Sorry ’bout the dearth of posts lately *cough* school holidays, working on rewrites of Book 3 of The Seer trilogy, being a mom-taxi for the kids *cough*. Anyway, I’ve been humming and hahing about writing this post for a while because it can be a bit of a hot-button topic. But what the heck.
First, a disclaimer: Yes, I’m an author. Yes, I’m published traditionally and I’ve also self-published a number of books. And of course the points I’m about to make are colored by that — I’d be lying if I said they weren’t. But I’m a reader, too. I read voraciously — always have. I believe I have a valid opinion to offer about how readers perceive books. So here it is:
Don’t judge a book by its publisher.
If I was a picky reader who jotted down every instance of poor grammar and editing, wonky formatting, and just plain weird-ass WTF? stuff I’ve spotted in books, that notebook would be chock-full. In fact, it’d be a whole shelf or two full of neatly stacked notebooks. And the jotting down of weird-ass stuff wouldn’t only be from self-published books. It’d also include a heap of traditionally published books (both print books and electronic books) published by large, well-respected publishers — books that have been through the editing wringer and then some, and yet mistakes have still crept in throughout the publishing process.
And you know what? There will always be mistakes that aren’t corrected before a book goes to print or is published in electronic form.
Numerous hands are involved when publishing a print book. Converting print books to all the various electronic formats that have become the norm today can be a nightmare no matter how pristine the original file, resulting in all sorts of illogical weird-ass formatting stuff cropping up out of the blue. So it’s, like, an immutable law of the universe that mistakes will either slip through or be created during the publishing process — whether that process produces a print book or an electronic book. And yet, when it comes to these kinds of errors in traditionally published books, unless it’s a really big glaring error of the ZOMG I can’t ignore this! kind, readers are generally forgiving and let them slide. Because it’s, you know, a traditionally published book! And we paid $$ for it! And we know enough about publishing to be aware it’s been through numerous editors — acquiring, content, line, copy, and a few we’ve never heard of probably! And we all know how hard it is to put out a perfect book with no errors! Right?
We all “get it”. We all know that no matter how hard everyone involved in the process tries, no published book will be perfect. And more often than not we will make allowances for this, and everything is peachy.
BTW, I’m not talking about missing pages or out-of-order chapters or totally screwed up electronic files etc. that make it impossible to read a book at all, coz those sort of issues are so not peachy. I’m talking about this sort of stuff *points to the next paragraph*:
Here are some examples of weird stuff I’ve come across in traditionally published books, both print and electronic. (Just for fun, you might like to guess which issues were found exclusively in print books. The answers may surprise you.)
1. Random italics that run for half a page or so
2. Random letters being made upper- or lower-case
In this particular book, D and U were made lower-case, and lower-case v mysteriously morphed into upper-case V:
- DVD became dVd.
- CAD (as in the drawing software) became CAd.
- “Despite her growing unease…” became “despite her growing unease…”
- “Unfortunately she fell in love…” became “unfortunately she fell in love…” etc.3. Orphaned sentence; the page had one line on it, then a huge space followed by a chapter heading.
4. Hyphenated phrases with missing hyphens; throughout the book hyphenated phrases had one hyphen deleted, e.g. “over-thetop”.
5. Orphaned em-dashes (where the em-dashes are used after conversation/thought is broken off )
i.e. the em-dashes and closed speech mark ended up sitting on a line all by themselves — poor abandoned things :(
6. Screwy paragraph indents. Or even double-indents, when each subsequent line after the first line in a paragraph also continues to be indented for a page or two.
7. Random changes of font size
8. Dialog running together. A new character’s conversation/response runs on instead of starting on a new line e.g. “He’s a vampire.” “Rubbish. There’s no such thing.”
9. Incorrect word-usage, misspellings.
Of course this isn’t particularly remarkable, but here are some examples that have stuck in my head because they occurred multiple times throughout the books :
- diety instead of deity (meaning a being with supernatural powers who is perceived to be holy, divine or sacred).
- reign, reigned, reigning used when referring to either a horse’s reins, reining in a horse, or reining in one’s feelings or emotions.
- implant used when referring to someone who’s been put into place to mislead or function secretly or influence behavior; a person stationed in a given location as a spy or observer. (I’m pretty sure it should be a plant, not an implant… which made me think of breast enlargements every time I came across it in the book. Ooops.)
