Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lord Of The Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told

Finally, the greatest story never told gets told.

Join one man for the adventure of his life and, in doing so, experience growing up in rural 1980s Ireland. Meet this man's eccentric group of friends, follow his escapades throughout Ireland and beyond, and gain valuable insight into the life of a lord ... Lord of the Rams.

What Munterconnaught’s book critics are saying:

"A great present to give to somebody you don't like." - Shane Brady

"I'll buy two copies. F*cking brilliant." - Eugene Tighe

"The worst pile of shite I’ve ever read." - Trevor Geraghty



Ronan Smith's Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told has an interesting illustration on its cover and it's a pleasant-enough read: but it's a very episodic, built from a series of short anecdotes which are connected only by the characters they feature. There is little flow through the text; instead we moved from anecdote to anecdote via chunks of exposition and this lack of narrative arc means that the reader has no motivation to keep reading: it's all too "samey" and provides no tension or climax.

The author has a slapdash approach to punctuation which doesn’t help: his use of dashes is spectacularly inconsistent, particularly in the acknowledgements; and he really needs to decide if he's going to hyphenate "smart-ass" or not, rather than alternate between the two forms. There were several instances where the writing was muddled and imprecise: I could usually work out what was meant, but sometimes could not be sure. On page nine, for example, I found this sentence: "Standing beside his mother, Rams stared in amazement at a woman unlike he had ever seen before". This is not good writing, and from my brief read and a quick flick through, it's typical of the entire book.

Overall, then, this read more as a first draft than as a publishable book. It needs restructuring to provide a proper sense of growth throughout the narrative; it needs to be rewritten so that the anecdotes seem less isolated and provide a sense of growth and climax. The characterisation could definitely be improved; and it needs a strong copy-edit to deal with all those careless mistakes. The clich├ęd subtitle does the book no favours; and the lamentably weak back cover copy could have been written for all sorts of books. I read just eight pages out of the 215 which make up the story.

15 comments:

Ramsmobile said...

Jane,

Thanks for your comments. A little feedback if I may:

'Lord of the Rams' was written with a certain style and audience in mind - given that this is a comedy memoir (and not fiction), I didn't feel the need to over-develop the characters - the strength of the book lies in the very anecdotes you see as a flaw. The book is very accessible and an easy read. This isn't just my opinion but that of a number of my readers, some of whom had read only a handful of books in the past but read mine from cover to cover - I have sold close to 400 units thus far so am in a good position to relay some of the feedback I have received.

Experienced book critics in the national press have described the book as a "real treat to read", "genuinely funny", "touching, funny and compelling" and "a diverting and entertaining read".

Having combed through my completed manuscript again, I concede that there were about three inconsistencies with regards to dashes - one of which was in the acknowledgements section. That could, however, hardly be construed as "spectacularly inconsistent" although perhaps a little careless (I'll admit that the acknowledgements section was thrown together at the last minute to meet the print deadline, hence the glaring error).

Also, I certainly did not adopt a slapdash approach to punctuation. I am an experienced editor and spent a considerable amount of time polishing the text. Furthermore, another professional editor (who reviews and edits manuscripts for a very large publishing house in Ireland) conducted further edits of the text, as did a friend who also has significant editing experience. Maybe the quality of editing in Ireland is of a much lower standard than in the UK, but I believe my book is of a similar quality (in terms of punctuation and grammar) to any commercial release that has been released in Ireland in the past few years. And I could name only a handful of books that I have read (including some by very famous authors) in the past few years in which I didn't spot at least a half-dozen typos or inconsistencies. I'm not saying it's acceptable (of course it's not) but it does happen all the time. Even your own review of my book has a glaring typo ("provoide"). The fact is that, in a book over 72,000 words, there will be some small errors - fact. And these will be fixed in future re-prints - that's the nature of the publishing business (both conventional and self-publishing).

