There is nothing worse for an avid reader than to find the book budget gone dry. Luckily, this age of technology has provided an answer of sorts. At the press of a button, I have available to me countless free and usually self-published novels to read. Sure, the search is payment enough for finding that one with virtual cover art that doesn’t remind you of Zork, the title isn’t rife with unpronounceable pseudo-elven or awkwardly contrived Victorian titles, and the summary doesn’t include libidinous vampires, swarthy werewolves, smoking detectives, or improbably combat-ready damsels. Trust me, if you’ve never delved the depths of free fiction on your eReader, I am not exaggerating.
I’m more than willing to give a non-traditionally published novel a chance despite having been burned over and over by authors with a great concept, some skill at writing, and no budget for an editor. Maybe I’m just a sucker for other hopefuls like myself. Either way, my latest acquisition has become something of a project for me. I’ll review it once I’ve finished tackling the 1300+ page monstrosity, but for now there are a few things I thought bore mention. And I don’t do this lightly – these are problems repeated without break on nearly every page of this book.
First, I really think that italics could probably be limited to almost never when intended to represent inflection. When a book is written in first person, you don’t really need to use italics for thoughts. The entire thing is coming out of the narrator’s head, so italicizing an individual thought separate from the rest of them seems either redundant or weird. I haven’t decided which yet. If you’re using italics for emphasis or inflection in speech, then you’ve missed the point of character voice. You should be able to give your characters patterns of speech without resorting to drawing them in crayons and black marker – which is essentially what italics is doing. If you want someone else’s take on this, check out Jeff Gerke’s thoughts on it at Where The Map Ends. He’s even less forgiving than I am, but with more justification.
Second, and largely related to the first, is ‘overuse’ and ‘misuse’ of single quotation marks when you think something needs to be pointed out as ‘wonky’ or ‘slang’. In a print book I would have thought that an ink leak had wreaked havoc on each and every page, but electronic books make short work of that excuse. While this isn’t exactly an unjustifiable use, it is inappropriate. See, in the UK (and, I assume, other places as well) the single quotation mark and double quotation marks are used opposite of how they are in the US. So, given that you can use double quotes to mark a slang word, there is a justifiable defense that the use is as intended. Unfortunately, if you intend to use them to mark everything that your great-grandmother would have been confused by, then you’re going to leave your final work looking prickly. Nevermind that this particular writer used ginormous repeatedly without giving it the same treatment she did bed-head. When in doubt, check Scott Bury’s thoughts on these particular marks at Written Words.
Although less problematic, there are certain other signs of unpolished writing that put me off as a reader. Personally, I tend to avoid them unless dialogue requires stuttering or significant pausing within a sentence. In actual narration, they look sophomoric if not used correctly. If, as is this case with this particularly problematic piece of prose, ellipses are used to end every single chapter, then there is work to be done on transitions. In a very bad way. Bold should be given the same sparing treatment as italics or, preferably, never at all in fiction.
The story isn’t the worst part of this self-published piece. In fact, at 1300 pages, a good editor could pare it down to a reasonable size in pretty short work. It is entirely possible that cutting out every improperly used punctuation mark could save 100 pages. So, no, I’m not against self-published works. I am, however, certain that anyone truly interested in putting out a polished novel should find an editor first. Even when you give it away for free, readers have expectations. And those expectations will carry over should you put any more novels out, self-published or otherwise.