A short while ago a friend of mine read my novel Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) and asked if I minded a few observational comments.
Of course I didn't; a reader's feedback is worth having - as long as such comments are constructive. (We all know the damage the destructive ones can do - more of that below)
My friend picked up on a couple of things that had gone unnoticed all these years.
Harold was first published in 2000, so it has been around for 13 years. It was also originally edited by professionals from Random House (William Heinemann to be exact) and one of the best editors in the UK, Richenda Todd, with only a few minor updates from me when I moved to SilverWood Books UK and Sourcebooks Inc (US)
The thing is, how did one howler in particular get missed? And should authors worry about their writing style as it was 13 (or more) years ago?
The howler is the word 'critters'. Apart from it being American and 19th century... how on earth did it get missed?
My friend mentioned that some of the characters were a little one-dimensional - the goodies were goodies, the baddies were baddies. I agree with this criticism, but weren't most novels like this back then? We expected our heroes to be heroes, the bad men to be snakes in the grass. (Or am I kidding myself here?)
Has this changed now? Do we expect characters to be more 'real' now, as in showing the good guys with warts an' all? Portraying the villain with his (or her) softer side?
One thing my friend did point out, which neither I nor my present editor has noticed (nor, obviously, any past editors!) is that I I tend to have a distinctive way as a narrator of dropping pronouns when I separate sentences or run them together.
e.g. ‘They tried and tried again to break through that damned impenetrable shield wall. Could not do it.’
My friend says: "That’s fine, distinctive, and I positively like it. But when you get your characters to talk like that, I hear not them speaking, but the author/narrator. Example: ‘He intends to draw us into the arena, do you think?’ Leofwine spoke his thoughts out loud. ‘Is waiting for us to go in after him....’ "
I do write like this, it is my style - but I think my friend has a good point when I do it in dialogue.
I'll watch out for this in future, and try not to do it.
Just to balance things, my friend also liked a lot of the book and said how much he enjoyed the read and found the end chapters very moving.
I still head-hop a little when writing (Point of View changes) This one I do find difficult to remedy as I just don't see head hopping when I'm reading (my own or other authors' work). I guess this might be because I have a very active "monkey mind" - I hop from one thought, one line of conversation to another without noticing.
Fortunately my editor picks the worst offending hopping up!
I am soon to bring out a printed version of Discovering the Diamond on UK Kindle :and US Kindle my hints and tips for potential (Indie) writers. There will be a few updates, including a possible mention of the agony of dealing with those wretched typos once the book is in print.
They always appear. No matter how many times the file is checked, checked, and re-checked.
There are some dreadful typos in my US mainstream Pendragon's Banner Trilogy - yet oddly enough all the destructive criticism of these books of mine on Amazon has not related to the obvious (and embarrassing) errors. One comment has slammed me for the use of the words 'corn fed'. What some American readers fail to grasp is that there is American English and English English. 'Corn Fed' is a British term for oats and barley. A 'corn fed' horse is fed on cereal crop instead of hay or grass or bran i.e. it is well fed.
The term does not relate to corn on the cob or maize!
So I am a bit disgruntled about that petty comment and the accompanying low star rating.
I also get annoyed at petty comments (for my own books and for other historical fiction authors!) Comments like "This book was too much about battles."
Well yes, when you are writing a book about the Battle of Hastings or the Crusades, or the English Civil War or the enmity between Matilda and Stephen there would be a few battles included.... sigh.
There are a few comments about commas being in the wrong place for my books, but I notice this applies to many authors, and to be honest I've given up with worrying about these sort of criticisms. After using several different editors now, I have come to the conclusion that they all have their preferred placing of commas, and no two editors agree. In future I might just leave all commas out and have done with it *laugh*.
Which brings me to Ripples In The Sand and another lesson learnt (the hard way).
I rushed its publication.
I shouldn't have done.
My readers were looking forward to it, I was getting bombarded with e-mails asking when it would be published (that, I am not complaining about! ) so I rushed the book out. Even though it wasn't ready. It should have had another proof read.
The errors are fairly minor things, which to be honest, probably only I or a professional will pick up on (a pistol has suddenly become a musket, for instance). But they are annoying. Annoying because I should have re-checked. My only defence - I was in the middle of moving house at the time and stress levels were reaching the top of the temperature gauge.
But then, that should have been another reason for saying "whoa, let's not rush this."
On the other hand, I did have several readers and editors - and still the bl**dy thing wasn't right!
This is one area where us Indie authors have a downside and an upside.
The down is - all errors are our responsibility. To spot in the first place and to put right. At our expense. No big (or little) publishing house to pay the costs.
The up - (for those of us using Print on Demand) we can put the errors right fairly quickly and without too many incorrect copies going out. Unlike authors who are in the hands of a publisher. The errors in my US books will stay there. Even the incorrect chapter heading dates. Unless the publisher agrees to do a re-print (unlikely) those annoying bits that are wrong stay there as wrong.
We, as author, not the publisher, take the blame in the comments on Amazon though.