PUNISHING YOUR READERS AND MISREPRESENTING YOUR WORK
I’m back on my bandwagon again. I’ve talked about this numerous times before. Since I’m a writer, I compare my sources of inspiration to standup comics except mine comes from different sources. While the stand-up comic has a goldmine of material just by opening the newspaper, going on line or watching the news, for a writer and editor like me, all I have to do is hit the bookstore. Since I also read a lot, observe other readers a lot, listen to other writers read their work a lot, as well as various sundry sources, I can come up with a wealth of material for subjects to bitch about, if not take for examples.
I have two cases in point this week. I’ve covered the subjects before but they deserve fresh looks (they always do). I’ll discuss the reasons why under each banner.
PRESENT-TENSE AND BLATHERING ON
For those of you that have been around awhile, you know how much I despise present-tense. I find it virtually unreadable. When I pick up a book and glance at a sample, if I see “we go to the…” “she picks up…” “Joe moves the pencil…” I put it down. I throw it down. I have to use every bit of restraint to keep from damaging the book for someone else who might want to read that stuff (I used restraint to keep from applying a colorful metaphor)!
I feel like the author is trying to rush me.
I don’t like being rushed.
That pisses me off.
I also get the impression they’re writing it for the ADHD crowd and are trying to keep their attention. I don’t have ADHD. I know this is whopping generalization and probably not true in most cases, but just having that impression bugs me. It reminds me of those MTV ads back when they actually used to play music (when I still watched it). They didn’t need thirty seconds for a commercial when the attention span of half their audience was five seconds. Their ads reflected that accordingly. That’s one of the effects I get from present-tense.
I lose focus because I’m being pushed along like something is going to happen, that doesn’t any faster than if it were past-tense.
Okay, I’ve railed on-and-on about this in the past. I’ve had over fifty years to learn what I like and don’t like and I certainly don’t expect everyone to feel the same way. However, part of that learning process was anecdotal evidence from other readers, without telling them why I wanted to know. I’ve been quietly polling readers for years of why the do and don’t like certain writers and did not come to my conclusions based solely on my own personal biases. I’ve gone over that time and again on this web site also.
In this case, my wife found a book on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble. She usually reads e-books. However, because my daughter spotted this fantasy novel, she pointed it out to my wife and it looked like a good read to her. Unlike me, if my wife likes the jacket and the back blurb, she’ll usually get it without looking inside.
I never noticed anything at first. She had this thick blue hardback with the cover off and started reading it, which did strike me as odd because she’s usually on the e-reader. After a few days, she complained about the writing. “This book sucks!”
I said, “What do you mean?” Usually she can read a book in just a couple of days, but this one sat on the table for days and barely had fifty pages marked.
“The story isn’t going anywhere. I can live with that to a point, but it’s the writing. I just can’t get into the writing. It’s horrible.” She threw the book on the table. “I mean, the blurb on the jacket looked pretty good.”
“You know, you can’t always believe what the jacket says.” I knew this from long experience.
“It may still be okay, but not only is it starting slow, the writing…”
“Did you leaf through it first?”
“Let me take a look.”
She slid it over to me.
Careful to keep her bookmark in the same place, I randomly opened up to a page around the middle. The first thing I noticed was solid words. That page only had two paragraphs. “Oh, crap.”
I looked at the top paragraph. Yup, present-tense. Not only that, but that first sentence was something forty-four words long. The second was fifty-three!
I handed it back. “What’s wrong with the writing?”
She told me in no uncertain terms, with colorful metaphors, what she thought of the writing. It pretty much matched what I saw.
Now folks, amongst the other problems, the present-tense was a huge issue. She doesn’t know diddly about tenses and I didn’t prompt her. She just knows reading. We don’t talk much about writing despite what you might think. She has her realms and I have mine.
She has liked other books in present-tense, sort of, but only because the writing was much more brisk so she could take it easier. She was never comfortable with it that way.
I’ve had people who have flat out told me that they cannot stand present-tense while others see no difference. Others prefer present over past-tense. The majority that don’t like it really don’t like it but don’t know how to explain it until I point it out to them.
MISLEADING THE READER WITH THE COVER BLURB
This one I’ve talked about time and again also. In this case, it just happened to me.
I found this book by a new Scottish author. The title and premise made the book look like a thriller. Folks, that’s primarily what I read. I also like the dark outlook the Scots and Brits and Welsh authors often have. Maybe it’s the weather there or something. I thought this would be a great book to read on a dark and stormy night, even though we have very few of those here in Las Vegas!
Of course, the first thing I did was leaf through the book, with care! Third-person, past-tense! Yeah!
Now comes the tricky part. While everything on the cover blurb was technically accurate, what it implied didn’t match. When I closed the book, what I ended up with was a different story. It was nowhere near a thriller. Even though it had a kind of bittersweet ending that gave me some satisfaction, the ride from point A to B had a lot to be desired. I didn’t feel guilty giving it three stars. Most of the story was told in flashbacks within flashbacks, another pet peeve. My main beef was that it was a misrepresentation of the back cover.
Folks, if you’re going to write a back blurb, be honest and don’t mislead your readers. One more thing! Do not try to blame that on your publisher. I’ll tell you what, you, the author write the back blurb. Sure, it’s a marketing thing. However, keep in mind false advertising and miscommunication. You’re a writer. You should know how to write an accurate blurb for your own damn book!