An American Editor

July 9, 2012

On Books: The Agony of Reading Franz McLaren’s Clarion of Destiny

One thing I hate about article titles is that they are length limited and thus tend to sweep with broad strokes. Such is the case with this title.

This is the partial saga of my encounter with an 8-volume fantasy series called “Clarion of Destiny,” written by Franz S. McLaren. The series begins with Home Lost, which is available free at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, as well as at other ebooksellers. I admit that I enjoyed Home Lost. I found the characters interesting and the story engrossing. Alas, I also found the repeated misuse of words distracting and annoying. But given that the book is free, it is still worthy of 4 stars.

The agony arises with the second volume, To Save Elderon. As soon as I finished Home Lost, I logged into my B&N account and looked for the next book. I found To Save Elderon, but was a bit taken aback by the price — $3.99. It is not that the price is high; rather, it is that it is high if this volume suffers from the same problems that the first volume did. The higher the price of the book, the less tolerant I am of fundamental spelling and grammar errors, errors that would have been caught and corrected by a professional editor.

Yet I had enjoyed the first book enough that I really did want to continue with the story, so, after hesitating over the price for a few seconds, I took the plunge and bought the book. After having read the second volume (which I rate at 2.5 to 3 stars), I was simultaneously sorry and pleased – the all-too-often agony and ecstasy of the indie book. Again, the story is intriguing, the characters interestingly developed, and I want to go on to the third book – yet I am not. I have decided that at $3.99 I should not be continuously insulted by language misuse.

How do I know I will be so abused? Smashwords offers sample previews of each of the volumes. Every volume suffers from the same illness: an author who seems not to know what either a dictionary or a grammar guide is for or how to use it. The only thing that could make this worse is if it turned out that McLaren was a public school English teacher.

How many times can I accept, for example, forth for fourth, there for their, were for where, then for than? McLaren writes disburse when he means disperse, to long ago when he means too long ago, that when he means who, cloths when he means clothes. And the list goes on, almost without end. I’m not convinced that he knows what purpose the apostrophe serves, because so many possessives lack one (e.g., the mornings work rather than the morning’s work) — perhaps a better way to say it is that too few (what should be) possessives include an apostrophe. And let’s not delve too deeply into the missing hyphenation in compounds or the missing commas, both of which ensure a struggle for readability and comprehension.

I need also mention that the author does a sloppy job of remembering his own characters’ names. The fairy Uwi becomes Renee before returning to Uwi; Niki becomes Nike and then Niki again. This problem of getting character names wrong happens several times with several characters throughout the series.

This is a case study of a good series that desperately needs attention from a professional editor. The story is intriguing and for a fantasy buff like me, even compelling, except for the necessary slogging through illiteracy. For free or 99¢, I can accept a lot of insult; for seven volumes at $3.99 each, my tolerance is very limited.

I grant that for a good story, $3.99 is not a lot to pay. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay it, but there has to be a convergence of good writing, good editing, and good story for me to shell out $3.99 seven times just to get a complete story. (It is not that each of the first two volumes cannot stand on their own; they can. Rather, it is that each tells only a part of the adventure and all eight volumes need to be read to get that complete adventure.) Those of you who have been reading An American Editor for a while know that I praise the writing of some indie authors, such as Vicki Tyley, Shayne Parkinson, and L.J. Sellers. I would not hesitate to buy one of their books at $4.99, let alone at the $2.99 that they charge, because their books are well-written, well-edited, and well-told stories. They use the correct words and understand the importance of punctuation.

It is the well-edited that is the missing leg in McLaren’s “Clarion of Destiny” series, which, when combined with a “high” price, causes the discerning reader to agonize over whether or not to read indie books. Unfortunately, it is books like McLaren’s that give a bad reputation to all indie books – at least among readers who care about grammar, spelling, and word choice. The most common statement I see on various forums regarding indie books is that the commenter won’t buy them because the quality too often is poor. I buy them knowing that of 10 indie books, only one or two will be readable or worth reading. I don’t mind having to separate the wheat from the chaff, but that is also why I won’t spend more than 99¢ on an introduction to a new indie author and I prefer that the first book from an unknown author be free.

What I do mind, however, is to find an author who spins a good story — a story worth reading and recommending — but who is so careless with language, yet wants a higher price for his or her stories, that the story cannot overcome the barrage of insults the reader needs to absorb. The point is that the lower the price the author asks, the more tolerant the reader should be; conversely, the higher the price the author asks, the less tolerant the reader should be!

