Errors: How many are tolerable enough to tempt you? LfmM

Because we’re human, it’s likely that every book will have at least a small number of errors in it. Conventions the author or editor didn’t know about, obvious mistakes that somehow got missed in the dozen or so readings of the book that constitute the editing process, or too few editor reviews because of cost concerns, all these can slip in and mar perfection ever so slightly. But in the end, how many errors are too many?

Due to the death of my old third generation keyboard Kindle, I bought a new Paperwhite. For the month of May 2018, I enjoyed a month of free Kindle Unlimited. That gave me free reign to binge read those Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) novels that I wanted to read but found too expensive, mostly Austenesque Regency romances. At the same time, several good JAFF books have come out within my favoured cost range (under $5) or had promotions that put them in that price range. So I’ve been on a reading rampage lately and have been inundated by the good, the bad, and the ugly. That reading experience inspired me to write another article on editing and the mistakes that can be made.

One of the first books I read in May was a Pride and Prejudice based book where I detected no errors. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any, but it definitely means that if there were, the mistakes were so minor or even debatable, they didn’t take the reader out of the story. I made a point of crediting the author and editor when I tweeted about my wonderful reading experience and posted the link to the book on Facebook. Now authors, wouldn’t you all like to be the one who got those kind of accolades from your readers? Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

About a year ago, I re-read my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, and found a handful of clear errors that I didn’t know existed when we edited it. Some were because the editor and I had yet to put those words into our non-Regency words checklists, some were essentially typos that it was easy to get beyond, and all were unlikely to be noticed by the average reader.

For example, I notice many Regency novels where “snort,” “chuckle,” “guffaw,” are in modern usage, even though “snort” was an animal noise only according to Johnson’s Dictionary of 1811, “guffaw” is a non-Regency word of Scottish origin, and “to chuckle” meant our modern “to guffaw” during the Regency. But in these cases, most readers don’t know any better, and it won’t ruin their reading pleasure. Even the non-Regency “fiancé,” “décolletage,” and “debutante” are tolerated by this picky reader—but barely. What bugs me are modern words like “morph” or “normalcy” or Americanisms such as “okay” and “hello” in a British Regency story. Same for clearly British words like “prat” and “pram” for an American speaker in a novel, unless there is a joke to be had in the use of the word.

Language is not the only issue. In a period story, historical issues should be checked. Did the zoo close down the year before the story was started, and how long did it take to travel through several counties via horseback without killing the horse? The correct title for a member of the peerage is another example of an issue critical to the success of putting the reader in the right time period.

When a story is unpublished, that is, if I’m reading on a web site for writers where there is clearly no professional editor, I cringe and bear it. Sometimes the mistakes are funny. An unpublished author used “palatable” where she meant “palpable,” “jester” for “gesture,” “bought” for “bout,” and the biggest ouch: “roll” for “role.” I’ll have mine with a little butter and jam. Sorry. I felt for her as often as I laughed at the mix-ups. But this story came from a fan fiction web site and was not edited. I got what I paid for.

from http://homophonesweakly.blogspot.com/2012/10/conscience-conscious.html

As a writer, I recently got caught with what I think was a touchpad error on a spell check, because I know the meanings of the two words. Beta ldb531 caught me with “decimate the information” when I meant “disseminate the information” and, at first, I kept re-reading the sentence to try to figure out what was wrong with the rest of it! After that, I just had to laugh! Just this week, my British beta caught me using Americanisms “gotten” and “alright” that got past both American betas. Thankfully, I have no crutches in the way of homonyms like the unpublished writer above does, other than typos–I hope! If I do, I’d better learn from my mistakes! But my current work-in-progress, The Mist of her Memory, will be serially posted on A Happy Assembly after incorporating the corrections found by four excellent betas. After that, the novel version will be published after multiple reviews by a professional editor and proofreader. With any luck, its errors will be gone, or at least that those remaining will be barely noticeable. Remember from past posts: Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

I also have problems with commas in my own writing. As is probably evidenced in this unedited article, I put them in where they don’t belong and forget them where they’re needed. But for my books, I have betas and editors to help me. As a reader, I can overlook a missing closing set of quotation marks if it’s not confusing, or even a missing period—it it’s not a frequent mistake.

