Step on the treadmill


Can your work hold up on a treadmill?

That’s to say: novelist Jefferson Smith wants to expand his pool of participants in the ImmerseOrDie review/critique project he launched in June 2014.

ImmerseOrDie started both as a way for Smith to break up the sedentary life of a writer, and as a way to figure out how to help all indie writers improve their work, regardless of whether they were put to the test.

The premise is simple: Smith sets a timer for 40 minutes, picks up an indie-published work, and after three “WTF interruptions,” he closes the book.

Some books pass, and they receive a survivor badge, among other honors (more on that later). But most — about 91 percent, in fact — don’t. Those 200-plus strikeouts have yielded a list of the 51 most common problems, available free for all to use here.

Smith is coming at this from several angles. As a reader who found himself frustrated by stories that had such potential but weren’t executed properly. As a writer who wanted to identify the issues he himself should avoid.

And as a member of the indie community who, while embracing the freedom from gatekeepers that self-publishing provides, hopes to also call attention to the best works it’s producing.

Enter those honors alluded to earlier. Last spring, IOD sold a StoryBundle collection showcasing nine treadmill survivors; this spring’s edition will feature seven others. Through Feb. 3, you can also grab a StoryBundle of the top seven treadmill books from 2015 for a freewill donation that supports literacy charities (check it out here).

Additionally, on Feb. 1, the short-story collection All These Shiny Worlds will be released, for free (bookmark this link for Kindle and EPUB versions when they’re available). The works in it come from 15 treadmill-test survivors.

And now back to the beginning: Smith is welcoming submissions from Fussy’s authors. Works must be available for sale on a major vendor website, and he’s seeking submissions from the genres he’s most familiar with — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and thriller — to ensure he treats them fairly.

Just think of all the free exposure you’ll get when you pass …

Head here for more information on sending your work in, and read on for a quick Q&A with Smith about his project.

SADYE: How do authors generally react to the what-went-wrong report?

JEFFERSON: I've done over 250 reviews so far, and I've had feedback from about a third of the authors. Two of them, I think, seemed to take it rather personally, but all the other responses have been positive. …

Writers in the early stages of their careers can easily find criticism, but it's horrendously difficult to get any that is actually helpful. I think that by focusing on my own reading experience, explaining what issues tripped me up and why, rather than trying to turn it into issues of “good” or “bad,” the ImmerseOrDie reports are easier for an author to take on board.

They might still come as an ego bruise, but when a reader tells you, “This passage confused me,” that's a lot easier to accept than, “Chapter 2 is stupid. Your book sucks."

SADYE: Are there any success stories that you’d like to share from the writers who took what-went-wrong to heart?

JEFFERSON: Twice now, I've had authors contact me to say that they'd taken their books off the market and were rewriting, based on my comments. Both times, it came as a complete shock to me, and I can only hope they sought other feedback before taking such drastic action, but I have to admire their commitment to their craft.

Much more commonly, I get messages from writers who tell me that they were reviewing their current project and suddenly heard my voice piping up in their heads. … Or maybe I'll see a discussion on Reddit where one author criticizes another for having a “declarative sentence parade.”

These little moments tell me I'm having some impact, because authors are starting to use my labels to discuss the flaws in their work. It's one thing to get a cheerful thanks, but to actually be influencing the language authors use to discuss their problems? That's truly humbling.

SADYE: Has anyone put your work to the treadmill test?

JEFFERSON: I've been critiqued, and certainly had some blunt feedback from editors, but I haven't faced ImmerseOrDie, no. It would be too self-serving for me to do it myself, and I'm the only one reviewing novels. …

What I do get is a ton of grief any time I let a typo slip through onto the site. Especially if it happens within an IOD report. I totally understand why readers jump on those gaffes, though, and I just accept it as a part of the proposition.