Get What You Pay For?

One of the things I love about having a Kindle app on my iPad is the availability of books by authors who are not being published by mainstream publishers. Which is to say 99% of all authors in existence, none of whom who would otherwise be available for my reading pleasure.

Today, as it would happen, I am using the word “pleasure” euphemistically.

A lot of the free books I’ve been downloading recently are essentially self-published. And most of them, I’m sorry to say, are truly, truly awful. I blew through four during Silent Sustained Reading in class yesterday, in many cases not even making it past the first chapter. What’s worse is that in every instance, what made the book awful was entirely avoidable with just a little research or effort.

In the first one, a character was quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous movie line from Terminator 2, but it was printed like this: “Asta la vista, baby.” Seriously? You don’t even have to know Spanish to get that right. All you have to do is look up the quote on

The second made another Spanish mistake. A character in the book was a native speaker of Spanish. In speaking to her son about a female cousin, the cousin was referred to as his “primo.” Yeah, you’d have to know a (very) little Spanish to know that’s wrong, but if you don’t know even that much about Spanish, why are your main characters from Mexico? Write about something else!

A third book was set in during Prohibition, but in the first chapter, a female character refers to a male character as “hot” with very modern phrasing. C’mon, if you aren’t willing to research your subject, you have no business writing about it. “Hot” could possibly have been used to refer to a “dame” then, but not a man, and it more likely than not would have meant “stolen.” I made it all the way to the third chapter with this one because there was absolutely nothing in the first two to indicate that it was, in fact, set in the early 1930s. Up until then, I had assumed the setting was contemporary, specifically because of the modern-sounding slang. I got to the third chapter and was all “Wha–?”

With the fourth book, about three paragraphs in, I ran across the verb construct “had ran.” No, really. It said that. This book had been dedicated to the author’s writing workshop group, the members of which had allegedly read, commented on, and lovingly helped her craft every word. All I’m saying is that if nobody in your writing workshop knows the past participle of “to run,” you need another writing workshop ASAP.

So these are some of my adventures into the world of Kindle free books. The four I mention here will have to serve as cautionary tales. The thing that’s makes me sad is that each of these four novels had an interesting premise. The plot lines and ideas were worth exploring. What brought them down were the lack of research and the conventions of writing. It would be flippant, however, to write a free e-book off as simply getting what you pay for. Many other novels are full of creative ideas, tight plots, and interesting characters.

Sometime I’ll have to write about a few absolute gems I’ve found by authors who deserve a lot more than they’re probably getting. And I’ll attend to my own business once editing starts to make sure my novel falls into the latter category, rather than the former.


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