However, some trends in editing errors may point to a lackadaisical attitude towards one’s readers. A first novel may have errors that the author will learn from—if readers are kind enough to give the appropriate feedback in book reviews. However, multiple mistakes are not so forgivable in later books. Readers should never have to pay for a book that’s full of errors, period. In fact, even if normally a paid book is obtained during a temporary “free” or low-cost promotion, we still deserve our expectations of a smoothly-written book. If the author is asking readers to pay for the pleasure of reading their work, the book should offer that pleasure undaunted by distractions that are within the control of the author! We’re reminded of Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, subgenre, etc. There are no exceptions. And if your editor sucks, fire him/her!

Readers have a responsibility, too. I tend to rate books better than my gut says to, simply because I’m an author and I don’t want to hurt another author’s feelings. For example, if a book succeeded on many writing measures (e.g., good character development, vibrant scene-setting, suitable tone, well-developed plot and flow, lack of unnecessary plot twists or characters, appropriate prose, reader investment in the protagonists, tight research, lack of plot holes, satisfying ending, realistic and believable premise, unique story line, engaging dialogue, good balance of dialogue and narrative, lack of head-hopping, appropriate use of point of view, memorable story, and others I forgot at the moment) but missed out on two or three of that list, I’ll still give it five stars even though my first impression would say it’s really a three to four star book. But I’ll drop a full star if it has too many blatant editing errors. Yet, I’ve seen reviews for books that are cute but forgettable, don’t deliver the promised angst, have huge plot holes, and/or have head-hopping that’s hard to follow, AND have over a dozen unforgiveable proofreading errors that have been ranked at five stars! That’s not fair to authors who make the effort. Shame on you, readers!

But readers, make sure you know your rules before you complain. We’ve all read of pet peeves in writing. Upon a check of some reader pet peeves, I discovered some supposed errors were merely British spellings (e.g., “colour,” “centre,” “judgement”) or older British Regency spellings or word usage (“gift” as a verb, “fall” for autumn, “realize” are all proper in the British Regency), and others were punctuation issues that were correct in certain circumstances (possessives with two nouns). Of course, many readers’ pet peeves are legitimate errors, and mostly homonyms. But don’t blame authors unless you’ve checked to ensure your information is correct. Remember that rule we suggested for authors? Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

In summation, we all have a responsibility to delivering good-quality books: the reader, the editor, the proofreader, the publisher, but most of all, the author. It’s your name on the cover. Make sure you can be proud of it.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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As I noted above, my next novel is called The Mist of her Memory, and it’s in the late stages of beta review in four steps: NinaH served as plot beta, ldb531 was the general beta (line edit and Regency correctness), Anji has been scouring the text for British correctness, and NinaH returned as the proofreader. Anji and ldb531 also served as cold readers in this romantic suspense novel, letting me know how they were feeling about it as each chapter was revealed to them. NinaH offered kitty stories to amuse me as well as her technical observations. The Mist of her Memory will be posted on AHA later this summer, and I hope to have it released as a published novel in early 2019.

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The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

I’m off on another costuming escapade to once again participate in the Port Alberni Jane Austen Festival and hopefully, up our count for the Guinness World Record of number of people in Regency costume in one place, July 5-8, 2018. I’m going to get to enjoy a production of Persuasion by the Chicago Chamber Opera Company and I’ll be signing books at the Guinness count and the Regency Afternoon Tea, along with an opportunity for a draw for a signed copy of The Mist of her Memory. I’d love for some of my friends to come along and join me, and I can even help with your costume. Tourism destinations in the area consistently make the top ten in the world in travel magazines, so this isn’t just a Jane Austen thing, it’s an experience of a lifetime. Help this small town break the world record!

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I’m compiling my list of lessons for Learning from My Mistakes and it will be the final post in this series. At that time, I’ll use a random number generator to pick the prize winner for a signed paperback copy of the 2017 top ten reviewer acclaimed Pride and Prejudice comedy A Most Handsome Gentleman, a book bead of A Most Handsome Gentleman, and a choice of a handmade Suzan Lauder signed Regency reticule or a handmade Suzan Lauder signed “Grown-Up Lady” cap and lace tucker set. All commenters for this series, as well as followers of my blog, will be entered for the draw.

Why first person? Suzan Lauder’s #LfmM

Why did I write A Most Handsome Gentleman in first person point of view?

The answer: because it came out of me that way. End of post.

Just kidding. I can elaborate a little more than the actual answer above.

