Writing Predictions

If you walked up to a literary agent at a writing conference and said, “I’m looking to sell my first novel,” the agent will probably roll their eyes. (Or at least, think about rolling their eyes.) Why is that? Because the agent already knows what is wrong with your manuscript.

In fact, most professionals in the publishing industry know what is wrong with your book in the query letter. How do they know? Because they can predict the value of your novel, based on how many you have written.

Here is what’s wrong with your first novel.

  • The characters are interesting, but your manuscript does not “read like a book.”
  • The storyline relates to a small market of readers.
  • There are scenes, descriptions, and back-stories that have nothing to do with your book.
  • You switched character point of views without using a page-break or chapter ending.
  • You are “telling” the story, rather than “showing.”
  • There are sections when you overused the adjectives. Example: “Jeff was wise not to battle the bright, hot, sunny, day, because it was so dusty, yet smoggy.”
  • Over usage of exclamation points.
  • Details on your characters professions are either vague or completely inaccurate.
  • You have discovered a really cool word and continue to repeat that word throughout the book.
  • In order to force the suspense, you are repeating the back-story to make sure the reader knows what the heck is going on.
  • Your writing mechanics needs work.

Now that you know what you are doing wrong, let’s evaluate your second book. 

  • I see that you are fixing a lot of the mistakes that you made in your first book. Good job.
  • Your story has improved and your characters are coming to life.
  • The dialogue is still weak.
  • The pace of the story started out great in the first chapter, but took a nosedive in chapter two.
  • And yet, you are still pushing the story down the reader’s throat, rather than having a more natural pace.
  • At the end if each dialogue, you are using “LY” words. Example: “What are you doing?” Matt asked angrily. Or, “I just get lost in life,” Jane said sadly. You need to change that by showing Matt’s anger and showing Jane’s sadness.
  • The five senses should be used as much as possible, to pull the reader into the story. You are rarely doing this.
  • You keep saying “very.” Example, “Matt is very strong.” Or, “Jane is very responsible.” Take out the “very.” Just say, Matt is strong and Jane is responsible.
  • There is so much “fluff,” I don’t know where to begin. It looks like you are just page filling in order to increase your word count.

Let’s review your third novel.

  • Your manuscript is starting to read with more interest and you are able to articulate your thoughts in a way that brings enjoyment to readers.
  • Your dialogue between characters has improved, but still needs work.
  • “Luck” should not have anything to do with why your characters achieved something. The plot should not come together because of “chance.” Reach deep and develop reasons for everything, no matter how much “fiction” you feel is necessary.
  • Take out all cliché’ phrases. “I’m in the twilight zone.” Or, “He was wondering if this was just a nightmare and he would wake up soon.” Describe how the character feels.
  • Find all the places you said in dialogue, “God, Lord, Jesus, and Christ.” Delete all but one or two. This has nothing to do with offending others, but rather you attempting to create forced drama through a reaction by the character. Do not force or tell…describe and show.
  • Flashbacks tend to slow a book down and become confusing. If flashbacks are necessary to the story, then make sure the reader knows what is going on right away. If the reader does not realize it is a flashback in the first line, then fix it.
  • Delete any sentences you spoke in another language and re-write in English. We are all impressed that you know German, but the reader will be irritated.
  • Read your manuscript aloud. If you stutter in a place, so will the reader.

Well, at least you know what you’re doing wrong. I’ll scan over your next few novels and give some general feedback.

Novel Four.

  • I see that you have become a research fanatic, which is bringing realism to your story.
  • Your characters and plot are more complicated than your first three books, but are presented in a way to make the story more interesting.
  • As I move past chapter five, it’s obvious that you take way more notes than in the past, which is helping you keep track of the most intricate details.
  • You’ve added a couple sub-plots. Nothing wrong with that, because it goes along with the story.
  • Dialogue has taken shape and the flow is much smoother.

Novel Five.

  • I can tell that you feel more natural being an author. Each page has an impact on the story.
  • I see that you have really worked hard on the mechanics of your book, correcting many of the mistakes that you used to always make.
  • This is a growing period for you. Remember that you have written five books to work out the kinks. Your best novel has yet to be released.

Novel Six.

  • This is the point where you can really understand what others in the publishing industry are looking for in an author. You can now transfer that knowledge to your manuscript.
  • I see that you are reading more. It is really showing in your work.
  • You have a style that is all your own. You stand out from the less experienced authors.
  • Your characters are amazing and the interesting storyline is keeping me glued to your book.

I remember my first book. It looked exactly how I described in this blog. I also remember that I put everything I had into that book and expected greatness.

I was wrong.

When you first start out being an author, it’s like running really fast in the mud. You are working exceedingly hard, but only seeing minimal results. You want to write a book more than anything else. Also, you are determined to develop your terrific storyline.

Here is the heartbreaking realization: “Your first book is not publishable.”

If you just finished that first book, then you are almost certainly preparing to blast me in the comments. “You do not know what you are talking about. You’re an idiot and I’ll never read your blog again. My family and friends told me that my first book was amazing. You act like every author is the same.”

Meanwhile, let that first book go and write another. When you are finished, write another. And when you are finished with that one, write another.

Most people complain that the process is too long. It takes forever to be noticed. Nevertheless, try to look at things in a more productive way. You are an author. Sure, you need to improve with each book, but no one in the world can stop you from greatness. If you thought it would happen ten seconds after you self-published your first book, you were mistaken.

By the way, how did I know all the mistakes you made with your first book? Your second book? Even the third and fourth?

Because, every author goes through the same process. Authors that are being paid for their stories understand that process. After finishing a book, they started the next one without delay. When they finished that one, they started another.

Your first few books are the same as every other author who wrote a book. It’s when you start writing your fifth, sixth, and seventh novels that you move away from the pack.

Ron Knight 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/ronknightauthor 


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Ron Knight

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  1. Amen.
    Today is cosmic bliss in the publishing world. Ron speaks the truth, just like Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Seth Godin have done today.

    Writers write, while authors talk about what they wrote.
    Are you a writer or an author?