Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why I *don't* read your ebooks

I love to read. I’ve been doing so, to paraphrase my Drill Sergeant from Basic Training, “since Custer was a corporal.” Well, maybe not that long, but ever since I was a small boy. I consider myself an expert in the field and have read most genres.

Most of the ebooks I download are so poorly written that I can survive only a few pages before my eyes start bleeding and my brain threatens to severely hurt me if I don’t stop. In short, I just wind up tossing the thing into the recycle bin unread.

And that’s really too bad because some of them have a great deal of promise. Their failing is that they are too convoluted or the grammar and spelling and punctuation are simply repulsive. Either way, I toss ‘em.

With that said, understand that I can, and do, tolerate minor gaffes (we all suffer the plague of the occasional typo, even the masters). Minor mistakes escape even the most eagle-eyed proofreader. The problem is when those minor errors become too numerous or too egregious.
Life is just far too short to waste any of it trying to figure out what some uncaring or ignorant semiliterate is trying to say. There are just too many well-written books to be discovered and reveled in.

This leads me to ask a question: why do you write? What do you want to achieve with all that arduous and sometimes agonizing work? I’m not looking for the common reasons such as “to make money” (yeah, as if indie authors are all rich snobs) or “to become famous” (same rationale), but why, at the core of it, do you write?

I do so for a number of reasons. I write because putting words on paper fulfills something within me. I write to explore emotions or human existence or simply to entertain. Most of us do. But even that’s not the underlying purpose. We write to communicate something to others. That’s the crux, the foundation for putting all that ink onto paper. Minus that, we wouldn't bother.
And readers read because they want to see our message, whatever it is. That’s the way of it. Whether that something is an exposé of the latest political shenanigans or how to succeed in whatever or simply to be entertained by the antics of the latest crop of zombies, vampires, and other beasties that go bump in the night, people read our work to “hear” our message.

We have an obligation, then, to our readers to present our case to them in such a way that they can understand us. That means we must—we absolutely must—adhere to the established norms of grammar, punctuation, and spelling (actual or contextual). If we don’t do that rigorously, if we simply rely on spell-check (that and grammar-check are surely the work of the devil and the very worst things ever foisted off on us), if we don’t bother re-reading and checking our writing for ourselves (or at least hiring a competent editor to do it for us), then we have failed in our goal to communicate. Just that.

We have failed ourselves as communicators and we have failed our readers who really do want to see what we have to say—they did just buy our book, after all. Readers will remember that and will simply not bother spending their money on us. Gods know there are plenty other authors out there to sample.

If we write fiction, poorly written books also fail our characters. They have stories to tell and if people won’t read those stories, then those characters might as well have never bothered telling them in the first place.

Now, if you’re writing in dialect (such as my recent book Tales of the Painted Door II: Wallace), that’s different, but even dialect has rules and if those rules are violated, then we have again failed miserably.

If you don’t know the proper use of a word or when to put a comma, that’s what competent editors are for. Even more important, you can learn these things. There are any number of texts and resource materials covering all aspects of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, some of them even online. All you need to do is take the time and find the gumption to get them, read them, and learn them. It’s not that difficult.

I’m sure there are those who will call me a grammar-nazi. First, that is a silly term, coined by those who have absolutely no idea what a real Nazi was. Second, if my demanding that writers follow simple rules so as to make their message clear (regardless of the message they deliver), then I will gladly ‘fess up to being one. It saddens me to see so many who apparently don’t care enough about their readers—some of these people even brag about never using punctuation because “it’s boring”—and they foist their illiterate garbage off onto us and expect us to actually pay money for the privilege.

So, if you are thinking I am angry, you're right. I am angry…and disappointed that so many otherwise compelling and worthy stories wind up in the trash just because the writer didn't take the time to learn the how of writing before publishing.



  1. I second this post, in all manners. And David, I'm glad you wrote it. Independent publication has allowed a proliferation of poorly written and badly edited stories to waste time, mine, yours, and others. Smashwords' Mark Coker likes to say the cream will rise to the top, but there is a lot of sludge in that journey. I don't know if new writers care to take the time; the cranky old lady in me says those whippersnappers don't give a fig for rules and decorum. But I won't bother to read a tale unless it's presented with a modicum of respect for the reader.

    Again, thanks for this post. It got a lot off of my chest!

  2. I absolutely, 100% agree! Thank you for so eloquently stating what I have been thinking for quite some time :)


  3. Thank you for your kind review of my short story Twisted Sisters. I trust you're not too disappointed with the ending, for I do indeed plan on more for Jim Nash. It was fun to write him as a modern pulp fiction character. I'm looking forward to developing the various story lines introduced in Twisted Sisters.

    I'm struggling to find my writing voice as evidenced by several of my longer short stories. I'll keep at it, though. Practice makes better - if you'll pardon the fractured homily - because perfect is a long way down the road for the likes of me.

    Thanks again,
    Peter Duke

  4. Peter,

    You are most welcome. And I assure you I am not *too* disappointed; in fact, I was hoping the cliff-hanging was intentional. I very much look forward to reading more about Jim Nash.

    Ah, perfection, the artist's Fountain of Youth. There's nothing wrong with seeking it - all artists worthy of the title do so relentlessly, even knowing deep down that, like immortality, they'll never achieve it. Like so many things, it's not the achieving of the thing that matters, it's the quest for the thing. So don't put yourself down. I assure you you are better than a great many others. I salute you for that.

    If you would like to correspond, I'd love to hear from you again. You're welome to email me at anytime.

    Dave Keith