It’s been a while since I’ve actively done anything with Lori’s Book Blog but I’ve decided to revisit because there are some things I need to express. I’ve done a lot of thinking about the books that I have recently read, and I have to say that I feel like there are some things that I need to get off my chest. So I felt the best way to do that would be to write a “Dear Author” letter to express my feelings on some of the latest trends in today’s books as well as give some basic advice I feel every author would benefit from receiving.
I may catch a lot of backlash for this and that’s okay, but these are my opinions and my opinions alone. I do feel like these are concerns a lot of the reading community has as well based on reviews I’ve read or discussions I’ve had with other readers.
I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work and effort you all put into your work. It serves an amazing form of entertainment that helps me escape from everyday life as I get lost in your characters and your stories. However, there seem to be a lot of “trends” lately that have become almost the norm. I feel like it’s important to address these “trends” because quite frankly, they’re taking away from my reading experience. There are 3 very important tools every author should use before publishing their books. It’s beneficial to you as the author to publish your very best possible work because it will help further your writing career. Readers will appreciate these things and will come back for more of your stories in the long run:
1) Find a decent beta reader (or a few). In case you don’t know what a beta reader is or does… it is someone who reads your story after your first draft. They help you find plot holes or find things that may be necessary to add to the story so your readers will get a better grasp of not only the story itself, but of the characters. They are specifically there to help you put out the best possible book you can. If the beta reader is doing their job it can help make your 2 star read become a 4 star read. My biggest advice when it comes to choosing your beta readers is to take your time to find those that not only work well with you, but who are not afraid to tell you when something doesn’t work. I would caution against only using close friends and/or fans as they may not want to hurt your feelings or don’t want to see what others would see as potential problems. Listen to their advice, you don’t have to do entire scene changes or anything drastic but maybe something as small as an extra line or even as small as one word, could make a huge difference. This may take a few books before you find your perfect team, but trust me… it will be more than worth it for you. I have a lot of experience beta reading, I’m also a part of a great beta team so if you need good beta readers, I can recommend some or you can ask other authors who they use or recommend. You’ll know when you’ve found your team… you’ll see it, not only in your work, but also in how your fans respond to your work.
2) Editing your book is a MUST. There are tons of great editors out there who will find your spelling, punctuation, and all other grammatical mistakes. If you can’t afford to hire a reputable editor at least find someone who can go over your document and help out as best as they can. Spell check is also a useful tool, don’t rely on it as it doesn’t always know the way you’re using a word… (ex ~ it could change “there” to “their” or “your” to “you’re”). I am not entirely bothered by editing mistakes because of my experience with unedited manuscripts… so I’ve learned to over look a lot, but this is not the case for most readers. Unfortunately, the past few months I’ve read quite a few books where the editing was completely nonexistent and I ended up spending more time trying to figure out what was supposed to be said than I did actually enjoying the story (commas can definitely change how a sentence reads). Bad or no editing can ruin the experience for the reader which will only hurt you as the author.
3) ALWAYS do your research and check for consistency. Details are key, whether it’s writing about a specific place, life changing events, a medical condition, a career, a specific dialect, or even a specific type of food… whatever it is… if it is not something you are intimately informed about make sure you not only do your research, but double and triple check it. After you’ve triple checked, try and find an actual person to confirm your research with… whether it’s a fan of yours who is from the south and can translate how to say a certain phrase or you make contacts at the local police department where your story is taking place. As much as we all depend on Google this day and age… it is not always correct. This includes international authors who are writing about a specific country… make sure your facts about that country are correct. Sometimes, something small as a way a phrase is used differently in different countries can take away from the story you’re telling. (This also refers to beta readers and editors… if you are not from the U.S. but are writing about it… find an American beta reader and an editor that can Americanize your book for you. Same goes for other countries.)
“Trends” that have become so normal lately, that readers feel they need to read reviews with spoilers in order to make sure it really is something they would enjoy:
1) The Alpha Male. (This is only regarding contemporary romance books.) Now I will be the first to admit that I love a good alpha male. I’m married to alpha male so I can compare and swoon all at the same time. However, it seems that some authors are trying to “Out Alpha” other authors and I have to say that this is not working the way they want it to. See, there is a fine line between an alpha male and abuse (in this case I am not expressing my opinion but speaking from experience). A true alpha male loves his woman and would do his absolute best to never hurt her… this doesn’t mean that he won’t say something that comes off as cruel or hurt her feelings (Because believe me, you take the bad along with the good when it comes to alpha men), but his ultimate goal is to keep his woman happy. This is why most of us readers find the alpha male so incredibly sexy in contemporary romance novels. There are times when crossing that line works… by this I mean dark romance reads, captor/captive type romance reads, sometimes even sadism and masochism BDSM type reads. There are many of them where the story line takes the characters to a place where that line is crossed… which, when done right works well for that particular story line.