So, now I am in a quandary over McLaren’s “Clarion of Destiny” series. I am inclined to reward the author for writing a good story, one that holds my interest. Simultaneously, I am disinclined to reward the author for his apparent indifference to the fundamentals of good writing — correct language use and grammar. The asking price of $3.99 is probably the fulcrum point where the competing inclination and disinclination are at balance. I am certain in my mind that were the asking price $4.99, I would not have even considered buying the second book in the series; at $3.99 it was an OK gamble, albeit a gamble that I lost as the misuse got worse. It is also clear to me that because the story is as good as it is, were the price $1.99, I would hesitate but I would buy.

I am aware that $2 is not a lot of money in the scheme of things. For me, it is not so much about the $2 as it is about the message I send when I spend that $2. Buying the seven books at the $3.99 price tells the author that his misuse of grammar and language is OK. Is that really the message I want to send?

As I said, $3.99 is, for me, the point of balance between inclination and disinclination. I am undecided as to what I will do. For now, I will set aside McLaren’s “Clarion of Destiny” and move on to other books and series. In a month or two, if I still remember the series, I’ll revisit the issue. If I remember the series, it will be a sign that I should spend the money; if I forget about the series, my not spending the money was a wise decision for me.

Regardless of what I ultimately do, I think the time is rapidly coming when indie authors who do not want to simply give all their work away for free need to encourage readers to buy their books by ensuring that they are well-written, well-edited, and have a compelling narrative – the three legs that form the support for success.

7 Comments »

  1. Some people are literary snobs about genre; I’m a literary snob about technical quality.

    As an editor and reviewer, I often handle indie books, and most times they contain a great story that’s poorly executed. In a paid editing job, I clean up the technicalities to the extent allowed by the terms of the agreement, make the author look as good as possible, and hope for the best. In a review, I’ll mention shoddy editing or proofreading if the bloopers add up to some critical mass that interferes with my ability to concentrate on the story. (One must apply a double standard when working with advance reading copies, even from traditional publishers, and hope there’s a proofreader down the chain.)

    The one time I judged an indie book contest, however, I was mean. All but two or three entrants in the category I judged were sloppy and amateur, most of the stories trite and boring. Conversely, all could have been good novels if the authors had invested the time to learn their craft or the money to have somebody help them. I rated all the books low and had a terrible time ranking them against each other. What put me off from ever judging such a contest again was not only the misery of the reading experience, but also the hostility generated by other judges and contest organizers when I asked pointed or difficult questions about the importance of technical quality.

    My reluctant impression is that in the indie community, story is sacred and everything else is unimportant. If it weren’t for the indie authors I know personally, who are knocking themselves out trying to write good books, and who have indeed written them but can’t get published by traditional/big houses because they don’t fit the marketplace, then I would diss the indie community wholescale as the slush pile incarnate. Instead, I welcome this new channel that makes it possible for anyone to get their work out there in whatever form. I’m one of them, so I know both sides of the fence.

    But I save my purchasing dollars for professionally written, edited, and produced books.

    Comment by Carolyn — July 9, 2012 @ 6:37 am | Reply

  2. Your patience and disposable income must be greater than mine, McLaren won’t be getting any of my ebook dollars.

    Comment by theoriginalbookdoctor — July 9, 2012 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  3. With so many good freelance editors out there, I believe that there is no excuse for glaring grammar and spelling errors, no matter what the selling price. (An e-book need be no different that way than print books produced by traditional publishers, in my opinion.) In fact, I have no use for any book that suffers from a lack of a basic structural and stylistic edit. Carolyn, you are not in any way a snob. Why should we, as readers, put up with trite, boring, sloppy or amateurish work, when a writer could have shown her/his manuscript respect and hired an editor?

    Comment by Carolyn Pisani — July 9, 2012 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  4. How many times can I accept, for example, forth for fourth, there for their, were for where, then for than?

    You’re actually a lot more tolerant than I am.

    I really hope Franz McLaren reads your post and takes to heart everything you have said. From the sound of it, he is a gifted storyteller and is only let down by his editing. While it isn’t mandatory that a writer be an expert wordsmith and editor, it is important that s/he employs someone who is. It can only make the story better.

    Comment by Vicki — July 10, 2012 @ 2:50 am | Reply

    • Actually, Vicki, to McLaren’s credit, he not only read my article but called me to discuss the problems and asked for information on finding a professional editor.

      Comment by americaneditor — July 10, 2012 @ 5:26 am | Reply

      • That’s great to hear.

        Comment by Vicki — July 10, 2012 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  5. [...] It is these authors and ebooks for whom I feel most sorry. It is clear to me that they failed to invest in their book after they completed the manuscript, or if they did invest, they did not invest wisely. Yet, they clearly have a topnotch tale to tell. A good example of this paradox is Franz McLaren’s Clarion of Destiny series, which I reviewed in On Books: The Agony of Reading Franz McLaren’s Clarion of Destiny. [...]

    Pingback by On Books: Gatekeeping eBooks « An American Editor — December 5, 2012 @ 4:01 am | Reply


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