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Friday Indie Review: Remembering Love by Nadine Christian

Remembering Love is the debut novel by author Nadine Christian.  It is set on Pitcairn Island, and features some lovely descriptions of that island.  Unfortunately, that’s the best thing that can be said about this book. The main characters in the story are little more than card-board cut-outs that the author awkwardly drags around that scenery.  The book suffers from so many common first-time author mistakes (which I automatically expect a good content editor to catch) that I looked the title up, expecting it to be from a self-published author.  It’s not.

Which in all honesty, made me wonder more about the quality of the small press that published this book, rather than the writing flaws themselves. Those can be chalked up to simple inexperience.  All first-time books go to their publisher filled with weird inconsistencies that have to be hammered out.  The draft of Frog and I’s first novel was not an exception.  Had an editor worth their salt gotten their hands on this book, I’m willing to concede this story may have fallen into the “fun romp” category for me.

Sadly, that content editor did not, apparently, exist.   In fact if a content editor did exist, they did such a poor job they were not doing themselves, the publisher or the author any favors by putting this book out for public consumption in its current condition.
Onward to the problems with this book in its current incarnation:
The character reactions and motivations are only briefly explained through obvious “tells”, leaving the characters lacking in personality.   Too many scenes are nothing but exposition with the character just sitting or standing, telling us how she feels while doing absolutely nothing in particular.

Nothing drags down a book faster than the author outright instructing me how I should be feeling about a scene or event in the character’s life.  The very fact that it’s necessary means the author has failed in their number one objective to draw me inside these characters’ lives and minds.  Since this story is billed as a Romantic Suspense novel, it’s kind of important that the author be able to build up both the romance and the suspense without ineffectually swinging an exposition sledgehammer at my head.
In another rookie mistake, the flat characterizations in this book are compounded by the author’s tendency to give us very simple actions out of order.  It hard to explain without showing an example, so I will pull the first paragraph from chapter two of the book:

     Jack opened the door with a flourish, and motioned her in.  Holly found the house easily with Jack’s directions. A short walk down the unpaved, dirt roads, past the banyan trees, and up a small turn off, led to a tidy clapboard house, not unlike her own. Lights shone warmly in the windows in the twilight of the evening.

Obviously Jack can’t open the door and motion her in before she’s found his house. Chronological errors like this mean it’s also possible during the course of a scene for someone to crawl deeper into a hiding place before the reader knows the character is trying to hide, or what in the world the character might be hiding from.  The whole book is peppered with these time and place relationship problems, causing characters to randomly teleport or suddenly move forward or backward in time. Not surprisingly, errors in cause-effect relationships are another huge problem.  To wit, the characters’ feel the pain of being hit before the blow falls, or struggle to escape before being caught.

Once you look at all these problems together, it feels like this book was:
1. plucked directly from the slush pile
2. judged to be somewhat readable as-is
3. scanned for simple grammatical errors
4.  published without any of the usual polishing or refining that is a standard part of the editing process

Ultimately voiding one of the biggest benefits an author gets from going through a small press.

Now I haven’t read any other books by this publisher, but based on the condition this book is in, I was so sure that the above scenario happened that I actually googled the imprint and parent press–  Damnation Books and Eternal Press– just to see what kind of results would come up. It turns out there are multiple warnings and disgruntled authors posting about this press– all of which are easily found with a simple internet search for either Damnation Books or Eternal Press (its imprint).  These results included a “Beware” post on the Passive Voice Blog, which many folks will recognize as one of the go-to sources in the author community for news & commentary on the publishing industry from a legal perspective.  Like I said, I’ve read none of this publishers other works, and I have no idea if the contract disputes with some of their current authors are legitimate, but solely based on the condition book I just read, a bad reputation for this publisher is well justified.

I guarantee none of this is what this author wanted to hear when she sent me her book for review. And yet here we are.

Do I think that Nadine Christian is a bad author? No. While the book is very rough in its current form, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

Do I think that she had the misfortune to find a bad publisher? All the evidence seems to point that way, yes.
Which means that this review is now going to turn its focus to the all-important author self-survival technique known as: Vetting Your Publisher.  

Remember that a publisher’s ultimate goal should always be to make an author and their books look as good as possible, so they can sell more books and readers will come back for the next one.  This publisher did none of that.

As an author, you should really check out your publisher so you at least have an idea the type and quality of work they do before you put the effort into giving your first submission.  The very first step to vetting a potential publisher is doing exactly what I just did.  Put their name, and the name of the relevant imprints into a search engine and seeing what comes up.    Or what doesn’t come up.  Do they barely have a web presence at all? (Not good for e-books.) You’d be amazed at the kind of information you can find out just by hitting search.  Before you’ve tried it, it’s easy to scoff and assume that bad reviews or ”sour grapes” have to be out there about all publishers.  That’s usually not the case. Try it out. It’s a good starting place.

It also pays to pick up one of that publisher’s previously published works and see what the quality is like.  If they have a habit of publishing poorly edited books, that’d be pretty easily apparent just by reading the excerpts available on Amazon or other bookseller’s websites.

You should definitely research a publisher as thoroughly as you can before you sign on, and try to talk to a couple of their current authors if possible.  Does the press have any pending litigation?  How many other authors do they have? It’s much better to talk to someone who’s already been working with that company to get an idea if they’ve had a good experience or not.  Even if that author isn’t willing to go online and post about their contract with that company or talk in detail with a stranger, they’ll usually be willing to tell you whether it’s been a generally good or bad experience, and whether they’d sign another contract with that publisher.

Finally,  you should always get your contract checked out by an attorney.  Not your agent (if you have one).  Not unless your Agent also happens to be licensed to practice law.  Agents are great, but they do not have the license saying they’re certified to give legal advice.  That should be a no-brainer, since a contract is a legal agreement.  A legal agreement that in all likelihood is going to tie you and your work to this publisher for years.

There are tons of resources out there for authors looking for advice on how to research publisher, and rather than try to go into further detail here, I’ll just point you at a few places to go look:

Preditors & Editors
Writer Beware Small Press Page
Finding the Right Publisher by December Quinn

The last thing that threw me about this book is more of a quibble, or question of judgment, I suppose. But it was just one more thing I didn’t understand.  The author has given the main protagonist her own last name.  We are reading about Holly Christian as written by Nadine Christian.  That was just weird, and it gave me yet thing standing between me and actually getting into the story.  I wasn’t close enough to the characters to care about them, but at the same time, I felt uncomfortably close to the author.  Giving the main character her own last name seemed like saying, “The heroine in this story is really just a placeholder for the author.”

Final analysis of this book?  I really can’t recommend picking it up.  It’s poorly put together, poorly edited.  The many rookie mistakes hamper everything about this story, resulting in the suspense and romance never leaving the starting block. As a first draft it might be ok, and I see glimmers of potential from the author, but is not up to the quality I expect when I pick up a finished novel. Especially one put out by a publisher.  Ultimately, pick up something else.
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