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.

~~~

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!

~~~

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.

Keep JAFF readers interested with originality: LfMM by Suzan Lauder

JAFF novels are like batches of cookies. A few years ago, someone took a beloved old recipe and created a tasty new version with their own slightly different spice mix. Others did something similar, and readers like me enjoyed the burst of unique flavour that came through each time a writer added their own spice, even if they sometimes weren’t top quality literature.

But when the cookies became popular, opportunists’ taste buds couldn’t discern the subtle aspects that came from rare ingredients and a complicated method. Instead, they came up with their own simplistic recipe using only the most basic ingredients.

These cookies have been rolled and flattened by different hands, yet they use the same bland formula. There are bite size and colossal versions, some with so many layers you can’t eat them in one bite. A few have substituted efficiency tools for old-fashioned mixing to the right texture. Too many have put a ton of sprinkles on, thinking sugar is surely as good as spice. But this alternative cookbook has one thing in common: after we’ve tasted these cookies, we find ourselves wanting something interesting for dessert.

I bow to authors who constantly try new recipes, and readers who enjoy the taste rather than scarfing them down just because someone put a plateful in front of them.

In my opinion, this proliferation has caused a weakening of the sub-genre of Regency romance that we call Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF). Of course, in order to avoid problems, it’s best to know how to recognize them. The following are over-used scenes or tropes that I’ve seen in many other novels, both older and newer and admit to either using or using something very similar. Now, many of these come from canon, but they can be overdone, and I am among those who has been caught.

Over-used situations I’ve used at one point or another:

  • Darcy at the mantle.
  • Darcy pacing the perimeter of the room.
  • Darcy fiddling with his signet ring.
  • Too much of Elizabeth as a “good walker.”

Similar weak points I’ve seen as a reader:

  • Elizabeth’s lip chewing.
  • Darcy looking out the window.

Over-used tropes I’ve used:

  • Elizabeth or Mr. Bennet teases Darcy for the insult and/or Darcy says he didn’t think she heard or knew she heard and says he changed his mind and apologizes, saying she’s the most handsome woman of his acquaintance.
  • Accidental meetings in a book store or the opera.

Over-used tropes can offer a bit of warmth and commonality to Jane Austen Fan Fiction, but some that are not consistent with Austen are used so often, readers confuse them with Austen’s work. Some items that are not in Austen’s work are:

  • Older sons and younger daughters for Mrs. Gardiner (in canon, it’s two girls aged 6 and 8 and two younger boys).
  • 50- to 60-something ages for the Bennet parents and the Gardiners (these would be Elizabeth’s grandparents’ ages).
  • Darcy walking down the gallery with a candelabra.
  • The Lake Scene.
  • The Look (one I like to refer to!)
  • Some of the above mentioned like window-gazing and ring-twiddling.
  • A consistently sparkling, perky, and positive Elizabeth (she sulks, runs away, avoids, doubts in canon).
  • A consistently reticent, scowling, and proud Darcy (he smiles 8 times and engages in light banter at Netherfield) or one who is overly gallant (he admits his awkwardness at Rosings).
  • Character names like Richard (Colonel Fitzwilliam), Fanny (Mrs. Bennet), Madeline (Mrs. Gardiner), Lord Matlock for Colonel Fitzwilliam’s father, or any given names for Mr. Bennet: all of this list are NOT canon. Mr. Gardiner is Edward in canon.

Henri-François Riesener (1767-1828) – Alix de Montmorency, Duchesse de Talleyrand

What can we do about this? As authors, when we use tropes, we must be aware of them and consciously make the decision rather than automatically follow fashion. Better yet, try something original rather than leaning on what other authors have done to death. As readers, be aware of what is canon and what is not and not chastise authors who, for example, choose a name other than Richard for Colonel Fitzwilliam or Fanny for Mrs. Bennet.

Story lines that have been done over and over CAN suffer, even though the new author’s intention is to make it fresh. You’re asking for comparisons to past versions, and additions to the premise may well have been better done in another story as well. In addition, readers may just get tired of the same premise over and over!

It’s always better to try a new premise than to rehash an old one. Two examples in my reading experience where there have been flops in newer versions are the forced marriage scenario and “compromise” scenario. Curious that in the Regency, the word compromise did not mean what authors think it does, and many authors apply Victorian standards to set up their Regency ruin of a single lady.

What examples have you read that have been over-done and suffered in the latest copies, even by very popular authors?

