Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen! BlueInk Review details common self-publishing writing gaffes
By Camilla Sterne

“Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!” is part of a series of BlueInk Review blogs offering advice and insight into self-published writers’ most common errors, as seen in the more than 2,000 reviews of self-published books that we have provided since our inception in 2011. Below, we have compiled excerpts from our more unfortunate reviews, each of which exposes common writing blunders.

So what makes the bad review rear its dreaded, beastly head? Here are some traps you should avoid at all costs:

Writing rife with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors:

The fact that this is at the top of the list is both discouraging and heartening.

Discouraging because, let’s face it writers, a book should be free of all spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors long before it’s reviewed or even published. Heartening, because this is one of the simplest problems to remedy.

Mechanical errors can detract from the plot by forcing readers to wade through a veritable pool of inaccuracies in an attempt to decipher meaning. Don’t punish your supporters for reading your book; reward them with flawless mechanics.

Simply put: Hire a professional copy editor. And when he/she is finished, don’t rest easy. Proofread, my friends, proofread.

Here’s a sample of what our critics have said on the subject in various reviews:

“More frustrating, however, is the inundation of spelling and punctuation errors in the novel, specifically the incorrect use of the question mark, which is employed improperly in countless sentences. The seeming lack of any proofreading leads to an exasperating reading experience that is made even more challenging by a storyline that is disjointed, aimless, and, at times, self-indulgent.”

“Minor editing and punctuation errors mar the otherwise smooth writing.”

“Unfortunately, the book appears not to have felt the copy editor’s touch, as it is riddled with errors in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, possessives, plurals, homonyms and use of quotation marks.”

Flat and uninteresting characters:

Unrealistic or flat characters frequently dissatisfy our reviewers. And why shouldn’t they? Ask yourself about the sort of people you’re writing about. Are they stereotypical? Do they lack depth? Are their actions unexplained? If so, it’s better to revise than publish.

Sit down and make character profiles.  Think of each character’s quirks, fears, aspirations, weaknesses and strengths. Make sure logical motivations continuously drive your characters.

Last word: Get up-close and personal with the characters you are developing.

“… [the author’s] characters aren’t particularly interesting or sympathetic, especially the women, who seem to have little in the way of dignity or self-awareness.”

“The bad guys in these stories are so bad, and the good guys so upstanding, that [the author’s] characterizations seem sanctimonious.”

“The overall character development is superficial at best — and without fully realized, emotionally compelling characters, the story is ultimately flat and unengaging.”

Overall inconsistency:

Plot threads that disappear, accidentally altered names, changed tenses, unintentionally fickle points of view— all of these things can make a book cumbersome and confusing, even baffling.

Why should a reader follow the narrative if its author can’t? Get your facts straight.

Outlines or timelines can be particularly beneficial in maintaining the reliability and uniformity of a work. Pick a tense, and stick with it. When you proofread for mechanics, simultaneously proofread for consistency.

Tip: Draw a web. Does everything connect? Where are the loose ends?

“[The author] also changes points of view in scenes throughout the book. These problems, combined with her tendency to switch from the third-person, limited narrative to second-person narrative, makes the book an extremely difficult read.”

“The story, written in a conversational tone, holds the reader’s interest, but lacks drama and sometimes misplaces details… In addition, there are occasional misspellings and one big error: The widow’s baby’s name is changed from Holly in the first reference to Amy some 20 pages later.”

“The third-person narrative wobbles from overall omniscient to third-person-limited, and there are jarringly abrupt shifts in time and place.”

These are just a few common mistakes, but stay tuned for more “Oh, the Mistakes We’ve Seen!” blogs. To receive them in your inbox, just sign up for our newsletter.

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BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com

Camilla Sterne is a senior at the University of Denver, where she studies creative writing and media studies. She is a freelance writer at the Boulder Weekly, and assistant lifestyles editor at the DU Clarion. She was BlueInk’s Summer 2013 Intern.