By Andy Dus
“Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!” is part of a series of BlueInk Review blogs offering advice and insight into self-published writers’ most common errors, as seen in the more than 2,000 reviews of self-published books that we have provided since our inception in 2011. Below, we have compiled excerpts from our more unfortunate reviews, each of which expose common writing blunders.
So what makes the bad review rear its dreaded, beastly head? Here are some traps you should avoid at all costs:
Fiction Containing Overpowering Agendas:
Readers don’t appreciate picking up a romance novel or thriller, only to be inundated with an author’s opinions about abortion or saving the rainforest. Yet authors often feel it’s appropriate to hammer a political or social message home through their characters.
It is perfectly acceptable for your characters to have strong opinions, provided that this point of view is in keeping with the character’s overall persona. But if readers can tell that the characters are simply acting as your mouthpiece, they will feel used and manipulated, and your story will collapse under the weight of your agenda.
Before you write, ask yourself: Is this my character’s opinion or am I simply trying to get a pet message across? Am I focused on telling a story, or presenting a diatribe? Let the story lead the way, not your politics, your religious beliefs or your social attitudes.
Here’s a sample of what our critics have said on this subject in various reviews:
“The story (title deleted) is a nice tale about the efforts of a father who finds unexpected encouragement in the pride of his sons. But many of the other stories frequently turn to angry rants, aimed at everyone from quack doctors to rude neighbors, a hypochondriac secretary and a friend’s father — often rendering the protagonist even less sympathetic than his targets.”
“Retired surgeon (author name deleted) calls this rambling essay on the nature of man and the fate of the world, translated from Italian, a work of fiction. But the reader will find no novelist’s pulse here, and the central characters come off only as disembodied voices giving vent to the author’s grand philosophical inquiries.”
“The human interaction feels stilted, as if it exists only to allow Michael to meditate on larger issues…. Michael is a big-picture person: in his thoughts and discussions, he tackles enormous issues, from religious violence to politics, corporate greed to technology. Ruminating on British politician Robin Cook’s resignation, for example, he notes, “The global skies were changing at knots [sic], and were such that no human eye could have envisaged [sic]. It all seemed like an illusion, because this world, like its champions [sic] had been robbed of another champion of truth.”
You don’t go to a Chinese restaurant for tacos. Similarly, you don’t expect to see egg rolls on the menu at a Mexican restaurant. Readers have the same kinds of expectations when picking up a book. If your book cover promises a mystery, science fiction novel, romance or other genre story, only to deliver an odd mash-up of fantasy, erotica and young adult, readers aren’t likely to appreciate – or in many cases – even understand your book.
Before writing, study highly regarded books in your genre. Read, read, read! And then read some more. This will help you understand the plot elements, character requirements and pace that readers will expect of your story. And if you’re tempted to mix genres in the interest of creativity — without the skill of a professional with decades of writing experience behind him/her — think again.
Here’s what our reviewers have to say about that:
“(Title deleted) represents the attempted pairing of two vastly different kinds of novels. The first is an attempt to explore the nuts and bolts of a presidential campaign and administration. The second is a dialogue-driven novel that succumbs to a constant effort to fill the page with snappy one-liners. Neither type of book is successfully achieved.”
“The fact that it’s often told from the point of view of older males is uncharacteristic in a young-adult novel written for girls.”
“At heart, (title deleted) is a brash mash-up of kung-fu flicks, superhero capers, and airport thrillers that skews along the lines of John Carpenter’s cult bomb ‘Big Trouble in Little China’. The narrative is immature at best, while unwieldy dialogue and overlong expository sequences hinder the book’s pace. Ultimately, the story’s atmosphere of spiritual mysticism is overpowered by childish notions of heroic fantasy that often feel out of place in the midst of an adult-oriented thriller.”
When writing nonfiction, self-publishing authors often feel that presenting their opinion is enough. But you can’t expect readers to buy your argument if it’s not backed up with coherent logic and/or research. Why, after all, should your readers just take you at your word?
Successful authors lead readers through their thought process logically. They cite credible sources to back up their arguments, along with facts and examples. Don’t simply share your thoughts and/or opinions. If your argument is to make a lasting impression on your audience it must be properly supported.
What not to do:
“The authors cover everything from 12th century BC Arabian trade routes to proper coffee roasting temperatures, but without giving the context or explanation that would affirm their expertise. They emphasize that, while critics focus on the risks of consuming caffeine, coffee has antioxidants and many other beneficial components, but they do not cite studies that prove these benefits in any detail. Stronger claims are hedged (“There is a lower incidence of type II diabetes among coffee drinkers …”) and difficult to fact-check, given that there are no footnotes. Ninety-seven of the 101 chapters have exactly three sources referenced for each.”
“While his premise is potentially compelling, he uses flawed logic and trite quotes in order to maintain the dichotomy he creates. For example, he claims that ghosts must exist solely because there is a word for them in the English language, and notes that we are all meant to be vegetarians because we have molars similar to cows, which are natural herbivores…. He states that his ideas are obvious, or common sense, thus alienating readers who may disagree with his conclusions.”
“He might be justified in claiming credit, but readers will find little persuasive evidence here to validate these undocumented assertions.”
These are just a few common mistakes, but stay tuned for more “Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!” blogs. To receive them in your inbox, just sign up for our newsletter.
BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com
Andy Dus is a senior at the University of Colorado Denver, where he studies communications and ethnic studies. He is BlueInk’s Fall 2013 Intern.