Monthly Archives: August 2014

Why Are Bad Books Published?

You’ve seen a book everywhere. It’s been recommended to you multiple times. It seems everyone is raving about it. Then, you read it. And it’s poorly written, has tons of plot holes, and has grammatical errors.

You ask yourself how this book got published. Why did it get published? You’ve read a ton of other books that are much better written, but haven’t reached the wild success this poorly written one has.

The publishing industry is littered with bad books. However, what makes a book good or bad is subjective. People have different expectations and tastes. A book I may love, you may consider one of the worst books of all time. Or vice versa.

I tend to be more critical of works than many of my friends. A big part of that is because I’m a writer, as well as a reader. I notice grammatical errors, structural problems, and character development issues to a much greater extent than my friends. While I have a tendency to nitpick, they just want a good story.

It’s very similar to how a few of my friends are singers. They’ll finish a song and will frown, saying they sounded horrible. To me – someone who loves listening to singing, but only sings when I have the apartment to myself – they sounded great. I didn’t notice the nuances they did.

Something else to look at is how well a book sells. It could be completely shallow and clichéd, but if it’s hitting the top of the bestseller charts, then the quality of the writing doesn’t matter so much. (I know, tough pill to swallow.) I’m sure we can all think of at least a few books that were poorly written, but were wildly successful.

So, then what do we do as writers? Well, we write the best book we can. And we support our fellow writers. Being a reader is one thing. You can blast as many books as you like, but when you become a writer, you shouldn’t shoot down other authors. Now, I’m not saying lie and proclaim you love a book that you actually threw across your room and left to collect dust. Tell the truth, but watch how you phrase things. It’s like being in a critique group. You are giving criticism, but you’re doing so in such a way it’s constructive, and, at the same time, you’re saying what you liked about the novel as well as what you didn’t.

In today’s publishing world, it’s all about making estimations on which book will make the most money. As writers, we can only write what stories speak to us, so instead of tearing down other authors’ novels, let’s work hard and work together. Writing can be a lonely endeavor. Let’s make it a little less so.

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Do Your Research. (It’ll save you a headache later on.)

When diving into the world of publishing, it’s important to know what you’re diving into. The publishing world is complex. Agents. Editors. Publicists. Publishing houses. Contracts. Publishers. And more.

And before all of that you’ve got to write your novel.

This is why doing research is vital. Research before, during, and after writing your book. Continue researching even after you’ve been published. Stay up to date on what’s happening.

There are three main types of research you should do when involved with the literary world:

  1. Your book. When you get an idea for a novel, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or not, you need to get the facts straight. As an avid reader, one of my biggest issues is reading a book where I know the author did absolutely no research. If half the teenage protagonist’s house gets burned down, the mother and police won’t just shrug their shoulders and leave the teenager alone (without having done any investigating), especially when she tells them that she has no idea why so-and-so tried to burn the house down with her in it. Not to mention having no idea what a normal high school day is like. (Please, if you’re writing YA and have a high school in your novel, know what the typical teenage schedule is like. Even if you’re writing fantasy and school is only a small portion of it, teachers will not make fun of a teenage girl when she comes up and tells them that a guy is making her very uncomfortable.)
  2. Your competition. Know the books that are similar to yours, or at least share the same category. You want to know why certain books were successful and why others weren’t. More importantly, you want to be able to communicate to agents and editors why your book will succeed despite what’s already published.
  3. Agents and Editors. The Internet has made access to information much easier. It’s also allowed for an influx of information that can be overwhelming. However, you want to know which agents and editors would be interested in your novel. If your book is an adult fantasy, you don’t want to waste your time querying an agent who only represents YA contemporary. You can also find information on when certain agents and editors will be at writing conferences. Go to those conferences. Meet those agents and editors. Give them a face and a name to remember. (In a good way only. If they remember you as the creepy stalker, who trailed them for the entire conference without saying a word, they will most likely not represent you.)

Creating lists of agents and editors, and documents for your book research and on your competition will help you to keep everything organized.