In the past, I had written in first person point of view in a novelette length story, but it was in the modern part of the time-travel story (Performing to Strangers; posted at A Happy Assembly in 2010). I had channeled a friend as a parallel character to Elizabeth Bennet, so it was easier.

Elizabeth Bennet with a parasol, Brock drawing from Wikimedia Commons

I know that some readers don’t much care for first person, and for that reason, I would normally have avoided it. But when I finally started typing my “Hot Collins” story idea, the words that came out of me were Elizabeth Bennet’s, and the way they were phrased used “I” instead of the third person deep point of view that I had honed my craft on in Letter from Ramsgate, which is the most common style for Regency romances these days. No one was more surprised than me.

My Meryton Press editor Gail Warner was just as surprised and told me she’d never edited a first person novel before. It sounded like a warning about her abilities, but I think this novel was easier to edit than the other ones—at least, Gail made it look easy!

First person is commonly used in Young Adult and New Adult novels, however, A Most Handsome Gentleman, as a Regency comedy-romance, doesn’t fit either of those genres no matter how much it might get a laugh from the readers.

But I think first person works far better than any other point of view device would for this story. In fact, the only other POV I would consider writing this in would be from Mr. Collins’s view, and I think it could be first person there as well. However, we would lose the nuances of Elizabeth’s thoughts about Mr. Darcy even if Collins would watch their relationship blossom and grow. It’s much better told by Elizabeth, first as her unconscious attraction and later, similar to Pride and Prejudice, where she laments that he is the right man for her even though she can’t expect Darcy to be interested in her.

And that’s the reason we read Jane Austen Fan Fiction—for that Elizabeth and Darcy happily ever after!

A Most Handsome Gentleman was successful in earning the praise of all its blog tour reviews with consistent four and five star reviews. It was also selected as a top book for 2017 by three book bloggers (Diary of an Eccentric, Margie’s Must Reads, and More Agreeably Engaged). So authors, don’t be scared to try something like first person point of view if it fits your story. It’s not a mistake if you’re successful, it becomes part of your style and voice. But mind not to take that to an extreme and become an editor-resistant diva—“voice” does not mean mistakes that a good editor would check!  A truly successful book is a well-edited one, by both the author and a professional, no matter what special techniques are used.

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Learning from my Mistakes will probably have one more “Official” post: a summary of all the lessons learned, with links back to the articles. This does not mean I won’t occasionally identify a problem area that’s worth sharing to help other authors avoid it. In fact, in my reading, I still encounter books that are brilliant with the exception of the editing. A recent example would earn a two star rating, it was so full of homophones, misspelled words, sentence fragments, and redundancies though the plot and writing ability in general deserved four stars. The moral of the entire blog series is still “Get an Editor!”

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Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

Writing the Wedding Night: Suzan Lauder’s LfmM

Sexual tension tends to underscore the conflict in a romance novel. Part of the fantasy that many readers enjoy is the culmination of that sexual tension. However, many authors are squeamish about writing “Those Scenes.” Thankfully, a number of approaches are open to authors who want to include consummation in their romance novel.

The author can prepare by developing a vocabulary by doing some research, i.e., reading examples of steamier scenes. Historical romance writers such as Sarah MacLean, Miranda Neville, Tessa Dare, Amy George, or the older works of Abigail Reynolds have good examples. Modern writers will have an easier go of it. I don’t read many modern romances, but Catherine Gayle’s and Sylvia Day’s works have some good inspiration in them. When reading such scenes by authors you like, keep a list of words that work well for you as a reader.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from my Mistakes Lesson #15: Get inspiration from others for those difficult-to-write scenes.

 

Don’t utilize full phrases or sentences from others’ work, though, as you don’t want to violate copyright. I use a rule of thumb of fewer than five words.

Utilize language reminiscent of fire and heat. Use a thesaurus for “passion” and “desire” and similar words to develop a vocabulary for your scene. If you’re writing a period romance, use words that evoke that time period. Clothing details are important, and language that reflects the period is just as critical. Research slang words of the era, ensuring not to use them inappropriately.

Scenes that build up to the consummation are essential to your scene-setting. Begin with observation of the physical attributes or actions that the protagonists admire, coupled with descriptions of their personal physical reactions they try to hide from their future love interest. If you’re writing from a limited third person (close or deep) point of view, remember your point-of-view character can’t see their own physical response, e.g., a blush. Describe their reactions as if you’re in their head.

