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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 17, 2011

12 Signs Your Novel isn't Ready to Publish

Self-publishing is the trending subject in Cyberia. Last week my post on self pubbing got over 2500 hits. And 60 comments. It not only made “Best of the Best” of Jane Friedman’s “Best Tweets for Writers,” but got a shout-out from publishing blog-god Nathan Bransford. (Thanks, Jane and Nathan!)

I’m amazed. Many thanks to all of you—with special nods to everybody who has taken the time to leave a comment. Lots of information and food for thought there. I think one of the reasons this blog is getting popular is the quality of the comments.

To recap what I said in that post: KINDLE NO BOOK BEFORE ITS TIME! Don’t throw your fledgling book out into the Kindleverse without some serious thought. 

I realize you feel pressure to join the e-book revolution. Stories of Kindle millionaires are everywhere. The e-book provides a magnificent way for established writers to monetize their backlist—or even their frontlist, if they decide to go indie all the way like Barry Eisler. It’s also worked magic for new novelists like Karen McQuestion and Amanda Hocking, and I’m reading more success stories every day. (There’s one from author Mark Williams at the bottom of the comment thread of the self-pub post that’s a must-read.) I LOVE stories like this.

But it’s important to keep in mind these were all seasoned writers before they self-published. They had inventory. They knew how to build platform and make sales.

So don't expect their results until you're a seasoned writer, too. Even if you don’t get pounded with bad reviews, you could be sabotaging your future career. If a reader finds bad grammar, misused words, and no plot—even in a 99-cent e-book—they’re not going to want to read that author again. Maybe only a handful of people will buy it, but if you become a literary darling some day, that bad book will always be lurking somewhere on somebody’s Kindle, waiting to destroy your reputation.

Writing has a learning curve like any other skill. You don’t get to play Carnegie Hall after a few piano lessons. You don’t join the PGA tour after a couple of afternoons on the golf course. Learning to write takes time. Way more time than you think.

It sure did for me. I cringe when I read some of my early work. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the rejections that kept the worst of it from seeing print.

But at the time, I thought that stuff was perfect. Jody Hedlund discussed this phenomenon in a great post last week. She pointed out: “Writers are blind to their own mistakes.”

All beginners make mistakes. Falling down and making a mess is part of any learning process. But you don’t have to display the mess to the world.

Here are some tell-tale signs that a writer is still in the learning phase of his/her career.

1)     Lots of writerly prose. Those long, gorgeous descriptions that got so much praise from your high school English teacher and your college girlfriend are a huge turn-off for the paying customer who’s searching for some kind of story in there.

2)     English-major showing off. It may feel incredibly clever to start every chapter with an epigraph from Finnegan’s Wake. But unless it’s really important to the plot, this will probably annoy rather than impress readers. Ditto oblique references to the Cavalier poets or anything by Thomas Mann. People want to be entertained, not worship at your self-erected literary altar.

3)     Episodic storytelling. I admit my own guilt on this one. I could never end my first novel, because it didn’t actually have a plot. It was a series of related episodes—like a TV series. (Many thanks to former agent Colleen Lindsay for reading the whole ms. and telling me this in a kind way. Because of her thoughtful comments, I could finally drop the book and move on.) Critique groups often don’t catch this problem, if each episode has a dramatic arc of its own.

4)     Hackneyed openings. I wrote a post on these a while back.The worst is the “alarm clock” opening—your protagonist waking up—the favorite cliché of all beginning storytellers. There’s a hilarious video on this from the comedians at Script Cops They say, “78 % of all student films start with an alarm clock going off.”

5)     Thinly disguised oh-poor-me memoirs and revenge fantasies. Having a terrible childhood does not make a great story. Neither does surviving a life-threatening disease. That kind of experience needs a lot of processing before it can be worked into entertaining fiction.

Also, readers probably won’t be enthralled by a 200,000 word description of a guy just like your toxic ex, even if he gets hacked up by his ax-murdering second wife in the final scene. (Yes, I know that was fun to write.)

6)     Semi-fictionalized religious/political screeds. You have to be really, really good (or Ayn Rand) to get away with political fiction. Carl Hiaasen manages to throw quite a bit of his politics into his comic mysteries, and Chris Moore gets in some digs in his hilarious horror tales. But if you aren’t as funny as those guys, save it for a letter to the editor.

And if you’ve written a novel just so you can send everybody who isn’t exactly like you to Hell, your reader will want to send you there, too.

