Monday, February 27, 2012

If You Love an Author, How Much Will You Forgive?

While preparing my new romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, for publication, I spent countless hours editing even before turning the manuscript over to my editor for two additional edits.

I'd heard too many times about how readers can be so disappointed by favorite authors that they'd stopped reading their books. For a long while, before I learned more about the do's and don'ts of good writing, I really enjoyed reading Danielle Steel romances. The problem with too much knowledge is I came to realize her writing was sloppy and repetitive. In how many books did the heroine's lover or husband have to die so she could go searching for a replacement? After deciding not to read any more of Danielle's books, I did try a few times to reverse that decision when I spotted new releases at the library. After all, her books were easy reads, escapism, and it was kind of comforting to know what to expect. That was then. Now I have a huge TBR pile, and don't need to settle for second best.

Danielle Steel has built up an audience and might get away with churning out books that could be better, yet how much is too much before a reader won't buy a book, or will close one without finishing it?

If I'm reading a good story that is told well, I'll forgive an author for a few slipups, whether intentional or otherwise. However, if the slipups start to intrude on my enjoyment and take me out of the story, I won't waste time reading dredge. Like I mentioned before, there are too many quality books waiting to be read.

What author errors won't I forgive? Here are some of them:
  • Unclear and/or wrongly placed point of view changes, sometimes even in the same paragraph. I need to know who I'm rooting for and when.
  • Author intrusion of his or her point of view, unless it's a memoir. Don't tell a reader what to think. 
  • A multitude of spelling errors. I expect a few in a book, but not tons of them. Someone said ten were normal, but that seems a lot. If I spotted five, I'd have to be very interested in a book to keep reading.
  • Characters that do stupid things that don't make sense; such as heroines who deserve to die because they go out of their way to put themselves in danger when a safe solution is apparent.
  • Characters introduced near the end of a mystery for the sole purpose of solving a crime. Where did that person come from? All of a sudden he or she did it. What a letdown.
What will you, or won't you, forgive from an author you love?
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Morgan Mandel is a past president of Chicago-North RWA, past library liaison for Midwest MWA, belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC.  Her latest romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is about a 55 year old widow who turns 24, and may not live to regret it.
All four of Morgan's books are on kindle and other electronic formats.

Morgan is an active blogger and networker. Her personal blogspot is:
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com/
Also, catch Morgan on Facebook and Twitter.

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45 comments:

  1. I am heartily sick of cops who eat badly, drink far too much and have sold their life for the job, destroying several marriages in the process. I love Jeffery Deaver but he changes POV midstream and also does the 'little did she know she was only minutes from death' bit. I also hate seriously descriptive sex scenes. JD Robb does this and all I do is turn over the next three pages and get on with the story. But then I have to ask if I'm being hyper-critical because both these authors are astronomically successful. Both are great story-tellers and it doesn't matter a jot if there are a few irritations along the way when the story is so engaging.

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  2. As for spelling errors, I see a whole lot more of them in e-books. As if the publisher is saying, "Without the pretty formatting, this is just a word dump--find what you will here."

    I recently checked out a limited time free e-book by an established author publishing her backlist. I didn't bother getting it (even for free) because on the first page, in the cop protagonist's POV, she gave us in intense sensory detail about everything the cop "didn't pay attention to." I don't like to be lied to on the first page.

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  3. It looks like I'm not the only one who gets disappointed by authors. So far Silversong and Kathryn offer some very valid turnoffs.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. I judged a Kensington vampire book that was so full of errors, it looked like NO ONE had read it to edit it. But worse, the world building fell apart when a key element in the story was disregarded in the case of the heroine.

    In another story, one of my favorite authors finally wrote another book in her series that essentially was a rehash of another couple who had worked out all their differences, grown, were getting married and happily ever after...and all of a sudden instead of having a new hero and heroine to fall in love with, we have the same couple. Their marriage-to-be is on the rocks because she says he says he doesn't love her. And we begin again with all the same old conflict, the same old habits, and have to work from ground zero again. I hated it!

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  5. Oh, all of the above. I agree with Silversongbird about pages and pages of sex scenes. Although I prefer the romance with some mild interaction, I am disappointed when one tried and true author goes off track and begins to include a lot of sex. I fear too many authors hear the refrain "Sex sells" in their ears when they write.
    But you know--not to knock any group, but lord have mercy, I'm seeing so many errors in books now it makes me sick. "It was too much to bare." What? I have a list of these kinds of wrong word usage I've seen. Incredible.
    One major author also has begun to rerun and rehash familiar plots. Too bad. Good topic, Morgan.

