I was running through my Facebook news feed recently and I stumbled across a post in a writing group. The author cautioned readers that those who were bothered by silly things such as spelling, grammar and typos should skip his horror books. I couldn’t resist. I had to go to his Amazon author page and check out the reviews.
While he had a fair amount of supporters, there were plenty of negative reviews that attacked him strictly on the numerous errors in his work. And they were attacked back by the author and he really tried to skew these reviews as personal vendettas, probably from other authors who were jealous of his following.
But no, that wasn’t it. The guy simply needed to edit his work better. But rather than acknowledging that and trying to improve, he merely puts on blinders, enjoying the following he has despite the occasional critical lashing, and he carries on. It is a squirrel cage that many creative people insist on spinning in.
Many of these reviewers of unnamed author’s work (I will not shame this person) point out specific issues, but I doubt that he goes back and fixes anything. Any work has threads you could pull at, if you look deeply enough. But there seems to be a surge of rising horror authors who quickly put out what some see as sub par work, at least in relation to proper editing. People are very forgiving of horror. They will accept work as campy or so bad it’s good. You can get away with this with a b-movie. Standards are lowered well in advance. But a book lacking even the most basic technical skill won’t be enjoyed on the same level.
I am as anxious as anyone to get my work seen. But I always send a story to a test audience (beta-readers) to see what might work or not work weeks or sometime months before a new release comes out. I also employ an editor who is brutally honest. And I listen to all of these people, especially if certain problem points are noticed by more than a few.
When I was in high school, I sucked at math. English was my favorite school subject. And that benefited me greatly when I started to write. But sometimes the rules are sketchy and something that feels right turns out to be a mistake. There are plenty of writers out there who do not have a solid grasp of even the very basic rules of putting words together. This does not mean they are stupid and not good storytellers.
Even a C- English student can write. But, before we talk about that, let’s compare a writer who excuses errors as nitpicking that most people don’t care about to other occupations and the nitpicking that might plague them:
Hey! I am a filmmaker. But if you are bothered by continuity issues, jump cuts, poor audio and auto focus pulls, you shouldn’t bother seeing my work.
Hey! I am a carpenter! But if you are bothered by sheetrock with 2 inch gaps, an uneven foundation and no insulation in the walls, you shouldn’t buy the house I am building!
Every job requires training and tools. And many think that writing is something anyone can do. Sure, anyone who can spell and read can write. But to assert yourself as a writer and to sell your books that are essentially rough drafts plagued with mistakes- it’s embarrassing, don’t you think?
Well, a ton of people love my books!
Hey, that your stories are engaging enough to be forgiven by a group of loyal readers is fantastic. But what do you have against making your work all it can be? Do you think that if you presented polished, edited work that your audience would leave? That they would decide you are pandering to the literary snobs?
If they love your work, they won’t go anywhere. And how can you honestly defend error-riddled books? If you don’t have the capacity to make sure your book is technically sound before putting it out there, hire an editor. If you are actually having success as an author, it is an insult to serve your audience anything less than the best you can offer. And they will see it after a bit.
And when I say hire an editor, I mean a professional editor. Not your cousin who is a third grade teacher, okay? The author mentioned above claims to employ a professional editor. If I were him, I would find another. Quickly. And I am pretty sure a refund for said editing services would be in order.
Here are some very basic things to consider to improve yourself as a writer, whether you sell 3 copies or 300:
Take a creative writing class. Join a critique group. Find someone who knows how to edit properly and work out an arrangement. And don’t be so damned difficult and take it as an artistic attack if someone points out mistakes. Trust me, more readers than you think despise numerous errors. One or two most might forgive. More than they can count will bring their fangs out.
If you want to appeal to a larger audience, you won’t get there if one third of your reviews cite sloppy editing. You have several readers who buy anything you put out? Great. But most people don’t like poor work. I certainly don’t. It takes away from the reading experience and the story you are trying to tell. With better effort, you can expand your audience. Why wouldn’t you? Why don’t you want to be better? You should want to grow with every tale. Errors should offend you the most. And it is honestly an easy problem to tackle. No one is perfect. There are beta-readers and editors everywhere. Employee a few. Ask for recommendations and samples. You want to be a professional? Treat your work like a business and do what is best for it.
You can edit your titles on Amazon Kindle anytime you want. If someone is pointing out an error, why not fix it? Why excuse it or get pissed off that it was even mentioned? No matter how much you argue or disagree, it is a valid criticism.
I know a few horror authors who profess to make a living with their writing. But the drawback is that they churn out title after title very quickly to pay their bills and the one star reviews that cite poor editing are generally 1-3. People have accused me of getting work out quickly, but I put months into a project and polish and proof for weeks when I am done. And I will not put it out if it is not ready for the masses.
I support anyone who struggles to present their work to the world. And if you are getting traction, I applaud you. But if you are offering quickly churned out, unpolished material, even if you think you are succeeding because a steady audience eats it up, you are only coasting, in my opinion. Tastes change quickly. And no, I am not jealous if someone else’s work sells better than my work. I quit stressing over the work of others years ago and I haven’t been happier since I quit that bad habit. Many authors sell more books than Terry M. West. Not an issue for me.
But does it sting to see a poorly edited book eat up the Amazon charts? Does a Indie author who hands in a book very much in need of editing hurt the horror genre? No more so than crappy grindhouse movies hurt it in the 70s.
Does it make it harder for the other Indie writers who really care about offering their best work to the readers who are becoming more and more disillusioned with the Independent horror fiction scene and its lack of professionalism?
You’re damn right it does.