Book Review: His Salvation by Michelle Bellon
When I go to writing conferences or author events, I find it difficult to resist buying at least some of the books being sold there by the authors in attendance. I picked up Michelle Bellon’s His Salvation at the PNWA Conference in August 2011. I sat next to Michelle at dinner during one of the evening events, and once I make a personal connection with a writer, it’s even harder not to buy a book. I do like to support local authors, whether they be just starting out or well established. One of my hopes of this blog is that perhaps I will discover a fantastic new novel and help to launch the career of a new writer – to get their work and their name out to a wider market. One of my fears – especially with a writer I have met and may meet again in the future – is that there may be some issues with the manuscript that in all fairness to readers of my blog, I cannot overlook. Unfortunately, His Salvation falls in the latter category, and the current edition (dated July 2011) is very difficult to read.
His Salvation is a love story-thriller, set in the world of military psy-ops gone bad. A soldier, Seth McCullough, has been brain-washed into becoming a special-operations covert killer. His brainwashing begins to unravel, and he remembers a happier time during his teenage years, when he was desperately in love with Krista Chancellor. Krista, now a post-graduate student in psychology at a university in Austin, Texas, is the only person he trusts to help figure out what has happened to him, and to break the tight grip his controller has on his mind.
His Salvation was published by Old Line Publishing, which is a relatively new on-line publisher. Looking at the cover art, the formatting of the text and binding on the book, the finished product looks good. Old Line appears to offer numerous author services related to the formatting and the marketing of the book. Unfortunately, what they don’t seem to offer, is editing services. And His Salvation is badly in need of editing help.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking with, and working with my friend, Jason Black, a freelance editor. On his website (www.plottopunctuation.com/services), he describes three types of editing services he can provide as an editor: developmental editing, line editing and copy editing.
Developmental editing comes into play while trying to fix plot issues in a manuscript. Line editing will help to make the words flow better through choosing better words and removing words when they are not needed. Copy editing fixes mechanical issues like punctuation and grammar.
While there are numerous grammar and punctuation issues in His Salvation, and the plot tested my suspension of disbelief more than a few times, what the book really needed was a line edit. It would have caught point-of-view issues, which sometimes changed in the middle of a paragraph. It would have seen issues with word territory. I counted 8 occurrences of the word ‘literally’ in a four page span. Rarely, if ever, should a writer use the word ‘literally’. It would have cut down on the number of adverbs used (sometimes 2 or more per sentence). There were some great examples of misplaced modifiers (adjectives that added nothing or contradicted the image trying to be described). A good editor, like Jason, would have pointed to areas where the narrator was constantly telling the reader things, instead of showing the reader through the actions of the characters. About twenty five of the first thirty five pages were backstory, which, while informative, missed the opportunity to place the characters front and center in the story.
There were numerous other major issues with the book, especially when it came to dialogue, which was, for the most part, both lacking in believability and in volume. The words used by the characters just wouldn’t be said by these characters. They might be thought, but not said aloud. The dialogue felt like narration just wrapped in quotation marks. Dialogue was completely absent from the first thirty six pages, and on page thirty seven, when I got to the first spoken words, I had to put the book down. I almost didn’t pick it up again.
I know it seems like I am being callous and hard on the author. I wrestled with my decision to even review a book like this on my blog. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t want people to be mad at me for saying these things. But there are a couple of things at play here that are important for everyone to realize:
1) Self and independent publishing has gotten a bad name because of the lack of professional editing being done on self published works. This is a perfect example of why the reputation is what it is.
2) Authors who self publish in the hopes of attracting an agent or an editor for their next book, are doing themselves a massive disservice by not getting a professional editor, and listening to what they have to say. If there is one lesson that everyone should take away from this, it’s this: an editor is NOT optional. You can’t substitute a family member or a best friend for a professional editor, hope to have them catch your grammar issues, and let Microsoft Word catch your spelling issues. When I read a poorly edited book by an author, I don’t give them a second chance to impress me. An agent won’t either, and you sure as heck won’t attract a mainstream publisher that way.
As an author who has worked for over three years on a manuscript, I know what it is like to pour your heart and soul into a story. I proudly passed around my first draft to friends and family, and got (perhaps) a couple of edits per page back. I felt pretty good back then. Then I got hammered by agents I pitched. I’ve been through ten drafts since, and have pretty much abandoned passing it out to friends and family unless they truly understand the type of feedback I need. I’ve passed the manuscript to Jason for a developmental edit, which helped me to land my agent. But since then, at my agent’s insistence, I have done 3 more major edits, and still have at least 3 more to go. It hasn’t even come close to a publisher’s desk yet.
Going the independent or self publishing route doesn’t mean you don’t have an editor red-mark your work. It means you pay for that service yourself in advance. It doesn’t come out of your publisher’s side of the deal. Self-published authors need to realize this very quickly, or their first reader may be their last. In this day of internet search, it just takes one bad –but honest – review, to torpedo a book, or possibly even a career.
Take the time and spend the money to get your work professionally edited. If you can’t do that, for whatever reason, you probably shouldn’t self-publish. Nothing good comes from taking a shortcut like that.