Some of you will understand.
I prefer the texts for my English classes to know the difference between possessive pronouns and contractions.
A friend who is a big fan of youth sports recently made an effort to help a young man achieve his expressed goal of a college scholarship. Letters were written, phone calls were made. An independent coach was engaged to offer a private skills assessment. Specialized training was arranged, as well as participation in limited-enrollment clinics. This friend spent a small amount of his own cash, but solicited others to make donations. Most of the friend's contribution was time and the value of many years' connections in the youth sports arena.
After all this, the young athlete blew it off. He skipped training sessions, and even dismissed a tutor hired to help him bring up his academic grades. No scholarships were ever offered; the potential college athlete dropped out of high school two months before graduation.
The friend was devastated at first, then outraged. He couldn't understand how this young man could fail to be appreciative that so many people were willing to help him get the scholarship he himself said he wanted.
"Now you know how I feel every time I've offered to help a writer improve their writing and then been stabbed in the back for it."
We do this sort of thing out of the goodness of our hearts, in a sense. I enjoy writing and I enjoy reading good writing, so there's a sense that other writers would want the same thing. Furthermore, there's a desire to raise the quality of writing in general, especially in these days of digital self-publishing. My friend, who was an athlete in his own youth, wanted to bring this young man the same sense of accomplishment and achievement.
But the return on the emotional investment ends up being a total loss, and it's depressing and discouraging. There's some consolation to be taken from the fact that it doesn't happen just in the writing game, but it's not much.
Deadly Deceit by Rose M. Brate is not a promising young athlete. Nor is it a promising self-published novel.
Here's the Amazon Kindle listing, the first thing the potential reader sees:
The $6.99 Kindle price is a bit high, but maybe the author has enough sales and recognition to justify it. I'm not sure what the book's Kindle Unlimited pages are, because the spacing seems a bit expanded, generating more pages than the word count might otherwise warrant. Supposedly Amazon has a way to balance this, but if Brate's 304-page "book" brings in the average Kindle Unlimited royalty, that payment should be around $3.00 per copy read. Royalties on the $6.99 sales price would be approximately $4.50.
None of it, of course, makes that "head-over-heals" typo any less glaring.
I downloaded the free sample. I had no great expectations, with all apologies to Mr. Dickens.
There's no front matter, a flashing neon sign that this is an author-published project. My expectations dropped a little lower.
The blurb on Amazon was about Jack and Abby Morrison; that's not how the book opens.
So, who is this story about? The Morrisons or this detective?
At this point, I as a reader and as a reviewer -- a merciless one -- knew that whatever qualities the story might have were deeply buried under lackluster and possibly just plain bad writing. Invoking the Josh Olson protocol, I proceeded without hesitation.
Let's look at that opening page under a magnifying glass:
Detective DeMarko ducked beneath the yellow police tape surrounding the twelve-story building of Morrison Advertising. The entire block had been closed off, since it was an official crime scene. Squad cars lined the block, drawing the unwanted attention of anyone within a two-block radius. She stood with her hands on her hips, taking in the scene as her partner, Jasper Reiner, approached, bitching about the weather.
“It’s a scorcher, boss,” Reiner complained, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“It is that,” DeMarko confirmed, heading toward the uniformed officer maintaining order.
Brate, Rose M (2017-11-13T22:58:59). Deadly Deceit (Kindle Locations 30-35). Kindle Edition.
We start with Detective DeMarko, who is not further identified. No first name, no physical description, so we don't even know if this official is male or female or whatever. Is this clever? Is it intentional? Is it sloppy writing? Hold that thought.
The yellow police tape automatically tells us this is a crime scene; the observation in the latter part of the second sentence is unnecessary. It's certainly not clever; it's sloppy.
What about the first part of that sentence? The yellow tape surrounds the building, but "the block" had been closed off. How large is the block? What's used to close it off? Vehicles? Police officers?
The third sentence gives some more information: police vehicles are lining "the block." We still don't know if these vehicles are sealing off the area, just that they're there.
They're drawing "unwanted" attention. Unwanted by whom? And why is that attention unwanted?
And why is it important that they draw unwanted attention from anyone in a "two-block" radius? (Think about how awkward that is, since radius implies a circle, presumably centered on the tape-surrounded building, which would itself block at least part of that circle. Words have meaning.)
Now comes the big jolt: "She stood with her hands on her hips."
Aha! So, is our detective a woman? If we didn't already suspect that, or have an image of a woman in our reader's imagination, we've been stopped cold while we alter that mental image. The first sentence with no description of DeMarko is probably intentional, but it may not be quite so clever, because it has forced the reader to reassess the vision created by the opening words. It has pulled the reader out of the story, when instead that opening should drag the reader in, further and further with every word.
There are four sentences in the opening paragraph. Three of those sentences contain present participial phrases; one of them contains two. This is lazy, sloppy, unpolished writing.
Do most readers care? The honest answer has to be, "No, most don't care. Most don't notice. Most don't know enough to notice."
By the end of the first paragraph, we know that Detective DeMarko is a woman, but we don't know her first name. We do, however, know her partner's first and last name. We also know that he's bitching about the weather. Author Brate has clearly told us what Reiner is doing.
Even though she has already told us Reiner is complaining about the weather, the very next sentence repeats the information. That participial phrase "bitching about the weather" is telling, and it's completely unnecessary when the author shows the same information in Reiner's dialogue.
