Monday 20 July 2015

Box Sets: A Reader Perspective

By Iola Goulton

Over the last three weeks, Narelle Atkins has been sharing about the development, writing, publishing and marketing of her first indie novella, His Perfect Catch, released as part of the SPLASH! box set with eight other writers.

Shortly after I’d finished editing His Perfect Catch I was approached by Autumn Macarthur, one of the other contributing authors, to see if I’d like to review SPLASH! on Amazon. If you’ve been reading my posts here on Australasian Christian writers, you’ll know that Amazon doesn’t permit reviewers to review any book in which they have a financial interest. Being the editor constitutes a financial interest, even though I only edited one novella in a collection of nine, and I have no ongoing financial interest (editors work for a set dollar figure, not a percentage of sales!).

Anyway, even if I can’t review SPLASH! on Amazon, I can review it on my blog, which I have done and you can click here to read my review.

But in reading the nine novellas (somewhere around 250,000 words in total) as a reader rather than as an editor or proofreader did highlight some issues:

1. You can never have too much editing or proofreading

On one of Narelle’s blog posts, one person asked about the editing process, and specifically whether one person had done a full read-through of the complete box set to ensure consistency. The answer to that is ‘yes’ … that person was me, and I was reading as a reader/reviewer, not a final proofreader (as Narelle has mentioned, each of the participating authors was responsible for proofreading a portion of the full manuscript).

I did notice a few minor issues, which I communicated to Narelle and she passed on to the group leader. I subsequently had follow-up emails from authors in the group to clarify some of the issues I’d raised (I questioned the occupation of one character, and was amused to find that hadn’t been their original occupation—she’d changed it part-way through the writing process. After my comment, she changed it back).
Advice: Yes, someone needs to read the full collection through before publication, ideally someone fresh who is going to read the words on the page, not the words she thinks are on the page (which is what we tend to do when we proof our own work). However, this could be difficult, as few people are willing or able to read/proof 250,000+ words in a very short timeframe.

2. You can never have too much editing or proofreading

All nine novellas had been professionally edited, by nine different people each with different editing styles and standards. This meant there were slight differences between the novellas, even though they had agreed they would all use US spelling and grammar rules. For example, the dictionary says resume can be spelled without any accent marks, with an accent mark on the final ‘e’, or accents on both ‘e’s’. Two authors used the word resume, but each used a different version. Yes, it’s likely only a picky editor like me would notice that!

3. You can never have too much editing or proofreading (are you seeing a pattern yet?)

Indie authors have limited funds, which means their books aren’t necessarily edited and proofread as often as traditionally published books (not that traditionally published books are exempt from editing errors). One novella had the other woman (not the heroine) touching the hero in a way that made his knees “week”. The story had been edited, revised and proofread, but they’d all missed this one line.

Please don't think I'm criticising any of the other editors involved. I'm not. I'm simply saying one or two rounds of editing might not be enough. I recently read a blog post where our own Kara Isaac commented that her upcoming novel is currently undergoing its fourth round of editing by the publisher, and it's not due to be published until January 2016. Or is that March? Anyway, that's at least three rounds more editing than most indie authors can afford.

4. Theme

I did enjoy the water theme to each of the novellas, and the variety of international settings, from Africa to Australia. I do believe this helps with engaging readers, a vital part of marketing.

5. Story length

The novellas appear in the SPLASH! collection in order of author last name, which means Narelle Atkins’s novella is first and Marion Ueckermann’s is last. While there is an obvious logic to this, it did have a drawback: length. The novellas varied from 20,000 to 35,000 words in length. This meant some novellas were more than 50% longer than the story before … and when a longer novella came immediately after a short novella, it did mean the longer story dragged because my reader expectations around length had been set by the shorter story. I got to the 2/3rd mark in the later novella, and was thinking it was time for it to end … because 2/3 of a 35,000 word novella is close to 24,000 words, which was longer than the shortest novella.

Advice: ordering the stories from shortest to longest (or perhaps longest to shortest) would fool the reader (me) into believing they were all similar length, because I wouldn’t have perceived the 35,000-word novella as ‘long’ if it had followed a 30,000-word novella.

6. Front and back matter

On a related note, some of the stories had a lot more front and back matter than others. In this case, I think the first story (Narelle’s) set the standard, and I found some of the books had too much front or back matter (and one author had back matter that I thought would have been better shared at the front). I would suggest keeping the front and back matter minimal in a box set—there will be plenty of room for additional acknowledgements and author notes in the individual release.

I would absolutely echo Narelle’s comments about the added market visibility of participating in a multi-author box set. I follow several of the authors in the set, and saw SPLASH! coming up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds a lot in the weeks before and during the book launch.

