May 5, 2014

Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen! #4: 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:

Using italics, bolded words and caps too often and for no apparent reason.

We understand how tempting it is to want to add emphasis in ways that don’t involve actually choosing the precise words that will DO IT FOR YOU. That’s what italics, all-caps and bolded words are for, right?

But as you can see from the sentence above, overuse of these elements makes readers feel they are deciphering Morse Code, rather than being led to understand the author’s emphasis through smoothly written, well-considered prose. In the books we receive, authors misuse these devices in ways that leave us scratching our heads. Why was the word “and” bolded? Why are some of the character’s thoughts in italics and other times in quotes? And why is the author shouting at us with all those capped words?

In short, it’s probably best to avoid these devices altogether, rather than risk misusing them. Craft your prose in a way that readers naturally understand what you are emphasizing. And if you must use any of these three, let it be the rare moment, rather than in EVERY paragraph. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Here’s what our reviewers have said on the subject:

“The author’s writing style is straightforward but flat, and (the author) has an odd habit of randomly adding italics. For example,Jean–standing at the threshold of the bedroom door, nearly five feet away–had a rifle held at her right hip, screaming, trembling, demanding that John leave the house…..”

“But there are problems. The most jarring is that the author writes in a dense, jargon-laden manner filled with random bolded words that’s difficult to navigate. Here’s an example: “The Objective or Unfettered Scientific Method (OUSM) provides scientists an extra edge that may a) ensure DMPS objectivity; b) function within the ’12 limitations of the scientific method’… and although some causal relationships may tentatively be considered at earlier steps, it leave [sic] the question of establishing origins and ages to the last phase–the 5th depth analysis in the Gap Train.” …[His] disjointed style and lack of transitions makes it challenging to follow his train of thought.”

“However, that passion – as emphasized at times by the use of all caps and bold formatting – can also be his downfall, often casting him as angry and lacking in compassion. On the subject of obesity, he writes, “The ‘Lap Band system,’ gastric bypass (bariatric surgery), is for BIG FAT, ignorant, stupid people who don’t mind still remaining stupid and ignorant. This author would like to see an IQ test conducted on Lap Band patients. The average of which would probably be equivalent to hovering at room temperature on a cool day in Poughkeepsie!”

Memoirs that will appeal only to family members and loved ones but are published for public.

Back in the day, memoirs were written most often by well-known and celebrated individuals, but it has now become a genre used by everyday people who want to tell their stories. This has its up side: Readers learn from those who have led interesting challenging lives and feel less alone when facing their own challenges.

The down side: Everyone has come to feel that their story is worth telling, no matter how mundane or common it is.

Memoirs that are of interest to the outside world exhibit one of two characteristics — and preferably both: 1. They reveal lives that are outside of the ordinary in some way; 2. They are written in an extraordinary way, offering insights that might not have occurred to the average person.

Too often, self publishing authors fall down on both counts, particularly the latter: They simply recount their lives, starting from the day they were born, detailing every job they had, every award they earned and every meal they ate, up through the present day. This isn’t memoir so much as a glorified diary. It will interest family and friends who love the author. But general readers require much more.

Go ahead. Write your life history. But don’t spend thousands of dollars publishing it when your audience is a small circle of close relatives. That’s what copy machines are for.

Here are some examples:

“Given this seemingly arbitrary approach to telling her story, the book seems to be (the author’s) way of sharing with family members personal life events she may have been reluctant to discuss in the past. Hence, while a nice family heirloom, it’s difficult to imagine the book finding a wide audience with outside readers.”

“Written in a factual journalistic style that is slow and repetitive, this memoir suffers from a lack of reflection or exploration in order for (the author) to come to new understanding or personal insight. It will be of interest mostly to (the author’s) extensive circle of family and friends for its family history.”

“Since we have only (the author’s) version of events, it’s impossible to know the other side of the story, but her characterizations seem plenty damning. The question is, how interesting would this story (which often reads like an awkwardly written treatment for a soap opera) be to someone who did not know (the author) or her family?  The probable answer is: not very.  The experience of reading the book is akin to listening to a friend with an obsessive hatred rehash her relatives’ evil doings unremittingly.  After a while, you tune out.”

Books that lack focus

One of the most difficult tasks of a writer is to figure out where he/she wants to take readers, and then lead them down that path efficiently and authoritatively, without taking side hikes that stumble onto other side hikes that eventually lead to an open field that eventually leads to a nap by the side of some distant stream, the initial destination long forgotten. Get the picture?

Focus, my friends. Focus.

It seems to us that many authors simply sit down and write whatever comes to the top of their heads, leaving readers with this thought on their minds: Huh?

Every word you choose must help you make your ultimate point. Ditto every sentence, every paragraph and every chapter.

Ask yourself: What message am I conveying with this book? How does each chapter – in fact, each and every word – help convey this point?

Here are some review excerpts:

“The weakness of the book is its lack of cohesion. The author jumps from subject to subject – farming methods, family reminisces, tangents about personal interests, people with no connection to (the author’s) story – without a clear thread or progression. Information about (the author’s) disability is interjected at intervals that lack the chronology or firm contextualization to be of real benefit to most readers.”

“Unfortunately, the book’s bland recitation of history continues, without benefit of a theme or thread to tie together or promote the author’s slant. When readers finish this book, they won’t know the ideology of either major party, let alone how each evolved to the present day.”

“In both cases, there are few facts to support the claim, and the chapters, like most, are often-irrelevant streams of consciousness. For example: “Some people say that life is a sexually transmitted disease. Most Americans remain sexually active into their sixties… Because Aphrodite was said to be born from the sea, many types of seafood have reputations as aphrodisiacs.”

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. We also offer blogs that discuss common writing gaffes and other useful information for indie authors. If you would like to receive these blogs in your inbox, sign up here. We invite you to visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.

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