Important notes on what readers do not want to see in a story
As most of you know, I am a reader and a reviewer. Since gaining access to Kindle last year, I have read a ton of Indie books. Some have been great, others needed serious work. When authors put their stories out there, it should be their absolute best. In cases where this doesn’t happen, it gives all Indies a bad name. Some readers have gotten so frustrated by poorly written books that they refuse to read any more that don’t come from the big publishers. That means they hurt others sales as well.
Today I’m going to list a few things I see when reading that can make or break a book for me. These are generic and may or may not apply to you. Just trying to get my thoughts out there. I will be welcoming input from others on this subject as well. Here are some of the big things that I notice:
1) A weak beginning– What do I mean by this? Well, if the start of your story doesn’t jump out and impress readers, they are less likely to continue (particularly if they only downloaded the sample). It is very important that a book starts off well. I have seen some authors that really know how to grab your attention and not let go. Make it a point to do the same in your own stories. Also, the first part of your book should have no spelling errors/typos or the reader may not even give it a chance.
2) Poor editing/proofreading– Lets face it, at least half the indie books I see do not have this. Sometimes, the story is so good, I don’t actually care, but that isn’t often. You have got to clean up as many errors, grammar mistakes, etc as possible before publishing. An author, by themselves, cannot do this. It is completely understandable that paying a professional can be too expensive, but there are ways around this. If you have family or friends who can proofread well, use them. A minimum of three people should see your book and offer corrections before it is ever published. Make sure at least one of them has some kind of experience doing this. Tell them to be as honest as possible. You need to have thick skin.
Now, not everyone has family/friends that can proofread. There are alternatives. Search online for critique partner sites. There are many out there to choose from. You can usually find someone under the same genre as yourself and critique each other’s work. It is totally free and can be very helpful in getting the feedback you need from someone who is not biased and doesn’t know you. There are also people running around this blog that may be willing to help as well. Some might do it for free and others for a reasonable fee. I invite them to post here if they would be willing to help authors with their work.
The following are some of the biggest problems I find in Indie books that could have easily been fixed with a good editor/proofreader:
- Repetitive words– You cannot keep using the same word (particularly nouns and adjectives) more than once or twice a paragraph or it drives the reader crazy! I will stop reading your book if you do this. Sorry, it is a pet peeve of mine.
- Glaring typos/spelling errors– It happens to the best of us, including myself, but others can help you find them.
- Bad punctuation– Need I say more!
- Reading level– Make sure you are writing to the targeted audience’s level. If you want smart, educated adults reading your novel, write it in a way that engages them. This means using higher level vocabulary. Most people will tell you they love having to look up the occasional word and learning new ones. Just make sure you use them properly. Having others read your book before publishing can help tell you if the level is where you want it.
3) Slow Pacing– Try not to let the story slow down too much. One example of this is when you spend too much time explaining, rather than showing. Of course we want to know what the characters are thinking, just don’t spend pages and pages with them only thinking. Action is important.
There are exceptions to this if the story is based upon one characters experiences with few secondary characters to interact. You can still keep the reader engaged, though, even under these circumstances. Just try to keep things moving. Read each scene and ask yourself “Do my readers really need to know these things to understand the story?’. If not, cut it out! Sometimes you feel like a scene needs to be in there when you first write out the book. That is fine. Write in everything you want to get on paper (or the word processor). Just be willing to get rid of the unimportant stuff when it comes time to edit. I know it is hard to remove parts of your beautiful writing, but it is something that must be done.
4) Bogging down the story with too many details– People rarely want to spend a lot of time reading descriptions. Yes, you absolutely need to give those, but don’t spend all your time doing it. Keep it simple or sneak the details in. Rather than saying “He was a short, stocky man with black hair and a mustache”, try something such as “The man rubbed at his mustache while thinking of how to respond to the question” or “The woman’s blond hair fell over her face, hiding her teary blue eyes”. Now you just gave away details while keeping the story going. Just insert these sneaky details throughout and eventually an entire picture of the person is created, without slowing things down.
Also, if the character isn’t important, don’t bother describing much about them. Readers don’t really care, they just want to get on with the story. Gender, and maybe size (if that pertains), is all that really matters. Regarding clothing, only worry about describing garments if they are important to the scene. Obviously, in the case of a nightclub setting, it can’t hurt to mention the leather pants or miniskirt. People will want to know in that case. There are many other exceptions to the rule, but hopefully you get my drift by now.
5) Weak Dialog– I have seen problems with this, even from the big pub authors, so it is not just an Indie thing. Some authors inadvertently make their characters sound immature or ignorant through poor dialog. This is despite the fact that earlier descriptions in the book stated otherwise. If at all possible, never have your main character use a lot of slang or poor language skills. It just sounds and looks bad. Secondary characters (that don’t have too much face time) in the book can use slang, southern word usage, poor English, etc. Just don’t do this with your primary characters. Readers will have a hard time getting through it. Explicit language, foreign words, dialect, and slang can be used in small doses, just not all the time.
6) Misrepresented Characters– I am a big fan of paranormal/fantasy books. This means I run into a lot of characters who are supposed to be immortal and lived for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Some authors do a fantastic job of convincing readers of their character’s longevity, others do not. Now, I don’t personally know any immortal people, but if you want to convince me a person really is a thousand years old, don’t make them act like a teenager. They should not be using much of any current slang (unless it is in a joking manner). In fact, their dialog would be more convincing if it included some older terminology. Also, their actions should be on a much more mature level (unless they are the crazy guy that went off their rocker). Make me, and other readers, believe this person has really been hanging around on this earth for centuries. There are a number of ways to do this, no need to be stuffy and boring about it.
For all other character types, make sure you have listed (on a character data sheet) exactly how your they should be viewed by others. Then read through the whole story again, after writing it, to ensure their actions and dialog reflect what you want people to see. Ask someone else to verify this as well. Believe me, it will make all the difference in the world in making your characters appear legitimate.
There are probably more points I am missing from the list above. You all are more than welcome to list your own observations (whether they come from Indie books not). I’m sure we can all learn something by discussing these issues in the open. Authors want to a gain solid readership and need to have well written books to do it. Readers want to find great books and are often happy to say what doesn’t work for them. Don’t take anything personally said here. It probably doesn’t even pertain to you, but is worth noting for future reference. Also, feel free to tell us what ways you have used to make sure your story looked its absolute best. Only through mutual exchange can we all have a better experience 🙂
~ by Suzie on July 12, 2011.