“All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.”
I’m a reader more than an author, and I’ve learned about writing quality through both. Over the last month or so, I’ve read some excellent novels. Some of these otherwise outstanding stories disappointed me where it could be easily avoided, yet I’m shocked to find my opinion that this is of concern is in the minority.
Three specific novels stand out. They varied from a pleasant romance with mild conflict to an excellent “sweeping epic romance” novel with strong dramatic tension throughout, and another that had a mix of sweetness and angst that put it in the middle of the first two. In each case, the plot moved forward at a brisk pace through the trials the protagonists faced with minor villains and/or misunderstandings towards a satisfying Happily Ever After.
The novels were Pride and Prejudice variations, and compliance with canon characterization for the major characters was strong and consistent. A couple of minor characters were given larger roles and personalities, and new characters enhanced the variations, not unusual for Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), and well done in each case.
Sounds good so far! Read on…
Some tropes were used in one novel, and a subplot seen in another author’s earlier novel was copied in that same novel, but the other two did a fine job of avoiding them. Quotes from Pride and Prejudice were inserted in key places, although in one novel, they were too long and cliché.
But everyone enjoys a hint of the real Austen, right? Read on…
A range of ability to use of point of view was seen in the books. The sweet romance author did an excellent job of maintaining a standard (not deep or close) third person, multiple point of view, taking care to ensure that POV changed by scene. The other two were less successful, awkwardly using multiple techniques and head-hopping. Obviously the latter authors are less disciplined in good POV techniques.
Ouch. But the novel that escaped head-hopping must be the best one, right? Read on…
Much of the language felt authentic and maintained the mood of the Regency era. The light romance novel was bogged down with long sections of narrative and could have used more dialogue; the others were well-balanced. The authors each used a number of non-period words, but I’ve read far worse by well-known prolific JAFF and Regency romance authors. Most of the common anachronisms included by Regency writers were avoided, and scenes were peppered with little touches of period description that helped move the reader’s imagination into another time.
One made a common mistake: rather than ending when the story arc had been completed, the story line digressed into a new plot direction when it should have been tying up loose ends. That wasn’t enough: an epilogue that had nothing to do with the plot line and was of a different style altogether followed. But the other two novels had perfect endings: no loose ends, the timing was neither abrupt nor dragged out, and the reader was satisfied with the romantic outcome.
Okay, a few flaws, but they still sound like good books, right? Read on…
Most authors have at least one weak area in their writing, including those above. Some have continuity or inconsistency problems, so the reader is frequently pulled out of the story to flip back to try to resolve their confusion. Excess elements such as side plots, back story, or redundancy result in boredom. Too many novels have an inadequate premise with minimal conflict and a plot with no complex elements, rushing through predictable circumstances to their happily ever after while rendering the novel forgettable.
These three novels escaped those specific problems. The striking situation here was that even with the weak areas noted, the authors were skilled. Weaknesses were not specific to one novel; rather, each had one or two areas to improve upon but excelled for the most part. The novels each had an interesting, unique premise that was well-executed. Dashes of humour enhanced the dramatic themes, and excitement was felt during situations with physical action. Strong romantic themes supported the story arc. One in particular stood out among JAFF Regency novels for excellent story-telling that took the reader’s imagination away.
For a captivating story line, a reader could overlook one or two flaws, right? Read on…
All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.
A lack of proofreading significantly spoiled the final result of what could have been a decent book.
If I were reviewing these novels for Amazon, a full star would be dropped at minimum for the proofreading errors alone. I’m not being trivial over a few minor typos. Plurals using an apostrophe and incorrect plural possessives, made-up spellings of words, homonyms and homophones used incorrectly, missing letters, missing periods at the end of sentences, and missing quotation marks on one end of a character’s dialogue are examples.
A JAFF author once questioned why I liked working with Meryton Press as opposed to self-publishing, and I listed the benefits I get for free, including editing. Her response?
“No one cares about editing. JAFF readers buy everything released and give top reviews no matter what the quality.”
Sadly, she’s right. Whether enchanting or bland, JAFF novels with poor attention to editing routinely get five-star reviews, even when the reviewer mentions the editing was bad! Review blogs never mention proofreading and ignore blatant mistakes, as they’ve rated these three books almost consistently at 4.5 to five stars. It’s disappointing for those of us who go the extra mile.
Many reviewers make exceptions for self-published books, saying poor editing is expected. That must be a disappointing surprise to 80% of self-published JAFF authors* who make that extra effort to put out quality novels for their fans. Readers shouldn’t reward author-publishers who are lazy or cheap any more than traditional publishers who employ editors who don’t know their craft—it’s not fair to those who care about their readers. I paid for the book. I have a right to expectations.
The errors added up, affecting my overall perception of these otherwise good books. The high-angst novel was one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read, and though the problems were fewer than the other two, it had confusing head-hopping and enough proofreading errors that it was not just a slight omission. In all three novels, clearly no skilled person did a final check for the author.
