Tag Archives: style

Average is Not Good Enough

“You’ve got to shake your fists at lightning now/ You’ve got to roar like forest fire…”   Joni Mitchell (“Judgement of the Moon and Stars: Ludwig’s Tune”)

You don’t see many book reviews concluding that the book being reviewed is average.   Yet, in truth, many books are simply average and this can present a problem for a reviewer.   Think, for example, about the book reviews you’ve read recently that you remember.   I would guess that they were either extremely positive or negative; either praising or damning.

These “A” or “F” reviews almost write themselves as the reviewer is honestly answering a single question:  Why did I love – or hate – this book?   But it is a much harder task to write a review of a book that doesn’t either soar or plummet  – the “C” book that represents the much-dreaded and highly feared word in this country, average.

Sometimes this comes down to the process of editing.   Ideally, an editor should perform two tasks at once when reviewing a manuscript.   He or she should review the grammatical accuracy and, just as importantly, determine if the work has a narrative structure that is attractive and holds the reader’s interest.   There are perfectly edited books – with no typos or errors of punctuation – that merely glide down the runway but never take off, for lack of style.

I had an experience with this recently.   I received a copy of a semi-fictional novel from a first-time author.   There were no obvious errors in spelling or punctuation in the galley but the entire story read as if it were written by a newspaper reporter:  “First, I did this, then that.   Then I graduated from high school, then got married, then went into the military, then went to college.”   You’ve heard of the phrase, “Dialing it in?”

I lost all interest in the book after a few dozen pages.   I had almost no idea what to say about it so I decided not to write a review.   I am not a fan of assigning either grades or stars to books (the latter seems so trite and childish) but in this case I almost wished that I could simply say, “An average story told without style.   C-.”   Oh, well.

But there’s a lesson here, I think, for the first-time writer.   After you finish the manuscript for the Great American Novel or the Fantastic Nonfiction Survey Book, look for an editor who will apply the style test to your work.   This will, hopefully, not be a friend or family member.   Supplying this editor with the first chapter of your work should suffice.   Ask him or her one basic question, “After reading this sample chapter, did you want to read more?”   If the answer is “no,” take it as constructive criticism and work on finding your voice.

It is not sufficient in today’s highly competitive literary market to just bang out a story.   C-level books are not good enough.   If you’re going to be a true writer, an artist, you need to come up with a work that is so individual, so full of your spirit and unique voice that reviewers will either love it or hate it.

Go for the “A” or “F” and get noticed!   And by all means, avoid the cloak of invisibility that’s inevitably attached to average work.

One in a continuing series.   Pictured:  Reading Like a Writer – A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose (Harper Perennial Trade Paperback, $13.95).


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Love the Place You’re In

At Home With Laurie Ann – A Decorator’s Guide:  Turn the Place You Live Into A Home You Love

Hardcover, 224 pages, $29.95 (Laurie Ann Publishing Inc.)

At a very early age, professional Interior Designer Laurie Ann McMillin Ray developed her skill for analyzing personal style and combining it with a winning selection of design elements.   Her father was a home builder in southern California.   Laurie Ann realized that her ideas for decorating his subdivision model homes surpassed those of the seasoned professionals in the business.   To her dad’s credit, Laurie Ann was turned loose to express her ideas which enhanced the quality of the product he was selling.

Fast forward more than a few years and we encounter a businesswoman who truly knows her stuff.   Laurie Ann’s book is part expert advice, part girlfriend sharing and a whole lot of warm comfort that the reader will want to adapt to his or her own house in order to make it a home.   As Laurie Ann sees it, a home is a gathering place where every day is ideally celebrated in an environment conductive to fostering calm, joy and/or energetic sharing among friends and family.

This reviewer was most appreciative of the luscious color schemes and the thoughtful use of fabrics that create cohesive settings.   Don’t be misled by the amount of detail within each photograph.   The idea is to come away with a sense of what you like and how it might enhance your own design creativity.   By the way, Laurie Ann operates several retail establishments in southern California that are sure to spark a reader’s nesting instinct.

Most enjoyable.   Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Author Marketing Experts (AME).

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