Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Rant - Check Your Facts

One of my pet peeves is egregious factual errors in a book – particularly if the book is a mystery, where the reader is assumed to be reasonably intelligent, well versed, and actively looking for clues. At times, I have found errors of fact to be so annoying to me that I immediately stop reading and get rid of the book. Now and then, if the writing is really good, I conditionally forgive the author and finish the book.

I was really surprised and even shocked to spot what I felt like were four major, obvious, glaring errors in a book today. All of them within a hundred pages altogether. This is a book by a very well known mystery writer whom I will not name. I am a big fan of hers, and normally when I get my hands on one of her books I drop everything else I might be reading and read it through. Right up front, in this book, she thanks her great team of editors, readers, agent, publisher – and she has all the resources and power of a big publishing house that (I should hope) gives her all the support she may need. After all, the first two pages of the book are taken up with a list of the thirty books (and counting) she has published through them.

So what the heck happened here?

Before I jumped to conclusions, I wanted to be sure of the facts. So I sat down at my little computer and checked those facts so far as I was able. The first three are indisputably mistakes – and I knew this within the 25 minutes it took for dinner to cook. Does this rich and famous author not have the Internet? Or has she somewhere down the line gotten lazy, or no longer cares. Maybe she thinks that because of her fame, she will be forgiven, or she figures her lapses will be ignored by her readers because of the other good points of her writing. Maybe she thinks that with thirty good books it doesn’t matter if she cranks out a dud now and then. None of the facts are particularly obscure – I knew them off the top of my head. Some of them aren’t common knowledge necessarily, but you would think someone in the business of writing mysteries would have at least a passing knowledge of certain police and court procedures.

Now for the last fact – I discovered that it is true. But I’m still pissed about it. Because it is a cop out on the line of “then she woke up and found it was all a dream”. IF this premise is to be used – then it would really be a great thing to go deeply into, the causes, the little bit we know about it, the psychology of it (well, duh, you know I’m into all that abnormal psychology stuff), but instead it is being used as a band-aid for a situation that the author is too lazy to bother truly exploring.

I was already disappointed with the book. Every chapter has at least one of the most boring, stock platitudes written into the mind or speech of at least one character. Let no chapter escape a cliché. Or two. Or three. And this isn’t characterization – it isn’t one person who steadily plops these out so you can see “Oh, this is someone who memorizes sayings instead of actually thinking”. It’s everyone in this book. I’ve cringed several times and I’m barely half way through. Didn’t I read a blog post recently about not using clichés and platitudes? Something us unedjukated unedited self-published authors got to watch out for?

And if that wasn’t enough, the heroine is a complete fucking idiot. Now, heroines do dumb stuff. Of course they do. If they didn’t do dumb stuff and get themselves into ridiculous situations what on earth would us authors write about? But this broad is dumb on the level of horror film blonds – “I hear a noise. I should run outside naked and barefoot and investigate all alone” CHOMP Sadly, there seems to be no hope that something will eat or at least kill this idiot heroine. I am beginning to wish something or someone would.

The only explanation I can come up with is the author is tired of the genre, had a contract to fulfill, and a deadline looming. Because seriously, this book is not worthy of her. Not only am I not able (or interested enough) to finish it, it makes me wonder if I should bother picking up any of her newer books as they come out.

I am glad I am a self-published author. My last personal deadline passed over two weeks ago – and I let it go because I had some major personal life issues that required my attention. I don’t have a contract, and if (and when) I get tired of a genre I can switch, and switch again, and switch back. No one tells me what to write.

The downside is, of course, that I have no team of editors, fact checkers, illustrators, publicists, first readers and so on behind me to catch my factual errors. I have a couple of first readers who are really good at it (thank you, both of you, you know who you are), and yes indeed, I am very thankful for them. If I have any doubts about a fact, I check it myself to the best of my ability. I’m such a perfectionist about it that it is really the reason behind why I don’t write historical fiction – too afraid I’ll make a big effin’ mistake and die of embarrassment over it.

If you ever find a fact that is incorrect in one of my books or stories – please let me know. I WANT to know, and I promise I will either show you my source that said it was correct, OR I’ll go back and change it and I will never, ever make that same mistake again. I would not want to lose a reader the way this author – a former favorite of mine – is about to lose one.


Summer Foovay


  1. I have found this numerous times in various books. I usually just keep reading--in hopes somewhere down the line the mistake is somehow explained. However--like you said--inevitably if I find it not to be corrected, my opinion of the book is pretty low. I have NOT seen that from an author with all the sorts of backers you described though.

    Great Post!!

  2. Interesting. Perhaps she figures since it is fiction, it doesn't matter if the facts aren't accurate. Interesting that her team of flunkies didn't catch the discrepancies.


  3. Oh God, now I'm DYING to know what book that is!! Ha ha...but I know what you mean. First, for me, I have to admit I don't usually get to caught up with errors like that too much, although it's been known to happen. But for me, my biggest frustration happens when the writer keeps peddling this ending for you AND THEY DON'T DELIVER!!! I'm always a fan of twists and surprise endings...BUT for example, if a writer keeps implying that these two characters will end up together and they DON'T, then there must be a damn good reason for it, BESIDES the b.s. of...oh it wasn't meant to be.

    Ah, I'm fired up now. You've inspired to work on my book. :)

  4. Yeah, that kind of thing bugs me. I'm in the middle of a book by a well known author and he's messed up the pronouns twice already.

  5. Langley - somehow it is more annoying when it is someone big and famous. If someone new or self-published makes a few errors, I'm inclined to be more forgiving, knowing how easy it is to read something over and over and still miss something when it is just one set of eyes. But the only advantage I see to a big publishing house these days is having editors and checkers to help out with that.

    Nicole - GOOD! What more could I ask for than to inspire!


Living on the down low

If you are one of the few brave souls who have been with me for lo these many years of blogging and writing and webpage designing, wow, I l...