Another pet peeve is the conflict-free story. I don’t mind a sweet romance if it has a soupcon of dramatic tension to keep the reader’s interest, but I don’t see the point in a straightforward, no strings attached, problem-free romance that’s basically taken away all the barriers to the protagonists’ getting together and adds nothing more of interest than a happily-ever-after, leaving the reader unfulfilled. Some authors think by writing sex-free, they must write sexual tension-free and drama-free. It’s not the same thing. Austen’s books all had numerous subtle flavours to them, some dangerously salacious, and all had dramatic tension! Your readers can take it, and there’s a whole lot more readers out there who will latch onto your stories when they realize they will keep the reader on his or her toes—or those toes curled in excitement! Remember Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

An interesting story Miss Ray By William Wood, 1806 Met Museum

Where to get fresh ideas? Lesson #15 was not just for the sex scene! Get inspiration from others for those difficult-to-write scenes, i.e., read. Re-read Pride and Prejudice, of course! Read the other Austen novels, the Juvenilia, and Austen’s letters. Read nonfiction in your era, such as Regency history, fact books, and history blogs for ideas that come out of real life characters, laws, or events. Read other romance and JAFF novels, including unpublished works, and look for the plot holes and what-ifs within them. (I know some authors avoid reading JAFF to avoid any influence in their writing, however, knowing the genre is critical to finding a niche and finding new ideas, e.g., discovering you did not invent that particular scenario!)

NEVER copy ideas. It may not be true plagiarism, but it’s equally as nasty to do so! Instead, get inspiration from comparable era books like Regency romance. Read novels in other genres. Look at what you like to read that’s popular in fiction outside of Regency romance and consider how it could apply—other readers like dragon stories, too. (Sorry, that one’s been done, more than once, too!)

Talk to your friends in JAFF and brainstorm—the craziest suggestion can spark the idea for your next novel and its very fresh, spicy, unique premise! Bon Appétit!

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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Port Alberni goes for the #Regency #Costuming World Record!

Whenever I hear the name of the city of Port Alberni, I think of three things: the 1964 tsunami that tore through hundreds of homes in the community, huge water bombers for fighting forest fires, and the initials P.A., which make me think of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. You have to be familiar with cities in Saskatchewan to make that last giant leap.port-alberni-background

Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, from "The Young Victoria"

Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, from “The Young Victoria”

A further leap: the actor who portrayed Mr. Wickham in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Rupert Friend, also played Prince Albert in The Young Victoria.

But back to Port Alberni: I now add a fourth–or first–thought of the city when I hear the city’s name: the Jane Austen Festival.

Port Alberni sits in the middle of Vancouver Island, which is just off the southwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. The island is about the size of Maryland or 1/4 the area of England.

The Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni started in 2015, with one day of events, including a tea. In 2016, it will be a much larger, two day celebration. On Friday, July 8, a Regency style brunch will be held in the morning, a Regency style tea takes place that afternoon, and on Friday evening, participants get to meet me at the “Readings of Jane Austen’s Work” event!

As a guest speaker, I’ll describe The World of Austen-inspired Fiction. This will include a reading from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that inspired my latest novel, as well as a short scene from Letter from Ramsgate, which will be released by Meryton Press in October, 2016.

You’ll also find me with other authors at the signing tables, where readers can either bring their own copy of my first novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, or the Meryton Press holiday romance anthology, Then Comes Winter, or purchase a copy from me for signing. Either way, participants for the signing will get an Alias Thomas Bennet bookmark and a chance to enter a draw for a set of three gender-appropriate Regency costuming accessories courtesy of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment.

The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

The Centennial Belles in Regency Costume

The main event is Saturday morning: the attempt to break the Guinness world record for “Largest Gathering of People dressed in Regency Costumes!” The original record of 409 people set in Bath, England in 2009 is the most recent listing on the Guinness World Records web site. Since then, Bath and Louisville, KY, USA have been battling for the title, and each time, one outdoes the other! Louisville didn’t challenge the record in 2015 because they hosted the Jane Austen Society of North American Annual General Meeting instead. However, the 2015 Bath Festival had 550 participants including a number of Jane Austen Fan Fiction authors and bloggers.

Registrations for the World Record Challenge event will be accepted until 10am on Saturday, July 9, 2016, and all participants must be in attendance by then. Participants must be dressed according to the Guinness guidelines. Of course, help to throw a quick costume together is in my blog posts for the lady’s Regency costume and the gentleman’s Regency costume.

The Port Alberni organizers are the Centennial Belles Fashion Group, costumers who support local fundraisers with costuming from many eras. They’ve been hosting workshops and information sessions for nearly a year in preparation for this festival. They believe the majority of their participants will be from the local area.  It will be interesting to find out how far people come to participate in the event.

