For some weird reason I’ve been thinking a lot about a question an interviewer asked me once,“Would you rather read a book that is poorly written but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content, but is well written?” I think that question is coming back to haunt me right now because I just deleted a book from my Kindle that might have been a good story, but it was so badly written and edited, I couldn’t finish it. It was a free download and I figured, “Why not?” After all, it sounded interesting and it was free, so even if it’s awful, what have I lost?
Well, unfortunately for me, I lost about half a day of my life trying to slog through a really badly written story—one that I don’t think even an editor could’ve helped. The worst part is that the reviews for this particular book were fairly good. People gave it four and five stars and praised it to the skies. Fifty pages in, I was wondering if I’d gotten the wrong book. How could twenty or thirty people not see the horrible misspellings, the run-on sentences, the awkward dialogue, or the fact that the author spelled the hero’s name three different ways in three separate chapters? Was I the only one who saw that we started the story in present tense and then switched to past? And how come not one reviewer mentioned the fact that the author had clearly not done any research or said author would have known that the big San Francisco earthquake happened in the wee hours of the morning on April 18, 1906 and not on “a warm June afternoon in 1908.”
Now, I know that some of my reaction comes from being an editor—figuring out a better way to tell the story is an occupational hazard, I guess. But, it doesn’t happen with every book—and I read a lot of books. I only feel like cracking my Kindle over an author’s head when it’s more than obvious that they’re no writer or that they may have a good story to tell, but they failed to let anyone else (read an editor here!) take a look before they tossed the book up on Amazon for $4.99. I never review books I don’t finish or enjoy, so I’m not one who writes scathing reviews about poor writing or lack of editing. It's part of that old "if-you-can't-say-something-nice" thing that I learned as a child. However, when I read several reviews of a book that report gross misspellings or bad writing, I pay attention and I don’t download the book, even if it’s free.
My answer to the question is still the same--I wish I could say I’d pick the excellent story and let the poor writing go, but honestly, I’m too much of an editor to do that. If a book is poorly written, I start editing it in my head, get frustrated that anyone would put their book out there that way, and then I have to simply let it go or I’ll go crazy. I know a bunch of people who will stick with a book right to the end, no matter how bad the writing or the editing is. God bless those readers, but I am not one of them.
So tell me, Would you rather read a book that is poorly written but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content, but is well written?