By BlueInk Review
In our mission at BlueInk Review to review self-published books, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. While it’s difficult to explain how to create stellar prose – as there’s always a touch of genius involved in the best literature – there’s no secret about where writers go wrong. As our reviews show, authors tend to commit the same writing crimes, book after book.
Below, we have compiled excerpts from the more than 2,000 reviews we’ve done, each of which expose common writing blunders. So what makes the bad review rear its dreaded, beastly head? Here are five traps you should avoid at all costs:
1. Writing rife with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors
The fact that this is at the top of the list is both discouraging and heartening: discouraging because, let’s face it writers, a book should be free of all spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors long before it’s reviewed or even published; heartening because this is one of the simplest problems to remedy.
Mechanical errors detract from the plot by forcing readers to wade through a veritable pool of inaccuracies in an attempt to decipher meaning. Don’t punish your supporters for reading your book; reward them with flawless mechanics.
Simply put: Hire a professional copy editor. And when he/she is finished, don’t rest easy. Proofread, my friends, proofread.
Here’s a sample of what our critics said on the subject::
“More frustrating, however, is the inundation of spelling and punctuation errors in the novel, specifically the incorrect use of the question mark, which is employed improperly in countless sentences. The seeming lack of any proofreading leads to an exasperating reading experience that is made even more challenging by a storyline that is disjointed, aimless, and, at times, self-indulgent.”
Readers don’t appreciate picking up a romance novel or thriller, only to be inundated with an author’s opinions about abortion or saving the rainforest. Yet authors often feel it’s appropriate to hammer a political or social message home through their characters.
It is perfectly acceptable for a character to have strong opinions, provided that this point of view is in keeping with the character’s overall persona. But if readers can tell that the character is simply acting as your mouthpiece, they will feel used and manipulated, and your story will collapse under the weight of your agenda.
Before you write, ask yourself: Is this my character’s opinion or am I simply trying to get a pet message across? Am I focused on telling a story, or presenting a diatribe? Let the story lead the way, not your politics, your religious beliefs or your social attitudes.
3. Mixed genres
You don’t go to a Chinese restaurant for tacos. Readers have similar expectations when picking up a book. If your book cover promises a mystery, science fiction novel, romance or other genre story, only to deliver an odd mash-up of fantasy, erotica and young adult, readers aren’t likely to appreciate – or in many cases – even understand your book.
Before writing, study highly regarded books in your genre. Read, read, read! And then read some more. This will help you understand the plot elements, character requirements, and pace that readers will expect of your story. And if you’re tempted to mix genres in the interest of creativity, without the skill of a professional with decades of writing experience behind him/her, think again.
Here’s what one reviewer had to say about that:
“At heart, (title deleted) is a brash mash-up of kung-fu flicks, superhero capers, and airport thrillers that skews along the lines of John Carpenter’s cult bomb ‘Big Trouble in Little China’. The narrative is immature at best, while unwieldy dialogue and overlong expository sequences hinder the book’s pace. Ultimately, the story’s atmosphere of spiritual mysticism is overpowered by childish notions of heroic fantasy that often feel out of place in the midst of an adult-oriented thriller.”
4. A lack of focus
It seems to us that many authors simply sit down and write whatever comes to the top of their heads, leaving readers baffled at the book’s ultimate purpose. When writing, every word you choose must help you make your overall point. Ditto every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter.
Ask yourself: What message am I conveying with this book? How does each chapter – in fact, each and every word – help convey this point? Here are some review excerpts:
“The weakness of the book is its lack of cohesion. The author jumps from subject to subject – farming methods, family reminisces, tangents about personal interests, people with no connection to (the author’s) story – without a clear thread or progression. Information about (the author’s) disability is interjected at intervals that lack the chronology or firm contextualization to be of real benefit to most readers.”
“Unfortunately, the book’s bland recitation of history continues, without benefit of a theme or thread to tie together or promote the author’s slant. When readers finish this book, they won’t know the ideology of either major party, let alone how each evolved to the present day.”
5. Unsubstantiated arguments
When writing nonfiction, self-published authors often feel that presenting their opinion is enough. But you can’t expect readers to buy your argument if it’s not backed up with coherent logic and/or research. Why, after all, should your readers just take you at your word?
Successful authors lead readers through their thought process logically. They cite credible sources to back up their arguments, along with facts and examples. Don’t simply share your thoughts and/or opinions. If your argument is to make a lasting impression on your audience it must be properly supported.
What not to do:
“The authors cover everything from 12th century BC Arabian trade routes to proper coffee roasting temperatures, but without giving the context or explanation that would affirm their expertise. They emphasize that, while critics focus on the risks of consuming caffeine, coffee has antioxidants and many other beneficial components, but they do not cite studies that prove these benefits in any detail. Stronger claims are hedged (“There is a lower incidence of type II diabetes among coffee drinkers …”) and difficult to fact-check, given that there are no footnotes. Ninety-seven of the 101 chapters have exactly three sources referenced for each.”
“He might be justified in claiming credit, but readers will find little persuasive evidence here to validate these undocumented assertions.”
BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit www.blueinkreview.com to learn more.