Life Between the Pages: Editing CAN Make or Break a Book, but Sometimes the Story Shines Through

I love reading self-published books. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. Sometimes it’s fairly standard for the genre; sometimes it’s unexpected. Sometimes the writing is quite conventional; sometimes it’s unusual.

In general, though, I’ve found the books I don’t hate and/or abandon usually fall into one of 3 categories for me:

  • Well edited, but the story isn’t compelling. Simply put, it’s not my cup of tea.
  • Poorly edited, but the story or premise is fascinating.
  • Well edited with a fascinating story.

I love the books that fall into the last category. This is Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett, The Lot of a Nobody by Dave Johnston, and The Adventure by Jennifer M. Zeiger. I love not having anything to say about the writing because it means I can just immerse myself in the story.

The books in the first category are like The Lifespan of Rabbits by Robert Tucker (review of this political fairy tale pending). They’re well-written, but I just can’t connect with the story. These are the ones where I shrug and say it just wasn’t for me.

The books that fall in the middle category stab me in the heart. There’s so much promise and I love the story so much, but the rough writing, lack of polish, and/or poor editing makes it hard to read. This is Cuteness Overlord by Mike Aaron, Life in River Hallow by Teresa Grabs, and Elithius: The Red Captain by Dominic Sceski. These are the books where editing can make or break a book, but they are also books where I can see the story shining through and think they deserve a chance.

Good editing has the power to put the reader’s focus on the story being told rather than on how the story is told. The reader doesn’t get bogged down in the mechanics of the writing or gets thrown out of the story by it. Instead, they can sit back and enjoy the story, immersing themselves into a sweeping adventure. Honestly, some readers can probably do this anyways and chalk the poor editing up to the book being self-published, but I have a hard time ignoring the writing. When the writing is really good, though, when it’s been well-edited, I don’t even focus on how it was written; I just get to jump in to the story and stay there.

Poor editing can get in the way of the storytelling. As I said before, this may not be true for every reader, but it’s definitely true for me. If I have to read a sentence, paragraph, or whole page over again because I don’t get it due to the poor writing, then I get frustrated and wonder if I’m wasting my time. If the writer can’t be bothered to ensure their writing is clear, then why should I be bothered to read it? Okay, sorry. I’m letting my general frustration show here, but I think it’s important for writers to know. Poor editing can result in a lower quality story or something that simply reads as juvenile due to a young or inexperienced writer. The story might not actually be clear to anyone other than the writer, and maybe a few close friends and family members who rave about it. As a reader, I don’t want to be continually searching back through the text because reading something makes me think I missed something. I’ll just end up confused. When I get confused, I lose faith in the story and it’s quality. And then I just stop reading. Whatever the writer had in mind might have been brilliant, but it’s all about the execution. If a story isn’t told well, it’s poorly done. Simple.

But sometimes – sometimes – the story manages to shine through the poor writing and editing. These are the books in my middle category. They are why I love self-published books.

ContraDictation by Adam West is one of these. You won’t find my review of it, and there isn’t one pending. The writing was atrocious, but the story was more than fascinating. It’s simple: contradict yourself and wink out of existence. I loved the idea so much, I just said goodbye to the writing and focused on the story. Definitely a 4 cups of tea book, but I have no immediate plans to write a review. Why? Because the author recognized his poor writing and fully intends on better editing his two subsequent books. I’m very much looking forward to their publication.

Getting past poor editing can be difficult. I know it’s very easy for me to get bogged down in it and become frustrated with the writing where I can’t give the story a fair shot. But sometimes I come across a remarkable story. It’s different. It’s unique. There’s an intriguing quality to it. My mind latches onto it and won’t let go. There’s something special about the story and the raw way the author presents it. The editing is amazingly bad, but I can read past it to find an absolute gem of a book. I live for these books.

