You like a writer’s style and voice – or you don’t

let fiction bloomEDITING? REALLY?

Way back in the dark ages, I submitted the manuscript (digiscript?) of Pride’s Children to an organization dedicated to vetting indie novelists, and giving them a ‘Seal of Approval’ which could be used on the cover of their novel to indicate ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ or ‘lack of indie crap content.’ I will call them XXX.

And then I forgot all about it.

I just received their reply, a reply to which I take a great deal of umbrage.

Here is their email:

Dear Alicia,

I regret to inform you that your book Pride’s Children did not gain XXX approval. Our assessor said that though the book had an interesting premise, it would need a thorough line edit before it could be considered for approval.

In particular, she found the following issues:

Extreme overuse of incomplete sentences to the point where it becomes a repetitive sentence structure.

Too many short choppy sentences and heavily divided sentences make the reading scattered.

Subjects of focus erratic and hard to follow both in paragraph and some sentences:
“True, Thomas Pentell had insisted on an early dinner at Les Cles, almost too early for this Dior- she lengthened her neck, lifted her chin- cleavage only worked if you showed it.”

Breaking the fourth wall (see above sentence – not the only one)

Switching of perspective between first and third person

Too much description – telling not showing

Should you wish to re-submit after having the book line edited, you will need to use the form on the Submission page and pay a fee of $50.

If you are unsure of the difference between a line and a copy edit, please read this article [link removed] on the four kinds of editing

We also recommend you read The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine

Regards from,

XXX Submissions

Please note: we do not enter into any discussion on the results of submissions.
Do not reply to this email. No one checks the account, so no one will see it.


There are many things wrong with this ‘assessment,’ but I summed them up in a short email:

Dear CJ:

I regret to inform you that it is doing fine as it is; any ‘line edit’ would absolutely destroy the style and voice.

The ‘flaws’ you point out are deliberate choices.

Those who like it, love it. It is gathering a nice bunch of reviews on Amazon.

Thanks for your consideration.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, PhD

I sent the email – and then realized there was a donotreply on the email address, so I decided to put it up here instead (though I doubt anyone from XXX will see it).

I have detailed some of those deliberate choices in my post Rules for punctuating consistently: a writer’s unique style.

For example, and to confirm I know the difference between first and third person pov, I use First person and italics to indicate direct internal monologue (ie, an actual thought the character has in exactly those words); there are one or two of those in places where we have access to the character’s thoughts. For indirect internal monologue (general musing), I use Third person and no italics, and that is how we see the story, from the three characters’ points of view. Orson Scott Card taught me how to vary the Third person distance; once you get the hang of it, you can do everything from describing the landscape to being in the character’s head at his/her most intense moments.

I NEVER break the fourth wall.

ALL description is done from the point of view of the characters, a SINGLE character per scene.

And if XXX had bothered to look carefully, the dialogue in that little exchange where Bianca is reviewing in her mind the meeting she just had with Pentell, as she is being driven home, is very carefully marked with single quotes – memories – to distinguish it from the conversation she is simultaneously having with Michael in the car.

It takes a long time for a writer to develop a voice.

You either like what I’m doing – or you don’t get it, and don’t like it, because it isn’t the way you’re used to getting stories fed to you. There isn’t much I can do about that.

But the thought of what a ‘line edit’ from someone like their ‘assessor’ – who has no idea what I’m doing consistently and on purpose – would do to Pride’s Children made my stomach hurt.

Thanks for letting me rant – if you got this far.

Have you had a similar experience with an ‘editor’ – either as a writer or in school? Business English and fiction have no commonalities!

Complete sentences? Really?

Please share your pain.


*Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make 10 free image/quotes per month, more with a paid account.