Furthermore, there is not a single reference "to smart-ass" in the copy of the book. I, as a personal preference, regard "smart ass" as two words (it can of course be hyphenated, but either is acceptable) and referred to it as such in the book. I did, however, refer to "smart-assed" on a number of occasions, which I purposely choose to hyphenate in line with my overall style policy. You could argue the point, therefore, that "smart ass" should be hyphenated too but I would see that as a subjective editorial decision that only the most over-zealous of editors (no offence) would take umbrage with.

The "standing beside his mother" reference could perhaps have been better phrased but I could say the same for just about any book if I were to take sentences out of context and perhaps over-analyse them. I think you may perhaps have been nit-picking in your endeavor to spot 15 errors.

Ultimately, 'Lord of the Rams' doesn't take itself too seriously. If people want well-developed characters, or a "proper sense of growth", then I would recommend they read Shadow of the Wind (brilliant book). But if they want a book that will make them laugh out loud (and not because of poor punctuation) and that they can really relate to, then they could do worse than read 'Lord of the Rams'.

Perhaps your readers can make an informed decision before casting judgement on my book. Extracts, reviews and interviews are available at www.lordoftherams.com.

Kind regards,
Ronan

Jane Smith said...

Ronan, thank you for pointing out my typo—I am grateful, and have corrected it.

I appreciate that this book is a comedy memoir, but it doesn’t matter what genre you write in: your characters need to work as individuals and I don’t think yours do. And I don’t see your anecdotes as flawed: they just don’t work together the way you've presented them.

I’m impressed by your claim to have sold 400 copies: that’s a very high level of sales for a self-published book. I’ll ignore the fact that Nielsen Bookscan reports that you’ve sold less than ten per cent of that number and will assume it’s their glitch and not your exaggeration that’s the cause for the discrepancy. And I’m glad that you’ve had such a positive reaction from readers. It's worth bearing in mind that as a self-published writer it’s highly likely you’ve sold the majority of those copies to family and friends, who are bound to make positive comments about your book because either they feature quite heavily in it, or they know someone who does.

Moving onto dashes. Your “Acknowledgements” page features two em-dashes without spaces around them, and one en-dash with spaces. If this had been the only dash-related problem I found I wouldn’t have singled it out: but on the next full page of text you have two em-dashes without spaces, and a hyphen-with-spaces used as a dash. So, in your first two pages of text you’ve used three styles of dashes and are inconsistent in your use of spaces around them. I found plenty more odd dashes throughout the book, although I’ll not list them here, because it’s not my job to act as your unpaid copy-editor: but for me, your use of dashes qualifies as “spectacularly inconsistent".

I am surprised to learn that you’ve worked as an editor, because your editorial expertise is not reflected in this book: the writing style is clumsy and the narrative feels fragmented and disorganised. It could be that your expertise lies in copy-editing rather than in editing, but in that case why have you used inverted commas around the words “creative process” in your acknowledgements? they’re not required there, nor in several of the other places you’ve used them; you’re inconsistent in your use of commas and in your placement of full stops when used with quotes; and your punctuation of speech is somewhat erratic too.

I’ll not be diverted by your attempt to stir up trouble by implying that I’m biased against the Irish: that’s not worthy of further comment. But if you paid a professional editor to do the job then you didn’t get your money’s worth, I’m afraid. You don’t say whether the editor carried out a line-edit or a copy-edit, but neither job has been carried out well no matter who did it. It’s possible, of course, that you didn’t allow the changes that the editor suggested, which is an entirely different matter.

As for errors: you’re right, there will always be a few. No book is perfect. But your book has lots. And you seem so keen to excuse them: your claim to have a “style policy” which prefers “smart ass” (without a hyphen) and “smart-assed” (with) is extraordinary. As for “over-zealous editors”: it’s tautologous, surely?

As for this: "Standing beside his mother, Rams stared in amazement at a woman unlike he had ever seen before". It doesn’t make proper sense whether you analyse it in context or out of it, and it’s not my analysis which renders it nonsensical, it’s your writing. I ignore a lot of the errors I find in order to ensure I’ve provided an honest report of the book in hand, and in your book I found over twenty errors and issues in the pages I read—not fifteen, which is the minimum I require.

