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 nearly 3,000 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 inadequate facts to back up your argument in a nonfiction book.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re having a debate about smoking. Arguing for the benefits of cigarettes, you throw out this: “My Uncle Joe smoked all his life, and he lived to be 90.” Then you mix in a fact like this: “A 1918 study proved that smoking adds 10 years to a person’s life.” And finally, you wind up with this: “People who say smoking is bad for you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They’re all idiots!”
Have you convinced anyone it’s OK to smoke?
Personal anecdotes are all well and good, but they don’t create airtight arguments. Neither do outdated facts, rants about why your point of view is the right one and just all-around poor knowledge of the topic.
Many of the books we receive are filled with such things. Justifiably, they get called out in the review. If you’re going to create a persuasive argument, do your research, cite your sources and, above all, avoid the urge to vent at the expense of your readers. That’s what spouses are for.
Consider these comments:
“The overwhelming majority of (the author’s) claims are hyperbolic, ahistorical, and just plain wrong. Primary is his view of what he terms the ‘Holocaust Racket:’ After WWII, he posits, Jews conspired to keep alive “phony horror stories,” such as the Holocaust and the “so-called death camps” which, “in the absence of forensic evidence,” may not have happened (despite extensive source record to the contrary).”
“The author draws from anecdotal evidence, a lack of understanding of basic physics, an inadequate familiarity with the peer reviewed literature, and common climate change misconceptions to spin stories that explain his theory…This book could benefit researchers and educators who study common climate change misconceptions held by educated people.”
“Despite its honorable intent, however, the lack of current science and practical recommendations are apparent. While the author claims, for example, that: ‘There is no information regarding how to obtain a healthy level of these lipids,’ there is, in fact, conclusive research and recommendations about this topic from prestigious institutions such as Harvard Medical School.”
“The author lurches from one topic to another, providing a cursory overview of the facts, before stating his own, largely unsubstantiated, views. He has no unifying theory lending structure to his myriad observations. The reader is left with vague skepticism, barbed comments about human nature, and the author’s desire for a modicum of justice in the world. Despite the book’s length, this is thin gruel.”
Having too many characters in your novel.
A novel needs characters. We can all agree on that point. But too many characters can make for a frustrating and confusing experience and will have readers longing for a flow chart to remember how all them are connected to one another. (And we don’t know about you, but we’d just as soon read a stack of annual reports than consult a flow chart every few pages when we’re reading fiction.)
Ask yourself two questions: Is it clear who the main characters are? And is each character absolutely integral to the storyline? If any characters can be easily deleted, consider them as irrelevant to your life as your fourth cousin twice removed. Banish them from your story.
“So many minor characters have chapters dedicated to their points of view that the reader never becomes attached to any of them. (The author) seems more invested in moving from one plot point to the next than in developing a sense of dread, suspense or outrage.”
“The book opens by listing a ‘cast of principal characters’ comprising a whopping 69 names. That’s followed by a list of 13 supporting characters, including a dog. While the book is jam-packed with characters and subplots, the end result doesn’t justify the scope. It’s bursting at the seams, with much of the narrative weighed down with volumes of dialogue-delivered exposition that annihilates momentum when it’s most needed. The author footnotes some technical terms on occasion, which helps a bit, but (this book) remains massively overstuffed.”
“At 317 pages, it is simply too long, and the author loses her way recounting tedious romantic liaisons and stuffing too many family members, friends and would-be suitors into the story….”
Including inappropriate themes and ideas in a children’s picture book.
It seems self-evident that the ideas in a children’s picture book should be the kind that: a) children can easily grasp; and b) won’t shock the living daylights out of the little guys.
Yet we often see children’s books that discuss esoteric ideas in ways that are clearly beyond the grasp of this audience or those that will frighten children so much that you can bet they won’t ever sleep alone again. (In other words, we’re not talking scary as in the benign monsters of Where the Wild Things Are; we’re talking evening-news, real-life scary.)
Here are some examples of both issues:
“(The author) clearly had good intentions when writing this nonfiction children’s book about the shooting death of her two granddaughters’ father. But the book makes for a disturbing children’s bedtime story, replete as it is with blood, guns, gangs, death, a coffin, a mortuary and a burial.”
“… the story is inadvertently frightening for young children on many levels: from the princess’s random kidnapping to the savage and sudden piranha attack of the monkey.”
“Suggesting dreams are often mere illusion doesn’t seem like an uplifting lesson for the preschooler set.”
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