7)     Dialogue info-dumps and desultory conversation. Another of my personal pitfalls. After 25 years in the theater, my brain’s natural habitat was the script. It took me years to learn characters don’t have to say all that stuff out loud. And “hello how are you fine and you nice weather” dialogue may be realistic, but it’s snoozifying. Readers don’t care about “authenticity” if it doesn’t further the plot.

8)     Tom Swifties. The writer who strains to avoid the word “said” can rapidly slip into bad pun territory, as in the archetypal example: “‘We must hurry,’ exclaimed Tom Swiftly.” Bad dialogue tags may have crept into your consciousness at an early age from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. They're great fun, but they were written by a stable of underpaid hacks and although the stories are classic, the prose is not.

9)     Mary Sues. A Mary Sue is a character who’s a stand-in for the writer’s idealized self. She’s beautiful. Everybody loves her. She always saves the day. She has no faults. Except she’s boring and completely unbelievable.

10) Imprecise word usage. This is what snagged the infamous unhappily-reviewed indie author of a couple of weeks back. If you don’t know the difference between lie and lay, aesthetic and ascetic, or why a woman can’t “carry her stocky build” down the stairs, you’ll get two-star reviews, too.

11) Incorrect spelling and grammar. The buying public isn’t your third grade teacher; they won’t give you a gold star just to boost your self-esteem. Spelling and grammar count. Words are your tools. Would you try out for professional baseball if you didn’t know how to hold a bat? Electronic grammar checks can only do so much. And they’re often wrong. Buy a grammar book. Take a course. Go to a writers conference. Seriously. Even a good editor can’t do everything.

12) Wordiness. There’s a reason agents are wary of long books. New writers tend to take 100 words to say what seasoned writers can say in 10. If your prose is weighty with adjectives and adverbs, or clogged with details and repetitive scenes, you’ll scare off readers as well. 

If you’re still doing any of these things, RELAX! Enjoy writing for its own sake a while longer. Read more books on craft.. Build inventory. You really do need at least two polished manuscripts in the hopper before you launch your career.

And hey, you don’t have to become a marketer just yet. Isn’t that good news?

How about you, scriveners? What mistakes did you make when you were starting out? As a reader, what amateurish red flags make you wish you hadn’t wasted your 99 cents?

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Blogger jbchicoine said...

Oh my goodness! I made far more mistakes than I care to own up to! My biggest embarrassments were dialogue tags and adverbs...okay, and heavily weighted descriptions, info-dumps--overall wordiness. The good news is that I can recognize these issues now, and although I'm still in the learning curve, I don't think any of these are large enough obstacles to hold me back much longer.

Anne, I do so appreciate these posts--it's no wonder so many rave about them!

April 17, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Excellent post! Let me add one more beginner's mistake.

Please, please, please don't bore readers with descriptions of your character's dream(s). No better way to stop plot/action! Guaranteed to bring your narrative to a dead halt & put your reader into a coma.

April 17, 2011 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Clare C. Greenstreet said...

I am so guilty of the Episodic storytelling. I've tried many times to stop and for one book just can not seem to be able to break it up.

April 17, 2011 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Nice list, Anne! I think it's important for writers to get good feedback on their work before even thinking about self-publishing. Sadly, many writers don't - or they get feedback from useless sources. Also, first novels rarely make great material for self-publishing, but I have seen exceptions. :)

April 17, 2011 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Once again, you take many advices other have said but failed to make understand, and you get the point across. I think my biggest problem with storytelling is wordiness. I hate to take many words to get where I want to. Accuracy is my ultimate dream.

April 17, 2011 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Elaine AM Smith said...

That was a great post. I was addicted to passive construction.

April 17, 2011 at 2:24 PM  
OpenID markwilliamsinternational.com said...

All valid points, Anne. You've got me busy now rewriting my draft blog which draws heavily on your previous two!

But a quick query. You reference the Kindle as if it's the primary focus of indie writers. Is that the case there?

Here in the UK it certainly is, because we have no direct access to the Barnes & Noble nook.

B&N, in their infinite wisdom, think anyone without a US zip code is beneath them. We cannot even buy an electronic download from them because we live outside the USA. Thank goodness for Amazon!

Yes, we can upload to B&N indirectly via Smashwords, but then we get totally ignored by the B&N algorythms, and worse still we can't buy our own book from them to see if the formatting is right.

April 17, 2011 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Your shout-outs were well deserved. Your blog has become a must-read for me. Congratulations.

April 17, 2011 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Darke Conteur said...

I think I did everything on your list! I found an old story (wrote it several years ago) and there wasn't a 'sadi' in the whole thing!
*so embarrased*

April 17, 2011 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger graywave said...