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, BC, Canada (Click on thumbnail to view full size)

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, BC, Canada (Click on thumbnail to view full size)

For me and Mr. Suze, it’s a two hour drive. On the way, there are some magnificent sights: Goldstream Provincial Park, where in the springtime, you can watch flocks of American eagles fishing for salmon as the fish make their way upstream to spawn; the magnificent views along the Malahat pass; the town of totems: Duncan, BC; the bustling city of Nanaimo where we’ll lunch with friends; the beaches of Parksville; Coombs and its funky reconstructed historical village of arts and crafts shops where the general store (gourmet store, really) has goats on the roof; and perhaps best of all, Cathedral Grove, an old growth cedar forest that will remind many of The Avenue of the Giants redwood forest in northern California. Slightly off the direct path are numerous wineries and farms in the Cowichan Valley; the little town of Cowichan Bay, its bay as pretty as a picture, and a bakery that features Bernard Callebaut chocolate chunk dinner rolls; Chemainus, known for its many large murals and summer theatre; Ladysmith, with eclectic shopping on its historic main street and some of the best cinnamon buns anywhere; and Qualicum Beach, with excellent restaurants and the original Quality Foods gourmet grocery. In addition, there are many types of outdoor adventures near Port Alberni.

mr suze and suzan lauder at louisville jasna 2015 ball blurredOn Saturday evening at the Jane Austen Festival, there will be a Regency dinner and ball, and the tickets are a steal for this type of event! Tickets are selling fast for the brunch, tea, dinner and ball. The Readings of Jane Austen’s Work event entry is by donation.

I procured a lovely purple pagoda umbrella, and I plan to add some tassels and lace to transform it into a Regency Parasol to flounce around with during the count for the record, as Vancouver Island tends to have dry, sunny summer days!

Come, join me and Mr. Suze in Port Alberni, or at the very least, put this event on your calendar for next July!

~

Other blog notes:

US_Flag_Backlit wiki commons smallHappy Fourth to my American friends, or as we like to call it in Canada, the last day in the Canada Day extended holiday weekend!

The promised posts on my learning experiences as a writer, with links to help those who want to become better self-editors, are delayed due to the pressures of editing my new novel. Sorry! Subscribe to my blog to get notifications so you know when they’re up!

Author Catherine Curzon, otherwise known as Madame Gilflurt, who hosted a guest post by me in January, has a book out in the UK! Life in the Georgian Court will be an excellent resource for historical fiction authors, as well as a fun romp through history. It will be released in the US in September, 2016. She’ll be a guest on my blog around that time! Yes, our eyebrows are all raised at what kind of fun she’d going to bring!

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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.

Imagining #MrDarcy: The Faceless Man and the Book Cover

When other authors mention the name of someone they had in mind as Mr. Darcy while writing their Austen-inspired fiction, once in a while, I’m able to visualize their version of the hero while reading. It’s not easy. Otherwise, the closest Mr. Darcy image that comes to my mind for Mr. Darcy is that of a Disney hero.

Disney Princes (from The Disney Wiki http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Disney_Prince)

Disney Princes (from The Disney Wiki http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Disney_Prince)

The odd time, glimpses of a faceless man similar to the rear view of Colin Firth in the 1995 A&E/BBC adaptation occur. Of course, there have been other actors in other adaptations, and I like some better than others.

From the BBC/A&E 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy walks along the gallery at Pemberley.

From the BBC/A&E 1995 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, walks along the gallery at Pemberley.

Austen herself is no help. She just said he was tall and handsome, with a noble mien and fine figure. He could be bald! Of course, the costume people would put a dark, curly wig on him. Is it a wonder dreamy-eyed JAFF authors persist in mentioning those slightly unruly curls?

David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy in BBC's 1980 mini-series "Pride and Prejudice." Mr. Rintoul wore a hairpiece for the role.

David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy in BBC’s 1980 mini-series “Pride and Prejudice.” Mr. Rintoul wore a hairpiece for the role.

I try very hard to imagine Mr. Darcy as eye-candy actor Henry Cavill (before the Superman bulk), even if he’s almost too pretty. A story I posted on Jane Austen fan fiction mega-site A Happy Assembly (Studio 54) “cast” the inimitable Christopher Reeve as Darcy, since he was the right age for the story’s era. I like the late Gregory Peck in mid-20th century stories. But none of their faces come to mind when I’m writing.

As part of my addiction to Pinterest since the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment, I’ve pinned some portraits of terribly handsome real Regency gentlemen, and maybe… but try as I might, no Darcy. I look at book covers that supposedly have Mr. Darcy on them, and to me, none of those gentlemen are quite right.

This is a problem when you want Mr. Darcy on your own book cover.

New Letter from Ramsgate character, Lady Edwina Moore, is easy to imagine. Georgiana Darcy can be a young Caroline Murat. And there’s sneaky Mr. Wickham bothering her, and Elizabeth Bennet in the background with her dizzy parasol. But where’s my Mr. Darcy for Letter from Ramsgate‘s cover?

