down the road.

    You've definitely got the right idea to contact him outside of the public eye, I just wish it was possible for him to retract his mistakes before the whole group read them. What can you do? We all have that experience at one point in the journey, eh?

    I should point out here, even a very good writer that I work with couldn't keep tenses straight in a book I critiqued for him. Sometimes we do need a little outside help.

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  6. Hilary, definitely treading softly :)

    Huntress, this is the thing, there's no knowing how someone might react and I'm not setting out to offend anyone.

    Crystal, I'm honestly not sure how many readers he has in the first place. This group actually appears to be very tiny and his books only have one or two reviews, so there's no "large percentage" involved here.

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  7. I tend to side-step unless someone specifically asks for my opinion.

    Why?

    Well. You know my style of critique. I don't pull punches, so if I'm going to share my opinion of why something is badly done, it's best if I'm doing it because someone asked/paid me to do it.

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  8. You say this book already has one or two reviews? Do either of them mention the books' shortcomings and poor editing?

    It isn't just you who notices things like this. Any discerning reader should be aware of these things. I know they drive me nuts. (Then again, books like "Fifty Shades of Gray," which I've heard contains abominable writing, sold like proverbial hotcakes, so maybe readers aren't that discerning, after all?)

    Some writers are simply blind to their own shortcomings, but does that mean we should ignore them? I don't think so. One writer sent me his manuscript, which he SWORE was fully edited and error-free, and asked me to review it for him prior to publication. (I'd reviewed several of his earlier books, and always commented about his good stories being undermined by poor editing, so we had a history.) Bottom line, this book was every bit as bad as the earlier ones. In addition to the misspellings, poor grammar, and awkward phrasing, there were also huge inconsistencies in the plot. Rather than review it, I sent him an email. Told him if I reviewed it "as is," the best I could do is give him two stars. I explained why, and asked him if he wanted me to proceed with the review or not. No surprise, he did not. I begged him to spend more time getting rid of those errors before he rushed to publish, but he went forward. He corrected the main plot foul-ups I'd found, but he said something like, "Nobody but you would have noticed that!" I beg to differ...

    I think those things matter very much. Like Misha said, if someone asks your opinion about the book, I'd certainly share them with the group. The more specific things should maybe be shared with the writer in private... if he's even open to hearing them. Some aren't. Some would rather persist with their illusions than try to improve their work.

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  9. What a tough spot you're in! I feel bad for you.

    If it were me, I'd want to know.

    That aside, is the purpose of the group to provide actual criticism? If it is, I'd be honest but gentle. If it isn't, then I'd hold off on the critique.

    Do you have a feel for the group yet? Sometimes groups turn into a (no offense intended to anyone) mutual admiration society. Writing is a solitary pursuit. We do need positive support from other writers as much as we need honest criticism, in my extremely humble opinion.

    If it turns out that the the group as a whole--or just this particular writer aren't looking for constructive encouragement, then take a deep breath and let it go. Eventually the book reviews online will catch up to this writer and let him know that he has problems. Or, he'll just not sell any books.

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I also try to respond to comments. I usually do so during the early evening (Pacific time) which may be many hours away from now!

So if you leave a comment and return some time later and I haven't responded yet, please don't think I'm ignoring you. I'm not. Honest.

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