One thing I have learned over the past few months as I was working on my debut novel is that there are times when a writer has to get out of their own head. If you plan to publish/sell your book, you’re going to want to produce a product that’s going to appeal to more than just you. In an ideal world, each and every one of us would have a million people out there just like us who love our writing style (actually, let’s be honest, that would be one crazy-ass, over-populated planet), but in this world, readers want to read something that appeals to them, not just you.
There are several areas in which you’ll have to pull a Facebook…you know, where you view your “timeline” or “profile” as another person (in this case your plot or novel). Here are some areas where authors need to think like a reader.
#1: Backstory and plot development.
Readers don’t know the tragic backstory behind your twisted villain unless you tell them about it. When writing a book, you really need to spell out every last detail of the backstory and the plot. The challenge is to do that without clunky backstory dumps, rambling, and detracting from the main story. There are several techniques that help with this, such as revealing backstory through dialogue, working it in as you go along, etc. My techniques of choice for the shameless backstory dumps I included in my upcoming novel were blog posts written by the MC and a documentary about her rock star father, but of course that won’t work for everyone.
#2: Reader expectations.
There are certain genres in which a certain outcome is absolutely expected. Romance is the biggest one that comes to mind. In a romance novel, you almost always want the MCs to end up together. Romance novel readers are going to need Prozac at the end if they don’t get the all-important HEA. Some other genres are more flexible with their expectations, but you’re always going to want the book to feel like a ______ book (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller, etc.). This is one area where I took a bit of a risk in my debut novel because I did not pattern it after any book I’d ever read, ever. Because of that, it reads differently from your typical YA fiction book. Some people love my style and some people don’t, I’m finding, which is a-okay. You can’t please everyone. But in most cases, you’re going to want to know your demographic’s expectations and deliver on them, otherwise you’re going to end up with a pissed off demographic.
#3: The Three-Act Structure.
I scoffed the first time someone told me I needed to follow a three-act structure while writing a novel. I thought that was only for plays and movie screenplays, but it turns out it does help to build just the right amount of tension in your storyline. It also feels more natural to readers, who will be expecting this layout even if they don’t even know they’re expecting it. Try dividing your chapters or word count into three equal thirds, and see if your story fits into three distinct, separate, recognizable acts. If not, you may want to re-evaluate your novel planning method. It works for plays, it works for screenplays, and it might just work for your book.
#4: Character development.
This one is a big one. If you want readers to make it all the way through your book and be screaming your name from the rooftops at the end (followed by five-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, of course), you need to write about characters that they can connect with. Give your characters quirks and flaws that will endear them to the readers, and make sure you always expose their good and bad sides. No one wants to read about one (or even two) dimensional characters. They always need to be 3-D and larger than life.
Heh…yeah…this was another one of those “learn by experience” areas for me. Don’t shout your book anywhere and everywhere. It’s not effective, and it just comes off as annoying. No one is going to buy your book and read it if you’re in their face 24 hours a day screaming, “Buy my book! Buy it! Buy it!” Give your desired readers another incentive to buy and read your book. Run a contest with a giveaway, include it in a box set with other books, show excerpts, post teaser trailers…but for the love of God, don’t blast it on Twitter every five minutes. You’ll get un-followed by everyone you know and love in a hot second.
I’m sure there are more areas than just the ones I’ve listed, and if you have anything to add, please comment below 🙂 More information about the DORK release and blog tour(s) to come!
Thanks for reading!