Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reading and the Investment of Time

I've been thinking about writing a post like this for some time now, but this blog post about a reader's investment in time vs money, by Jim Breslin got me nodding my head. 

You see, I've been reading recently.  I know--that's a shocker, right?  Well, in the past 2 weeks, I've read several old favorites again, and cracked open 3 new ones.  2 fantasy books and a cozy mystery.  I'm not going to name them for a slew of reasons.  First, because so much is a matter of taste, that just because I had one particular experience with a novel, doesn't mean that another reader won't have a different one.  Second, because I don't want to take on the role of reviewer while I have a writer's hat on.  Third, because that's not the point of the post, really.

Of the three new books I started, I only finished one.

The two that I did not finish were both self-published books.  Both highly touted in their genre, both sold at a very low price.  It was not a matter of investment of money, but of time, a la Breslin's post.  While the writing in both these stories was serviceable, there were clear pacing and craft issues that made them both clunky reads.  In fact, I felt like I was reading for critique.  It felt like work.

The stories were interesting enough, but the writing got in the way. 

If either of these authors had been my crit group buddies, I would have finished the stories and made structural recommendations, primarily in pacing, characterization, and emotional stakes. But because I picked up these novels for my recreational enjoyment, I gave up on them.  My reading time is too limited to spend on books that don't fully transport me.

The third novel I read, the cozy mystery, is the one I did finish.  I bought it at our local indi bookstore.  It was signed by the author, who is (I believe) local.  It was an interesting idea, with a nice 1st person character's voice, but could have been so much more.  I read it to the end to find out the 'who/why dunnit' and ultimately didn't feel like I had gotten my time's worth out of it. 

I find that quite sad.  Three potentially excellent tales, all hamstrung by craft issues that could/should have been addressed in revisions and with a strong editor.  Were these books professionally edited?  Once I might have assumed that the mystery was, as it had been published traditionally.  Now, with the changes and panic in publishing, I don't know what the press provided.  The self-published books?  No way to know.

This is not any kind of dig at self-publishing. 

This is only a reflection of one reader, one voracious reader of books across many genres and her realization that there are many more books to read than hours in a life to read them.  So, writers (looks to self as well), do what you need to do in order to make your stories more than worth the investment in time for your readers.


  1. Lately I've been reading a greater number of traditionally-published books that could be so much better. I'm less frustrated by a good book that lives up to its potential than I am by a good book that could have been (should have been) great.

    It's good to know I'm not alone in this experience.

  2. LJ -

    Thanks for the post. I've been reading more independent fiction as well, and no doubt some are not well edited. Unfortunately, I think the Kindle is creating a gold rush mentality and some folks are rushing to the creek with their pans in hand. The good thing is they are being called out in Amazon reviews when the writing is sloppy, the spelling and grammar is incorrect.

    I have faith that the writers who do work hard at the craft, revise continually, and have their mss polished by a professional editor, will eventually find a following. It just may take time!



  3. @Johanna nice to be in such good company. :)

    @Jim No matter what route to publishing we choose, we need to be patient and only put our best work out there. Working hard to resist the gold rush mentality, as you so aptly put it.

  4. Don't have much to add. Just wanted to say great post!

  5. Great post. I agree that many self published authors definitely don't seem to belong to a critique group. Fortunately I have found a great one in my area. I don't think it's just self published books that are lacking though, I've started to read many books lately that have had grammar errors and were sadly lacking and those were from traditional and well known publishers. quite a few I've given up on.