You wrote, “If people want … a book that will make them laugh out loud … then they could do worse than read 'Lord of the Rams'.” They could do worse, you’re right: but they could do a damn sight better, too. Your book is funny, but only because it’s facile. It’s also lightweight in all the wrong ways, inconsistent, and frequently confusing. It just isn’t good enough, Ronan. No matter how hard you argue that it is.

Ramsmobile said...

Jane,
I don't claim to have sold 400 copies—I HAVE sold close to 400 copies; most of them to strangers throughout Ireland (and circa. 30 STRANGERS in the UK). And although a certain (relatively small) percentage of my sales were obviously to family and friends (as they would be for anyone who writes a book), some received free copies, which I obviously haven't counted in my sales figures. Nielsens Bookscan obviously doesn't include books that I, as the author, have purchased directly from the printer. These copies (which make up most of my 400 sales) have been sold in bookshops and at my two very successful book launches. I wouldn't rely on Nielsen Bookscan when attempting to judge the sales of a self-published book. Nor do I appreciate your implication that I exaggerated my sales figures.

As regards the positive comments on my book, I don't pay much attention to comments from friends and family as they are hardly best-placed to pass an honest judgement on my book. The FACT is that strangers from different parts of the country have contacted me after reading my book, and the feedback has been very positive. Also, the press reviews I mentioned in my previous post weren't written by acquaintances but by people who review books every week in Ireland, UK and US—some of them for major national publications such as Evening Herald, The Irish Post and Books Ireland—and by “review books”, I mean they read more than eight pages. I'm not saying the book is perfect (of course it's not) but my reviews suggest that it is at least on a par with many commercial releases. Nor do I expect everyone to like “Lord of the Rams”. Reading is, by its very nature, subjective and I'm sure there are those who read it and didn't care for it much. You are the perfect example!

My use of quotation marks around "creative process" was an in-joke reference to how some of the ideas for the book were formed—casual conversations on the phone and in the pub etc; not exactly the standard creative process someone would go through if they were writing a piece of fiction, hence the use of the quotation marks. Apologies if this caused major issues for the more discernible reader.

I could go on and on about the dashes (of which there are about three "spectacularly inconsistent" instances in the entire book—two of which just happen to be in the opening pages), the editing process (which was substantive), and the structure and punctuation (which you have unfairly damned), but it seems that you will always be right.

Your comments about my book prove that you're prone to exaggeration, sweeping statements (“it’s highly likely you’ve sold the majority of those copies to family and friends”) and distain for any book that happens to have an often construed mis-used anything, which makes most books on the market potential targets for your wrath. But instead, you opt to target self-published authors week-in week-out.

The comments permeating your site read like the ramblings of a frustrated and bitter writer who has yet to publish a novel. And whilst you claim (elsewhere on this site) to have had “about 20” non-fiction books published, you admit that, “I've only submitted two [novels] and many writers write a few before finding a publisher for them. I'm not too concerned, and am confident that I'll find a publisher for my novels soon.”

Well perhaps it’s about time you stopped dilly-dallying about your em-dashes and write a book that someone actually wants to read.

When you’ve sold 400 copies, let me know. I’ll be sure to read more than eight pages and provide a FAIR review on my site.

Sally Zigmond said...

This blog states its purpose clearly and unequivocally. When you offered your book to Jane to be reviewed, you must have known what to expect. No-one forced you to submit your book. Your best policy would have been to out up and shut up.

I fully accept your right to answer her comments. However, you have totally damaged your defence by stooping to insult Jane's ability as a writer. That not only is irrelevant, it reflects badly on you.

Besides, the fact that you choose to self-publish and she does not, doesn't put you on a higher pedestal.

Jane Smith said...

Thank you for your support, Sally. You're kind, and very welcome here.

