I don’t read as much as I used to, mostly due to lack of time, but I like to keep my Kindle well stocked with material for vacations or those nights when sleep eludes me. My e-reader carries a number of old favorite books, comfort reads for when I need it, new books from favorite authors, and stories from authors completely new to me. I’m not particular about whether a novel is published by a major publisher, a small one, or self published. I base my buying decisions on whether the blurb intrigues me and the opening grabs me.
One thing I have learned from hard experience, though. If I’m not familiar with the author, I always download the sample text. If there isn’t a sample available, I don’t buy it. There are plenty of other intriguing stories. If the sample is well written and grabs my attention, I buy.
One thing that will guarantee I’ll pass on a story is poor grammar or usage. I may not be typical in this because I’m a former editor myself, but repeated errors just totally bounce me out of a story.
I’m actually still surprised at the number of sample chapters I’ve downloaded where writers who call themselves authors don’t know basic punctuation and spelling. Even if someone isn’t really confident about the mechanics, this is so easy to fix there’s really no excuse for it. Hire someone to edit your manuscript before you put it out for public consumption. Sadly, though, I’ve also found that most writers who haven’t mastered basic grammar generally don’t do well in other facets of storytelling either. Even a great story idea won’t work if the creator doesn’t have the tools to tell it well.
Just a few days ago I got burned again, even though I downloaded sample chapters before I bought the book. The first few chapters of this story, which I won’t identify, were nicely done – clean, vivid, and appealing. But then the writing deteriorated. Initially good punctuation began to fade into run on sentences, missing commas, and other grammatical ills. A few misused words showed up, then the writing became vaguer, sentences became awkward, and telling took over from showing.
I recognized the symptoms of a phenomenon I’ve heard agents and editors talk about: manuscripts where the first few chapters have been workshopped and critiqued into smooth, clean storytelling, but the rest of the story hasn’t enjoyed the same attention. Worse yet, this story had a terrific beginning that fizzled into a welter of unnecessary flashbacks, repetitive story events, and shallow characterization. A good idea drowned in the author’s inability to plot in ways that would show how her characters wrestled with their problems and grew and learned from what they experienced. Another draft or two could have turned this blah effort into a gem.
It’s sad that in the rush to self publish, too many authors are taking shortcuts that will likely short circuit their careers rather than take the time and make the effort to craft a product that will have readers clamoring for their next story.