And it's a great read, and is available for a limited time, and for less than a dollar!

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest  or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500.


  1. As a reader, it's amazing that it sounds like in 9 novellas (and some 800? pages) there were only a handful of very minor editing issues. Incredible achievement by all the authors and editors I reckon.

    I expect an indie author has to weigh up the cost of additional editing/proofreading to find the potential one of two typos that the average reader isn't going to fussed over. It's a fine balance.

    1. Hi Ian, It was good that the group proofreading stage of the box set project was relatively smooth and didn't delay our pre-order dates.

      I agree, budget considerations are important for indie authors. I liked having full control of the editing and proofreading process for my novella prior to its submission to the SPLASH! group. We did work to a tight deadline, and many of the authors in the group were working on multiple projects at the same time.

      Novellas, being shorter in length, have a more simplistic plot than the longer novels. Shorter works, as a rule, usually don't need the same amount of detailed structural editing as the longer and more complex stories with multiple plot threads. I know authors who have received multiple revision letters in the structural editing stage as the editor works with the author to strengthen the story.

    2. I agree, Ian. The overall proofreading was excellent and most readers wouldn't have picked up on some of the details I picked up (although I'm sure romance readers would have picked up on a hero making out with the wrong woman!).

      Narelle also makes a good point about the lack of subplots in a novella making structural/content editing less complex. The novellas I thought needed a little more of this kind of editing were the longer ones in the set.

  2. I have read several novella sets and most are 4 books. I have had a couple with 6 now. The indie ones I notice like you said Iola that some are different lengths and it does throw a reader like me. I like your suggestion they go from shortest to longest or the other way. As going from a short read to a long read then to an even shorter read (I read one over Christmas like this) does throw the reader and I found the longer books almost to long.

    Do you think having 9 books is a disadvantage or advantage?

    1. Hi Jenny, I think a large number of stories worked well for SPLASH! because our goal was discoverability and reaching new readers with a bargain price.

      I've purchased a number of box sets and anthology collections, and I don't usually read them sequentially unless the stories are in a connected series. I'm probably the exception to the rule and I pick the stories I want to read first by the book description and the author. Often I'll buy a box set because I love the writing of one or two authors in the group and I'll read their stories first. I may read one or two stories, then read something else and go back to the box set later. Variation in word length isn't an issue for me as a reader, although I can understand why it would frustrate readers who want to read the entire collection.

    2. I tend to read front to back. I will buy cos of authors. but still read from front to back. I started with the Barbour Christmas novellas and they are all the same length. Then some of the indie ones which I have found vary. I don't understand word length like many do as I am a reader but I understand page length. I have to say under 100 is good for me! But I have issues with reading for long due to my head pain and concentration which is where novellas are great.

      I agree they are good to introduce other authors. Are you planning on more joint novellas?

    3. 100 pages is approximately 25k words, depending on the font size you use on an ereader. Novellas are typically defined as being 20-35k in word length. The Barbour novella collections are written for a specific word length that is defined in their editorial guidelines. 20-25k is a common word length for novellas, and over 40k is considered a short novel, My Heartsong books are 45-50k and the Love Inspired romance books are 55-60k.

      Yes, I'd love to be involved in another indie box set that fits in with my schedule :)

    4. Jenny, as Narelle has said, the objective of this box set was to reach new readers, and nine novellas for under a dollar is a great way to do this. I think it worked to the advantage of readers and authors in this instance, but that might not always be the case.

      In terms of reading, I'm like you and tend to read from front to back--especially if I'm reading on my Kindle. If I was reading a paper copy, I might be tempted to skip to the author/story I was most looking forward to, but I would probably still read front to back as I know some of the collections feature the same characters and reading out of order would mean messing with the time sequence.

  3. Hi Iola, Thanks for sharing your experiences from a reader perspective. We appreciated your input and helpful comments when you read a review copy of SPLASH! prior to the release date. I have a group of beta readers who are invaluable and they pick up many inconsistencies and errors in my stories prior to the editing stage. It's difficult to successfully edit and proofread your own work.

  4. I have enjoyed reading this great, informative article and the comments. It was so helpful. Thanks Iola and Narelle and also Jenny for her remarks.

    1. Thanks, Rita. The other use of box sets is a series by a single author ... perhaps an idea you might find useful.

  5. The boxed set looks beautiful, and I'm sure the 9 authors are very proud. Having a box always gives a collection a look of polish. I appreciate the points in this blog post, particularly the first three. Interesting how slight lack of unity may show up in subtle ways when authors use different editors.

    1. That's one of the advantages a publisher has: they can require all authors (and editors) to work to the same standards. But that can make the books feel a bit "samey" to read: not a complaint I had with SPLASH!


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