A smart author won’t stop there. The use of a good general editor (substantial editor, line editor, and/or copy editor) would make these authors look so much more professional. Even those who can manage a good effort at all of the aspects mentioned above will have weak points they don’t see when they read through their work. Another set of eyes, particularly a professional who is experienced at what to watch for, can make an okay novel great.
I have huge appreciation for the beta teams who have assisted me with my unpublished work. Their volunteer, well intentioned, non-professional reviews helped me learn to be a better writer. This is great for JAFF sites such as A Happy Assembly where members with a huge range of writing skills are encouraged to add to the large number of free stories. But if you charge for the book, you’ll be held to a higher standard.
A beta reader, Aunt Sally, an English major, or a teacher can’t take the place of an experienced professional editor. I’ve read JAFF novels written or edited by these supposed experts that had laughable errors. Professional editors are familiar with typical mistakes, the specifics of genre fiction rules, and lots of good alternatives to improve a novel.
Special smooches go to the Meryton Press editors I’ve worked with: Gail Warner and Christina Boyd. Both are caring, kind, fun women. With their unique talents and styles, each brought my writing to a higher level as professional editors. Ellen Pickels is the lady who covers the a55es for all of us as Meryton Press’s final editor. She serves as proofreader, layout editor and graphics editor! After reading the above mentioned novels, the view that she’s worth her weight in gold has been reinforced! Thanks to them all!
I hope authors who read this will know where they fit, and those who care will improve or continue their best practices and be proud of their dedication to their readers’ satisfaction. I also hope those who don’t care will get their just desserts someday, rather than a reward of five stars when they didn’t even try to respect their readers. Wishful thinking, I know.
* My “guesstimate.”
Note: This post has not been professionally edited. If you need a few spare commas, I probably have some to offer!
Next post: The Smart Author Self-Edits: some links to help you improve your craft.
And thank you for the feedback.
Thanks for your comment, Mrs. Edwards. An independent moderator felt differently about the previous comment, which I characterized as “less than objective.” Most people would consider calling a person shallow as rude, but you are entitled to your opinion. This article was written over a week prior to posting, and a great deal of consideration went into ensuring balance of the negatives and positives and not shaming any author. Please re-read it with an open mind, and you’ll discover many positives related to the three stories.
As a customer, I have a right to judge a product I purchased regardless of my own perfection or lack thereof. This was no different than an Amazon review, except it wasn’t aimed at any individual book. “Otherwise outstanding stories,” “satisfying,” “pleasant,” “strong and consistent,” “excellent job,” “perfect endings,” “the authors were skilled,” “each had an interesting, unique premise that was well-executed,” “excellent story-telling,” “otherwise good books,” and “one of the most entertaining books I ever read” are indications that I liked the stories. I don’t know how you leapt to the conclusion that I didn’t. In contrast to a free JAFF site, when a reader pays for a book, they have a right to read it and have an opinion on it without the insult of shouty capitals.
These are talented authors. My disappointment that the JAFF community accepts lack of professionalism in ensuring a quality product for a minority group of writers is as important a message as my disappointment that my reading experience for these delightful stories was marred when it could have easily been prevented. Does expectation of quality make me shallow? If so, I accept the compliment as intended.
My comments weren’t rude, but you really need to think before you speak. You are not perfect, and you should not judge. If you don’t like someone’s writing, DON’T READ IT! But, in all honesty, expressing your views in this way in public shows how shallow you are!!!
I’ve been told that some less than objective comments were left on the Meryton Press blog page, and that’s why that copy and its comments have been hidden. The original four commenters, Abigail, Lynn, Stephanie, and Joy, were not among those of concern, and I thank you for your feedback.
I encourage comments that focus on the critical point: that JAFF readers are forgiving of errors. I remind readers that I’m a reader, and pay for books too, thus am deserving of an opinion as much as any other reader.
In addition, a comment was made about the three authors being self-published. I don’t know who their publishers are, and I don’t think it matters.
Most of my closest author friends have chosen to be self-published, and I respect and support their decision, as I respect authors who choose hybrid publishing, a literary agent, or other opportunities I felt were not a fit for me personally. I ask the same courtesy be given me for my choice–even though that is not the topic of the post.
My apologies for the duplicate posts, Sheila. We were having trouble with the automatic crosspost feature that copies the blog post into the main Meryton Press blog room. In the course of fixing it, the original returned to draft condition, where it would normally be an unseen edit, and in draft, there is no update button, just a publish button. Some strange coding had been introduced, and I went in and deleted it, and a similar situation occurred. I didn’t realize this meant everyone got three copies from me and three automated ones from Meryton Press until they came in my own mailbox. Ugh. Sorry!
