A note to writers, courtesy David Farland

Writing GrammarHere at Attack of the Books! we receive a fair amount of queries to read new books. Most of them are by new authors, often self-published, and each is a labor of love. Unfortunately, because Britt and I are not independently wealthy (yet–we’re still trying to figure out how people “make money on the internet”), we turn down the large majority of those offers. Between work, kids, and life, we just don’t have time to read and review every book that gets sent our way.

But we try.

The copies we receive come in all levels of completeness, some well refined, others just short of it. Some are professionally completed, and others, when they aren’t self-published, I can’t help but wonder what the editor or publisher was thinking.

With that in mind, I ran across some wise words from one of my favorite writers, and writing guru, David Farland. As an editor and judge for Writers of the Future, he reads a lot of manuscripts, both good and bad:

David_FarlandI’ve met new authors, particularly ones who self-publish, who will say, “Well, I don’t need to know how to punctuate. My readers will fix it for me!” Or, “Nobody uses past perfect tense anyway. I don’t even know what it means?!” Or, “I don’t need to learn proper manuscript format, I’m going to publish it myself!”

Can you imagine a carpenter who doesn’t want to bother learning how to use a hammer? How about an infantryman who doesn’t know how to aim a gun? How about a surgeon who doesn’t use a scalpel?

I recall 20 years ago, I received a pretty good submission for the Writers of the Future Contest, and passed it along as a finalist. It won a place in the top three, but one of the judges pointed out, “The author had two typos on the first page. This person isn’t ready to become a professional.” At the time, I forgave the two typos and kept on reading, because I did see potential in the author’s work, but I’ve always wondered, “How many gaffes should I let slide on a manuscript?” Is one typo on the first page too much? Is two? How about three?

Here’s a clue: If I see three problems on a first page, I won’t read any further. It doesn’t matter if they’re typos, dropped words, punctuation problems, or something else—I know that it isn’t worthwhile to go on. The author isn’t ready yet.

I’m no Farland, but I’ve got about as much patience as he does. Life is just too short to read books that aren’t in finished condition. There’s just too many well written books  to waste time on the writers who haven’t finished or cleaned up their manuscript.


About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. jaxgrampy says:

    As a fellow book reviewer, I could not agree more. But how do YOU tell a wannabe writer that you only read one page and are sending it back? I’ve waded through many a book with missing words, transposed words, misspelled words, incorrect words, misused or absent punctuation, poor grammar, and so on. Most times I highlight those on my Kindle, then let the author know I’ve got a list of the mistakes I found, if he/she is interested. Sometimes they eagerly accept and are grateful, other times I never hear back from them. But I have read some books so poorly done that I finally bail out midway through them. I’ve often wished for a better and quicker way to know when it’s time to bail, but back to my original question, how do YOU reject a manuscript without getting hate mail in your Christmas cards? Or do you just accept the hate mail as part of the job? Thanks for any wisdom you may impart upon me!

    acwa at netscape dot com

    • It’s a dilemma, and apparently you’ve got more patience than we do. Anytime an author offers their book for review, I warn that I will only do so if I enjoy the book. I don’t see any sense in criticizing in public someone’s labor of love (unless, of course, that person has already obtain best seller status–then a well crafted critique seems a bit more fair). Instead, I just don’t review. At the end of the day, I think of my main purpose as to promote reading, and I think that’s done best by promoting good books, not by critiquing bad or average ones.

  2. Besides a well-written manuscript, I think new authors, especially those doing their own marketing, really need to learn how to write a professional review request email. I get review requests from a wide variety of authors/publicists/blog tour companies, etc. and the difference between one from, say, Harper Collins, and one from an indie author doing it on their own are NIGHT AND DAY. A professionally-written review request can go a long, LONG way toward convincing a reviewer to take a chance on a book they otherwise wouldn’t. A poorly-written review request often equals a poorly-written novel.

    • It’s amazing what a well written letter will do. I don’t end up liking every book I read, but I’m far more likely to pick it up if the pitch is well written.

  3. I agree. I’m no book reviewer, but I’ve read a manuscript for a friend and it was hard to get through because it needed some major editing. I do think it’s great that people have the opportunity to self publish (especially if is a dream), but to make it big they need to do it right. The market is just over saturated with too many new books and authors. I sometimes think that the competition to publish will bring out some really good authors and books, but occasionally I pick up a book and wonder how it got published. But like you said, too many good books and too little time. Megan (Brigg’s sister), her little boy said the best thing “mom, I wish I had a second life where I could just read books all day and in my first life I can do the other important things.”