Up to now I’ve tried to review only books I could be mostly positive about. But a while ago someone recommended a book to me (without having read it herself), and I requested a review copy from the author, which he willingly provided; so now I’m obligated to review the book.
Roman Carnival by Serafim Gascoigne (self-publishing through Pokrov Press) is a young adult urban fantasy novel with an intriguing premise: Obscure pagan deities of the ancient world have opened up a time slip between Roman Londinium and modern London, and a couple of teenage boys are unwillingly caught up in a cosmic battle between good and evil. This could have made for a thrilling book, along the lines of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, perhaps. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
The author shows potential as a fiction writer. But it takes more than potential to pull off a story like this. It takes polished and seasoned skill. That kind of skill is acquired by reading lots of good fiction, reading books on writing, taking writing classes, participating in workshops and critique groups, and above all, putting in one’s 10,000 hours of practice. If a writer has done all that and still cannot get a traditional publishing deal, it might be time to think about self-publishing (though even then I don’t necessarily recommend it for fiction).
But the evidence of this book suggests that this author was too impatient to go through the long and laborious process of learning to write fiction well. My guess is that he had a good idea, wrote a draft, then immediately started submitting it to agents and/or publishers. When it didn’t get picked up, instead of assuming the manuscript must be at fault and working to improve it, he apparently assumed the publishing industry was at fault and decided to bypass it by publishing the book on his own.
The result, I am sorry to say, displays all the typical faults of a self-published book. The cover is uninspiring, the interior layout is amateurish, and all the writing faults that should have been edited away (first by the author himself, then by an experienced fiction editor) are right there, glaring at the reader from the photocopier-quality page.
It saddens me to see what might have developed into quite a good book delivered prematurely into the world this way. The tragedy is that once a book has been printed, bound, and advertised on the web, it’s extremely unlikely that further efforts will be made to improve it, and it is destined to fade out of existence fairly quickly.
I know as well as anyone, and better than many, how difficult, frustrating, and hair-pullingly anguishing it can be to try to get a first novel published in the current publishing environment. It’s true that great pearls of fiction can occasionally be passed up for all the wrong reasons. But in the majority of cases, all those gatekeepers really do serve a purpose: they let you know when your work is not ready for the big-time. Please, my dear fellow writers, pay attention, and keep slogging away until your work really is ready to be “discovered.” It’s worth it in the long run.