Though judgment is correct in American English, either is correct outside of the US, and judgement is favoured a little more than judgment in Britain. Those types of words are hard because in some cases during the Regency the American spelling was correct.
For example, organize and realize are correct spellings in the Regency and in modern American English while in modern British English, both the -ize and -ise spellings are correct for these words and familiarize, which is not a Regency word. Except for -yze/yse words, modern British English favours -ise and American English -ize in all other cases.
Gail Warner says “Decide which you want and be consistent.” Since I use the spellings of the country my story is set in, I use British spellings for Regency stories, and there are many aside from the -our and -re endings, e.g., grey, towards, adviser, offence. In my published short story, which came from experiences in Canada, I used American spellings to be consistent with the other stories in the anthology.
As a reader, I don’t fuss about American versus British spellings, but words that are clearly modern American in a Regency story bug me, such as gotten, hello, and okay. There are dozens of other everyday words that are American and not British.
Your example for Jane and Sue doesn’t make the point you wish to make. In this case, since you’ve used the singular “house,” it’s correct to say Jane and Sue’s house, as they share it. If they have separate houses, that’s when each gets the apostrophe, e.g., Jane’s and Sue’s houses. To look it up, the heading is “possessive with two nouns.”
This is why Aunt Sally should never be the proofreader! We learn certain things are wrong at one time or another, but the application to the story we’re reading may be different. I remember a beta reader insisting on the comma outside the punctuation marks in dialogue. I decided to copy Austen instead of listening to her. I was lucky it turned out okay. A great deal of Austen’s punctuation doesn’t meet modern rules, and she wasn’t consistent with herself on spelling! (De Bourgh or de Bourgh, Phillips or Philips)
Sheila, you’re a recognized, well-regarded, respected reviewer in the JAFF world. Your insistence upon remaining independent and refusing ARCs strengthens your position of trust for other readers. Your opinion counts far more than you realize. Don’t hesitate to say what you want. You can get away with it.
I wonder if we need some sort of forum or protocol where readers feel safe to tell authors the errors in their books. I sometimes email authors who are close friends and Meryton Press authors, but sometimes I feel like it’s shaming them to point out their errors. In any case, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to mark down and feed back problems for every book I buy. I do feel the authors who need proofreaders should know without shaming them–if they’re willing to accept feedback, that is.
Thanks so much for the comment!
BTW: why am I receiving this posted blog about four times in my mail box?
When I read paperback issues I would mark the errors in pencil. Now I don’t take the time with my kindle books. But I do note the mistakes in my head. Recently I read a book twice and the second time was just to mark all the errors. Some are mentioned, above i.e., the wrong use of the apostrophe, as in plural or possessive forms, even the misspelling of “judgement/judgment” over and over again. I have mentioned poor editing in some of my reviews but admit that I ignore it largely as it becomes too tedious often times. One of my biggest complaints is Jane and Sue’s house which should be Jane’s and Sue’s house! I have even had authors respond to that criticism with, “So what?” and telling me that the readers understand what is meant so leave it be. I do notice missing letters and spaces and am happy to read here that someone cares. For a long time I have had the feeling that as a reader I am ruffling feathers if I point that out so have just fallen into line and kept my mouth shut for the most part. Maybe I will not start to speak up more. I am not an expert but I do notice.
Thanks for bringing up the ARC (advance review copy), Sophia. That’s a good reason for a reviewer to avoid comments on typos and the like. We try to correct the punctuation before it gets to Ellen, but we learn from her markups. Spelling and grammar are usually dealt with before she gets the manuscript, but that wouldn’t be the same in all cases. But broader quality issues, such as anachronisms, continuity errors, plot holes, and the like should be addressed well before the ARC. Anything that draws the reader from the story (e.g., WTH moments) is a signal of an area the author should have addressed.
It’s good you know your weak spots, as you can try to overcome them. When I started writing fiction again after 30+ years out of high school, I was a “tell” kind of person because that was the approach in business writing. A beta kept hounding me to add more dialogue. But one important principle I learned from the business world is that the author is equally responsible for mistakes in correspondence as the secretary. Translating to novels, the author, editor and proofreader are all at fault if the book goes to the public without a solid final review. No editor or proofreader, and it’s all on the author’s head.
This is so true, Suzan. I know my grammar is atrocious and I have a tendency toward passive voice and mental monologue so I would never try to publish without a professional editor. I do tend to not say much about editorial mistakes when I review b/c typically I review ARCs and not the finished copies, but yes, a finished copy should have some polish and shine to it no matter whether its JAFF, Indie, both or neither.
It’s not just a hobby, and it’s not just permission to take money from people, right? There’s a responsibility involved. If the cost bothers the author, they should submit to Meryton Press–we get great editors like you for free! Well, sort of. Part of an amazing support team the MP authors get to share!
Great post! I agree–once you put your work out for purchase, your work is held at a greater level. Thanks for the shout out:)