- wretched (as in “she wretched”) to describe someone trying to vomit, instead of retched.
- coy (meaning “shy”) used instead of koi (a breed of fish commonly known as carp).
10. Random letters of the alphabet substituted with other letters; which, because the error results in actual words, won’t be picked up via spell check.
E.g. u substituted with i, resulting in the rather wince-worthy:
- He shit the door.
- She quickly shit her eyes.
- “OMG, she is such a little slit!”
11. A peripheral character’s name spelled two different ways
Or even a peripheral character being referred to by two different names.
(This has happened to me, too, despite the manuscript going through multiple edits and being read by multiple people before publication *covers eyes and groans*)
12. A crossed-out word in the middle of a sentence
(This wasn’t deliberate BTW, as in, say, if the author was replicating a handwritten note with a word crossed out.)
Sure, some of these issues are common in electronic books and may depend on format and eReader device. But want to know which ones were spotted in print books? Numbers 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 12. Yep, some of those common eBook issues that can’t be helped were found in print books. And in the case of #12, the word was crossed out by hand using what looks like it might have been a marker pen, and the page was reproduced and printed exactly like that in the published book. (Yeah, I know! I was temporarily stunned speechless by that one, too.)
These are simply a few of the boo-boos I’ve spotted while reading traditionally published books. And many of these books (including the books with “diety” and “reigned” and the crossed out word) I still own. But you know what? These kinds of issues don’t truly bother me. I’d have tossed those aforementioned books long ago if they did.
Here’s how it goes down when I’m reading: If the error is noticeable enough to temporarily pull me from the story, I might wince on behalf of the author, have a little snort-chuckle about it — maybe even mention it to DH if he happens to be conveniently nearby and it’s a real goodie. But that’s it. I shake my head, get over it, and then dive headfirst back into the story, baby.
None of these kinds of errors are deal-breakers for me. I wouldn’t stop reading a book because of them. I wouldn’t trash the book all over social media because of them. I wouldn’t mention them if I happened to be reviewing the book. Because… mistakes happen no matter how vigilant everyone involved in publishing a book happens to be. And for me, good story-telling trumps most issues.
On the flip-side, there are some things that may cause me to quit reading and give up on a book.
I’m totally aware that your tolerance mileage may vary, but for the sake of this post, I’ll list my pet hates that result in a book being put aside:
1. A whole bunch of misused/misspelled words throughout the book.
My brain can only automatically make subconscious corrections a few times before it goes Hell no! and I have to stop reading.
2. An accidental word substitution that is soooo squicky, I can’t get over it… and need to go scour my eyeballs to get that picture out of my brain.
For example, a hero or heroine “lathing” tender portions of their lover’s anatomy. Um, YEOW!
Or this one: heroine vs heroin. I was once interviewed by a local paper and throughout the published article the journalist had referred to my “heroin“. I’m sure it was an excellent article but I couldn’t get past the drug reference used in conjunction with my name.
3. Overuse of weird dialog tags.
Here’s one of my favorite examples: “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she snorted.
Don’t see anything wrong with that one? Okay. Have you ever tried to snort those words? Or any words, come to think of it? Go grab a tissue (recommended!) and then give it a go; I’ll wait.
Yeah. Not easy to do, is it? And now it’s pretty obvious a snort is not generally a way to describe a character saying something. Same with yawned and laughed, and a number of others. If you tried to snorting or yawning or laughing while speaking, what issued from your mouth would most likely be incomprehensible garble and you’d have to repeat yourself once you’d finished snorting or yawning or laughing or whatever. Hence it should probably be: “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” She snorted. (And then she continued speaking, or waved her hands around, or did whatever.)
Use of dialog tags of this kind every now and then is not an issue for me. But when my subconscious starts noting them, I find myself wondering whether the author really understands what a dialog tag is for, and what actions can be physically performed while a person is speaking aloud. And before I know it, I’m mentally rewriting the book to delete those pesky dialog tags, and all the enjoyment of reading the book has vanished.
