I’ve been reading/skimming a lot of novels lately. Frankly I’ve always been an obsessive reader (as in, who needs sleep, food, showers, or fresh air when you have books?).* But lately I’ve been doing a lot more analyzing—something I rarely did in the past. (Which lack is not an impressive quality in an author-to-be. Which is not even remotely the point of this blog post.)
The point is that I’ve started noticing some things about a large number of these books—many of which have been self-published. Let me first say that I think self-publishing is wonderful in so many ways. This is by no means a disparagement of self-publishing. However, I have noticed that many of these particular books that I’ve been reading bear a few unfortunate commonalities.
The biggest of these is problems with story elements that simply don’t make sense, that never get explained clearly—things that are obviously a big deal to the characters but that I just don’t understand. For example, I recently read a novel in which the main character is cursed (in rhyming couplet and all). But the curse is so confusing that I never actually understood the peril, even after the character theoretically figured it out. In another novel, I couldn’t understand what the main character thought he was saving the world from.
Here’s what I think happened: It all made sense in the author’s head. It was perfectly clear. But somewhere between the brain and the keyboard, some of it just got lost, or muddled, or twisted around until it no longer made sense for a reader.
Now, I am a copyeditor. If you haven’t heard me mention that yet, here you go: I copyedit. I pick up the tiny details that no sane people care about (like smart quotes vs. straight quotes—oh how it burns me). This is useful stuff for an author. It means my manuscripts (once I have actually worked on them sufficiently) are quite clean overall. Of course I miss things; I’m human. But grammatically and punctuationally,** my work tends to be in good shape.***
So, onto my point.
Being a copyeditor isn’t good enough to make a good manuscript. It requires someone else to look at your book—someone else who hasn’t been swimming through it for the past many moons, someone who knows only what is there on the page. This is something every writer needs. This is why agents and editors exist (well, among other stuff). This is what self-published authors must get as well.
Last week I heard about this giveaway at Portable Magic Editing. What a great way to get started. Sign up, ye authors! Sign up! (Or maybe don’t, because that decreases my chances of winning.)
We authors need someone to tell us when we’re writing nonsense. Someone other than our angry readers.
* I both love and fear that I gave this obsession to my older daughter. Oh the pride that shines in my eyes when I see her walking in from the car, to the dinner table, and off to her bedroom carrying a book and reading as she walks. I remember those days so well (probably because they were just yesterday). Sadly, she has not yet developed the talent of looking where she’s going at the same time.
** Do you love how I’ve just told you I’m great with words and now I proceed to make them up?
*** Now I’m going to be severely embarrassed when it turns out I made some particularly dumb mistake in this post. Oh well.