Something that has become, to me anyway, quite noticeable recently, are the comments in certain book reviews. As I expect most people do, I tend to scroll down to the reviews before I buy a book, especially if it is a new author whose title has intrigued me. For the most part, reviewers are generous souls and even if they haven’t enjoyed the story, they try to put a positive spin on their comments. Obviously, there are some who will hate a book, for whatever reason and that is their right – although this doesn’t, necessarily, make it a bad book.
As a new writer, I appreciate more than ever, the blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating, in your own eyes at least, a masterpiece. The hours spent on research; in producing backgrounds for all your characters; in developing the storyline; in setting the scenes; choosing the place, the era, the clothes, the houses, the politics, the culture, the list goes on.
Then, after weeks of banging away on the keyboard, fighting writer’s block, waking at ungodly hours because a plot line just has to be pinned down, and forgetting to eat – you finish. There it is – 100,000 words or so drawn, in some cases, kicking and screaming from your imagination. You set it aside for a couple of days then begin the long haul of proofreading.
After you think you have edited it within an inch of its life, you ask one or two trusted (and responsible) friends/colleagues to read it for you, just to ensure it isn’t actually a load of drivel. Finally, after doing your absolute best to try to make it as perfect as possible, you upload it to one of the sales platforms in the hope that people are captivated by the synopsis and buy it. Waiting for the first review is a nightmare, this could make or break it, others will read it and decide whether you are an author worth trying or should be avoided at all costs. It’s gut wrenching.
So far so good, your reviews are mostly positive, then horror of horrors someone complains about the grammar or your syntax or your style or your spelling. If I’m honest, I too find it disconcerting when I read a book that looks as though the writer/editor didn’t really care about the final product. If you haven’t tried to proof your manuscript at all, or haven’t had someone else check it, then you may deserve some criticism.
The price of professional proofreaders
Now this is a bit of a sticky issue. I have noticed that, on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, some people go on and on (and on) about getting your work professionally proofed and edited. Yes, I agree it is vital that your work should be presented in as professional a manner as possible, which is all fine and dandy until you look into the costs of these services. Some writers might be fortunate enough to have a friend who has proofreading experience and is happy to check their work, but I imagine that many indie/self-published authors are not so lucky.
Not long ago, I had occasion to check the costs of proofing and it is staggering. Ranging from $15/1,000 words to $30/1,000 words, or some offer an hourly rate, somewhere between $20 and $60/hour (usually presuming 1,500 words/hour, which does leave it rather open to exploitation). I accept that this is someone’s livelihood and they deserve a decent income along with the rest of us, but herein lies a problem for self-publishing writers.
My books tend to be around 80-110,000 words, making for me the average cost for proofing around AUS$1,000. A huge amount when you take into account that the majority of self-published authors will never make that sum of money on all of their books, never mind the one they are trying to get proofed.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. I discovered Word Refiner through twitter, an excellent proof-reading service and most affordable. Moreover, there are ‘pages’ on Facebook, offering free beta reading, and seem legitimate. I know a few fellow authors who have found them to be eminently satisfactory. Of course, any beta readers need to be interested in the genre in which you write and, more importantly, have the time to scrutinise your manuscript thoroughly.
Further, even books released through reputable publishers are not always as well edited as they could be. It makes me wonder whether far too much reliance is being placed on the ability of whichever word refining application the manuscript is run through to pick out mistakes that are then, never re-checked. Quite frankly, if I followed every suggestion Word offered me, my books would resemble a Scrabble board.
So – yes, I’m getting to my point – please, do review our books. For the most part reviews are awesome! They are what attract others to our work; it is the number of good reviews that increase our rating within particular genres and, if you are listed on Amazon, reviews are what get you a recommendation. All I’m asking, is that you remember what went into a book, and that sometimes there may be mistakes. Sure – give feedback on such things, but do it constructively. You might be at a distance when you write your review, but the phrase the pen is mightier than the sword was coined for a reason and the nibs of the most benign looking pens can still cut.