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.

40 Responses to “Important notes on what readers do not want to see in a story”

  1. […] Since gaining access to Kindle last year, I have read a ton of Indie books.  Some […] kindle – Search PHP FreelancerBookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on Facebookshare via RedditShare […]

  2. Hi, Suzie: I love this post…not just as a publishing guide but as a simple, straight-forward how-to on writing. First this was Strunk and White, then their was Suzie. Yep, library bookends 🙂

    • Thanks Tim. I hope people can just use it as a quick reference guide. There are certainly great books out there covering these points in much greater detail. I’m just trying to get people’s attention on what they may be missing when prepping a manuscript for publishing.

  3. Yep, “this” and “their” a perfect example 🙂

    • Lol, I read through this post three times trying to make sure there were no errors, considering the subject. There are pobably still a couple, despite my efforts. Just proves how important editors/proofreaders are. It is impossible to catch all of our own mistakes.

  4. Hi Susan, very good article. We had our book done by professionals. Even then there might be mistakes. I know I’ve seen some mistakes in Patricia Cornwell’s books. Not overly glaring until you read them in their context.

    I also discovered, keeping the dialogue type for individual characters straight is very difficult to do.

    Question: Do you think even if a book has been professionally reviewed then still comes out with some errors caught later that a second edition with corrections might solve the issue at hand? I mean if when you do the second edition you put that it is new and improved (or something similar).

    • That’s an interesting question, Lynn. Despite my best efforts, there are a few minor typos in my e-book, Phoenix Feather. My uncle, the perfectionist nut, wants me to fix them and put out an updated version. The e-book publishing process, while easy, isn’t instantaneous. It took two weeks for mine to go through the review process before it got shipped out to online distributors. Do I want to go through that waiting period just to fix a few typos that only grammar nuts will notice? I don’t feel particularly inclined to. If the mistakes were major and there were many noticeable, then maybe an updated version would be good. But that’s for e-books, and I don’t know if you were referring to printed…

      • Actually I was referring to both. Now that you mention it…I’m not sure what the update process would be for Create Space since it is similar to e-book process but has to be on a pdf format to go through. Hmm…will have to think on that some more. Minor stuff has been noticed but our book is so long that it was easy to miss or thought it got fixed.

    • Thanks Lynn. It is great when you can get a professional to look at your work. Of course, there will always be some mistakes. I see them in every book, no matter whether the author had a big publisher backing them or not. My real concern is that people reduce these errors to the absolute minimum. Readers can forgive a handful of typos/mispellings, but if they are on nearly every page, it is a problem.

      I do write stories on the side and completely agree that it isn’t easy to maintain a seperate dialog type for individual characters. Despite this, I think it is truly important to making a story really good. You don’t have to focus on the secondary characters so much, but the main ones do need it. Readers will notice the difference.

      As for second editions, I think they are definitely acceptable. It never hurts to go back and fix the problems amd re-release the work. Especially if you are primarily selling ebooks or print on demand. I have seen other authors do it. Most people seem to be rather receptive to an author who knows there are issues with their work and their willing to fix them.

      • Thanks Susan. Did I mention before that I’m in the process of trying to get our work on Smashwords. The main reason is because we’ve been accepted to send books out to the deployed troops through Operation e-book Drop. So I’m trying to do that and well might as well start there with the edits and then go to the ones that have already been through the mixer (so to speak). Smashwords calls theirs the Meat-grinder. So your article was very timely indeed.

  5. Great post, Susan! I completely agree. Typos even in trad published books drive me crazy. I’ve read some that had errors on every other page. It’s like everyone thinks once an author is a bestseller, they don’t have to work as hard because readers will now forever be loyal. Erg.

    And I am so happy to hear someone else say they don’t like too much description! I’ve thought it’s something I should be ashamed to say as a reader/writer, but if straight description goes for more than two large paragraphs, I start to get bored. I think interspersing it with thoughts or dialog is much better.

    • Lol Angela, descrition is great, but I can only swollow it in small amounts. There is a trick to doing it where the reader will not get bored, yet some authors tend to go on and on without breaking it up. I will admit it occurs in some of the big pub books amd there are people who rave over the detailed descriptions. Yet there are plenty of reviews on the same book complaining about the same thing. Finding a happy medium would be ideal. Your book was great for me, as it felt just right. Sharon Reddy, who has posted a comment on here as well, does a fabulous job of only including description where it is important. I was talking with her about this awhile back. We agreed most readers have an excellent imagination. Give them just enough and they can fill in the blanks on their own.

    • Angela, there’s definitely a balance between too much description and too little. And all readers view it differently – some want a lot and some want next to nothing! That’s probably what makes one author more appealing to us than others – they’ve hit the right balance for our tastes.

  6. Great points.

    I hope these points will be taken into consideration by many authors. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts

  7. A side note Susan. I posted the link to this article on the Amazon MOA forum because some one brought up a similar topic. I hope they take it in the spirit I intended which was to be helpful.

    • Lynn, thanks for posting the link. I did the same over on the Top Reviewers forum in the hope some might stop by and provide their own insight. These points, and any others that people contribute, are only meant to help. None of us are perfect.

