The other day I received, unsolicited, a Kindle copy of a book currently available through Amazon.com. The reason the author (or his representatives) sent out the book to me was not because he/they knew I was an author but because I reviewed a book on Amazon that they thought was similar enough to their book that it would appeal to me. They were hoping I’d read and write a review for their book and post it to the book’s listing on Amazon.
I can understand the reasons for him/them sending me the book. The more reviews a book has, and especially if the reviews are positive, the more “popular” it appears to the casual book buyer and, hopefully, the better the chance more people will purchase said book.
I looked at the offered book but found it not all that interesting to me. There was nothing wrong with the book’s plot, per se, its just that the story wasn’t my proverbial “cup of tea”. I checked its listing on Amazon and sure enough it had quite a few reviews and, for the most part, they were positive. I must admit, sending out copies of your book to people who have offered written reviews is something to consider and may well be helpful in getting a boost on your review numbers (By the way, thus far I’ve gotten more reviews on Goodreads than through Amazon. The six books in my Corrosive Knights series are currently clocking in at -and I’m very proud of this fact- 4 stars out of 5).
Anyway, out of politeness to the author I decided to give the first chapter of this book a try. Alas, it solidified the fact that this book wasn’t for me. Further, having written as much as I have, certain technical aspects of the author’s work stuck out…negatively.
Out of deference to the author, I will neither name him or the book he was writing but I will provide some examples of things I found bothersome.
To begin, the book is advertised as a James Patterson-like thriller. In reading the first chapter, which is a setup for what follows, the author presented an action scenario that took place in a famous location and one he took pains in describing. Some authors like to do this. If a book is set, say, in a particular neighborhood in London an author may go out of their way to provide readers a detailed geography of the land. To some this may be quite fun but to me there is a fine line between offering this type of information and getting a little too focused on geography to the point where one loses the steam an exciting action scene should have.
While this author didn’t go overboard with descriptions he got, IMHO, awfully close. Again, this is a matter of personal opinion: I like my stories to move and I don’t like to dwell too much on ancillary things or too much description.
When writing, one of the things I’ve learned is that you should constantly be focusing on telling the story as best as you can. Each sentence and, indeed, word builds your story because every word counts.
Let me offer one sentence from this first chapter of the book and offer a critique of it. Please note the sentence is just one sentence and does not represent the bulk of hte chapter I read (though to be fair, there were other things I found to be bothersome here and there). Finally, this sentence is NOT presented completely verbatum as, again, I’m keeping the author and the novel secret. Nonetheless, the below sentence is very, very close to an actual sentence in the book:
“Stop or we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” yelled the senior officer in Spanish, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face.
This sentence, as written, is very clunky. A better way to state the same information is:
“Stop or we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” the senior officer, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face, yelled in Spanish.
While better this sentence is still not all that good. By the time we read this passage, we already knows the country this part of the story takes place in and therefore should know the language spoken by the “senior officer”. Thus, in the interests of brevity, the sentence could have gone like this:
“Stop of we’ll be forced to use stronger measures!” the senior officer, who sported a five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled face, yelled.
Better yet still not great. I strongly suspect the “senior officer” presented here is a very small character whose only appearance in this novel is right here (I can only suspect this because I haven’t read the rest of the novel). I know and can appreciate the author wanting to give this small character some kind of “life” in this brief appearance but the “five o’clock shadow” and “chiseled face” is at best a rather obvious descriptor and at worst a very cliched one.
Given the likelihood this is the only appearance of this character, his facial description isn’t as important as his purpose, which is to be a menace to the one he’s shouting at. That being the case, instead of focusing on the character’s face perhaps it would have be better to focus on the threat he conveys. How about this:
“Stop or we’ll use stronger measures!” the senior officer shouted as his right hand reached for and gripped the gun strapped to his side.
I make absolutely no pretenses about literary mastery here and acknowledge what I wrote ain’t quite Shakespeare or Hemingway but on the other hand this sentence is better at getting to the heart of what this character’s purpose is: To impart a sense of threat/danger to the character he’s yelling at.
Writing a story, whether it be short or long or massive involves an incredible amount of thought on the part of the author. Every word counts and you should try to maximize what you write.
This is not an easy task!
I’ve mentioned before that it took me 12 drafts before I was happy enough with my last two novels to release them. The reason for these drafts is because I too struggle with making sure what I’m writing is as good as is possible.
I took great pains to not point out who this author is or what book he’s promoting and the reason for that is because it is unfair to do so. I’m just as guilty as he is, perhaps even more so, of writing clunky sentences or not focusing on elements that should be focused on as I made an example of above.
Not every time you go to bat do you hit a home run. Sometimes, you’re lucky to just get to first base without striking out.