AuthorTubers. Heard of them? A bunch of writers, mostly younger than me (but who isn’t?) who make YouTube videos about writing, offering tips and guidance to the YouTube writing community. Some of it is interesting, some of it is entertaining, and some of it sounds like it might actually even be useful, at least as far as any recycled traditional writing advice in any format might be useful.
These YouTube authors live in a friendly little world where they share their extensive writing knowledge with their team of subscribers, and anyone else who stumbles across their channels, covering everything from ‘show, don’t tell’ to the perils of handing over money to unscrupulous agents and vanity publishers.
They all have books to promote, either already available or the ever-popular ‘coming really soon’. Some of them are so enthusiastic and prolific with their video-making and merchandising, they don’t have any published books available yet, but their debut novel is on the way, and it’s going to be amazing.
As a means of creating an audience, particularly for a book that isn’t available yet, it’s an effective strategy. If I had the looks, the vocal-fry voice, and a photogenic pet or two, I’d be pumping out writing-tips videos like you wouldn’t believe. But not many books.
The reality, of course, is the YouTube channels are a money-maker, and also a specific marketing tool for the books. That’s not a crime, it’s not even a ‘bad thing’, and it definitely works.
But, and you must have known this was coming – are their books any good? More to the point, do the books they produce match up with the hours and hours of writing advice they dispense in their videos?
I’ve read the first couple of chapters from one of these ‘coming soon, and it will be amazing’ books from a prolific and popular AuthorTuber, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I’m not going to give away the book title, or the name of the AuthorTuber, but I will give some examples of the ‘modern-day author’ writing quirks that jumped out at me while I was reading it.
This is all my opinion, of course, and I know without a shred of doubt that this book will outsell anything I ever write by a magnitude of thousands. But see what you think…
One of the female protagonist’s main character traits is saying the word ‘fuck’. This is part of the promotional material for the book posted on social media, and it features on merchandise related to the book. I don’t have any problem at all with a protagonist who swears (see Lana V in Midnight Cocktail and Cheating Sunrise), but I’ve never considered focussing on swearing as a main character trait, let alone using the word ‘fuck’ on promotional merchandise. Not because I’m a prude, but because swearing isn’t a unique or even a very interesting character trait. Unless, well, unless you’re a young, inexperienced author dipping their toe into writing a strong, independent, outspoken character.
Most of the first page is taken up with telling the reader about a life-threatening condition affecting the protagonist. Instead of having this tantalisingly divulged over time through actions and dialogue, the reader is simply told things like [not an exact quote, because copyright] According to the doctor, she had a few months left to live. From that point on, the reader is reminded in almost every other paragraph about the protagonist’s condition. She’s dying, it’s terrible, she feels bad about it. Ho-hum. Who is she again?
The attitudes and traits of some of the other characters are told to the reader in simple statements. [Not an exact quote, because copyright] Fred hadn’t told anyone except Bill. And Bill wasn’t a gossip.
Remember the protagonist is a person who says ‘fuck’ a lot? Barely three pages in, she gets involved with a random stranger for a bit of a spontaneous girl-on-girl grope. The word used to describe a particular part of her anatomy is ‘entrance’. Anyone who is interested in writing sex scenes needs to do a bit of research into how to write sex scenes, so the sex scenes don’t end up feeling awkward and not-at-all sexy. One thing you don’t do is refer to a sexual organ as an ‘entrance’. A few lines later, the word ‘vagina’ is used. The standard advice for writing romantic or erotic sex scenes is to never use the words ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. Not sexy. Not romantic. I have to assume the AuthorTuber who has made hundreds of videos giving writing advice didn’t do any research into writing good sex scenes. Also, if your protagonist is happy to say ‘fuck’ a lot, and the author is happy to put the word ’fuck’ on promotional merchandise, why does the same author shy away from using a more sexy and entertaining word than ‘entrance’ in a sex scene? Pussy, twat, minge, slit, cludge, clodge, clam, flange, fadge, and bacta (back-to-front, sounds like…) are among those available.
Worth mentioning at this point: three professional editors are credited with working on this book. I have to assume they all gave ‘entrance’ a big green tick of approval. Maybe a pink tick.
One of the essential writing tips the AuthorTubers frequently give is to create serious, long-term obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. What you must not do, they tell us, is give the protagonist a problem, and then quickly resolve it. Within the two very short sample chapters of this book, the protagonist is given a serious medical condition, with a few months to live, and then meets (by some kind of coincidence) a person who offers to fix their life-ending condition. Yes, it’s that simple. There’s no tension in being repeatedly told ‘Character A has a few months to live and is upset about it’, and then ‘Here’s a bloke who can sort it out for her if she works for him doing a technical job on a spaceship.’ Maybe if the illness had been strung out for a few more chapters, and the protagonist had really suffered before being forced to make a difficult choice, I would have cared.
The word ‘suddenly’ is used a few times. Elmore Leonard said it best: Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose’. I know this is old, established advice, and therefore not something ‘modern-day authors’ will be interested in, but using the word ‘suddenly’ makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
A woman is described as a ‘beautiful woman’ and there are ‘strange-looking guards’. Again, these are new-writer mistakes. What makes the woman beautiful? What looks strange about the guards? These are basic examples of telling rather than showing, and it reads like something from a story a nine-year-old would write.
There is a lot of repetition, mostly attempts to remind the reader of things they read a page or two earlier. Again, the AuthorTuber videos frequently cover this and tell us not to do it.
Here’s a quote, and it’s exact because I can’t imagine I can get into any kind of copyright lawsuit over it: Panic surged through her veins. This wouldn’t happen. Veins take blood TO the heart. Panic is more likely to be felt as breathing difficulty, a pounding heart, a sensation of choking, dizziness, nausea… a lot of things, but it is not something in the blood that would surge through the veins.
In one scene, the police ‘shot pistols‘. You fire a pistol; you shoot at something. Simple error. Three editors. You decide.
Another quote: A headache glanced between her temples. Glanced? Looks like the wrong word to me. You can suffer a glancing blow, but a headache is, by definition, an ‘ache’. It wouldn’t glance anywhere. Again, it’s a new-writer mistake to try to use an unconventional word, or in this case the wrong word, to make the writing look more ‘special’.
A character’s eyes ‘skirted’ from one object to another. I’ve never seen the word ‘skirted’ used to describe someone looking from one thing to another before. You can skirt around a subject, or otherwise avoid something by skirting the issue, but your eyes don’t skirt from one thing to another. Flitted, maybe, or flicked, or even skipped, but not skirted. Again, three editors…
The blunt-force attempts to leave both sample chapters on tense, ‘whatever will happen next?’ closing sentences are a bit too painfully forced.
Overall, I enjoyed spotting the mistakes and clumsy debut-author writing a heck of a lot more than I enjoyed the story. If the rest of the book is the same quality as the sample chapters, it needs to be edited by someone who isn’t scared to tell a big, famous AuthorTuber their writing isn’t great. I’d do it, and I wouldn’t charge them as much as you might think.