Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Don't insult your reader....

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

....unless you want a scathing review.

When I invest money in a bank, I want a great return.

When I invest time in a book, I want an even greater return. I can't pull my time back out and invest it somewhere else if I'm not happy. That time has gone forever.

I'm insulted when an author cheats me of my time and persuades me to invest in an unworthy product. I'm not talking about taste; there are plenty of books I don't like, and it's not because they're bad. It's because the author is lazy, or maybe they're just pressed for time. So am I.

Lazy writing is easy to spot. It comes in the form of filler to pad the page count, repeated use of words, recycling a sentence, repetitive cogitations, rehashing an old plot, stereotypical characters. The list goes on. If you haven't got enough content for a novel, make it a short story and don't waste your readers' time. Or your own.

Don't insult your readers' intelligence. Don't use big words and pull me out of the story when I have to set the book down to get a thesaurus and look it up. Because I will. And that big word had better be used in the right context.

Build my confidence in your writing. If you use a big word and then include a sentence to explain what that word means, I'll assume you didn't know it either. And it will undermine my confidence in your writing, not to mention insult my intelligence as a reader.

If you have discursive tendencies in real life, don't bring them into your novel. Time is valuable, and short. Don't describe your book as an immersive provocative novel when the only sense it stimulates is irritation. Don't be a sloth between the sheets. Unless you want a scathing review. I wrote one last week for a lazy writer who undermined my confidence and insulted my intelligence, not to mention the poor return on my investment.


  1. Jenny - you nailed this one! Thanks for saying what many of us voracious readers have been thinking about. Since I read 300- 400 books a year, in tree book and e-books form, that means I spend some bucks on books. I don't want to feel wasteful or cheated when I can't finish a book because it insults my intelligence. And it's not like I set the bar very high!
    If a writer gives me a well thought out good story, I will do my part as a reader and refer that books to others, white a review or even invite that authors to speak on my radio show.

    Well done!
    Pam Stack

    1. Thank you, Pam. I read and review for a professional organization and the standard of books is generally very high. Writers are harder to please and are often harsher in their critiques than most; however, lazy writing is easy to spot and an insult to any reader.

  2. Gee, Girlfriend, cranky much? Kidding. I agree, for all the sweating a lot of us do to make every word count, to "leave out the stuff most readers skip", there's THAT writer, who maybe has a great premise, but can't see the work through. It's like horse riding - you work your tush off to make it look effortless.

    I once had a conversation with someone who was "going to write a book some day" (I put those quotes as a challenge, not to mock anyone who says those words). They stated that they had all the key scenes thought out and would just stick filler in between.

    I smiled and changed the subject.

    1. Ha, good idea, Gayle.

      Definitely not cranky - I'd had my coffee and chocolate before I posted :-)

      Normally, I'd stop reading if the book was so bad, but I was obligated to finish this particular book and write an honest review. It was filled with many flaws, and read like a condescending lecture.

  3. I like the occasional unusual word, so that doesn't bother me when I'm reading. I even enjoy using the occaisional unusual word when I write. Different tastes…

    What I'm grateful for is that I no longer review and can simply set poorly written books aside. The books I don't like don't have to consume more of my time than they already have.

    After struggling to read a book I really wanted to like, I finally allowed myself the freedom to pull my bookmark out of it last night and move on. I felt a little sad, but there was just no way I wanted to invest any more time.

    1. Unusual words used in the right context are fine. It's when an author picks a fancy alternative that carries a different meaning than the one they intended that bothers me. Fortunately, most of the books I review for NYJB are of high standard and a pleasure to read.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly, Jen. I have less time to read books, now that I'm writing them and find myself putting one down as soon as I see many of the things you've mentioned. Life is just too short to waste on bad (or even mediocre) books. If an author can't take time to hire a good editor for his book, then I don't have time to read it.

    1. Quite right, Drew. I find it insulting when an author pushes out crap and think it's okay to waste the readers time. When I'm not under obligation to finish and write a review, I also put it down and move on as soon as I see signs of lazy writing.

  5. Whoa! Steam and volcanic ash!
    I felt that justified rant across the ether. And since you had to finish the book, you couldn't just toss it into the nearest black hole or plasma soup.
    All the comments above ring true. But when I see writing that bad, I always ask - where's the editor? Even (especially?!) if a book is independently published, it needs an editor. (Jodie, take that as a plug and pitch if you like.)
    Lazy writing IS an insult. Like I tell my students - if you don't care about it, why should I? And such lazy writing is a scam and a con.
    I will now back away slowly from the keyboard.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Hehe, thanks for commenting, David. Thankfully, I haven't had to write many scathing reviews. I'll admit this particular book was a struggle.


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