"Oh no," I hear you say as you sigh, "not another whining author complaining about a bad review." Well no, actually, it's not. Today I'm wearing my reader/reviewer hat, not my author bonnet, to share my latest dilemma.
Anyone who visits my blog regularly will realise that I've been AWOL a fair bit recently. No, not busy writing, sadly, but doing the next best thing, reading. I read for pleasure, and also for a couple of review sites and there is a vast difference between these recreations. When I read for pleasure, I choose for myself, and I'm experienced enough and discriminating enough to make choices that rarely disappoint. If they do, I stop reading, simple as that. Life's too short to plod through a book I'm not enjoying for the sake of publicly humiliating the poor author with a negative review.
But when I'm reading for a review site, both the element of choice and ease of switching to something else are taken away from me. We all know reading is subjective (as are reviews) and what delights me may bore you and vice versa. I'm not a nasty person and I would do my utmost to avoid being unpleasant about someone else's hard work, even if I couch it constructively.
So what are the cardinal sins of writing that invoke wrath from readers/reviewers? I'm sure everyone has their pet hates and I'd love to hear yours, but here are just a few of mine.
Poor editingSurely that has to be everyone's number one? It seems to be the most common insult hurled at self-published authors, though rather unfairly, in my opinion. Many of the smaller presses are just as guilty of this as authors, more so, in fact, because they take payment in the form of royalties from the author for this very purpose. An author (or publisher) who can't be bothered to edit his work simply insults his reader. Poor editing pulls the reader out of the fictional world with a rude jolt; it can often hinder understanding or even create misunderstanding. Either way, it spoils the flow of the writing and damages the reading experience.
Wrong or Poor formattingThis can have the same effect as poor editing, jerking the reader out of the story at the wrong time. There is also no excuse for it in this internet-driven age, where the answers to every problem under the sun are available at the click of a mouse.
It's also up to the author to send the reviewer the format requested. Your publisher should send you the appropriate copies for this very purpose, or if you self-publish, then the onus is on you to create the files from your original word document. There is a plethora of free software out there to help you.
Mary Sue CharactersLeaving aside all the other potential problems with characterisation, this one really is my pet hate. As an English teacher, I often received reams of creative writing samples from students (usually teenage girls) that they handed to me with faces aglow with pride or excitement. They loved writing it; it was the best story they'd ever written and so on. I didn't have to plough through many paragraphs of their self-indulgent fantasising to realise why. Self-insertion is usually a sign of immaturity; it creates superficial, unbelievable and unlikeable characters no one wants to read about, except the writer and possibly her bezzies.
Unrealistic DialogueConvincing dialogue comes alive in the reader's head, therefore speech or conversation should sound natural. When talking, we don't say 'I do not know,' or 'I do not think so,' (unless for specific emphasis) yet so often I see such formal styles being adopted in casual dialogue. It's not true to the character and can grate on the reader.
Stretching CredibilityI'm willing to suspend disbelief when I pick up a novel, but I resent being asked to accept fabrications because of the author's ignorance or laziness. When a character performs unimaginable feats without any pretensions to super-human powers, I grizzle. When I'm presented with an event or situation I know to be inaccurate, I feel cheated. Nor do I take kindly to lies because the author didn't research the truth. I want a modicum of verisimilitude in a story, no matter how far-fetched its plot. It may not be probable but at least it should be possible (unless it's fantasy, about which I have no opinions since I rarely read the genre).
For you it may be poor plotting, POV problems, telling not showing or any number of other hurdles we as writers have to manoeuvre Do leave a comment and let me know, while I ponder over my dilemma of whether to tell the author I can't review his work, or simply leave him a negative review.