An e-book e-complaint

snoopy_writing

I need to rant. It won’t be a long rant, but there’s something out there in the ebook world that puts a big fat bee in my bonnet.

“And what might that be?” you ask, no doubt breathless with anticipation.

“Well, let me tell you,” I reply, taking a deep breath as I wind up for the diatribe.

I might have mentioned once or twice that I’m an avid reader.  Just about any genre is grist for my mill, although I do have some favourites, comparative religions and spirituality, autobiography, psychology, good sci fi, general modern fiction, and the occasional murder mystery being a few of them….oh, and with history emerging as a new fascination.

I also have the unfortunate habit of reading a number of books at the same time, which makes reading library books an iffy proposition due to the constant pressure of trying to keep track of return dates.

As a result, I buy books.  Many books.  I buy books to the point where, if I didn’t give away the books I suspect I won’t read again, our house would be overrun with them.  As it is, I manage to keep my herd corralled into six bookcases, but it’s not easy; and sadly, I’ve finally been forced to begin the practice of getting rid of a book for every book I keep.

But I digress.

Because I buy so many books, I’m always on the lookout for a cheaper price, which means used books or ebooks.  And that leads me to my present gripe:  ebooks.

self-publishing-in-india-whyTo be specific, self-published ebooks.

Let me be clear, here.  I’m all for indie publishing; I think it’s a great idea.  Its time has definitely come, and it’s already changing the world of book publishing.

What’s more, I’ve read a number of excellent self-published books that are nothing less than feathers in the industry’s cap.

Now we come to the downside of self-publishing:  books that desperately need help.  I’ve bought and tried to read a number of such books.  The story lines had potential, and plot development didn’t seem bad either.  However, (and here’s where the rubber meets the road) the grammar and punctuation were uniformly, appallingly, bad.

Read again:  appallingly bad.

Bad enough, in fact, that I –  normally the most patient of readers – finally had to delete the books from my e-reader, because no matter how interesting the plot itself might have been, I simply couldn’t bear any longer to read endless pages of text larded with inappropriate tenses, poor wording, and wildly misapplied punctuation.

I’m not an expert, but neither am I simply an old pot calling the kettle black. I’m a bona fide reader. I love language, and I truly enjoy hearing and reading it used well.  Most of the time I can make allowances for differences choices in grammar and punctuation, because languages change, and I do try really hard not to be The Grammar Police.

But when I can’t read a simple piece of fiction without my mind going insane from trying to follow the plot while at the same time wading through endless errors on every single page, there’s something wrong and it’s time to protest!

comma spliceHELLO, self-publishers, do you not realize that even self-published works require at least a cursory professional editing?

No, not your family or your best friend, no matter how well-meaning they are.  I’m talking about a real live editor-type person whose job it is to untangle your participles and run-on sentences and sort out what you’re trying to say by mending the punctuation so that it actually contributes to the meaning of your sentence; an editor who can tell you where you’re off track and how to tighten your prose for best effect.

You know those websites that offer tips to budding indie publishers, where No. 3 is “Hire a professional freelance editor”?  Pay attention to No. 3.  It matters!  Hire someone who edits fiction and/or non-fiction for a living.

And if you’re self publishing because you couldn’t get a publisher interested in your work, then perhaps it’s time for a critical look at your piece to try to find out why, instead of tossing it out into the web yourself in the hope that somebody will actually pay money to read it.

Unfortunately, I did pay money for these two books.

Fortunately, I didn’t pay much money. And I learned an important lesson:  when the price of an ebook is extremely low, be suspicious.

Be very suspicious.

Namaste,
Susannah

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10 Comments

  1. So you know — the Historical Novel Society reviews “Indie” books. It’s ONE requirement before the reviewer will even look at one is that it LOOK like a book inside and out. I don’t think that should ever even be a problem. I’ve published two books this way and it mattered VERY MUCH to me that my books look and read like a book on a shelf in a store. It wasn’t easy. I have a desperately hard time proof-reading. When I discovered my problem (dyslexia) I recruited friends. My second book I hired a professional editor (but the manuscript had been cleaned up with the help of five willing readers to whom the book is dedicated). One of my books, Martin of Gfenn, will be reviewed in the next review put out by the historical novel society and it wouldn’t even have HAPPENED if it hadn’t been a BOOK. Self-published writers who don’t clean up their work make the challenge so much harder for everyone. To be taken seriously as a self-published writer is already difficult. Those slobs make it worse.

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    1. Martha, thank you for your note. As soon as I saw your blog, I could see that you care about writing and how your writing looks to your readers; it’s one of the reasons I took a second look. I’m happy to be following your posts now.

      I know how hard it is to proofread our own work. Once I’ve gone over my writing once or twice, I don’t really see what I’ve written any longer. I just see what I expect to be there – and I don’t have dyslexia, which must magnify the problem unbelievably! It takes me forever to proofread my work. However, I’m quite sure that, given your education and expertise with the English language, if it weren’t for the dyslexia tripping you up, you could quite comfortably be your own copy editor. I agree, though, that for most of us, sending writing out into the world without proper editing just helps to give self-publishing a bad name.

      I’ve just now ordered Martin of Gfenn, and I’m looking forward to a good read in bed tonight. I’m delighted to have met you!