4. Too-frequent mention of a character’s name in a scene… where that character is the only character in the scene.
For example: Harris did this. Harris did that. Harris thought this. Harris thought that. Harris felt this. Harris felt that. Harris this, that, and the other. Harris, Harris, Harris! I think I’m beginning to hate the name Harris!!! (Which isn’t a good thing if Harris happens to be the name of the main character in the book.)
Dear Author, if there’s only Harris in the scene/chapter, I promise if you occasionally substitute “he” or “him” for “Harris” I will understand who you’re referring to.
Building on the aforementioned point, if there are only two people in the scene/chapter, and we’ve been previously introduced to them, and one is female and one is male, again, it’s not always necessary for the sake of clarity to repeat the characters’ names over and over again. “He” or “she”, or “him” or “her”, is fine every now and then. Or more often, even? Pretty please?
Look, I’m not trying to be a picky beyotch. I’m well aware that names must often be spelled out for clarity. But when it’s obvious who’s speaking, thinking, feeling or acting, and characters’ names are overused throughout the book — like, in every darn scene — it becomes so noticeable I find it reeeally hard not to get dragged from the story and reading becomes a chore not a pleasure. (You can probably tell this was an annoying issue in a book I read very recently, can’t you?)
5. When it becomes obvious the author has no idea of how to punctuate dialog.
- “You’ve gotta be kidding me” she said.
- “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” she said.
- “You’ve gotta be kidding me”, she said.
- “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” She said.
6. Serial use of exclamation marks!
Used frequently throughout a paragraph or scene or, heaven forbid, the whole book! And not just by characters with a tendency toward enthusiastic dialog! But in the narrative as well! Frankly, after a while I find it exhausting to read! Sorry, but I really do!
7. Intrusive dialog tags, or loads of dialog tags “enhanced” by adverbs.
For example: “He’s simply gorgeous,” she glinted. Or: “How are you?” she greeted. Or: “Don’t worry,” she said soothingly. Or, “I can’t believe you wore that,” he exhaled long-sufferingly. (BTW, I didn’t make that last dialog tag up, either.)
Doubtless there are more deal-breakers that cause me to abandon a book but my brain is a bit fried right now so I’ll leave it there.
Only two of my pet hates listed above were examples noted in self-published books. (Numbers 1 & 5 if you’re curious, although I’ve also quit reading a couple of eBooks by traditional publishers due to the large number of misused or misspelled words throughout.) All the other examples are issues I’ve noted recently in traditionally published print books.
On a side note, and elaborating on the last point about intrusive dialog tags, here’s a funny story:
Once upon a time when I was first toying with the idea of trying to write a novel, I re-read a paperback I loved to bits written by an extremely well-known author. And in the name of “research” I made a point of jotting down a bunch of the wonderful dialog tags she used in a chapter or two, so I could skim through the list for inspiration rather than resorting to using boring old “said” or “asked”. There was quite a list before I gave up the exercise, so I was delighted.
I found that notebook the other day when I was searching my office shelves. Here’s a sample of the dialog tags I had noted down:
“Blah blah blah,” s/he: greeted, dissembled, considered, prompted, barked, accused, flared, admitted, demanded, challenged, noted, gloated, deduced, crowed, relented, wailed, teased, scorned, announced, declared, elaborated, responded, offered, attempted, muttered, urged, glowed, glowered, beamed, insisted, glinted, complained, added, soothed, observed, replied, breathed, sighed, deadpanned, smiled.
Granted, (used sparingly) some of those are okay — although my favorite editor would vociferously disagree! But pepper tags like these throughout a book and they now start to pull me from the story. Hmmm. I’m wondering whether I would enjoy reading this book quite as much today as I did back then. Writing styles have changed so much over the past decade! These days it’s considered far better to use “said”, and then describe an action that conveys the tone or whatever the character might be feeling. In fact these days, editors will likely tell you “said” is a perfectly acceptable (and even preferred) dialog tag because it’s unobtrusive and allows the reader’s eye to gloss over it, while still doing the important job of clarifying which character is speaking.
Anyway, to sum up:
When I buy a book I’m hoping for a good story. I don’t give a rat’s butt whether that story is self-published or traditionally published or anything-else published.
These days, authors have more choices than ever about how to publish their books — which means readers have more choices, too. And that’s gotta be good for readers.
So all I ask is this: just as the majority of us have learned not to judge a book by its cover, please don’t judge a book by its publisher.