One thing I enjoy about being on Twitter is supporting other writers. Apart from cheering them on, I retweet (but not excessively), and I also buy their books when I have spare coin and feel compelled to do so.
A few days ago, I was looking through a thread where people had shared links and descriptions of their books. I made a note of a couple that intrigued me then decided to purchase an eBook from a writer I’ve never heard of. To be fair, none of those on the thread were familiar to me.
The reason I picked that particular book was because the premise sounded interesting and the author is a Brit. Basically, the story is about a couple surviving a nuclear explosion. The setting is Britain, more specifically, an island off Britain. Taking advantage of the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon, the story starts at the moment of explosion. The subsequent paragraphs gave me the impression the author knew what she was talking about in terms of surviving a nuclear explosion. So, I bought the eBook.
I’m not going to name the author or the book because I’m not into anything that even hints at ‘naming and shaming’. And from that, you’ll be right in guessing I did not enjoy the book.
It was only after I got past the first few pages, did I realise the book’s starting point was the Chernobyl disaster. In the story’s version of events, the nuclear reactor core exploded, affecting nuclear power plants in surrounding countries and destabilising them enough to release even more radiation into the atmosphere.
Not far into the book, I started to notice what, for me, are technical annoyances, probably because the story wasn’t as gripping as I thought it was going to be. For the most part, it was in present tense yet every now and again, in the middle of paragraphs, it would switch to past tense for no reason. The use of indentations was haphazard, especially in the last third of the book.
The author clearly knew her stuff when it came to nuclear power plants, radiation poisoning, the effects on the body… But the information was just regurgitated by the characters. I cannot believe anyone, staring possible death in the face, is simply going to recite what one should or shouldn’t do when faced with a nuclear disaster. There was no sense of panic, none that I felt anyway.
Another thing I couldn’t believe – reading dialogue typed in capital letters, which signalled characters shouting!
The story was moved along using big leaps in time, which I found jarring. In the opening pages, within the space of a few paragraphs, it went from 3 months to 6 before leaping ahead 24 months after the explosion. The leaps continued throughout the story. Maybe that works for some, but I found it hard to connect with what was happening because I couldn’t settle and get a feel for what the characters were going through.
The characters. Apart from the main couple, we were introduced to other survivors. Now, the blurb led me to think the other survivors posed a real threat to the couple. But they didn’t, and I felt cheated. They were simply trying to survive, and they ended up helping one another.
There were other instances where potential threats were introduced only for them to go absolutely nowhere. Just introducing a threat does not make it dangerous; it has to lead to something that puts a character in real danger. Despite the nuclear fallout and subsequent risk to life, I didn’t, for one minute, feel any fear or suspense or worry. All I felt was bored.
I didn’t care for any of the characters. Their stories were simply laid out on the page; I didn’t feel an emotional tie to any of them. There was no build-up of getting to know them. I only knew this character was unreasonable because someone said so; or that character was the level-headed one, again, because someone said so. I didn’t see any of it for myself.
There was a huge amount of telling with so very little showing. There was too much coincidence and little consistency. At one point, one of the characters is terribly seasick; by her own admission, she doesn’t do well on a boat and knows very little about boats. Yet, later, that same character drives (is that the right word?) a big boat all by herself.
What little trust and patience I had disappeared when I read how easily a character, shown as a raging alcoholic – no proper food, if at all, for weeks – literally stops drinking overnight. She’s totally alone in a stressful situation yet manages to stay away from the bottle that’s right there with her. Having lived with an alcoholic, that just made me angry.
By the last quarter, I was skim-reading. I felt, at that point, the story had become mind-bogglingly unbelievable.
Anyway, putting the story to one side, what really prompted this blog post was the obvious lack of editing and proof-reading. Rambling paragraphs, the inconsistencies I’ve already mentioned, bad punctuation, and no distinct voice for each character – they all sounded the same.
I’ve written before about the need for a good editor. I know they can be expensive, but there are some affordable ones out there too. I’m sure a lot of us honestly think our final manuscript contains a well-written, polished story. Yet, a professional or even a constructively critical friend, will pick out things we miss, point out what needs to be cut or strengthened – things we can’t see because we are too close to our stories.
Putting out a book, especially a self-published book, that reads like a very rough early draft, makes life very difficult for those of us who do our damnedest to publish the best version of our books that we can.
This book I’ve mentioned isn’t the author’s first but her second. I’ve had a ‘look inside’ her first one. Even though it has some 5* reviews, and a couple of 1*, I was disappointed to see the 1* reviews mention the same things I experienced in the second book, which makes me think there’s been no improvement.
Sadly, this has made me wary of buying books from self-published authors I’ve not heard of. I’m sure I eventually will, but I know I’ll be thinking long and hard before I commit myself again.