Ronan, a few points.

If you dislike my blog so much, why did you submit your book to me for review? I've not changed my rules, and I've always been completely open about the way I work: you must have known how I work before you sent your book to me.

I am not remotely bitter that you've managed to sell 400 copies of a book you paid Trafford Publishing to print for you. I have no desire to vanity-publish my fiction, and do not envy your achievements in this field one little bit.

No matter how many ad hominem attacks you level at me, your book will still be poorly written and full of mistakes.

You're welcome to continue to comment here, but please: no more rudeness, it gets you nowhere; and I suggest you read this and take note before you comment again.

Ramsmobile said...

Jane,

I have no problem with a bad review if I believe it is fair. Even the reviewer who seemed to "get" my book more than anyone else pointed out some perceived flaws. I didn't entirely agree with him but I respected his opinion and thanked him for the review. And you, like anyone else, are of course entitled to your opinion.

As regards your reply, you fail to see the irony of accusing me of rudeness. For example, rather than taking my sales figures at face value, you felt the need to investigate and then implied that I grossly exaggerated them. I believe that was extremely rude and disrespectful.

But there's no point in getting into slanging matches. I appreciate that you are up-front about the way you work and accept that you are just offering your honest opinion. You're not likely to change your methods at this stage, but there's a lot to be said about adopting a nicer tone when reviewing people's work, regardless of how rubbish you may perceive their books to be. A review is nothing but one person's opinion (no matter what your editorial background or experience) and, with that fact in mind, it is always advisable (in my opinion) to highlight the positive as well as the negative, or at least acknowledge that a book may appeal to a certain audience if it's not your cup of tea. I review the odd book on occasion and always endeavour to treat each book (no matter what its origin may be) with the respect it and the author deserves (even commercial releases that are littered with typos and inconsistencies).

For now, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Kind regards,
Ronan

Jane Smith said...

Ronan, I don’t like your suggestion that my methods aren’t fair. I make no secret of how I work here; and I only review books from authors who approach me without prompting and ask me to review their wok—which is exactly what you did. How, therefore, are my reviews unfair? And would you think them so unfair if I’d reviewed your book more positively? It might have been kinder to you but it wouldn’t have been fair to my readers, who come here for honest opinion, not fluff and flattery.

Moving on to my checking of your sales figures: I’m a writer. I’ve written and edited all sorts of non-fiction, including books and journalism: I routinely check my facts, it’s standard procedure and required by the editors I’ve worked for. As I can’t verify your sales figures then I have to say that you’ve claimed to have sold 400 copies: “claimed” is a term which makes clear that your sales figures remain unsubstantiated.

You might not like that I check things, but there you go: it’s how I work. And don’t forget, you did a little checking-up of your own when you visited my other blogs and used an out-of-context quote from one of them to erroneously frame me as “a frustrated and bitter writer who has yet to publish a novel”. While I find fact-checking completely acceptable, you seem to think that name-calling and ad hominem attacks are the way to go. Different strokes, I guess: but I’d rather be known for fact-checking, given the choice.

As for your suggestions that it’s nicer to highlight a positive: well, yes, I can see your point but again, that’s not what I do here. I don’t run this blog to provide hope for desperate writers, or to pat them on the head and tell them that they’ve done really well when actually they haven’t. It’s patronising and deceitful to pretend that bad writing is good, or that the talentless have a hope in hell of hitting the best-seller lists. As for treating writers with the respect they deserve: well, I think being honest with those writers is far more respectful than presenting them with flannel. Publishing is a business with stringent standards, and if writers (and their books) aren’t good enough it’s just not kind to give them false hope.

Ramsmobile said...

