Sunday, September 22, 2013

WHEN WELL-KNOWN AUTHORS FALL SHORT

I seem to revisit this topic a lot. Is it because I’m defensive that I’m not published by one of the New York Biggies? Jealous their Amazon rankings are in the double and sometimes the single digits, while mine are – well, considerably more? Or is it because I think authors, no matter how accomplished in the past, should be held to the same standards as lesser known ones and not be allowed to get away with amateurish writing that would send others’ manuscripts into the recycling bin or the deleted file?
So what has set me off on my latest rampage? Within the past few months, I’ve read the latest books by four bestselling authors whose works I have always enjoyed. I am one of those fans who have put these authors onto the bestseller lists before their books are even in print by preordering them. But I have been dissatisfied by all four. And judging by some of the reviews they’ve received, I’m not alone.
The books are all part of multi-book series (the range is 17-23 books). The first books in the series were published from 20-30 years ago. We’re not talking untalented beginners here.
I’m not going to name the books or the authors (I never know when I may meet one at a conference, find out she – yes, they’re all women – is a fan, and ask her to write a blurb for my work-in-progress). But the books I just read are, well, to be blunt, boring. There’s no tension, no suspense. Even if I haven’t figured out the culprit by the end, I don’t really care anymore. There seems to be no character growth from book to book.

There are other problems with the books. They all contain digressions that don’t just stop the action, but have no connection at all with the main plot lines. The authors have lengthy blocks of explanations that tell instead of show. When reintroducing characters we haven’t read about for 50 or more pages, they repeat the physical descriptions in almost the same words, as though they have forgotten we’ve “met” the characters before and just a couple of words will remind us who they are. They rely heavily on the assumption (probably correct) that the reader has read the earlier books in the series, refers to the events, but doesn’t give enough details for the reader (me) to remember what happened.

In an earlier blog, I asked “Are editors too inexperienced to catch the errors? Or are they too afraid to question or correct these bestselling writers?” I gave some examples of basic errors made by well-known authors:
* In one book, the author describes the character’s navel ring by using the same exact words (something like “her belly button winked”) several times. The first time was cute, the second an error, by the third and fourth annoying.
* A first person narrator approaches a victim who has been shot in the chest and is lying on his back. The narrator then describes what is on the back of the victim’s jacket.
* A woman is hit on the back of the head and falls backwards.
I now have another head scratcher to add, one that had me scrolling backwards to figure out what I had missed: The protagonist calls home, says he’ll be home in an hour and will take the family to breakfast. He drives home, takes them out to breakfast (I think – it’s not mentioned again), drives back to the office, reads the paper, and flips through the phone messages left for him during his three-hour absence from the office. There would be no problem with the time line if the author hadn’t noted the character was feeling better after having eaten and gotten “several hours of sleep.” Huh? When did he have time to get any sleep?

Okay, I admit I’m nitpicking. But don’t the editors owe it to the authors – and to their fans – to find these basic writing flaws? And don’t the authors owe it to their fans to give their best effort and not just slap something together to fulfill their contract?  

I’m not sure any of these four will be on my eagerly-anticipated-must-read-and-preorder list in the future. And I feel cheated by it.

8 comments:

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

The big problem is some of these major sellers don't get edited.

E. F. Watkins said...

I belong to a critique group, and most of our members are struggling to find publishers. When I call them on mistakes such as head-hopping, too much description, meaningless chit-chat between characters or very long flashbacks, they often will argue "So-and-so did it in his/her latest book, and s/he's always on the best-seller list and a multi-millionaire!" It's hard to explain that these icons make mistakes, too, and after awhile their editors don't bother to fix them. I just keep telling the critique-group folks that bad writing is bad writing, no matter who does it, but all they see is that these folks are still selling like gangbusters. Depressing.

Janet Greger said...

My pet peeve is series that run on beyond their end point. Mainly, you can only stretch out a romance for 3-4 books then it's time to end it or move on to the next stage. Oddly, many best sellers are way beyond their end point.

marja said...

Not only do I agree with everything you said, but I also agree with the comments left by others. If I spend my hard-earned money on a book, I want to know the author put their all in the story. Great post!
Marja McGraw

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes! But part of the blame is the buyer as well. We/they tend to keep buying the books by these same authors, and a lot of the times they keep giving us the same plots. Beryl

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes! But part of the blame is the buyer as well. We/they tend to keep buying the books by these same authors, and a lot of the times they keep giving us the same plots. Beryl

Velda Brotherton said...

So well said, it's hard to add anything. We too have a critique group and I hear the same thing. It worked in Clive Cussler's book was something I heard last week after a member read a very long prologue giving history that mostly had little to do with the opening of the book.
It's too bad big writers are allowed to get away with these things because it makes beginners think they can too.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider said...

Thanks, everyone, for your support. I was afraid I sounded too much "sour grape-ish."