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  6. I just stopped reading a book on kindle because nothing was happening. No conflict. I should have added that to the list.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. Celia and Silversong,
    I also hate long, descriptive sex scenes stuck in books for no real reason to be there. I'll skip over them, but if there are too many, I'll skip over the rest of the book.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is a great post, Morgan. There's one author whose books I've loved, but as I read more and more, I found most of them had the same storyline--past secret comes back to haunt the MC, some piece of jewelry that ties into the secret plays a role in the plot, and usually there's a paranormal element. I felt like I was reading the same book with different characters by the time I got through with a few of them.

    I also don't care for a character tossed in at the end of a book. Any type of book really, but in mysteries it's aggravating. One other thing is when mysteries don't tie up all the loose ends. Even with a series, the mystery should be self-contained. It's the growth of the characters and the new crimes to solve that keep you reading.

    Thanks for making me think early on a Monday.


    Cheryl
    ccmalandrinos.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hmmm, good question. Anything heavy-handed really turns me off. I love it when the writer leaves stuff out--I think this is as much a part of the art as creating what goes in.

    But I'll forgive a lot if the author has created a need-to-know-what happens.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great discussion so far. I agree about the stereotypical cop set up. I agree that Deaver comes up with some good plot lines, but his writing can get sloppy.

    In e-books, I am constantly finding spelling and grammar errors, even in books that were supposedly edited and published in paper by major houses. It is very frustrating. Of the last 6 books I bought for my Kindle, 5 had so many spelling and formatting problems, I stopped reading them. Well, that and the fact that the plots were not holding together very well. LOL

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  11. This is a great post ... so much to be aware of as I begin to plan the plot of my first fiction book!

    Terry
    http://terrysthoughtsandthreads.blogspot.com

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  12. I really don't like the things that you mentioned but my biggest peeves are gratititious sex scenes, poor conflicts and bad storytelling.

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  13. I love Jenny's perceptive comment here:

    "I love it when a writer leaves stuff out--I think this is as much a part of the art as creating what goes in."

    I would go so far as to say that evoking a story while leaving stuff out IS what raises writing to literary art. You need those spaces to invite readers into the experience.

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  14. I have a few favorite books that I won't re-read now that I've learned a little about writing. I want to keep them in my heart.

    A sloppy product in anyway will make me quit wasting my time. As you said, there are too many quality books waiting to be read.

    On the other hand, not every book a favorite author releases will resonate with me. I forgive them an "off-book" now and then.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post, Morgan, and I love everyone's comments! You know, I wish I could just bottle all of this to show to aspiring writers when they complain about having to learn the rules of writing. Because what y'all are saying is exactly the point! Especially the structural issues. That's what makes a book ineffective, and turns readers off.

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  16. Great post!

    The one that truly gets my back up is head-hopping. I was brow-beaten into submission by my first crit group on POV switches. Now I'm a total Nazi about it. Pulls me out of the story every freakin' time.

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  17. I quit reading Nora Roberts (aka J. D. Robb) because of her descriptive sex scenes. I quit reading Barbara Delinsky because she appeared to have abandoned her editor (or vice versa), and the writing quality plummeted. Debbie Macomber tells an interesting story, but every one of them I've read is in dire need of editing to lift it out of the morass of mediocrity.

    Rare spelling and punctuation errors are forgivable, but when such errors abound and they're accompanied by poor writing, I've already stopped reading.

    So now I have a question. The advent of self-publishing has opened the door to an avalance of books that would never have otherwise hit the market. What, if anything, do these authors owe the reading public?

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  18. When it comes to e-books, minor formatting problems can be overlooked. I haven't done my own e-books, but I have a feeling it's not as easy as some think. Now, misspellings are something else. Most of those can be caught by the software's spelling program, like Word. And what doesn't get caught that way will most likely be caught by an editor.

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  19. Kathryn, you need to take the Kindle formatting class at the BBT Cafe starting March 1. Then you can experience first-hand the bizarre glitches converting paper to e-book. I don't think it's bad editing as much as formatting issues. I see lots of missing words, run-ons, etc. from authors I know and who hire editors and e-book converters. POV - I just tried to enjoy Mary Higgins Clark's latest and the POV changes within paragraphs almost drove me nuts! Such a good post, Morgan!

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  20. Author intrusion is a tricky one. I've blogged about Lessons Learned and people have a wide array of responses. Should an author try to teach a lesson to the reader. If so, to what level do they exert the lesson. I think a subtle method is okay. Don;t be preachy or self righteous. But I don't mind the author developing a lesson. Crime doesn't pay. You reap what you sow. Good guy gets the girl.

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  21. Lots of great comments so far, which goes to show readers are not always happy with what they get to read!