Great piece, Anne. There's a book on craft you might enjoy called "How Not To Write A Novel" which takes the same 'bad novels do this' stance and is full of hilarious examples (well, it had me ROFLing, anyway.)

April 17, 2011 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger AderuMoro said...

This was fun to read and very insightful. I think it would be even more fun if someone could generate a "quiz" that writers can take and see just how guilty they are , haha.

I'm still confused about how much prose writers ought to include nowadays. When does it become excessive?

April 17, 2011 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger graywave said...

@AderuMoro It becomes excessive at about a tenth of the amount China Mieville uses - yet he won a Hugo Award last year. Go figure.

April 17, 2011 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Which is why I love Sunday nights. I get to sit down and talk to you.

My biggest mistake in earlier writings was POV. I could never get it straight. From Head Hopping (in the same paragraph) to omniscient 3rd, to second and first all on the same page. Yikes. I still can't believe that book got 7 partial requests. (But it was a great query so I sort of can see it.)

I think I can safely say I don't do anything on your list. Well, maybe #1 just an eensy bit. (Okay, maybe a little bit more than eensy.)

April 17, 2011 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

jb--Isn't it nice when you can look back and say "I don't do that anymore!"

Ruth--OMG, guilty! I always used dreams to show feelings because I was terrified of inner monologue (that theater thing.)

Clare--I still fight it, so I totally relate.

Michelle--Sadly, it's true. Pretty much every first novel is just for practice.

Ben--Writers are in love with words. That's why we write. So it's painful to have to cut any of them. I relate.

Elaine--oh, yes--all those passives. They sound so high-falutin' and literary don't they?

Mark--I'll be looking forward to your post. B&N doesn't know the UK exists. They'd never list the books I had published in the UK. Don't they know you have more readers per capita than any other country?

April 17, 2011 at 5:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Judith--Thanks! Glad people are enjoying it.

Darke--Yeah. I didn't get these from random reading--these are my own bads, too.

Graywave--I love HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL. I read it some time ago. I wonder how much I'm subconsciously stealing from him...

And yes, when those wordaholics win prizes it doesn't help the rest of us, does it?

AderoMoro--I love the idea of a quiz. I'll have to work on that.

Graywave's answer is a good one. These days, most people are in a hurry. They want short. So I'd say follow Elmore Leonard's advice and "cut the parts that readers skip."

Anne--POV!! I forgot POV!! Head-hopping and god-like narrators who know what the dog is thinking. Maybe that needs its own post.

April 17, 2011 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

This is another great addition to what you have been discussing for weeks. What I am also concerned about is the one in one million who does make a splash (Kathryn Stockett) and puts stars in an aspiring authors head ...

or the recent article with Konrath ... talking about Barry Eisler turning down a half-million from St. Martins. How many other established authors are likely to follow?

I am not at all surprised that you blog has gained the widespread recognition it so deserves. Were that I could be this astute? Gees ... is that grammatically corrent :):)

April 17, 2011 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Solvang Sherrie said...

Great list! I'll admit a few things on there made me squirm. Thank goodness we learn from those early mistakes. Well, most of us :P

April 17, 2011 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger E. Arroyo said...

Great list. This is a keeper.

April 17, 2011 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

The alarm clock thing is such a pet peeve of mine. Or opening with cloudy weather. What a great post! Another one...

April 18, 2011 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

fOIS--I think we need those starry-headed fantasies. If we didn't all think we might be that one in a million who gets to be a Katherine Stockett, we probably wouldn't be going through this slog. And yes! How many big name writers will follow in Eisler's footsteps is the HUGE question in the business right now. Stars pay the bills. If they leave, the whole industry is out of business.

Sherrie--I did some squirming as I wrote this.

E. Arroyo--Thanks!

Clarissa--Alarm clock is #1, but Weather reports are definitely #2.

April 18, 2011 at 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Sue McGinty said...

Don'cah love it that Anne takes time to reply to her commments! I do.

April 18, 2011 at 10:00 AM  
OpenID nataliefaybooks said...

I read number 4 and it felt like I was caught eating chocolate in the middle of the night.

April 18, 2011 at 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Sue McGinty said...

Aargh! Make that don't cha.

As in don't cha love it that Sue can't correct her typos until she clicks the Post Comment button.

April 18, 2011 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Ann Best said...

I can't believe it. Blogger just ate up my well-crafted comment! Does anything work the way it ought?!

Anyway, I said, true, true, true. Wait, wait, wait. Hone the craft. Get feedback. Learn how to write!

I've read some pretty good self-pubbed books lately, good plots, interesting characters. But all of them, some more than others, suffer from grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation errors that drive me up the wall!