Just because you "make no secret" of how you work doesn't mean your methods are fair (even if authors do willingly send you their books). My issues with your methods are numerous, but I've already alluded to some of them, and I feel we're just going round in circles here like two children. I do, however, realise that SOME of your issues with certain books (my own included) carry some merit, but others are certainly debatable. Editing is somewhat subjective and not always cut-and-dry. As you well know, English is a very complex language and no two editors, in my opinion and experience, will ever see eye-to-eye on everything no matter what style guidelines they are adhering to. Continue doing what you're doing. You obviously enjoy it, so best of luck reading bits of these books that, for the most part, hold little merit in your eyes!

And yes, your readers visit your site for opinion. I can, however, only hope that the majority of them will realise that you are not judge, jury and executioner of the publishing world. You are but one voice and thankfully you don't speak for the majority. And frankly I couldn't care less what the "publishing ... business" with its "stringent standards" considers to be a good book. We've seen enough misery-lit, cloned chick-lit and copy-and-paste rubbish biographies clogging up shelves in the past decade to realise that the so-called experts haven't got a clue what the people want or what makes a good book. Thankfully some fine books still manage to slip through the net; some of these authors no doubt told along the way that their books were poorly-written or didn't conform to perceived standards. My view: If 9 out of 10 people say a book is rubbish, it's probably rubbish. But if 1 person out of 10 says it's rubbish, I'll tend to go with the majority.

And that's what I'd urge any of your readers to do. Dig around, read several reviews before buying any book! And I’m sure you’d agree. If I gave up on every book that had typos or a non-conforming structure, I’d have missed out on some classics. I recently read a Top-10 (UK) best-selling autobiography that was released in Europe a year after the States but was still littered with a huge amount of typos (I lost count). Yes, it was off-putting but, had I stopped reading said book, I would have missed out one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read.

It’s easy to put-down self-published books but large publishing houses (with huge teams of editors, large marketing budgets, etc.) continue to release books that aren’t anywhere near as polished as they should be.

I’m not going to bore you any more with the pros and cons of my book—virtually all cons in your eyes. You’ve got your opinion and I have mine (of course I'm somewhat biased). All I can say is that I’m happy with it, it’s selling reasonably well and feedback has been almost entirely favourable (from people of all ages, including school teachers, play writers, published writers, etc). As a self-financed and hard-working author, that’s all I can ask for.

And by the way, one of the most delightful books I’ve read this year was a self-published book called “No Time For Work”, which has sold a staggering 20,000+ books in Ireland since its initial release over 30 years ago. It’s got typos galore but it’s also got character aplenty. I’ll take the character any day!

Now, I hope that concludes our rather delightful debate :-)

Jane Smith said...

Ronan, I like it when people come here and debate my reviews in a respectful, intelligent way: consider the lovely Tom McManus, who was utterly charming in his response, and witty as well. You could learn a lot from him.

You've repeatedly refused to respond to the points I've raised; you've resorted to ad hominem attacks when you couldn't back up your arguments with facts; and you've attempted to distract me from discussing your lacklustre book by bringing up entirely unconnected issues. What you haven't done is consider that perhaps I might be right, and your book isn't any good. And now you've pretty much told me to stop commenting on my own blog. Unbelievable.

I was going to ignore your latest reply but then the Great God of Writers smiled down on me and sent me this. You might want to take particular note of these extracts from that article on the Warriorwriter's blog:

The Wanna-Be Writer ...
◦Becomes hostile at any authentic criticism
◦Argues and defends
◦Blames others for failures
◦Generally negative and will backbite and stir strife (this is a person who has the power to poison even a good critique group)

You're welcome to continue commenting here but if you continue to be insulting and rude, to veer off-topic, and fail to address the points that have been directed to you I'll delete your posts without explanation. Because all you're doing now is arguing: you're not debating at all, and you're not making any attempt to find a resolution here.

Ramsmobile said...

Jane,

I wonder who that article was written about? Does the WarriorWriter read you blog on a regular basis?

You too have failed to respond adequately to most of the points I have made. But I can hardly say I am surprised. Most of them were hard to argue with, but you've done a reasonable job by using the "poorly written and full of mistakes" angle time after time (yawn, yawn).

