In my discussion of what advocates for self-publishing and traditional publishing didn’t say the other day, one thing I did bring up was the fact that bad books are not confined to self-publishing alone. In fact, book #28 was so monumentally awful that I refuse to divulge the name or author, and it was traditionally published.
It’s not just that No Name Book was bad. Or that it was traditionally published. The thing that aggravated me so much about this book was that it was rife with amateur errors—backstory dump, omniscient characters, head-hopping, and insta-lust to name a few. But it was written by a New York Times bestselling author with over 30 books to her name. Why, in God’s name, did someone not edit this book?
Okay, I’ll calm down. Because the good news is that we learn just as much about writing from awful books as we do from top-notch books. That’s why we’re encouraged to read everything. So with that spirit in mind, I’d like to look at some of the glaring mistakes of No Name Book that no author should make and no self-respecting author should allow to be published with their name on it.
First, my personal pet-peeve, copious backstory dump. For those unfamiliar with the term, backstory dump is when the author packs the first couple of pages—or first couple of chapters in this case—full of block paragraphs of exposition. Not just any exposition, the life-story of the main characters including all of the important bits of their pasts that will play a role in the current story. No! There are so many ways you can convey that sort of information without dumping it all out in explanatory paragraphs at the beginning! Let it unfold gradually, through dialog and action, and as part of the natural arc of the story!
It goes beyond just exposition though. Both backstory and regular story were rife with telegraphing. I think at least half of the chapters ended with the (overly-knowledgeable) heroine saying “I foresee the hero running up against the shame of his past in a way he doesn’t yet suspect!” only to have the next chapter begin with “The hero suddenly found himself running up against the shame of his past in a way he didn’t suspect.” Once, maybe. But over and over? Just no.
Omniscient characters suck all the life and tension out of a plot. The very definition of a predictable plot is when the author so clearly sets up a string of circumstances and possibilities that are not usual, but then has the characters anticipate the unusual occurrences only to have everything turn out exactly like they thought it would. Heck, the characters don’t even have to know what’s going on, but if they author makes everything clear to the reader before the plot can sustain it, then nothing that happens, no matter how unusual, is a surprise.
Which brings me back to the heroine. She knew everything. She did! Several puzzles presented themselves, things that could have been interesting if the mystery was maintained, but because the author wanted the heroine to be smart and savvy of the ways of the world—I presume—the poor heroine knew it all.
Knowing everything about the plot and the other characters before anything happens is dull. It doesn’t improve the personality of the character at all. Furthermore, everything the heroine wanted to have happen happened, no matter how unlikely or inaccurate. Maybe the aim was to show that the heroine was powerful and not to be trifled with? Yeah, but no. There was no tension, no wondering.
And finally, a problem that is strangely common in badly-written novels. The hero and heroine instantly wanted to do each other. Okay, okay, I understand that it’s important in romance for there to be attraction. Lust is part of that. Heck, there are guys I’ve seen walking down the street that made me sit up and say “damn”! But when all the other circumstances of the plot point to conflict and question, it just isn’t realistic for the heroine to say “Gosh, I think the hero is a hot mess, but I’m totally going to sneak into his room and jump his bones tonight.” Which she DID! In Victorian England? No.
Anyhow, I’m far more upset about the lack of quality of this book than I should be. It has an awesome cover, however…which makes me even more frustrated that what lies behind that cover is so bad. The true frustration, though, lies in the simple fact that a big house publisher put this book out there without vetting it first and gave it marketing dollars instead of editing dollars. Judging by the reviews it’s received, I’m not the only one who has picked up on its general crapulence. And yet, traditional publishers are putting down indie authors for publishing rubbish? Not cool, traditional publishing, not cool!
So after that, I’ve decided to read something pretty much guaranteed to be good. And so far, it is!