I used to be wordy. I was wordier than I thought in my early drafts of my about to be published memoir. If I'd self-pubbed it, not only would I have been very embarrassed, I would also have suffered what you point out here: loss of authenticity.

Excellent. I can see why your previous post, which I read also, got so many hits. Does all this ever need to be said and absorbed by all of us who call ourselves writers!

p.s. You wrote this wonderful comment on my post yesterday: "Alas, if the strong-arm politicians have their way, we will all need rich friends to help with our medical bills, since they plan to take away our Medicare.

After all, the billionaires need solid gold toilets on all their yachts--gold plate is SO tacky. So much more important than the lives of 99% of Americans."

Also true, true, true. All those children in Washington playing around with our lives. Let them give up something so they'll know how the rest of us feel!

As ever, your friend and follower:
Ann Carbine Best, Long Journey Home

April 18, 2011 at 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Courtney Cantrell said...

Adverbs! Oh, how I loved my adverbs once-upon-a-time. I'd read what Stephen King has to say about them (i.e. that we should give them no quarter), but even then, I didn't quite get it.

It took a kind yet honest beta reader to point out to me that while my characters and plot were good, adverbs were weighting my writing with a load no reader wanted to carry.

Finally, something went "click" in my head -- and out came the Red Pen of Adverbial Death. I haven't looked back. ; )

April 18, 2011 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue--It's all good. That just makes it look as if I have more comments ;-)

Natalie--I think story is the hardest lesson to learn.

Ann--I'm glad you weren't offended when I went off on that rant. Any mention of stealing our Medicare and turning us all over the Mafia that is Blue Cross makes me so mad I can't see straight. 1% of the people have stolen 99% of the wealth in the last 20 years. How much more do they need to take before they have enough? Talk about redistribution of wealth! Reverse Robinhoodism is now the modus operandi of the GOP. I think it stands for Gobs Of Plunder.

Courtney--Me too. I used to sprinkle adverbs lavishly and gleefully into every sentence.

April 18, 2011 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Orlando said...

That is a good list, helpful and very true. I especially agree with 10 and 11, but it was all well stipulated.

April 18, 2011 at 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer Tanner said...

Hello Anne!

I got hung up on what was considered a proper/correct dialogue tag...like said, exclaimed...vs... breathed, growled. Now, I rarely use dialogue tags. The same goes for adverbs. But back story is my real nemesis.
Thanks for a great post!

April 18, 2011 at 4:38 PM  
OpenID elisamichelle said...

I'm guilty of number four. My WIP starts with the main character waking up. Now that you mentioned that, I know exactly how it can be reworked. Are there any times that kind of opening actually works?

April 18, 2011 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Orlando--Yeah. Obsessive verbiage and bad grammar are pretty much an immediate no for me. If I'm constantly editing in my head, I can't enjoy the story.

Jennifer--That's one of the major newbie mistakes. I do blame Nancy Drew.

elisa--That means you're like 78% of writers. If you had a time machine so you could write it before everybody else has, you'd be good. It's not wrong. Just so overdone it doesn't work any more. In the sidebar you'll see a link to my post on "12 Do's and Don'ts for Introducing your Protagonist." That might help.

April 18, 2011 at 7:07 PM  
Blogger Ranae Rose said...

I'm one of those people who doesn't like to let a book go without finishing it. But lately, I began one that was too painful not to. The book had two seriously major flaws: 1) Characters placing themselves in life-threatening danger for virtually no reason. (It was like the author was too lazy to think up a real reason for them to do it.) 2) Ridiculously unrealistic dialogue.

Reading it was sort of like listening to fingernails scratching against a chalkboard. Eventually I gave up, but the question still haunts me... What kind of editor could have let all those glaringly horrible mistakes go?!?! :(

April 18, 2011 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Elisa Michelle said...

Anne, thanks for replying and answering my question. I'll definitely read that post!

April 18, 2011 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Rachna Chhabria said...

Thank God I don't use the alarm clock opening. What about the staring in the mirror opening?

Like you, I too cringe when I see my first book. After my editor told me its way too long, needs atleast 20,000 plus words chopped, I abandoned it in a corner of my desk and moved on.

Thanks for this great post.

April 19, 2011 at 5:41 AM  
Anonymous Victoria Heckman said...

I will never own up to all the awful things I wrote and there is a reason it/they was/were never published. Ha! But I must thank you for the Script Cops link... I needed that...

April 19, 2011 at 8:31 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ranae--Some people like realism and some prefer outrageous, if it's comic or thrilling. There are comic-booky thrillers that aren't really meant to be realistic. Ditto funny stuff from people like Hiassen and Moore. But if a book intends you to take it seriously, a lack of realism can be a total turn-off.