As I said, keep doing what you're doing; you're doing an amazing job, and the Great God of Writers must be really proud of you. Probably time for you now to invent your own language, such is your fine mastery of this one!

Now, where did I put that apostrophe?

Ramsmobile said...

Jane,

I wonder who that article was written about? Does the WarriorWriter read you blog on a regular basis?

You too have failed to respond adequately to most of the points I have made. But I can hardly say I am surprised. Most of them were hard to argue with, but you've done a reasonable job by using the "poorly written and full of mistakes" angle time after time (yawn, yawn).

As I said, keep doing what you're doing; you're doing an amazing job, and the Great God of Writers must be really proud of you. Probably time for you now to invent your own language, such is your fine mastery of this one!

Now, where did I put that apostrophe?

Jane Smith said...

Ronan, first of all, my apologies: you made your last two comments some time ago but they've only just appeared on my comments-list, hence my delay in approving them.

Onto business.

Look, I completely understand how upset you are that I gave your book a less-than-favourable review. But being rude to me, calling me names and insulting me, isn't going to change my opinion of your work, and it doesn't do your professional reputation any favours either.

By all means, continue to respond to me here. I'll not stop you, and so long as you're not racist, sexist or libellous I'll continue to approve your comments. But you might like to think very carefully about your book, and consider the possibility that I could have made a valid point or two before you insist that I'm wrong once again.

Anonymous said...

I bought this book a few weeks ago, and read it last week.

It is just as bad as the reviewer says, and more.

It rambles on, has no discernable plot, all the characters in it are a) indistinguishable from one another and b) pretty unpleasant, and it's chock-full of all sorts of writing mistakes including grammar, punctuation and spelling.

It's a disastrous book and the author's attempts here to save his reputation instead only communicate to me that he's as much of an idiot as the people he writes about.

Instead of arguing with the reviewer he'd do better to listen to her, and take on board some of her wise words. And if I was him I'd trash the book and find a new career. Anything apart from writing, because he doesn't have the talent to succeed as one and doesn't have the attitude either.

Ramsmobile said...

Anonymous,

Many thanks for your kind words and very constructive feedback.

I'm intrigued though. Where did you hear about my book, and where exactly did you buy it? And what on Earth possessed you to buy it? Perhaps you're as familiar with this genre as I am, and have read books such as "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" or "Mentally Incontinent" and marvelled at the lack of character development or a discernable plot, idiotic characters and unconventional structure of said books (I personally enjoyed the former and am currently reading the latter). Do you normally buy books such as "Lord of the Rams" on a whim (three extracts from the book are FREELY AVAILABLE on my website in all their badly-written glory to help ensure people don't make a terrible mistake)? That seems like a rather idiotic thing to do.

Or did you even buy it at all? I couldn't help but notice the beautiful way in which you write (it's always great to see the much under-rated leading comma used to full effect). Your style and tone reminds me of one of Jane's disciples who likes to occasionally comment on this blog. I know ... surely just a coincidence.

Anyway, I'm delighted you felt the need to trash my book while wearing your metaphorical balaclava. Even the village idiot can post narrow-minded and mis-informed comments on an online blog when protected by anonymity. The next time you suggest that the characters in my book (all of whom are real people), along with myself, are idiots, then please at least have the balls to publish your comments under your own name.

Jane Smith said...

That brilliant lapse of logic has left me boggling: one of my friends must have made that anonymous comment because of the way they use their commas. I'll admit: there's a secret enclave of us tucked away in South Yorkshire revolutionising the comma-usage of the world, and you have uncovered our evil plan.

Commas aside, you are an angry man, Ronan, aren't you? Every time you comment here you're cross with someone, and it's really not a good way to behave.

By insulting Anon and me because we don't like your book reveals you to be petulant and unprofessional. It compounds the errors you made in your book; it adds to the burden your bad writing represents. If Anon did indeed buy your book then he or she is entitled to have an opinion about it, and no amount of jumping up and down and shouting on your part can take away that right.