      • You’re welcome. I also added it to my blog today, since I’m hoping to help fellow newbie independent authors/writers.

        BTW, Spinner even commented that she needed to find this article and appreciated the post.

  8. Authors, stop thinking of e-pubbed, or even POD as being like print books. Fix those typos. Your book doesn’t ‘go off sale’ while the new file is in review. It’s just replaced when the review is finished. I caught one on the first page of Paradox, did a fast new file load and then read it all again, and caught a couple more. They’re not new editions, unless you do major work. They’re just a file update. “I found typos!” Blam! Fixed.

    • Thanks Sharon for that information. So you are saying that I could make changes in Create Space without a big hassle? If so, that is so…Sweet!

    • Sharon, it still boggles my mind how few errors I caught in the book of yours I read, considering how long it is. I don’t know what your editing process is, but you have a good one.

  9. I think a lot of new authors think that editing will be done by someone else, that the story they’ve written is so phenom, that a few (or hundreds) of typos and grammatical slipups won’t matter.

    I spent twice as much time editing my novel as I did writing it and there were still mistakes that the editor caught.

    Also, the slow beginning is troubling, I set a book down if I’m not in raptures by the third page.

    • Jennifer, you are right that editing by the actual author is important. Before you ever have anyone else look at it, several rounds of checking for errors should be done. That means a greater chance of proofreaders finding all the ones left afterward.

      As you said, a great beginning certainly makes a difference to a story. One author that manages to always suck me into her books is Richelle Mead. She knows how to grab you. This is the opening chapter to her book “Succubus Dreams” (not the first book in the series). Warning, it is explicit, so don’t read if you don’t like that type of material:

      I wished the guy on top would hurry up because I was getting bored.

      Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like he was going to finish anytime soon. Brad or Brian or whatever his name was thrust away, eyes squeezed shut with such concentration that you would have thought having sex was on par with brain surgery or lifting steel beams.

      “Brett,” I panted. It was time to pull out the big guns.

      He opened one eye. “Bryce.”

      “Bryce.” I put on my most passionate, orgasmic face. “Please…please…don’t stop.”

      His other eye opened. Both went wide.

      A minute later, it was all over.

      “Sorry,” he gasped, rolling off me. He looked mortified. “I didn’t know…didn’t mean…”

      “It’s okay, baby.” I felt only a little bad about using the don’t stop trick on him. It didn’t always work, but for some guys, planting that seed completely undid them. “It was amazing.”

      You don’t have to write exactly like this to make it good. I just want to show how the beginning of a book can really jump out at a reader by using crazy opening situations.

  10. Richelle is great for openings, same with Jim Butcher.

    • Absolutely! I am a bit annoyed with Richelle for the romantic interests her characters have, but she certainly knows how to kick off a book and keep people’s attention (most of the time anyway, there is one exception).

  11. […] post over at Musings of Mistress of the Dark Path entitled Important notes on what readers do not want to see in a story got me thinking.  You see, her list of things readers don’t want to see in a book sounds […]

  12. […] Important Notes On What Readers Do Not Want To See In A Story by Mistress Suzie: A must-read, writers! […]

  13. Too much information does put me in a page-flipping mood. I remember reading Jurassic Park and thinking, “all right already with all the dino biology.” I don’t like to read with a dictionary next to me. Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” does drive it home that you only need to tell the readers enough for them to think you know what you’re talking about. And I agree…the POD and ebooks give you a great opportunity to correct any errors, and thank God for the readers who aren’t afraid to drop a msg to the writer that they found a mistake. I don’t take it personally. I just beat my hubby, a proof-reader for 35 years, over the head for missing it.

    • I feel like bopping my editor over the head but then again…it might have been possible that the wrong version got to somebody along the line. So difficult when you have so many hands touching it. I think I’m learning from it and will most like save as…then make it Rough draft 2 or something of that nature. That when when all is said and done…it should be the version that is ready to ‘go to press’.

      First time authors sure do go through a lot of trial and errors. It doesn’t help when your co-author is computer illiterate and all the typing falls on one person. Oh well, that’s life. (Okay now I’ve got that song stuck in my head – great – lol)

  14. Really good stuff, Susan, and it cannot be said, or repeated, too often. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, you have to be a professional in all ways.

  15. One thing I would like to ask people is if they would like to have a topic once a week on here where we discuss on of the big writing problems. Someone pointed out elsewhere that certain things in my general guidelines don’t work with particular genres. An example that comes to my mind is police procedural type novels. They need extra details. Not so far as to confuse the reader, but still more than normal because you are solving a crime. The devil is in the details, as they say. So knowing as much as possible about victims and criminals is actually important in this case. Whereas, in other novels, it wouldn’t be so much.

    Here is my question to everyone here. Would you all be interested in a once a week discussion of particular writing weaknesses where we can all impart our thoughts and words of wisdom? Please let me know, either here or through email. For those of you who don’t know, my email is listed on the “About Me” page of this blog. I am thinking Sundays would be a good day for it.

    • Susan, I think that is a terrific idea. Some people are weak in one area but strong in another…sometimes they are new to the business like I am. I’m always up for a learning opportunity. Whatever day works best for you works for me.

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