Elisa--I hope it helps.

Rachna--You'd probably like the post I recommended to Elisa: "12 Dos and Don'ts for Introducing your Protagonist." Mirrors are definitely on the Don't list.

Victoria--Aren't they hilarious? I haven't had time to see all of those YouTube bits, but the ones I've seen are great.

April 19, 2011 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great post, as usual! I have made all of these mistakes and as I read this my mind wandered back to the manuscript I was editing this morning. At least two items from your list were there. Didn't recognize them at the time. I will return to the task beter prepared. Thanks again!

April 19, 2011 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Liz Fichera said...

Great post and congrats on all the linkages--well deserved!

I read a lot of YA. One of the things that gets under my skin are teenagers who sound like 60-year olds. Sorry, but 16 year olds are not that smart or wise. Yet.

April 20, 2011 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--glad I could help. We really see these things when we go back to edit our early work, don't we?

Liz--I think that must be a BIG problem, because I see a lot of complaints about it. Also teens who love music from the 80s, or whatever decade the author was a teen.

April 20, 2011 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Great post. Some very useful information. I have bought my fair share of 99 cent e-books in support of fellow bloggers and new writers and cringed at the grammar and spelling mistakes….maybe because I see myself reflected in those mistakes. I am too timid yet to publish anything but I will have a proofreader for sure either way I choose to go.

April 20, 2011 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Veronika said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 20, 2011 at 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Veronika Walker said...

These are all fantastic! I hate "dialogue dumps" and "Tom Swifties." Hopefully I don't do it in my own writing...*goes to check*

Great stuff!

April 20, 2011 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger February Grace said...

Another great post, Anne. I admit to cringing when sucking it up and inserting 'said' when it just seems so repetitive. I hate it. I am a reader who does notice them- my brain does not filter them out as they say you're supposed to, I guess. I notice every single one.

So I've learned to try my best to avoid dialog tags where I can- and I think that's another thing new writers don't realize- if you've got two characters having a conversation, and you're writing it properly, you really shouldn't need them a whole lot to be able to follow who is saying what or else you need a rewrite anyway.

So happy to see your blog getting the attention it so richly deserves :~)

<3 bru

April 20, 2011 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

Love it!!! [as usual]

I've read this advice on your blog and now a few others that you really need to keep at it to improve. I was crushed when my agent was unable to find an interested party for my first manuscript, but now the second one I just completed? I feel even stronger about. The writing came easier, and the characters were stronger- I am now actually glad that the first one didn't make it as my debut because the second one is much better. . . here's hoping the second one sees the light of print :)

April 20, 2011 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Leslie Rose said...

I plead guilty to episodic tendencies. Thank goodness for a truth-telling critique group who pointed it out to me in a loving, but "stop doing that" way. This is a great list of filters to look through when I write. Thank you.

April 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger K.M. Weiland said...

Great list! The problem is that most inexperienced writers aren't able to recognize these problems in their own work. The objective eyes of beta readers, critique partners, and editors are invaluable - whether you're attempting to self-publish an ebook or attract the attention of an agent.

April 22, 2011 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

Excellent post Anne, sorry I haven't commented lately I've been crazy busy.

I was wondering if you could elaborate on the episodic storytelling? Is this when people tell you to treat each chapter like short story (beg/middle/end or cliff hanger?)

Thanks! I always learn something when I visit!

April 22, 2011 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jennifer--It's useful to hear that, coming directly from an e-book buyer. Yeah. It's not just the 99 cents: it's hours of your life you'll never get back.

Veronika--Thanks. Because you're an editor, I'm sure that stuff jumps out at you.

Bru--You're right that we don't need dialogue tags as much as we think we do. I had them all over the place.

Aisha--Your first one must have been pretty good to get an agent to sign you. But I think each new book makes us better.

Leslie--Story construction is the hardest part of novel writing, for sure.

KM--You're so right. I thought my first feeble effort was the best book ever written. And it had typos on every page (no spellcheck back then.)

Emily--Each chapter needs a story arc, but the overall book needs one too--one that builds with each chapter. Episodic story telling happens when there is no one big plotline spanning the whole novel and each episode stands alone, instead of building the tension for reaching the ultimate goal.

April 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger S. F. Roney said...

What mistakes did I make? Back when I wrote a lot of science fiction in high school I was a fan #1, the writerly prose. I'd write long descriptions of the planets and alien environments. They would have bored readers, but at the time my science and English teachers loved them! I'm glad to see this as the first mistake listed to correct.

April 22, 2011 at 11:41 PM  
Blogger roh morgon said...

