HFC Book of the Year Contest

And the winner is …

HFC Book of the Year Contest


Ok, it’s not book of the year or even first place in my genre, but it was completely unexpected by me. Oh sure, I was hopeful, but how many authors win any kind of award on their debut book? It would have been incredibly vain for me to expect to win anything. Besides, I don’t think I’m close to writing my best stuff.

And yet, I’m batting one thousand percent – one contest entered and one award won, and that has boosted my confidence. Hopefully, I can keep improving and growing my list of awards. I do feel that my writing in “The San Augustin” and “When the Doves Coo” show improvement.  There’s a lot to be said for the advice young writers get – just WRITE!  Oh, and READ!  And I do believe that writing – really writing for publishing – changes the way you read.  I know it has for me.

Take for instance Diana Gabaldon’s recently released and long awaited ninth book in her Outlander series. I have read the previous eight tombs twice – all before I began writing The Two Valleys Saga series. There are a couple of things that are bothering me about this book and at first, I thought it was because she was doing something different with her writing or she had a different editor or something … it just seemed different from her previous work. While she is notorious for switching from first person to third person point of view, previously, it seemed to me she did so smoothly and without confusing the reader. With Go Tell the Bees, I am often trying to figure out who is being written about when she switches to third person and the dialogue has a similar problem. I also think she is incorporating more Gaelic and it seems forced. I have always included a foreign language only when the reader can get the jest of the phrase by its context in the writing. Most of the time, I’m not picking up what the Gaelic means and after trying to look it up a couple of times, I’ve given up.

I’ve gone back and forth over whether this is my ‘new’ reading perspective or changes in her writing style. Most likely it is a mix, but I do believe something is amiss with her prose. Given her status as arguably one of the premier, if not the premier, historical fiction authors, I doubt much will be said about it by the critics. If it wasn’t for loving the storyline and characters (they’re like old friends) I think I might have put this book aside.

Bronze in Western             Historical Fiction

Personally, I think she is succumbing to historical fiction critics that continually push for authenticism without regard to what it might do to less picky readers. In my humble opinion (not to be cliché), we are writing fiction, and while authenticism in some instances advances the story and puts the reader in the time and place, it can be every bit as distasteful as inserting historical facts out of context.

If taken to the extreme of writing in the style of the period one is writing about, we would lose most readers because today’s writing has an accepted flow to it which has evolved over time. Try picking up a book written in the 1800s and you’ll see how difficult it is to quickly get into a reading rhythm.

‘Easy Reader’ format                                                    Traditional format


This leads me to a pet peeve. Publishers have formatting standards. Certain line spacing, font types, paragraph formatting and on and on. When I initially got involved with Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) online formatting applications during the uploading of my manuscript, I realized I knew nothing about the formatting process, and I spent considerable time studying it. I’m like that you know, I need to understand the whys for the things I do and the decisions I make. Anyway, I had formatted my manuscript in a certain way because I wanted to be sure my elderly mother (who, by now, you probably realize had a special role in drafting the book) could read it comfortably. The images above demonstrate the difference. KDP offers a ‘large type’ option with their paperback and hardback books, but I believe that more ‘white space’ is more important to most readers. If distracted, more white space via slightly increased line spacing and spaces between paragraphs allow readers to more quickly find their place, which maintains their understanding of the scene without having to go back and re-read.

I have other qualms over formatting as well. I still miss the double space at the end/beginning of a sentence. Many of us older folks were taught this in typing classes back in the day. I understand why it was eliminated – or at least I think I do – but sometimes I come across situations where a single space leaves me wondering if the sentence has indeed ended. Typographers tell us adding two spaces no longer enhances readability and in fact diminishes it, but I have to disagree. I wonder how they decided that. A sentence is a separate thought and to my mind a period is too insignificant in size to signal the reader to start a new thought. I suppose that if typographers were examining it from the standpoint of reading speed, they might have a point, but surely readability is more complex than that.

Since I make all final decisions with regard to my books, I’m considering including two spaces after each sentence. Perhaps KDP or others won’t accept that, but I might try it along with my other line and paragraph tweaks, which, sad to say, I abandoned to a large degree after the first version of The Mesilla.

You’ll occasionally see other oddities in formatting. Paulette Jiles isn’t the only person to experiment this way, but in her award winning book News of the World  she uses no dialogue markers – that is, no quote marks. I gather this has some kind of literary artistry connotation, but I didn’t care for it. When I read it, there were occasions where I didn’t pick up on dialogue and had to re-read it to understand. And then there’s the issue of the effect it had on spacing and flow. I suppose there are those that will suggest it improves flow. I found myself stopping to decide if a character – and which character – had said what was written, and so how can that improve flow?Mary Armstrong Books Las Cruces

I began this missive humbly declaring I didn’t expect to win anything and then I launched into criticism of some fellow authors and the publishing industry in general. I guess I let my success go to my head. I realize I may not have an impact on ‘publishing standards’, but as an author, and especially as a self-publishing author, I hold those decisions in my own hands – at least for the most part. It may cost me more to publish books with more white space but in the end, I think the offset of more happy readers makes it well worth it.


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