About a year ago I decided to limit my reading diet to self-published books. Not forever, just until I found some new favorite authors to follow. I really want to support the self-published community as much as possible and figured I’d have a strong list of auto-buys by now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.
I know there are fabulous self-published authors out there because I have found some, and I must say I’ve been doing my picking based solely on blurbs, reviews and sample pages. I figured that would be enough to help me gauge my enjoyment and justify an investment of reading time.
Here’s where I went wrong: I should have asked for recommendations. I have discovered that most reviews are unreliable, both the good ones and the not-so complimentary ones. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources. Lesson learned.
Why have I had such a difficult time finishing these books? It’s mostly my bad luck, but I did discover structural problems in the majority of the stories I deleted from my Kindle after reading only a few chapters. Of the books I selected, the writing was fine, grammar good, voice passable, but plot and character suffered from a lack of practiced craft and developmental editing. They read like manuscripts that passed muster with a critique group, but not an editor.
They started out great or I never would have bought them. The sample pages caught my interest, the premise captivated me, so the beginnings of these books rocked. But I stopped reading somewhere between 20% and 30% of the way in. Maybe they suffered from contestitis, where the author had made edits and polished the beginning pages based on contest feedback. The rest of the story never received the same attention.
We talk a lot in RMFW about strong beginnings, effective hooks, introducing interesting characters, establishing stakes and obstacles… but it shouldn’t stop there. The strength you start with needs to carry through the rest of the book.
The problems I encountered were:
Bland characters – Characters who start out strong, then lose their purpose, or lack motivation, or just don’t care enough about the goal they had to begin with.
No tension – The story’s tension leaks out like a slowly deflating balloon. Time is spent exploring secondary plotlines instead of the main one, and the problems faced at the beginning are put on hold. Not good. Not good at all.
Disappearing characters or too many characters – It’s hard to focus on a main character when everyone in the story begins to have equal billing. Or when the most interesting person gets killed off or drops out completely, I lose interest in reading any more.
Likable characters become unlikable – It really upset me when a character I cared about seduced her stepfather about a quarter of the way into the book. I’d thought he was a nice guy, too. He’d raised her, for crap sake. They both turned out to be turds. Ugh. Those are hours I’ll never get back. I didn’t start reading another book for a couple of weeks after that.
Confusion – Mysteries I like. No, mysteries I love. But I don’t like it when things stop making sense. Confusion annoys me.
Meandering plot – Starts out heading in one direction then veers off in another for no apparent reason.
Exposition overload – I’m really tolerant of backstory, and probably enjoy reading it more than most people do, but even I have my limits.
Too many pretty sunsets – Or sunrises, or beaches, or gardens, or forests… You get the picture, which is the problem. Too many pictures. I adore good description and even teach a class on it, but too much kills the pace and saps life from your story.
Repetition – Same scene, different setting. Again. And again. It helps to change things up now and then.
Chaotic choreography – Action is a very good thing to have in your story, but it needs to be handled with a practiced hand. Fights, tangled lovers, car chases… When a lot is happening all at once, it should be clear in the reader’s mind what’s going on.
Call me picky—because I am—but I really wanted to love these books. I’m looking for an enjoyable reading experience and my goal is to find some great self-published books to fill that need.
Do you know of any self-published books you think I’d enjoy? If so, please leave the title and name of the author in a comment here. Thank you!
Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.
Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.