You don’t have to go into elaborate detail in every scene. Use step-by-step scene building with brief interludes of physical contact in earlier chapters as the attraction between the couple builds. That way, the reader won’t be startled by the time the author has reached the sex scene. The types of language and descriptions of body parts is the only difference.

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes Lesson #17: Let your romantic encounters build. Pick and choose aspects of love making to prepare the reader for the culmination.

 

As the duration and intimacy of the prelude contact becomes longer, it becomes more important to imagine the choreography of the interaction broken down into steps, even if you don’t fully describe each step. Be aware of how the sexual tension is fulfilled yet lacking at each step. Ensure you’re describing not only physical reactions, but the thoughts of the point-of-view character for the scene—and it should be told only from one point of view! Head-hopping will ruin your flow.

The rate at which the physical encounters develop differ dramatically between a modern New Adult or contemporary romance novel and a period romance such as Victorian or Regency. Opportunities and societal norms will delay physical contact in the latter, and the writing will involve more sexual tension via dialogue, observation, and physical reactions. Consummation will often preclude relationship-building in the former, meaning more full sex scenes. Dramatic tension in modern scenarios will tend to be related to outside forces at least as much as the relationship itself.

In physical interaction scenes, take care not to make the action mechanical: “Tab A into Slot B.” I once got caught out in a modern romance with a car make-out scene where I mentioned she had one arm on the armrest and the other on the console as she leaned in for his kiss. Who cares where her elbows were? Readers want the lip action!

How much the author is personally affected while writing the scene, or objective and unaffected, depends on the individual. I find that considering step-by-step movements and struggling for the right sexy word does not make me, as the writer, feel all that steamy, even in a fairly descriptive scene. Others may need to plan ahead to relieve some energy.

A new author asked a group of others, “I’m a virgin, so how do I write a sex scene?” As with any aspect of writing, reading and Internet research becomes more important with lack of personal experience, but it’s not impossible for a person who has never had sexual contact to write an excellent sex scene any more than to write about speakeasies, car chases, or a ballroom lit with candelabras. Reading romance novels can help develop a sense of the aspects within the scene that any author is comfortable communicating. The author has the opportunity to choose the detail they wish to include, from a romantic inference to full-on erotic descriptions of the act.

An exercise that many have enjoyed is “The Kissing Challenge.” The object is to write a steamy scene that involves kissing but no consummation. It’s good practise of your mature scene vocabulary and coordinating of movement. My first “Kissing Challenge” scene became Chapter 21 of my first published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, and the A Happy Assembly Playground story A Garden Encounter was a further opportunity for me to spread my wings in a non-consummated scene. Both are somewhat explicit, something that’s not necessary in order to create the sexy atmosphere you want as a writer. Sometimes less is more, and implications can be stronger than explicit language. Here are some examples of sex scenes that don’t include a great deal of detail:

The first sex scene from JustineR’s unpublished modern Pride and Prejudice comedy-romance Off Balance: “As in their professional lives, she was highly energetic and creative, while he was thorough, careful, and steady, a detail man. She was very goal-oriented, but he paid attention to process and to making certain all the important points were touched on methodically and completely. These complementary approaches made for excellent teamwork, and their joint efforts produced an impressive outcome all around.”

From Studio 54, my unpublished novel-length, mature, music-centric, late 70’s, P&P inspired romance in the Meryton Reading Room: “When their bodies joined, there was no hurry, just one prolonged, gliding movement until they became one being. They moved gradually together, their eyes focused on each other’s in a tender communion of souls. A barely perceptible acceleration brought them each to the inevitable pinnacle of satisfaction at precisely the same moment. All that was left was to hold each another reverently and feel the comfort of shared love and peaceful understanding.” There are more explicit scenes in the novel, but this one is the example I like to cite for those who prefer to avoid direct descriptions of sexual activity.

There’s a time and a place for both explicit and implied, though. Many romance readers look forward to the intimacy, expect it, and see it as the ultimate expression of the attraction between the couple—and the steamier the better for their future felicity. Other readers prefer not to read the details, however, take care here. Avoiding the topic altogether is tantamount to hiding the truth—it’s no better than telling a lie. Sex happens as part of a healthy young loving relationship, and it’s up to the author to find the essential balance to suit each specific book. For example, if you prefer your unmarried protagonists’ ending to be chaste for the most part, a sexy kiss can still do your story wonders.