    Knowledge of the craft can hinder enjoyment of a sloppy book, yet can increase appreciation for one well written.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  22. Too-stupid-to-live heroines kill a book for me every time, as do nasty heroes with no redeeming traits or heroines who are whiny and shallow.

    Authors who regurgitate the same darn plot or use the same characters, merely changing names and haircolor, lose me. And if the conflict is a minor misunderstanding that would be all better if they merely spoke to each other for five minutes, that book may well hit the wall.

    I don't mind sex in books so long as it's actually accomplishing something besides fun times for the characters. There had better be growth or some important change in one or both characters and their relationship via the scene, or it's extraneous and I'll skip it. It gets old fast trying to find the story bits in between the sex scenes.

    Linda asked a great question about what self-published authors owe the reading public. We owe readers a book that's been polished, professionally edited, properly formatted, and gives them an enjoyable experience in exchange for the money spent on the book. In other words, the same thing traditionally published authors owe readers.

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  23. Lucy is right. Self-published, as well as traditionally published authors, owe readers a well crafted book. To paraphrase a slogan,authors need to Be All That We Can Be.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  24. If it's an author I love, he/she would pretty much have drive a bus full of school children over a cliff for me to quit reading their stuff ... that, or write two crappy books in a row.

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  25. I have a lot of trouble with head-hopping within a scene. I need a character with whom I can identify, even if the
    POV character changes in the next scene or chapter.

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  26. Christopher, I hope the two crappy books in a row happens instead of your first alternative!

    Patricia,
    Yes, head hopping drives me up the wall!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. I think a great example of a much-loved author who's been losing fans is George RR Martin. Complaints seem to fall into two categories: 1) the two newest books are largely filler material, with little of the action or resolution of previous books in the series, and 2) he's taken five years to write each one of these sub-par books, neither of which have done much to advance the main plot.

    This is an issue I've seen come up with authors like him, who are writing a single multi-volume story (rather than books in a series, where each one is a whole story in itself). Some people argue that the author doesn't owe the reader the end of the story: you the reader are just paying for one installment at a time. Others feel that the author has sold you on the promise of a whole, complete story; once you've signed on and become invested in the characters and what happens to them, it's irresponsible of the author not to deliver on the rest as promised.

    One thing I can say for sure, though: I am not likely to stick with an author who treats his fans poorly. It's not just about conventions and book-signings anymore; authors have a continuous e-presence now, and one who responds to legitimate reader questions or criticism with hostility puts me off the pre-orders right quick.

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  28. Tex is right about e-presence. Even many of the well known authors are online, or at least have representatives online for them.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  29. I'm pretty forgiving and will continue to read people long after I should have given up. There are a couple of authors' whose work I continue to read, but I have to force myself. One annoyance is political or social commentary, especially repeated in book after book, which does NOT advance the storyline at all, but just gives the author a chance to gripe. It doesn't matter if I agree with the observations or not: it gets tiresome. If I wanted to read social commentary, there are any number of nice non-fiction books I could choose. Now if views are used as a part of the plot I don't mind as much.

    I also don't care for blatant reader manipulation. There was one author who introduced as adorable little puppy just so he could kill it in very graphic fashion off to prove how bad the killer was. I understand the author's intent, but he spent quite some time endearing the puppy to the reader, just to be sure we were properly upset. I read another book or two by him but sort of lost interest in his characters.

    Jeanne

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  30. Too much foreshadowing will make me put a book down. Descriptive Sex every single chapter, I'm done. Blatant grammar errors (there/their? REALLY?) Unlikable characters, repetitive language (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb is infamous for this - all her books the dialog is the same nearly). And totally agree with tried and true authors all the sudden including WAY to much descriptive sex in their books. Obvious emotional manipulation, endings that just aren't ENDINGS, plots that lead off into nowhere and just drop off. But oddly enough, as picky as this sounds, I will really read almost anything. I'd prefer to read GOOD books, but I'll read bad ones if that's all I have!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I agree with all the points you made, Morgan. I also think the more we learn about the art and craft of writing, the more critical we become of writers who were once our favourites. You've quoted one example, where the author is repetitive with her stories - I would also add that Steels' characters are cardboard cutouts, with no depth at all. Recently, I picked up a new novel by someone who used to be one of my favourite writers. Hadn't read any of hers for several years, and oh, what a shock I got. She has good plots and strong characters, but oh my, she is SO wordy, with long paragraphs where one succinct sentence would be far more effective.

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  32. I'm seeing lots of good reasons to give up on authors, the political ones also turn me off, the long sex scenes are a drag to me,books that don't really end, cardboard characters -- all good reasons to go on to something else.