23 thoughts on “You like a writer’s style and voice – or you don’t

  1. Silly editorial weirdos! The closest I’ve ever come to this is having a proofreading program mark up all my ‘sentence fragments’– at which point I had to try and explain to a computer that hey, I rather like sentence fragments 🙂

    And, I love the voice you’ve chosen to use. It’s full of emotion and meaning and brings the story across in a way that no line-edited work–at least no work line-edited by the fellows at xxx–ever could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seemed rather pointless to try to find a way to get my response to them, but a few years ago – before I found people who actually liked the way I wrote this story – I would have been intimidated. Possibly enough to stop me in my tracks.

      I’m not writing YA or children’s literature, where a much simpler voice and style would take into account some of the readers’ abilities (I could read this stuff when I was a kid, but I’m weird).

      I love having the Look Inside! available on Amazon: anyone who is ‘interested’ in the premise can take a look and decide if my style agrees with their preference. I doubt this ‘assessor’ made it past the third scene, which is fine – personal tastes – but I would hope those vetting other people’s writing might have a wiser reading vocabulary themselves.


  2. I think it’s okay to rant. And it’s normal to take umbrage. However there is value in criticism. I remember receiving my first such letter. After the initial hurt feelings (because our books are our babies) I reread the letter several times to see what I could learn. I actually made some changes to my style based upon the criticism. Didn’t change my voice, but I did learn to be aware of head-hopping (random POV changes) and staying in third person or first person while avoiding third-person omniscient. Unless all I’m going for is third-person omniscient.
    It’s fine to be mad. But never discount criticism.


    • I take all criticism as offered advice, listen to it, use it if it fits, and discard otherwise.

      This one got my dander up – tone, wording, implications – but most of all, their claim to stand for excellence in indie writing.

      You don’t have to like my writing. Many don’t, some do. But I am very careful and deliberate with my choices, agonize over them, try to make them CONSISTENTLY, and always for a reason.

      I’m about to write the new first scene for Book 2. It will be no longer than 1500 words, and I’ll keep it shorter than that if I possibly can. I’ve accumulated, as of last count, 7600+ words in notes, snippets of dialogue, and things I need to remember to include and why. This is after months of planning. After I get everything that has to be there in, I go back and work very hard to give it the illusion of spontaneity.

      And then it goes through cycle after cycle of AutoCrit before it hits the beta reader.

      Since this time I won’t be posting it as I finish the scenes, the whole wil have to go through some serious vetting – not sure yet what will happen there, but maybe some of my readers would like to help.

      I went back over everything they said – and would not change one word (though I found one short section I MIGHT put into italics if I do a second edition).

      I’d love to see what they could do with some of the serious books I love because they are complex and layered – and still tell a darn good story. Carnage, I imagine.

      This is MY reaction; I stand by it. I don’t use the power of the blog often – right now, I’m glad I have one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But see? You did the important thing- you went back over your work and realized you wouldn’t change a thing. Most criticism I discard out of hand. Occasionally I actually listen to something. Sometimes, rarely, criticism is helpful.


        • This is my first book, Julia. I thought an organization which claimed to stand for excellence in indie writing would know what it was doing; sadly, this leads me to question the credentials of ALL such organizations. I’m only naive the first time.

          It’s okay; I’m sure removing sentence fragments and other such devices will make the books which passed their vetting process much better.

          I must be doing something right: it seems I’m making enough noises so that a LOT of people have started telling me what I’m doing wrong. It’s some kind of milestone. Before I published, I didn’t get any of that (well, maybe a bit on Wattpad at the very beginning of posting there).

          On the principle that any, even negative, publicity/attention/presence is better than none, I will proceed to develop a thicker skin so I can taker on all comers with less of a reaction on my part.

          Did this happen to you?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, you get a thick skin, but more important, you stop reading reviews and eventually, stop asking for them. Obviously it’s hardest with your first book. I’ve been doing this a long long time. I’ve grown a very thick skin. Even so occasionally I will listen to some criticism. Just depends upon the source.

          Liked by 1 person

        • That’s it, exactly: First Book Syndrome.