Rachel Knowles’ Georgian romance, A Perfect Match, is an inspirational novel with the following: “Her body was responding to the kiss in anything but a sisterly way. If she had been standing, she would surely have fallen. That kiss told her more about the state of her heart than her head had ever done. She had thought herself above temptation. … Whatever his intention had been, that was no ‘brotherly’ kiss.”

I’m sure other authors have opinions to contribute, so please share in the comments! Even the most seasoned writers can be nervous writing these scenes, and I hope this article has eased up writers’ tension at least a little.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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LfMM Suzan Lauder’s 100-Word Editing Checklist

I said in an earlier post that I’d share my list of words to search for if you want to un-muddy your writing to help you self-edit. (Lesson #2 and #3 at end of post). This list is a golden gem of mine that started after I read a book called Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair. I’ve used the ideas he suggested in the book and added many of my own to create a list of 100 words to search for to improve your writing.

“100 words?” you ask, “Isn’t that tedious?”

Yes it is. And if you don’t use these words, or get in the habit of it after having searched for the 100 a few times, your writing will shine. It’s worth tedium of a few rounds to get better as a writer. In addition, if you, like may authors, want to shave some word count off your novel, this review can often cut 5% of word count at first. Yes, my writing was 5% muddy before it ever got to an editor!

My over-used words at one point or another: that, look, act, then, such, all, as, about, turned, smile, scowl, however, in fact. What are yours?

But there’s more: I like to pare down adverbs to the minimum by rewording (including considering the adverb as the verb or adjective instead) or cutting, but I don’t believe in removing them totally, as they do have their purpose. A good rule of thumb is an average of no more than one -ly adverb per page of text. Adverbs like really, totally, only, and just can almost always be cut.

There are words I’ve taught myself to limit use, and the top of that list is another adverb: very. Most of the time, this adverb is your story begging for a better adjective. Very small: diminutive. Very old: antiquated. Very pretty: beautiful. Very late: tardy. Very lazy: lackadaisical. You get the idea. Get to be friends with a good thesaurus for better word use.

Some word formations can signal passive tone, such as a verb ending in –ed with to, or some –ing words, or had with another verb. Keep it active.

If you want to be a good POV (point of view) writer in third person deep point of view, you must get rid of “filter” words. More on that in a POV post, but I mention it because it’s on the cheat sheet.

If you’re like me, and write period fiction, you’ll also want to find words that were not in use during the period and exchange them for something more appropriate to the times. For example, the word “high-tech” is from the 1970’s, so you don’t want it in your Second World War story or older. Since I write Regency, I’ll have a post on Regency language later in the series.

How to use the checklist? In MS Word, there’s a function called “Find” on the “Home” tab. Type in the letters of the checklist item, then use the arrows in the pop-up box to go from one to the next. Evaluate each case, and if needed, reword, watching not to get into the rut of using another muddy style. You don’t have to change them all, just the ones that are easy to change. Soon, you’ll recognize your style and which words are never a problem for you.

After using the list a few times, you’re bound to customize the 100-word list for yourself, adding words your beta reader has indicated are over-used and crossing off those you have no issues with. These change from time to time, so be flexible with your checklist.

Suzan Lauder’s 100 word Editing Checklist

The applicable lessons to this post:

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

I hope a few of you share some words that would be on your list in the comments for this post. Enjoy your self-editing experiences!

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Please note the new widget on the right panel of my blog main page at the bottom. It takes you to my newest story posting for free at AHA, A Most Handsome Gentleman (formerly known as “Hot Collins”). It’s funny!

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The engagement scene in Suzan Lauder’s bestselling Letter from Ramsgate

dsc_0134-2The inspiration for using the Royal Menagerie at Exeter Exchange for the final chapter in Letter from Ramsgate came from my dear friend Maria (defiantfalcon at the Meryton Literary Society’s A Happy Assembly), the plot beta for the story and a zoo fanatic. In fact, Maria’s best meditative, self-indulgent, de-stressing moments come from hauling out a humongous zoom lens at her local zoo. She’s an avid supporter of the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA), and her photos of the extremely rare Amur leopards at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA have been used in their promotional material. Though there were no Amur Leopards in the Menagerie at the Exeter Exchange, they had a pair of adult leopards. Based on the artwork by Jacques-Laurent Agasse, they were most likely from Africa or Indonesia. I love this painting, and a scene is based on it!

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

Click on thumbnail for larger view.

The inspiration for other details within the chapter came from reading about the animals of the menagerie, finding the handbills that advertised them, and particularly, from two blog posts.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge photo.