    Paula mentions the wordiness of what was one of her favorite authors. I think times have changed in that respect. What once was acceptable, isn't anymore. We live in a fast-paced society now, and though readers do like some description to get grounded in a setting, they also want authors to get to the point.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. Fantastic post, and I agree on every point. I think my biggest peeve at the moment was mentioned by Jenny Milchman: I love it when the writer leaves stuff out--I think this is as much a part of the art as creating what goes in.

    Meaning, I hate it when an author reveals too much about the character and plot too soon. I need that tension, that mystery to keep me engaged--no matter the genre.

    I also don't like it when things finally come to a head in the story and it's completely predictable. I read a book recently by one of my favorite authors where this happened. I kept waiting for a twist, some surprise or shock, but it turned out exactly the way I thought it would. (It probably didn't help that the MC was very 2-dimensional and dull.)

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  34. These are all good and valid points. I skipped out on Danielle Steele years and years ago, for all the same reasons. This week, I read a book by another author who will remain unnamed. I loved her first two books, but was hugely disappointed in book three. I read book four this week to give her another chance and now she is off my reading list for good. I know she signed a multi-book contract, and sadly, it appears the need to churn the books out has impacted her stories' depth and quality.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I'm not the best at figuring out endings, but if I can figure it out ahead of time, the author hasn't done a very good job. That said, I do enjoy romantic movies, even predictable ones. They're kind of relaxing.

    As far as popular authors go, I wonder if they're under so much pressure to get their books done, they can't spend as much time on making qualities products. Or, maybe they've done so many books, they can tell the difference anymore.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  36. The murder victim cannot be someone the world is a better place without unless the perp gets away with it like in Sherlock Holmes and the blackmailing case. I was pretty fed up with an episode of Lord Peter Wimsey in which the victim was awful and had been a menace and a danger to the perp. This is why I haven't gotten around to reading Dorothy L. Sayers' actual books.

    I cannot stand it when someone throws away the gun they needed to save themselves or another. This would be a fatal error I wouldn't come back for again.

    A famous mystery writer who spent three pages on the shoes of her protag lost me there. The fact that I disagree with her analysis of Jack the Ripper doesn't help me go back & try again.

    Sara Paretsky temporarily (though for years thus far) lost me when V.I. somehow saddled an innocent uncle of hers with a psycho aunt's -- his sister's -- medical bills. Her message seemed to be the protag would not let anyone escape bad relatives. (The uncle was not associating with his crazy sister.) I was steadily reading ALL of her novels until that one. Since then I have only read her excellent memoir. I probably will read her again, but I don't know exactly when. I know of two of us who quit on that one for that reason.

    These are some of mine.

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  37. Parenthetical comments have gotten on my nerves lately. Too much of that in a book, and the author loses me.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Oh, and I don't mind political commentary as long as the comments are on my side of the aisle. Hahahaha. I suppose we're all a bit like that.

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  39. I wouldn't read a book that has three pages devoted to shoes, either!

    As far as author intrusion, it gets on my nerves, unless it's very subtle. Certain good and/or traits will slip in when the author is building the characters, and those traits will be influenced to some extent by the author's opinions on good and evil.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  40. I'm a proofreader and editor, so I'm pretty picky. I have found numerous mistakes in the CLASSICS downloaded to my Kindle, so... I read a lot of books. The traditionally published books seem to be the cleanest, in their printed versions. I have found some boo-boos in the Kindle versions of some best sellers. What bugs me is those that think they have nothing to gain by hiring a professional to proofread and edit them properly. Not only are there mistakes and proofreading problems, but there are also extraneous words (like in this comment), bad writing, bad story-telling, boring commentary, run-on sentences... Of the dozens of books downloaded to my Kindle, I have NOT deleted only one or two. If I find more than a couple of mistakes in the first chapter, I delete. I don't care how great the book. It's just too annoying. I realize not everyone agrees with me, because I read reviews on the books I have deleted and they are getting 5-star after 5-star.

    ReplyDelete
  41. If I LOVE an author, I'll forgive him or her a lot, but the "two crappy books" rule is pretty close to what I live by. If it's someone whose work I've really adored, I'll stop reading after a couple of bad ones but come back periodically to see if they've gotten their mojo back. Head hopping makes me crazy. If there's too much of that, an author won't get to the much-loved level in the first place.

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  42. If I see an error, it actually makes me feel good. If one escaped me, I'm not alone.

    But when I see multiples, then I know someone didn't care enough to do a decent job.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  43. I read a book by Nora Roberts once because it had Montana in the title. When she repeatedly talked about going out to "castrate the cows" I threw the book down and have not read another of hers.

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  44. Heidi, I wouldn't have wanted to read further either. Poor cows!
    Anyway, I'm one of those people who for some reason can't get too interested in Nora's books. Don't know why.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  45. You are right too much sex scenes are a turn off.

    ReplyDelete

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