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    1. Thanks, Maureen. I have to admit, though, that although I can be humorous about it, I really don’t find it funny. I think it’s an insult to expect potential readers to pay good money for what amounts to crap, when all it would take is some copy editing to turn it into something quite readable. It has to be sheer laziness or just plain money-grubbing. How can someone go to the trouble of writing a book, which we both know isn’t easy, and not bother to get it proofread? Oh dear, I’m ranting again, aren’t I!

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      1. I found it interesting that you were able to convey that you were very serious about this topic while somehow managing to include some humour. I think that takes a lot of skill and perhaps a special gift. You have such a distinctive voice when you write. I like it. Also, what’s wrong with a little rant now and then? Works for me…heh, heh. I am actually glad that you wrote this; I’d be very careful now if I ever was inclined to buy an e-book. Have you thought of trying the library’s collection of e-books? At least they’re free. Also, I have to wonder if writers who self-publish sometimes maybe are a bit naive about some aspects of publishing, or perhaps don’t see their errors. There are also, as you mention, probably those out there who are indeed money-grubbing. I wonder if sometimes by the time someone has finished writing an entire book, if they simply can’t face going through the whole thing again. Maybe they don’t know that one can hire people to edit their stuff. I know that I didn’t realize that there was a whole industry out there dedicated to doing just that (at a price of course…sigh :)) until I hooked up with the Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market organization. Anyway, just some thoughts…

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      2. You know, of all the ebooks I’ve bought in the past year (let’s just say MANY), only those two were truly terrible. And sometimes, if you’re searching on Amazon.ca, they’ll let you have a peek at the book’s insides to get a feel for whether or not it will suit you, the same as you would do in a bookstore. But if the price is amazingly low and there are no readers’ reviews, I guess that might be the time to be hesitant. I love ebooks, myself; they’re perfect for trips or sitting in doctors’ offices waiting for appointments. You can carry an entire library inside an ipad, for instance. That being said, though, when I curl up in a chair to read, it’s often an old-fashioned paper book that’s in my lap.

        I agree that there are writers who are naive, and I also understand that there’s an entire generation of young people out there who never learned grammar, punctuation or composition in school. But I do wonder at people who get into these writing projects without bothering to research what their options might be and how to make all their hard work pay off in the best possible way for everyone. It’s all there on the Internet, much of it for free, if you care enough to search it out. I think it also has to do with a type of thinking that goes like this: you what you want, NOW, and you don’t mind cutting corners to get what you want.

        Anyway, I think it’s time to get off my soapbox, don’t you? I actually didn’t know I felt so passionately about this subject until I started writing, but it’s been coming on for a long time. I guess I AM the Grammar Police after all. 😐

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  2. Rant, rant and rant again! I agree with every word! I avoided ebook publishing for years, for that very reason. Arrogant as it sounds (and no doubt is) I didn’t want to be lumped with those who think they’re brilliant but have no idea of the absolute basics. (And what’s more I don’t think I’m brilliant – if agents and publishers don’t want my book, it’s probably rubbish.) But the fact is, conventional publishing is virtually a no-go area unless you know someone, or write something either obscure enough to be considered ‘worthy’, or sensational enough to guarantee public interest (yes, I’m a cynic) so indie publishing becomes a valid option. I’m still slightly embarrassed about going that road, and no marketing = minimal sales, but the very LEAST I could do was have the thing professionally assessed and edited before I put it out there. Some of the stuff online gives all of it a bad name. But then again, some conventionally published books leave a lot to be desired as well. Their ‘editors’ aren’t worthy of tne name.

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    1. And my problem is that I don’t want to read ebooks written by people who have no idea of the absolute basics! But you’re right; I’ve read a number of conventionally-published books that went into the recycling box after reading, because in my opinion they weren’t worth passing on to another person. So we take our chances with conventional publishers, as well.

      Personally, I think you did the right thing in going with professional editing and indie publishing; after all, quality writing is quality writing, no matter what medium is used, and there are still readers out there who recognize and appreciate it.

      I have no idea where this conventional- vs self-publishing issue will lead us as a writing community, but I’m sure the next few years will be bumpy. Change is never easy. It’s like that apocryphal Chinese curse: “May you have an ‘interesting’ life.”

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  3. I will be self-pubbing my books shortly. Shortly means after my professional editor and my professional typesetter are done making it the best it can possibly be. I take delight in the comment from my editor that grammar and spelling are not problems she’s encountering. Unfortunately, she’s discovering that I am terse to a fault, and need to develop several ideas on a larger frame. Sometimes “terse” means I haven’t said enough for a reader to understand. I may know what I’m saying but the reader hasn’t got the advantage of my mind to tell him/her what’s really going on.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of some ebooks. For a while I was actually proofreading for people, but gave it up when it became clear that some of these authors needed remedial English classes.

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    1. Hi. I agree with your editor: your grammar and spelling are virtually flawless. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I love to read your work! It’s such a pleasure to read well-written pieces. Your comment about being terse made me laugh, because I tend to be long winded when I write and paring down is usually the first thing I have to do. A little terseness on my part might be helpful! 🙂

      As I mentioned in one of my comments, I’m looking forward to reading your ebook when it comes out, and I’m keeping my eyes open for it.

      Cheers.

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