By Evangeline Jennings
Previously on the Pankhearst Review, we talked about why so many books submitted to us don’t get reviewed. We even threw in some hard numbers, suggested writing better books, and also promised to point out some of the problems we’ve seen time and time again.
So here we go – a list of the major pitfalls.
1. Your Pitch
Whatever you do, do not pretend to be your own PR. It’s just embarrassing. Like sticking a rolled-up sock down the front of your jeans.
Do not employ an actual PR whose idea of a pitch is longer than your novel and twice as incoherent.
Remember this simple lesson: Short is sweet and less is the new black.
2. Cover Art
You know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Well, here’s the thing. After six weeks of the Pankhearst Review, we do. If your idea of a suitable cover for your beloved book is an out of focus black and white selfie with cleavage and crossed eyes topped off with a title in pink Arial font then don’t be surprised if we write your work off as amateur vampire nonsense. Unless, of course, the cleavage is truly spectacular.
As distinct from editing. It’s not just for Christmas.
So many books, so many typos, so many stupid mistakes. Up with this is what we will not put.
A problem not strictly reserved for the book itself. Some of the pitches we saw? Oh my.
We get it. Editing and proofreading are hard. If you pay someone to do it, it’s also expensive and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a decent job. But none of the above is any excuse. Being independent or small doesn’t mean you don’t have to care. It means you have to work harder and find a way. We put more effort into proofing and editing our reviews than some of you do with your books. I swear to God.
Books are meant to be read. We read with our eyes. Our eyes care how things look. So should you.
There are standards and conventions for the way a book should be laid out on the page, be it dead tree or e. Assuming you’ve read one or two, you should know this. So why turn out something that looks like a Dali representation of a half-eaten dog’s dinner?
See also Cover Art.
If you don’t respect your book enough to:
- Dress it up nicely in a halfway decent cover
- Check and polish your prose until it shines
- Take the time and trouble to format the text properly for each device you’re trying to hawk it to
Then don’t be surprised if we don’t respect it either.
Or to put it another way: if you don’t care, why should we?
Now let’s help
Here’s some chatty Cathy articles that might be of some use.
And now let’s talk about the writing.
Story is king. Except, in our experience when it features the Taliban, Mysterious Viruses, or a rewrite of Twilight but – get this – with Angels! In those cases, Story appears to be something my grandmother would put on her roses.
Please, if you’re going to put in all the effort to write a book, try to have an original idea before you begin.
Also, have more than a premise. Several books hooked us with exciting or thought-provoking pitches, but died a long slow death through the sheer absence of any suspense or solid conflict. Otherwise known as a plot.
This seems to be a problem with first person narration in particular. One of the best things about writing first person is you have this wonderful opportunity to wow the reader with the force of your narrator’s personality, her insights into the story, and the depth of her emotions. The downside is too many wooden narrators, with no insight, personality, or emotions to share.
See also “Little did I know …” and plea bargaining for the reader’s sympathy,
Two books in particular that our reviewers fought for the chance to review ended up dying of Appalling Dialogue Death.
One promised to be an exploration of the impact of child abuse. But read like bad child porn written by a 1950s child. The dialogue especially was spectacularly bad.
In the second book, it seemed no line of dialogue could be deemed complete if it didn’t end with a exclamation mark, a dialogue tag, and an action. The example I’m looking at right now, there are eighteen consecutive lines all following that pattern. By the time I was halfway through, I wanted to strangle the writer, all the wacky perpetually exclaiming characters, and most of all, the editor.
And that’s the thing, right there. At the risk of repeating myself, you need editing.
Some of you have told us proudly that your book has been professionally edited. Frankly, those have been among the worst books we’ve read. Paying someone doesn’t make them professional.
One book, out of eighty thousand words, more than one thousand are “that”. Do you know what “that” does to your writing? It makes it wooden, stilted, and lifeless. Yes, all of those. It’s natural to overuse “that” on early drafts but during the editing process, you should try to remove as many as possible by rephrasing and breathing more life into your sentences.
Another book, the author and story both showed considerable promise. However, the novel itself was badly over-written which led to a lack of clarity or sense of purpose in the story-telling. Most notably, there were too many long – and occasionally, doubled up – descriptions of places and people. Especially in the opening chapters. A decent editor would have spotted this over-writing was suffocating the plot and any sense of pace.
In both these cases, the reviewers – different people – said it was a shame they couldn’t advise the author and invite him to resubmit after a proper editing job. But these are published books we’re looking at, not works in progress, and we have no patience with authors who treat paying readers as unpaid proofreaders. That goes double for book reviewers.
Here are some more writing pitfalls, a decent editor or proofreader would help you avoid.
Info- and background-dumping
Too many of the writers we have encountered fall headlong into the trap of giving too much background upon introduction to characters and places. Yes, you’ve created a fascinating world and a wonderful cast of very special people, but you don’t need to hit us over the head with the fact. It’s better to learn things slowly – or at least at the right time – and more through actions than narration. What happens otherwise is we lose track of the plot and find no reason to care about your characters or world.
Pick a tense. Please. And stay with it. At least for a paragraph or two.
There are rules. Honestly. You can’t just splash them across the page because you think they look pretty and you can’t rely on Microsoft to teach you how to use these awkward little buggers.
Ditto with the Microsoft thing and spell Czech.
One book we rejected after reading 20% appeared to have been written entirely in the passive voice.
When we tell you we are unable to recommend your book, please try to resist arguing the point, telling us we don’t what we’re talking about, and directing us to your countless five star reviews on Amazon. Because, rest assured, if we didn’t have our Speak No Evil policy, our one star review of your book would include at least one paragraph mocking your extensive array of fake and phoney friends and family reviews. And we would have posted it on Amazon too.
In the third and final part of this editorial interlude, we’ll explain why all the above is important and had to be said.