          But everyone has to start somewhere, or they’ll never get enough exposure to sell anything. I view this as a business; just because I can’t do many other things, and am technically retired, doesn’t mean I want to spend my time on unremunerative activities – this is taking everything I have.

          I’ll reevaluate after the third book of the trilogy, assuming I last that long – we should know by then. And it will be years more at the current pace.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. How sad. It was precisely your prose – style and voice – that I enjoyed the most. I think I know who XXX are, but I was not aware they had developed a blender mentality. Bland and homogenized is generally reserved for baby food.


    • Thank you for the kind words! Since I think I no longer have much of a choice, especially for the remaining books in the trilogy, it’s good to know some people are fine with my sentence fragments and necessary musings.

      I think it startled me at first – the ‘feel’ of the email, especially as a whole, was rather negative.

      I’m already defending my system of doing it all myself, EDITING included.

      This is what you get when you go out in public. So be it.


      • I found one editor who is brilliant, and if I can afford it, I will use her again – for that extra pair of eyes. In general, however, using an editor is a lot like getting married, great when it works, devastating when it fails.
        Stick to your guns.


        • I’m going to have to: energy limitations, and the effect on me of excess adrenaline, make it a dangerous game to let someone else play with my writing.

          And then having to pay for it? Knowing you get what you pay for IF lucky?

          Best we all live with my little quirks.

          At least you’ll know it’s all me. That’s got to be worth something, right?


  4. I’m a little torn here. I’ve been editing professionally for 11 years. Putting aside, for a moment, the difference between paying someone to line edit (me) and submitting for a seal of approval (them), I agree their tone was harsh to the point of abrasiveness.

    That said, as an editor, I have to take many things into consideration, and one of them is readability (this is not in any way a comment on your writing, just a general statement). I edit with readers in mind, and if a particular style of writing is hard to penetrate and trips me up, I’m not going to say, “Oh well.” I’m going to point out where it can be revised.

    The big difference in this case, as I alluded to, is that you weren’t paying them for a line edit, so it wasn’t necessary for them to tear into it like that.

    Bottom line: I’m not going to be emotional in my critiques or allow hostility to creep into my editing just because I’m not in love with a writer’s voice. On the other hand, if a writer pays me to edit a manuscript, that writer needs to take my comments professionally, not personally. I want the writer to produce the best, most successful work possible and reach the widest audience. All my criticisms will spring from that mindset.

    I also encourage writers who hire editors to be open-minded. The position a lot of people take is, “My editor doesn’t get me.” It’s possible (not talking about you) that the editor sees things from a broader perspective. That is, a writer may feel that his “quirky” writing approach is endearing, because his manuscript is the only one he’s seen and he’s fallen in love with his story. The editor, meanwhile, has seen a hundred manuscripts, and it’s readily apparent that this writer both lacks professional polish and the perception to see when his prose becomes messy and hard to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodie. I love comments.

      But we’re not talking from the same place the I and the XXX folks were speaking from: You don’t know my work.

      You know what? I’m going to repeat my standard offer: IF you like, and send me your email address, I will send you an electronic ARC of Pride’s Children, for your consideration of POSSIBLY leaving an honest review.

      Then you can talk on the same footing. Interested? Let me know.

      The rest, I agree with. And I think a lot of writers – traditionally or self-published – need to do a much better job of learning to edit themselves. They think they can hand it off to an editor – who will magically fix their writing.


      • I’ll send the information privately to anyone who wants it.

        I can’t handle the controversy that might come from publicly mentioning something negative about a huge organization. They might take offense. These reactions tend to get out of control of the original poster.

        I’m barely getting a short time every day in which I can write; I just can’t afford it!

        Rant filter? Only if it’s Akismet. I don’t use anything else – and I have no control over what it does. After a couple of icky ones it blocked, I don’t even go in there and check any more.

        Send rants you think should be published directly to me; I’m sending you the name of XXX – just FYI.

        Liked by 1 person

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