But Reiner calls DeMarko "boss," even though he's been identified as DeMarko's partner, not her subordinate. After the very first sentence left DeMarko's gender unknown, now the relationship between her and Reiner is uncertain.
The next sentence, which is the last on the first page of my Kindle sample, contains DeMarko's confirmation of Reiner's statement . . . and two more participial phrases.
This is just plain lousy writing. It's crap. Is there s good story under all those present participles? Maybe, but I don't care. I'm not going to wade through any more of this garbage.
There's no direct return for me on this investment of time. I didn't expect any. If someone reads this and benefits, then it's all to the good. If a writer learns to check her sentences for repetitions of present participles, if a reader learns to distinguish between good writing and bad, that's the very most I can hope for. The exercise in analysis, of taking apart a couple of paragraphs per the Josh Olson protocol, is my way of getting five cents on the dollar of my own investment elsewhere.
EDITED TO ADD:
As seen in a discussion regarding if authors should read reviews for their books, and if those reviews are "feedback" for the author:
"...why an author should even have a place on which readers can post reviews, if the author isn't supposed to look at them..."
I don't know if this author knows something I don't - that there are authors who have set up places for readers to post reviews, or if she is under the impression that GoodReads and Amazon (which is what we're discussing) are sites authors have set up for readers to post reviews.
Either way, I'm shaking my head.
Isn't it so nice of those authors to provide areas for us little readers to share our opinions of their books? For author "feedback" no doubt. ;)
Before it happened, I would never have believed favorite author Kim Harrison would campaign to hide an unwanted negative review on Amazon. So saddened.
Don't believe this usually great with readers, highly successful, big five published author is now doing so? Check her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KimHarrisonsHollows/posts/10154480162099940 .
Tez Miller Oz has more on his booklikes posts (which brought this to my attention).
Seriously, everyone, if you don't think negative reviews and lower star ratings should be allowed -- why aren't you campaigning to just do away with the five star rating systems on Amazon and other sites? Every review written just automatically gets a 5-star or one big smiley emoticon, a trophy, a blue ribbon or something? So that site policies and review guidelines cannot permit any review that isn't clearly promotional?
(That's snarky; I know why not campaigning to do away with current rating system and policies -- it's because so many actual customers/readers would stop paying attention to or writing the things. But, get real, if the one star reviews can be buried, hidden or removed -- is it really a 5-star scale running 1-5 or would it then be only a four star scale?)
@AuthorAvaMiles has posted her "Love Letter to Mean Readers" on Facebook, whining that
When I put a book in the world, it’s like sending my child off to kindergarten.
But I’m deeply concerned how you as a collective contribute to other people not writing or doing something great because they see how people like you treat people like me.
Your words hurt. They’re another kind of bullying.
No, they are not bullying. They may hurt, but they are not bullying. Getting stood up for the prom hurts, too. Are you going to write a "Love Letter to Mean Teen-aged Boys" over it?
Your books are not your children. They just aren't.
Author Ava Miles is a best seller. She has numerous books in print, with literally thousands of glowing reviews on Amazon. (I didn't look anywhere else.) She's good enough that Saint Nora Roberts allowed Miles to use her name in the title of Miles's best-selling Nora Roberts Land, of which the Kindle edition is currently free and currently has 3,450 reviews, 84% of which are 4-5 stars, for an average of 4.3.
She has over 9,000 "likes" on her Facebook page.
But it's not enough. It's just not enough, because someone out there, some handful of people, dared to criticize her books. They found grammatical errors, even though she's sure she didn't make as many as other people. They didn't like the sex in her books or the curse words or whatever.
Oh. My. Fucking. Goddess. The inhumanity of it all.
I wish I had 3,450 reviews. I wish I had 3,450 copies sold. I wish, I wish, I wish.
I wish every author who self-published took the time to proofread. I wish every author who self-published took the time to research. I wish every author who self-published took the time to put out good product.
The reality is that they don't. And some of them are going to get bad reviews.
Why am I writing this yet again? Why am I not able to shut up and be nice/kind/gentle/silent? I know perfectly well that my outspokenness has had a price. I know that there are people who probably hate my guts, would never even look at one of my books, and would gladly block me on Facebook with the same glee that Goodreads banned me, and I don't care.
I don't care, because I value my integrity more than I value book sales. (Thank you, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)
I can't afford a professional editor; I have to rely on myself. I can't afford a professional proofreader; I don't trust them anyway. My cover art is digital, legally licensed from a fellow seller on Etsy; I added the text myself via Photoshop. All that said, I wrote for my own sheer joy in writing and if someone wants to find fault, well, they have that right. I hope they'll buy it and enjoy it and like it, but if not, well, them's the breaks.
"You takes our money, you gets our comments," as Ridley so famously said. (Or maybe it was opinions, or reviews, but whatever; I'm close.)
When a best selling author whines about negative comments, however, I see red. I think of the late Liberace's famous line about crying all the way to the bank. If you don't like negative comments, don't put yourself out there in public. Shut down your social media presence and shut your mouth. People do indeed, as you yourself said, Ava Miles, have a right to their opinions. And when you have a public Facebook page, when you let your private email address be known, you had better be prepared for the bad as well as the good, because you've had a very healthy dose of the good. As in good money.
And remember when you post your whiny little wankfests that there are other writers who would give their first-born novel to have what you have.