January 20, 2014

Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen! #3: BlueInk Review details common self-publishing writing gaffes

 By BlueInk Staff

“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:

Writing a book that’s too long:

Every book has its perfect length, and far be it from us to make rigid rules about page numbers without considering the subject matter and the author’s ability to write compelling prose. (Would we have told Tolstoy to cut War and Peace?)  We can say this, however: We receive many shelf-bending books—some as long as 900 pages – and inevitably, the reviewer says exactly what you’d expect: The book needs a major trim.

If you’re bold enough to publish a work that’s as thick as a phone book, we salute you. But be sure it isn’t also as dull as that aforementioned phone book. Only the most skilled authors can successfully compel readers through that much material.

Take another look at your book: Is it redundant in parts? Can whole chapters be removed without harming your story or thesis? Have you gone off in tangents that could be lifted and saved for another book?

Trim. And then trim some more.  Err on the side of cutting too much rather than too little. Your readers will thank you.

Here’s a sample of what our critics have said on this subject in various reviews:

“A strong editor could have trimmed this book in half, making it short enough to be disseminated as a pamphlet–a length that would have made the reading experience less arduous.”

“This is challenging terrain to navigate, especially through 400 pages. While (the author) sets out to tell an exciting fantasy story rooted in theology, (this) is ultimately a muddled novel that’s weighed down by its own ambitions.”

“The story and ideas explored here easily could be covered in 150 pages, but the book is twice that length, weighed down by an abundance of exposition-packed dialogue.”

“While the storyline has promise, it lacks the intensity expected from a plot rife with bombings and break-ins…Meanwhile, the excessively long novel, nearly 800 pages, overplays the family members’ many engagement, wedding and Christmas plans, unnecessarily dashing any hope of literary tension.” 

Poor pacing

Pacing is the rhythm of a work. Without varied rhythm, particularly in fiction, a book will become monotonous.

Whether the book is meant to be fast-paced overall or thoughtful and considered, there should be ups and downs that draw readers into the rising and falling motion of the story. Give your readers moments of intensity, but also give them a chance to catch their breath. In addition, be sure to spend more time on important events and descriptions (and, therefore, give these events more emphasis) than trivial ones.

Reread your book and only consider its pacing. Is there too much happening in some moments and nothing happening at others? If so, rethink and revise.

“The failing is in the pacing. All of the ingredients for a top-notch ghost story are there, but the author, possibly in an attempt to stack them against the supposed normalcy of Sheila’s everyday life, does not deliver on the initial tension and mystery. The conclusion, while previously hinted at, feels rushed and tacked on.”

While (the author) writes well-crafted sentences when consumed one by one, the second volume is almost devoid of drama and tension. Instead, it captures the day-to-day, mostly mundane occurrences within one family…(including the main character’s) school attendance, his job search, and his emotional life, including his off-and-on yearning for female companionship…

This slim volume’s strength is its honest account of the routine procedures that comprise a great deal of modern technological warfare. However, life on a transport ship is tedious, and this account can’t help but pass along the tedium to its readers. Those seeking wartime heroics will find these pages more like a black-and-white training film than “Saving Private Ryan.”

Bad translation

Many self-published books are written by non-native speakers. Often, the translation to English reads like a dizzying mix of Mad Libs and Jumbles – readers struggle to figure out what’s missing and unscramble the words that are there.

If you’re spending the time and money to write a book for an English-speaking audience, hire a competent translator. And if you’re doing the translation yourself, hire an English-speaking editor to doublecheck your work. Otherwise, you might as well publish the book in your native language; it will make as much sense to your English readers as it does with a poor translation.

“(The book) sounds and feels like it was originally written in the awkward English of a former foreign student… but the notice “Translated by (translator’s name deleted) appears on page three. Whatever the case may be, the result is 96 pages of bumpy going.”

“In addition, (the author’s) inexperience with the English language — particularly in his free verse — greatly detracts from some of the poems’ narrative fluidity and thematic power. In (the poem) about a young woman missing a boyfriend, the language barrier is evident:

“Before leaving Bill promised to give Alice a call.

“Yet after two weeks Alice receives nothing at all.

“Does Bill have an accident and now in casualty?”

The fact that the author writes in English rather than her tongue often sweetly flavors the story, as when (the character) says: “The biggest and most scaring part of the immigration process was over.”… More commonly, however, she is unable to convey the meaning or provide descriptions that enhance her storytelling. (After being laid off from her job, she confusingly writes: “In the diaspora, before you work, the money you are supposed to work for is already finished.”)

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


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