Also known as Polito’s Menagerie after its original owner, the Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change was situated in the upper levels of the Exeter Exchange building on the Strand from 1773 to 1829, and housed a “grand assembly of living curiosities” literally from every corner of the globe. Handbills and artwork from the Regency era indicate “majestic” and “noble” lions, “elegant” leopards, a rhinoceros, and “hundreds of other rare and interesting quadrupeds, and birds of the most exquisite plumage, all in fine health and condition, and so perfectly clean and secured, that the most timorous and delicate may approach them without fear or being annoyed.”

rachel-knowles-a-perfect-match-coverRachel Knowles’ article in Regency History: Researching Regency and Late­ Georgian History helped me to imagine the scene better. The author, costumer, and blogger’s Georgian novel, A Perfect Match, was a lovely read. If you like sweet historical romance novels with a subtle Christian back story, you should try this one. She has an upcoming non-fiction release called What Regency Women Did For Us due to be published by Pen & Sword in April 2017 that should prove a valuable resource for historical fiction authors like me.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

Click on thumbnail to enlarge.

The second article was about a particularly important resident of the menagerie at the time Elizabeth and Darcy would have visited. Chunee, a “Fine, Large Male Elephant” from India, was the star attraction of the menagerie, as well as a performer at the Covent Garden, and was often paraded in the street outside the menagerie. The coin trick in the engagement scene was described by Lord Byron in 1813: “The elephant took and gave me my money again – took off my hat – opened a door – trunked a whip – and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler.”

Chunee had a history of violent “paroxysms” likely brought on by inhumane treatment. While in pain with an infected tusk, Chunee became extremely violent, and the methods used in an attempt to calm him were bizarre. A decision was made to put him down, and the difficulties encountered in the attempt to end his life have become one of the most horrifying stories in the history of zoos.

marie-antoinettes-confidante-by-geri-walton-coverThe above and the ability to feel so much for this elephant that I wanted him in my story is thanks to author, blogger, and historian Geri Walton, who blogs about fascinating tidbits of the 18th and 19th century. She’s released a non-fiction book in the UK about the Princesse de Lamballe, the confidante of Marie Antoinette. It will be available in the US in January 2018. Watch for it, because if it’s anything like Geri’s blog, it will be a fun and fascinating approach to history!

The non-historical part of the story is that of the three-toed sloth, Noëlle. Her scene was based on a real life incident witnessed by my beta friend. Because of her helpful photo logs of the animals, defiantfalcon gets behind-the-scenes visits at the Audubon Zoo once in a while, and she got to hold and pet a three toed sloth. She said the fur is the softest she’s ever felt. I’m so jealous!

Thanks to these three women for their generosity in sharing their passion in their own unique ways. Their stories became the basis for one of my favourite scenes in all of my writing.

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vertical-blog-tour-bannerThanks to everyone who followed me around on the blog tour. Thanks so much to each blogger who hosted and each reader who commented. I had a great deal of fun thanks to their willingness to try something a little different, and readers say this has been one of the most fun blog tours they’ve ever seen. Thanks to Rita, Loren, Tina, and Anna for your generous reviews, and thanks to the Meryton Press team for helping me share links. The most special thanks go out to Janet B. Taylor for organizing everything as the blog tour host.

While we were gallivanting around the blogging world with our parasols, readers were voting with their “buy now with one click” fingers, and Letter from Ramsgate enjoyed a short period as a #1 Bestselling Novel in two Amazon categories: Historical Classics and Romance Classics. It also climbed to #8 in Regency Romance. The latter is the big coup, as the competition is fierce from famous authors with dozens of great reviews!

The blog tour may be over, but the giveaway is not. Because we had a problem with Rafflecopter at first, the Letter from Ramsgate blog tour giveaway has been extended to November 3, 2016. If you commented on a post but didn’t get to include it to get your extra entries, now you can enter the name of the blog you commented on. One comment counts per blog site, and only one comment entry per day!

Rafflecopter Link

I’d love comments from readers here on my blog. They won’t count as a blog tour stop, though. Use the other sites for that purpose, and to show those bloggers how helpful they were to my Letter from Ramsgate blog tour.

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How Three Authors Dropped the Ball

“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.”

ereader free stock imageI’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…

Stockholm Public LibraryMost 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.

red pen and laptop editing free image smallerA 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.