Anne, thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

I read this post and all the comments with great interest due to the publishing crossroads that I'm at right now (along with a number of other writers). Your cautionary advice is well worth heeding and I will bear a number of your points in mind as I enter my next round of editing.

I also visited the April 3 post you mentioned in this one - again, it's a very timely one for me.

Thanks again

April 23, 2011 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

S.F. I think High School teachers are so amazed somebody can write enough sentences to fill a page, they tend to overpraise the over-wordy. And we all have to go through that stage. We learn to edit later.

Roh--I saw you're thinking of taking the plunge. I'm on the fence myself. More stuff on this in an eye-opening guest post tomorrow.

April 23, 2011 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Really great post :)

April 26, 2011 at 7:47 AM  
OpenID jfilez said...

"Readers don’t care about “authenticity” if it doesn’t further the plot."

I disagree with this statement because people saying things that are unauthentic will only cheapen a story, so I think. I do agree that we don't need all the mundane lines like "How's the weather?" and so on, but not having realistic dialogue seems hazardous, but perhaps it all depends on the piece.

April 27, 2011 at 6:05 AM  
Blogger TL Jeffcoat said...

I do some of these, lucky me its only a few. Enough of them to keep me busy a while. I'm wrapping up my very rough draft. I think I'll be looking up some books to make sure I'm on the right track. Thanks for the eye opening blog.

April 27, 2011 at 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gr8 post

April 27, 2011 at 6:42 AM  
Blogger Lady Tam said...

Interesting post. :) However, as I was reading it, I kept thinking of very popular books and successful authors who defied some of these rules. For example, Stephen King LOVES descriptive writing! He'll describe something for two or three pages at times, just to set it up...yet his books are *incredibly* addictive. And there are quite a few religious writers out there, such as C. S. Lewis, who have been incredibly well-received.

I dunno; I like the advice, but I think getting too laden down with what is and is not okay can be a trap too; sometimes something just *clicks* with an audience, and sometimes it doesn't. I don't know if any set of rules can really tell you what will and will not stick [besides having good grammar and an awesome story, of course. :) ]

April 27, 2011 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Lady Tam said...

Augh! Blogger ate my comment. -_-;;

Short version: I feel that authors like Stephen King [descripes things *ad nauseum*] and C. S Lewis [very popular religious author of The Chronicles of Narnia] fly in the face of some of those rules. I'd love to hear your viewpoint on such authors. What do you think?

Also, I've been told I don't have *enough* description, so it's a bit frustrating, which apparently is the opposite problem most beginning authors have. How do you know when you've gone into too MUCH detail?

Thanks for the post! :)

April 27, 2011 at 7:04 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Wish I had time to read all those wonderful comments but just want to say thank you for the post! I'm an aspiring author and some of these were very helpful!

When would you say a book IS ready for publishing? I've got about 8 drafts and two editors have reviwed it. I'm always scared it's not good enough :(

April 27, 2011 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Wish I had time to read all those wonderful comments but just want to say thank you for the post! I'm an aspiring author and some of these were very helpful!

When would you say a book IS ready for publishing? I've got about 8 drafts and two editors have reviwed it. I'm always scared it's not good enough :(

April 27, 2011 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Kierah Jane Reilly said...

Great tips! But, explain why a woman can't carry her stocky build down the stairs again?


April 27, 2011 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...


jfiles--I didn't say authenticity isn't important. Just that it can't just sit there by itself, showing off: it has to do its job of furthering the plot.

TL--we all do this stuff. That's what first drafts are for.


LadyTam--You're absolutely right that famous writers do all this stuff. But we can't get away with it. Why not? The same reason Britney Spears can get away with that outfit and you can't. Fame has a lot of perks. When you get famous, you can break the rules. Also, writing has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Everything is speeded up. I'm going to write a post about that soon.

Claire--That's a good question, and it's all subjective. Most writers never feel their work is really finished. And some books only need a quick polish after they're written. Others need decades of slogging. But your 2 editors probably have an idea if it's done. If they agree, I'd say you're ready.

Kierah--LOL. That's why we need those beta readers. I should have added "Continuity problems." Me, I love to drop props. She's got a suitcase at the top of the stairs, but then she's off running with no suitcase. No mention of it again. Parks her car. Car disappears for 50 pages. Doesn't mean the book is bad. Just that it's not ready.

April 27, 2011 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Kierah Jane Reilly said...

Anne, I totally drop props all the time. And my characters have the uncanny ability to move from one end of the room to the other without getting up from the sofa. What would we do without beta readers?

April 27, 2011 at 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Greta Marlow said...

