Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!

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.”

BlueInk Review2. Fiction containing overpowering agendas

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  http://www.blueinkreview.com to learn more.

16 comments

  • Though I agree with this overall, I have a few reservations when it comes to a bit of the ol’ ‘prescriptive commercialism’ creeping in.

    I’d agree with the idea that someone attempting to write genre fiction shouldn’t write within one very specific idiom, suited to one very specific genre, and then switch themes. However, I hope that no writer going ‘freesyle’ as I like to term it, (‘literary fiction’ being such a ridiculous term), would be put off by this.

    Likewise, writing off the top of one’s head has produced sterling material in the past. Indeed, to my mind, it’s the best way to write. So long as the writer has the sense to edit afterwards then, and only then, should they be considering the points you made in the ‘lack of focus’ paragraphs.

  • I read this and then, thankfully, realized it does not apply to me. However, I will say this. Until a self published author gets picked up (at a million to one odds) by a “publisher” their work is never going to be completely flawless. Good, definitely, great, maybe, but not perfect. I can say this as one who has his own copy editor. One of my books has been revised a dozen times since it was published. They are usually minor things and few and far between, but after several re-reads, they op out like an elephant’s backside.

    • That should have been “pop out”. My key got stuck and my editor is away. 😀

    • Paul, you say: “Until a self published author gets picked up (at a million to one odds) by a “publisher” their work is never going to be completely flawless.”
      Surely, you can’t mean this literally. I have read a lot of traditionally published works, some by renowned authors, that have been far from flawless.

      • I’m saying that the standards are high. The point I was making is that self published authors’ work is always in flux and always improving and one of the benefits is that you can change your work and improve it very easily. I am well aware that traditionally published work has its flaws.

      • It’s my understanding that many former editors with major publishers have abandoned the 9-5 and gone freelance. More money, more freedom. When you get right down to it, with professional cover designers out there, erstwhile publishers’ editors out there, and all for hire, there’s nothing to stop a self-published work being of as high a standard as something put out by the corporates.

        As it is, the corporates themselves seem to be permitting their own standards to slip.

        I agree with you in theory, but as I’ve said either here or elsewhere, with small print runs and lots of work going out there, corporates seem to be competing on much the same territory as the self-published. Throw a lot of stuff out there and see what floats. If they had any sense they’d be going for quality. Instead, it’s like Rolls Royce trying to compete with skateboard manufacturers. As self-pub quality is improving, corporate publishers are serving as second-rate gatekeepers.

  • “Good writing” and “rife with mechanical errors” are mutually exclusive.

    Every author and publisher should care enough to hire the best talent available to ensure the highest copy quality possible in all their publications.

    It is not an exercise in hyperbole to say that the future of Western Civilization depends on it.

  • A lot of good stuff there but I agree with Pete Marchetto. Half the appeal of self published books, for me, is that they DO mash up genres. It may make them hard to sell but so long as there is one lead genre so say, fantasy with a dash of x, y or z then I see no problem. Also, like most self published writers, I suspect, I write the kinds of books I want to read. The reason I write books is because the stories I want to read weren’t there to buy. So I had to write them for myself. I may be a bit eccentric but I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who enjoys the kind of stuff I do… although whether the others’ll enjoy mine is a different matter.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • I have to chime in about the genre point too. A lot of mixes work very well, including:
      * science fiction murder mystery
      * science fiction thriller
      * science fiction western
      * historical fantasy (eg: a story with strong time travel elements)
      * historical horror (eg: Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer)

      This is not to say there aren’t a lot of bad mash-ups. There certainly are. I just don’t think it’s the mash-up part that’s the problem.

    • It seems to me the ‘mash-up’ has been around for a long time and can be very successful if done well. Nora Roberts has successfully written romance with para-normal mysteries and mystery romances. Sure, she’s best known for her romance books, but she does a good job blending genres. I think an author has to fully understand all the genres they want to work with and what will successfully meld them. It’s probably important not to mix too many in one story, but it does seem to be working for some authors.

  • Reblogged this on Jennie Sherwin and commented:
    Kobo Writing Life lists five traps Indie writers should avoid.

  • A great article. So much can be learned from you. Hopefully many writers will read what you have written here. Great job!

  • Great article. Though, I felt it was more geared to non-fiction writers. However, I can see how this also relates with fiction.

  • Good info! Thanks so much. Shared via Chris the Story Reading Ape.

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