This is a guest post by Emily L. Moir-Genther
I’m no expert writer, and I can’t even take myself seriously when I get all stern about giving writing advice. What I am, however, is an avid reader. In fact, given my years of experience in the field of reading, my time spent proofreading others’ work, and the handful of literature classes I took at community college, I’m going to declare myself an expert reader.
As an expert reader, I can tell you with authority what makes me click away from a blog, put down a book, or not even bother in the first place.
1. Sloppy editing
You could have a story so amazing it’d become like unto Arthurian legend, but most people won’t get much past chapter one if it’s riddled with typos, spelling errors, and inconsistencies. The same is true of that mind-blowing, life-changing post that you can’t figure out why no one commented on.
The concept is actually very simple: People don’t like reading complicated things. If your reader has to sit there and guess what word was supposed to be used instead of the gobbledy-gook you let get published, they’re going to get bored super fast.
True story: I recently had to write an author who had asked me to do a review and tell her that she needed to find an alternative because her book was so poorly written I couldn’t make myself read it.
Self editing is especially important for bloggers and independent authors. You don’t have a team of experts who can catch your mistakes before they go to print. That’s all on you.
That being said, don’t trust that a team of experts will catch every mistake that you let slide. Don’t let yourself think of a publishing house as a safety net. Think of them more as one person standing with arms outstretched below the tightrope you’re walking. They’ll do the best to catch you, but you could still end up with a lot of bruises.
Another true story: I once made mention of consistency errors in the spelling of characters’ names in a book I was reviewing. I put in a plug about independent authors really needing to quadruple check their work. The author got back to me and pointed out that the book had actually gone through a publishing house and several professional editors.
Stuff will totally slip through the cracks. It’s up to you to be on top of it.
2. Cliché characters, cliché plots
Quick, tell me what book I’m talking about.
Loner/outcast/misunderstood Character A meets sweet/charming Character B, and an unlikely friendship/romance ensues.
That device has been used so much, people really need to stop calling the ensuing relationship “unlikely”. The only person who doesn’t know how that set up goes is the five-year-old still struggling to read No, David!
Your characters and story need to bring something to the table that no other author can. If a reader picks a book that has the same three characters that are in every other book in that genre, falling for the same stupid plot devices, they’re going to put it right back down. Chances are they’ve already read it, and they were sick of it long before they got to your book.
3. Self importance
I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but every time I come across a blog post or a self-help book tooting the author’s own horn, I want to reach through the text and punch them.
Fact: As humans, we screw up…a lot!
Seeing someone else do perfectly what seems like Vulcan rocket science to us brings out our angry toddler side. Start rubbing that in someone’s face, and they’re going to bite you.
You’re allowed to have successes, and you’re allowed to take pride in them. There’s a difference between being proud of what you’ve done or what you’re capable of doing and being smug about it. It’s important to learn that difference before you turn potential readers into a hate club.
Congratulations! You just wrote your fiftieth post about how dumb people at Wal-Mart are. Problem is, people stopped reading forty-five posts ago.
Things only stay relevant for so long. Once the horse is dead, please stop beating it.
This goes for novels, short stories, etc. as well. You managed to avoid writing something cliché, kudos! But it doesn’t count if your next piece of work is essentially your last piece of work with different names.
5. Getting lazy about your cover and/or title
A book will always be judged by its cover, and if that doesn’t kill it, the title could.
Let’s be base and compare this to people. A lady walks into your establishment wearing what is obviously a homemade tube top and cut-off daisy dukes with holes in them. Unless you’re working at a strip club or a sports bar, you know your first impression is that she’s going to be wasting your time and probably making your life miserable while she’s doing it.
Now let’s say a lady walks into your establishment dressed like a normal human being, but her name is spelled K-$ia. “No sir, I’m not trying to pull a credit card scheme. That’s seriously the way the customer’s name is legally spelled”.
The same concept goes for books or blog posts. First impressions are how a reader judges whether or not the content will be something they’re interested in. No one sees a book entitled The Short, Spikey Hair of My Neighbor’s Dog with cover art that’s obviously hand drawn (though no one can actually make out what the picture’s supposed to be) and thinks, “Gee, I wonder what this book is about. I should read the summary on the back”.
A post on your personal blog completely void of pictures or even infographs titled What I did on Tuesday will also get skipped over.
Be creative, think out of the box. That’s what being a writer is all about, right?
About this post’s author:
I live in Utah with my recently acquired husband. A full time writer and artist, my other passions and professions include childcare and education. I’ve always been smarmy and loud mouthed, so one day a few years back, I decided to put those qualities to use in the form of blogging. You can connect with me on my blog, Emily Unraveled.