Once I was reading a self-published book and noticed the main character was going to the bathroom all the time, for no reason related to the plot. If the character had been going to do a pregnancy test, or to retrieve the bottle of booze from the toilet tank, or to clean up after a murder, sure. But no - she just needed to "go." It got to be pretty amusing.

April 27, 2011 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger J.M.Cornwell said...

I remain a sucker for writing that trips off the typing fingers, but I do tone it down a bit, although I have a tendency to wax rhapsodic from time to time on the off chance there is a reader who likes the compound and complex sentence oozing with detail and emotion.

My first novel stalled mid stream because I didn't know how to finish it, so I turned to newspapers, magazines and writing for politicians and professionals. Worked for me, and for them, and gave me quite a lot of credits and some national syndication. Then again, self publishing was anathema and there was no direct to Kindle, Pubit! or Smashwords, which is where my most recent book can be found. I went the traditional route first, but was unhappy with a few issues, like quarterly statements that come out every 15-16 months, if at all, and under reporting, and the questionable book cover art. I would have sex with either of the guys on the front either. I'm about 6 weeks past my introduction to self-publishing and I am not going back. It's been interesting, but I don't buy many books for Kindle since I don't own one yet and have too many books to read and review when I'm not working to pay the bills.

April 27, 2011 at 7:38 PM  
OpenID yikici said...

I concur with all the comments above; this is a great post; I read this on my phone a few days ago and have been itching to write a comment; now seems to be the time to do so.

I have to admit I think I was leaning towards a Tom Swifty; reading your post has made me re-think my dialogue tags... Thank you.. :)

One question; if dreams are critical to the overall story plot then would your opening paragraph detailing the truth ok to go ahead with? I ask as I initially had started my first chapter with a dream; though I have since had to add a prologue and an additional chapter prior to that chapter, so it is not likely to affect my writing; but I thought it would be useful to know for future reference etc...

April 28, 2011 at 4:21 PM  
OpenID yikici said...

I concur with all the comments above; this is a great post; I read this on my phone a few days ago and have been itching to write a comment; now seems to be the time to do so.

I have to admit I think I was leaning towards a Tom Swifty; reading your post has made me re-think my dialogue tags... Thank you.. :)

One question; if dreams are critical to the overall story plot then would your opening paragraph detailing the truth ok to go ahead with? I ask as I initially had started my first chapter with a dream; though I have since had to add a prologue and an additional chapter prior to that chapter, so it is not likely to affect my writing; but I thought it would be useful to know for future reference etc...

April 28, 2011 at 4:22 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kierah--Yeah. Beta readers rock.

Greta--I wonder if the author had some bladder issues herself? :-)

JM--I have heard some horror tales about cover art--from authors and agents both. Yeah. Something to consider. Good to hear from somebody who's taken the plunge and had it work for them.

yikici--I'm so guilty of the dream thing. I use the device a lot. But that comment about no dreams comes from a former Big Six editor, so she knows what she's talking about. I'm going to be looking at some of my unpubbed things to see if I can take out the dreams. If you can start with something else, I think you'll be increasing your reader-friendliness.

April 28, 2011 at 5:23 PM  
OpenID scifialiens said...

When tempted to write a dream sequence, ask yourself five questions:
Is it absolutely essential to the the story line? If so, this might indicate some failing in the plot.
Will it enlighten your readers...or confuse them? Never 'confuse them now and explain it all later.' Books are too easy to put down.
How will your character be affected? Real people seldom carry much of their dreaming into the real world.
How will your fictional dreamer explain or hide the dream from other characters? Psychology is not a widely popular topic in entertainment.
What led to the dream? If it just came to you, let it go or write it down to develop later on.

April 28, 2011 at 6:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

scifi--Great list! Thanks for this.

April 28, 2011 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Wow, what a great list! I noticed I used the same words a lot in my manuscript. Lots of drifted, surrounded, filled, closed. I cringed when I did a word search and found them. I'm not in the process of plucking most of them out.

April 29, 2011 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger MaryKateLeahy said...

dialogue info dump. I cringe I was so guilty in my first. I've gotten better .... a little :) I console myself that it was at least about the characters and not the weather. Great post!

April 29, 2011 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--Oh, those old, comfy words and phrases! I think our ideas tend to slide out in the same word patterns. And we're blind to the repetition. That's when a good beta reader is a life-saver.

MaryKate--Me too. My old work has at least two pages of "as you know Bob" dialogue in every opening chapter. But luckily, that's a pretty easy fix.

April 29, 2011 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger Josa Young said...

