1. Teeny Tiny Text
Aside from a touch of nearsightnedness, my vision is pretty good. Yet there are books with fonts so small that I have to bring the book close enough to my face that I can make out the threadcount, and then I can’t concentrate on the novel through my admiration for the finly-textured pages. I’m told by authors that this is sometimes necessary to decrease the pagecount and avoid a price hike that will diminish sales, but too-small text doesn’t welcome the reader.
2. Mary Sue characters
A Mary Sue character is a transparent author avatar used for wish-fulfillment. Mary Sue has no genuine character flaws, can do anything the plot requires, and is liked by everyone — even the villains, who may seek redemption just to earn a smile from the heroine. She (or he, in the case of a “Marty Stu”) is perfect. The introduction of this kind of character is unprofessional, but my biggest beef with Mary Sue is that perfect characters are BORING. They’re who the author WANTS to be, but they’re not a character with whom anyone can relate: they’re never truly tested and put through a meatgrinder.
3. Poorly-Disguised Opining
Sometimes writers create characters to express a point of view about a subject they’re passionate about, which I suppose is poetic license. And in nonfiction, it’s sometimes the author’s role to comment or judge what they’re seeing, but when they take themselves too seriously, the book becomes unreadable. I don’t want to listen to a smug character drone on and on for pages about the superiority of his worldview, or to listen to another author whine and continually insult those who disagree with him. It’s overly self-indulgent.
4. Brand-Name Authors
When a book’s title is dwarfed by the author’s name, I approach with caution. I realize that some authors have name recognition that attracts buyers more than the title would, but it’s possible for authors and publishers to realize the selling advantage they have and slack in effort, coasting to the bestseller list on reputation alone and not the quality of the book.
5. Lack of Documentation
Documentation is a must when writing most kinds of nonfiction — particularly science and history — and I dislike popular histories that ignore them, even if they’re written as surveys. Even survey books should have a bibliography, at the very least.
6. Shallow/Predictable Characters
Though it’s fine to play with archetypes, they’re only “molds”: they need to be fleshed out and painted before they can work as actual characters. Baley’s take:
“They’re boring! The world is full of ordinary people—we want more from our entertainment. Characters shouldn’t be transparent, but complicated and interesting. They should be people we’re passionate about–we either love them or hate them, want to be their friend, or want them to die a slow and painful death.”
This goes for history books, too — I don’t like it when people are reduced to mustache-twirling villains. This is bad enough in fiction, but it’s inexcusable when used to portray real people.
7. Poor Illustrations
Illustrations can add a great deal to a book, but sometimes…they don’t work. Most of the illustrations I see are in nonfiction books, and I’ve seen some sketches that made me wince with embarrassment, as well as utterly confounding graphs that added nothing to my appreciation of the subject at hand. Baley notes:
” It’s important that an illustration doesn’t intrude on the writing. If an illustration looks like a blurry depiction of some unknown scene, it’s just taking up space.”
8. Transparent Plots
Obviously most novels follow a course beginning in conflict , ascend to the climax, then plunge downward into resolution — but the straight and narrow path is fairly dull. Give me twists and turns, unexpected pitfalls, and predators.
9. Errant Dust Covers
Most hardback novels come sleeved in plastic that is secured with tape or other adhesive to the body of the actual book. Sometimes the adhesive doesn’t last as long as it should!
10. Uninspiring/Inaccurate Covers
Sometimes novels have novels with seemingly no connection to the contents of the book, which may not be a big deal if the cover art is good enough — but if it’s a poor design, nothing can save it. Though we’re told not to judge books by their covers, the care put into cover art is an indicator of the care put into the novel as a whole.