Those middle category books have the potential to be amazing, if only the writing and editing were better. It’s books like those that make me want to be an editor (but who would trust an untested avid reader who is so busy with 2 kids that one read-through would take a month?). I want other readers to love the same gem. But readers can be tough. Mix up your tenses enough, lose plot lines, kill off an already dead character, and confuse periods and commas and they’re through. I’ve seen reviews that rave about the book despite the poor writing. But I also see an equal or greater number of reviews murdering the book because of the lack of editing.

Readers look for an immersive experience. Take that away with poor editing and they might wash their hands of it. Editing can make or break a book. Some readers can still find the gem of a story, but others can’t.

Have or know of a gem of a book? Please send it my way!

14 Comments

  • jennifermzeiger

    Editing makes a huge difference for me when I’m reading a book! Like you said, if the editing bumps me from the immersive experience, I struggle to get back into the story. Thank you for mentioning The Adventure =) As always, it makes my day!

    • kat

      Always happy to!

      Editing is as crucial as the writing. I’ve seen so many new writers and their books crash because they missed that and it makes me sad.

  • brookejcutler

    Gosh! I can’t believe it but I don’t think I’ve ever read a self-published book! Must remedy this. ☺️

  • theceaselessreaderwrites

    As a former English professor and sometime author, I have to admit to being a bit of a literary snob. I demand high standards of grammatical and technical excellence in any published material I read, and the deteriorating editorial standards in all varieties of print & electronic media dismay me.

    I’ve read my share of independent and self-published books and stories, and while I can certainly often appreciate the hidden gem of the narrative, too many errors in spelling, grammar, style, or structure will keep me from rating a text higher than 3 stars. There’s no excuse for laziness in writing & publishing.

    I just recently finished reading a book that is so badly written that I couldn’t stop reading because I was compelled see how much worse it would get, The God Players by Phil Valentine. I can’t wait to savage it on Goodreads and my blog.

    But I’m sooooo far behind on my reviews and have so little time…

    • kat

      I completely understand and agree. With the advent of self-publishing and ebooks, it’s possible for so many people who shouldn’t be writing books to both write and publish. There was a point when I was so discouraged by the self-published books I read that I almost gave up on reading. Like you, I commonly give poorly written and edited works a 3 or less, but the hope of finding something remarkable keeps me going. I also hope the writer will take my review to heart and do some work on it so a much better edition can be put forth.

      I agree that there shouldn’t be any laziness, but I also think many of them are young or inexperienced and are just excited about finishing a book and sharing it with the world. Though that shouldn’t be an excuse, either. I certainly wish authors would take more care with what they’re presenting to the world, but I’m also heartened by the authors who do take reviewer comments to heart and actively work to do their best to polish their work and those that take down their books.

      Isn’t it amazing that some truly dreadful books can hold our attention? There have been so many that I just wanted to put down, but, like you, I just want to see how such a poor story could possibly end.

      Best of luck catching up on your reviews. I’m convinced it’s a losing battle.

  • writerofage

    I laughed out loud when I got to the bit about ContraDictation! It was raw and true, and I dearly appreciated it. It’s one of those stories that sits there, staring at you sideways and jeering for attention.

    All mannerisms aside, you are a rare individual to be see a writer’s vision despite charasmatic editing errors! Thank you, for your efforts, your time and sharing what you’ve learned in the process! 🙏

    *the writing was atrocious* 😏🏃‍♂️🙌

    Seriously… laughed out loud.

    • kat

      I hate being so brutally honest sometimes, especially when I know the author might see my words, but I owe it to fellow readers. And sometimes I feel I just be so honest when there’s a good chance the author will see because I hope they can take it to heart and improve. Though, as a writer, I know it’s like a knife to the heart. It’s an ugly balance, but even the best of writers could use some tweaks.

      Also, your talent for the unique is wonderful! ContraDiction still owns property in my brain, and I can’t wait to get started on The Vague Ship!

      • writerofage

        I needed that more than the words I’ve to express, though blunt it is the truth, and thankfully offers me more to work towards. To me being a writer, nay a creato, means to seek expression and to refine and redefine what that means.

        Your words are taken to heart and heartily welcomed.

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