'snorted' infested my first book. I always track down and slaughter 'suddenly' too. Then I weep softly into my sleeve at all my other faults. O well.

April 29, 2011 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Josa--I like "snorted" too. I also invented the word "snortled" and then my muse felt it necessary to add it to every chapter.

April 30, 2011 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Lady Tam said...

Thanks for your advice! :) It made me feel a lot better.

I have to wonder if fantasy readers are a bit pickier than readers of more popular genres, but it still made me feel better. Thanks for the encouragement!

May 12, 2011 at 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Bill Schweigart said...

Great article. It made me cringe here and there, but admitting you have a problem is the first step.... Another I'd add to the list that I am personally guilty of are scenes that drag on waaaay too long. I heard from a favorite writer "enter a scene late, and leave early." Words to live by.

May 27, 2011 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger marta chausée said...

great post! info dumps and stilted dialogue would be my personal quicksand. i'm keeping this list posted on my laptop as i write.

marta chausée - Resort to Murder series

June 12, 2011 at 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Robert Sloan said...

Thanks for a great post. I had to grin reading down the checklist because I think I've made every one of those blunders in some novel or other. Well, almost all. I'm not sure I ever used the alarm clock opener.

A happy thought is that any of them can be corrected by editing. The same political or social rant that clogged an early novel can be shown, not told, tightened and turned into a theme. The abuse story is rich in good conflict and once the author's overcome personal issues, can lead to a powerful story. If grammar and spelling are a problem, solving them becomes mechanical once that's understood.

I write better than I used to and not as well as I will.

Your checklist is great for an editing guide. I've still got one or two sore spots on it that I should go through on whatever I choose to launch first.

Thanks for a useful post. I'm copying this article to keep in my editing folder.

September 13, 2011 at 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Stephen V. Masse said...

Thanks for sharing some wonderful observations on publishing readiness. One relatively simple cure for many of these issues is for every writer to develop the habit of reading a manuscript aloud. Read it aloud to yourself, and if it sounds right, then read it aloud to a writing group or a bored teenager.

May 14, 2012 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Somehow I missed reading Robert's great comment last September (that was the week I launched my first book and taught my first blogging class) But I LOVE this quote " I write better than I used to, but not as well as I will."

Stephen--The "read aloud" tip is a great one--especially to a bored teenager :-) I read every word of a book aloud at least twice--once to my critique group and once to myself in final draft.

May 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger amirthavarshini said...

hi, reading your post for the first time. I'm too, one of the unfortunate stupid writers who get zero comments for their blog posts. I'm a 13 year old indian school student, and last hols, I playfully created a blog, where I publish the boarding school story I have written. But, i'm really embarrassed to admit that even my friends avoided reading the story. your post is a great help. thanks... but can you do me a favour? will you visit my blog and then tell me what you feel about my story? good or bad, whatever you feel, thats alright... just please let me know what people think of my story, please!
my blog's address is: www.myfirstwebnovel.blogspot.com

July 12, 2012 at 5:28 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Amirtha--Thanks for commenting. Since this is your first time on the blog, you probably haven't read how often I advise against posting fiction on your blog. You are throwing away your own copyright, so you can never sell that book. If you want critique, find an online critique group. There are very good ones at CritiqueCircle.com. I think they also have them at AgentQuery.com and many other writer sites. But you don't want a critique from me. I'm a professional editor and I'd charge you a lot of money :-) Good luck!

July 12, 2012 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger amirthavarshini said...

Thanks! That was great help. I'll surely visit critiquecircle.com... thanks again:-D

July 13, 2012 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger Holly Marsh said...

Great post! Now I can see where I'm going wrong and the areas that I need to improve!

October 7, 2013 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Holly--These are guidelines for people who are looking for an agent or traditional publisher. Some indieauthors have broken a lot of these "rules" and still found an audience. Being a good storyteller is the #1 thing. But I think if you keep this stuff in mind, it helps improve your work to attract the most number of readers.

October 7, 2013 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger James Curcio said...

well, I often write entirely in dream (that's what fairy tale and myth- modern or otherwise, is.) but otherwise, pretty accurate observations- of course, we should always be growing.

May 2, 2014 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

James--Nothing wrong with writing your first draft in a trance state. In fact, it's great. I think lots of us feel as if we're in a dream state when we're "in the zone".

These are guidelines for what to do AFTER the first draft. The first draft is for the writer--everything goes in there that comes into your brain.--but the final draft is for the READER. That's what this post is about--how to polish the work with the reader in mind.

May 2, 2014 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Mark Hoult said...

Snorted is fine if your book is about horses. Otherwise....

August 4, 2014 at 9:45 AM  

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