Lady Edwina Moore from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" (artwork: Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait of a Young Lady in a White Dress, from Sotheby's)

Lady Edwina Moore from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” (artwork: Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait of a Young Lady in a White Dress, from Sotheby’s)

Miss Georgiana Darcy from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" (Artwork: François-Pascal-Simon Gérard's painting "Caroline Murat walking in the gardens of Château de Neuilly," 1807, from Versailles)

Miss Georgiana Darcy from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” (Artwork: François-Pascal-Simon, Baron Gérard’s painting “Caroline Murat walking in the gardens of Château de Neuilly,” 1807, from Versailles)

Mr. Wickham from Suzan Lauder's "Letter from Ramsgate" attempts to woo Miss Georgiana Darcy, while Miss Elizabeth Bennet wanders around in the distance, spinning her parasol. (Artwork: Debucourt, Modes et Manières du Jour no. 34)

Mr. Wickham from Suzan Lauder’s “Letter from Ramsgate” attempts to woo Miss Georgiana Darcy while Miss Elizabeth Bennet wanders around in the distance, spinning her parasol. (Artwork: Debucourt, Modes et Manières du Jour no. 34)

I suppose one could have a worse dilemma than having to peruse artwork in search of Mr. Darcy! In any case, the wonderful Zorylee Diaz-Lupitou is the cover designer for Letter from Ramsgate, and whether or not Mr. Darcy’s face appears, I love her covers, so I know it will be fantastic.

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Suzan Lauder’s latest novel, Letter from Ramsgate, will be published by Meryton Press in the autumn of 2016.

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2016 May 17 Edited to add a note: For some reason, readers have flocked to my blog for this post, yet none have left comments on my blog, road trips with the redhead! I wonder if you all saw the hot Regency guy and clicked to discover who the heck he is! If someone asked, I’d tell, but I’m not sure that’s the reason this post is so extremely popular! Can anyone give me a hint?

Thanks! Suzan

What caused the Escalating Interest in Austen-Inspired Novels?

51B0ZBnqzlL._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_The latest JAFF fuss is about some kind of “bubble” and suggestions that soon, the “meteoric” trend of Austen-inspired novel sales will reverse itself. The belief is that the 200th anniversaries and the adaptations drive the market. I’m not the only blogger who disagrees, but I propose a different reason for the escalation in Austen-inspired books.

The oldest JAFF novel listed on Austenesque Reviews is Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton from 1914. It’s fairly well documented that P&P ’95 was a big influence on the proliferation of unpublished JAFF. Several web sites started for that purpose, and at one time, there were a good dozen multiple-author forum sites. But it wasn’t easy to get it published back then.

damask_wallpaper_seamless_background_pinkFrom Austenesque Reviews‘ lists, between 1995 and 2005, the total number of JAFF books published was less than in a month today, which according to Meredith Esparza at Austenesque Reviews is around 30. That’s in 10 years! They were mostly paper, as the attitude towards e-books was “Why pay when you can read on your computer for free?” Vanity publishers like Lulu charged around $60-$100 to convert and host your e-book.

First Generation Amazon Kindle, 2007

First Generation Amazon Kindle, 2007

 

E-readers hit the market in late 2007, but didn’t become popular immediately, as they cost $299 and were only available in the US.

In each of 2008 and 2009, the number of Austen-inspired novels published was similar to that published in a month today. Sourcebooks published a few JAFF novels each year, and starting in 2009, so did Meryton Press. The odd book was published by various other publishers, just as they are today. The number published slowly increased so in 2012, 62 books were published.

The biggest boost to published JAFF came when Kindle changed its input format for self-publishing. In 2011, Rafe Carlson had to program An Unpleasant Walk into Kindle format herself to publish the JAFF novel as an e-book on Amazon in September of that year. By the same time in 2012, I could put my formatted MS Word document of Alias Thomas Bennet directly into Kindle and have it pop out an e-book, complete with interactive TOC. In 2013, the number of JAFF books published nearly tripled from the previous year. When I scan Amazon, it appears that most Austen-inspired novels are self-published.

Now for my original point—is this about to end any time soon? From reading blogs of romance authors talking about how to set their price points, I discovered that a JAFF novel is a cash cow. An unknown JAFF author can sell more copies of their first Austen-inspired novel in the first month, with no marketing, than most newbie self-published romance writers sell in a year. JAFF novel sales are no longer the best-kept secret held by a handful of authors, but by no means will the market be saturated any time soon!

References:

  1. A Comprehensive Guide to Austenesque Novels on Austenesque Reviews.
  2. Amazon Kindle, Wikipedia.