Bottom line: By doing thorough research, you will save yourself time and a headache. Plus, you’ll know what you’re talking about when you do get that call from an agent.

What kind of research do you do?

Watch Out! Slumps That Could Prevent You Finishing Your Novel

You’ve probably had a lot of ideas for novels. However, how many of them actually became a novel? My guess is not all of them. Most likely, most of them haven’t.

That’s not unusual, or a bad thing.

The problems begin when you find months have passed and you haven’t progressed, none of your ideas became novels, or you realize your novel is a hot mess and just stop.

Here are some things to watch for and how to fix them:

  1. The idea. You’ve got a great premise for a novel, but you don’t do any planning. The Fix: Move forward and set goals. You need to do some planning, even if it’s only a short synopsis (but it would be better to have more than that). Know your characters and the plot. You have to be familiar with what’s going to happen, so you can build up to it.
  2. The roadblock. You hit a wall and get stuck, and end up never getting back to your novel. The Fix: Don’t blindly plow through the problem. Stop writing and work on the problem itself. For example, if you’re unsure how your protagonist will react to a situation, don’t go ahead and jot down something that might be right. Take the time to figure out how your character would react. That way her reaction seems authentic.
  3. The First Draft. Great! You’ve finished your novel! You happily send it off to agents, just knowing the offers of representation are going to come pouring in. The Fix: First off, STOP. What you’ve got is a first draft. It’s not ready to be sent out. Reread, revise, give to beta readers, reread, revise, take a week or two away from it, reread, revise. It feels like a lot of work because it is. However, doing this will significantly up your chances of snagging an agent rather than if you simply sent out your first draft.

What writing slumps have you experienced? How’d you fix them?

Writing An Ending for Your Novel

Novels take readers on an adventure. They give them a world to escape to, characters they can believe are real, and thrills they can’t experience at home. But, no matter where novels take readers, the audience must be satisfied at the end.

This doesn’t mean everything has to work out perfectly. A few days ago, I finished a novel where the ending felt like a huge copout. I was so disappointed because everyone who died ended up coming back and everything ended up being happy and perfect. There was too much sunshine and too many butterflies. It felt lazy, and I was far from fooled. The ending didn’t make sense and everything that happened over the course of the novel didn’t matter anymore.

Sometimes it’s not quite how your novel ends, but where it ends. If you novel is a stand alone, tie up all the loose ends, including the subplots. If it’s a trilogy, make sure that’s clear. In THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins did a wonderful job of ending the novel, while still leading into the next book.

Emotionally move the reader. People don’t like to feel they’ve wasted money, and if your novel’s conclusion doesn’t have a natural feel to it, people aren’t likely to read your next book. You want readers to experience the same emotions as your protagonist. You want them to believe that the ending was possible. In another novel I recently finished, I didn’t believe the romance at all between the two main characters. It felt forced and very awkward, as if, since the novel was young adult, there had to be a romance. It cheapened the entire experience, and made me scoff at the ending. I’m not reading the rest of that trilogy.

In terms of things NOT to do…

  1. Don’t have an unknown character randomly show up to save everyone.
  2. Don’t ignore an ending that’s been implied at through the entire novel.
  3. Don’t introduce a conflict at the very end just to up the stakes.
  4. If you end with a cliffhanger, have a sequel or the next book in the series ready. It doesn’t have to be completely written, but you should at least have a short synopsis.

A quick checklist on how to write a novel ending:

  1. The ending satisfies the reader.
  2. All major and minor plots are resolved.
  3. The ending is logical and there was a natural progression leading up to the climax and resolution.
  4. There’s a believable emotional impact. The ending should deliver the same level of emotions as the beginning and middle of your novel.
  5. Your protagonist solves her own problems.
  6. If your novel is the first book in a series, tie up some ends and make sure readers know that another book is on the way.
  7. The ending is long and complex enough for the length of the novel. If you’ve got an 80,000 word book, your ending shouldn’t only consist of the last few paragraphs.

What ideas do you have on how to write the ending of a novel?