Every writer wants to leave a lasting impression. They want to create unforgettable characters, extraordinary worlds, with a storyline that drags the reader in and never lets go. They want, above all, to write a good book. The question is: what makes a book “good?” Every reader has their own preferences. What appeals to one will not appeal to all. The most important thing for any writer to consider is their target audience. Whether you’ve written an elegant work of literary fiction, or the hottest romance to hit the shelves since Fifty Shades, your readership should play an important role in the decisions you make when finishing and promoting your work. That said, there are – I believe – some basic elements that can help any novel achieve a measure of greatness.
- Cover. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Yes, the all-important cover can make or break the potential of any story. If it looks thrown together by an amateur, readers WILL be afraid to open it up. A bad cover inspires no confidence in the quality of the work inside. Take a look at the covers of other books in your genre. What’s appealing to you? What’s cheesy? Writers should be the most avid of readers. Pay attention to the details that get your attention – namely color scheme, font, and image.
- Formatting. Some will argue that properly justified paragraphs, appropriate font selection, suitable line spacing, and traditional header/footer placement isn’t important – and it isn’t, for everyone. But can anyone honestly say that taking the time to perfect the look of your interior would harm an initial impression? The answer here is, “No!” Taking chances with your subject material, characters, and plot is fine. Taking chances with formatting robs you of readers who expect a book to look like a book – both inside and out. Professionalism is key.
- Dialogue. I’ve never considered any novel for keeper status if the dialogue wasn’t legit. Your characters are best understood through their actions, and the words that come out of their mouths. If they don’t sound like people, I can’t relate to them – and I need to relate to them. You might have the most exciting premise ever, but it’s the human element you add to your story that makes your readers care enough to keep turning the pages.
- Originality. This is terribly, terribly important. Your book should be your own unique creation. Don’t borrow another writer’s sense of humor to tap into their fan base. Don’t recycle an overused plot without reinventing the story. Don’t rely on stereotypes if you can’t find a way to individualize the character. If readers wanted the same story over and over again, we’d never purchase another book. We buy because we’re hoping for something NEW to captivate us!
- Voice. From those first few lines to the last page, we want to appreciate the individual tone of your work. We want your sense of humor, and your wit. Don’t get hung up on fifty-cent words and elegant phrasing. I’ve met writers who are charming, intelligent, and hilarious in real life, but somehow left all that out of their books. When that happens, I don’t buy them. I might subscribe to their blog, or follow their Twitter feed, but I’m not going to invest money in their product. On the other hand, when I feel a connection with the author – a real appreciation for their voice – I am extremely loyal. I’ll keep track of you, always on the lookout for new titles. I’ll tell my friends, and preorder your books, and fangirl all over the place.
Bottom line is this: readers want to read. More than that, we want to love the book. Don’t hide your story behind a sloppy cover. Don’t disguise it with poor formatting. The story itself is the most important aspect, but if we can’t find it – if you’ve made it too hard to recognize – you’re unnecessarily depriving us of our next great read.
(Originally written for IndieBrag)