2) Cheating in books. **Now before you continue let me be clear and say that I’m referring to a committed relationship between a hero and heroine where actual physical cheating occurs… let me also be clear and say this works differently (at least to me and most of my fellow reading friends) in standalone novels vs. a series that follows the same characters for more than one book.** Okay this is not only a tough one but also a controversial one, because it realistically can come down to the readers personal preference. Now, I’ll be the first to say that I HATE cheating in books but I’m not going to say that it can’t work in your story… and yes I mean, when done a certain way it can even work for me. However… if you release a stand-alone novel that take us through a beautiful journey of the hero and heroine falling in love and in a committed relationship and then he or she cheats as the climax of the story... You’ve lost me… totally, 100% lost any interest. When you use something like cheating in a book, it’s important to take the time to redeem the character. It shouldn’t be… she took him back because she just didn’t want to be without him or he took her back because he’s always loved her and can forget this one mistake. They should delve into the reason why it happened and how it’s being fixed. You need to show us as readers that he or she will not cheat again which takes more than a few chapters at the end of the book. I’m not saying it has to be so neatly wrapped up every little detail was hashed out, but at the same time if you’re cheated on… it’s a big deal and takes time and effort to move past it. If you plan to write a few books revolving around the same characters and cheating is part of the story line… always take the time to end each book with a level of hope that things can be worked out (I’m not talking about cliffhangers here, what I’m referring to is if your heroine walks in on your hero in bed with another woman and you end the story there? Chances are, you’re going to lose some readers… so add an extra chapter and it can be as long or as short as one paragraph but give us at least a tiny pinch of hope). We want to believe they have an everlasting love when we read those last few words. Depending on the number of books you write in the series revolving around those same characters try to have any and all cheating take place prior to the final book, you want that last book to show the reader how much the characters have grown and how they worked out their problems so we can see and feel that everlasting love. (This is another place a good beta reader will be able to help you, if your story is taking you to the cheating road, find a reader that hates it and let them read it, see if it works for them or if there is something more you can add to make the actual cheating take a backseat to working the relationship out).
3) Playboys/Bad boys… Here is one that has become extremely popular. I don’t mind a playboy, bad boy, or even a man whore… because, let’s face it sometimes guys are just guys and do stuff for the sake of doing it. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than entertaining to watch a playboy trip over his feet trying to win the girl. However, when you tell me that the Hero “Does NOT do love OR relationships” I need a reason. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it has to be something I can figure out from his past. Maybe he was raised in foster care, maybe he had a mom that took off on him, or an ex that totally shattered his heart. If I read a book where the hero has a group of amazing friends, has never been in a relationship, and comes from a solid loving family but still says no to relationships and love, I don’t see him as a play boy, badboy, or man whore… I see him as a complete douchebag. I’m not entirely sure when being a man whore just for the sake of being a man whore became sexy… now if he has a past and that past leads us to believe that he doesn’t understand love then it can turn it around… we’re more apt to say “aww, I want to fix him” if he has a reason for saying no to relationships. If he is just a guy being a guy and hasn’t ever had a relationship… instead of saying he doesn’t do them, have him say he just hasn’t found the right girl yet or he’s sowing his wild oats until the woman destined for him comes along. You want your readers to want to see him overcome his past and find that one special woman that he can love unconditionally. You want them to root for him to find the beautiful happily ever after he deserves.
4) Heroines… We all love a good heroine, but lately some of our heroines have come off as either doormats, have no personality, are crazy to the point of being psychotic, or are just too perfect to be believable. There are numerous ways to make your heroine one everyone can love… make her funny, make her kind, make her strong. She can be almost perfect, but she needs a reason why she’s almost perfect. However, in all reality she needs a few flaws so we as readers can connect with her, but still love her. She can be incredibly shy or timid, but we want to see her break out of her shell in a positive way (and I don’t mean sexually, which is fun but we need more.). She can be incredibly broken, but again, she needs to come back to herself in a positive way. Sometimes heroines are made out to be stalkerish or downright crazy and while that can be entertaining, it can also take away from the story. You want your readers to love your heroine, you want them to connect with her, and you want them to root for her to get the happily ever after she deserves by being worthy of the hero. Crazy, mousy, whiny, and stupid women don’t deserve the perfect hero you created.
5) Cliffhangers… Now I’m actually laughing while I write this because y’all probably think I’m going to say don’t do them or I hate them… but I’m not and I don’t. Cliffhangers can be almost fun… BUT, you also have to be careful how you use it. Always leave your readers wanting more. Have them read that last word and think “nooo” but in a good way. You almost want them to be cursing you while saying “Oh, she/he is good!” You want them feeling almost rabid for your next book. But I will caution you and say… if you plan to write a series that contain cliffhanger endings – seriously think about making sure your readers are aware that your book is a part of a series.
There are many tools out there to help you create an amazing story every reader can love. Write your story with fresh ideas and memorable characters. Depending on how you write your stories there is always someone out there willing to help and it is extremely beneficial for you to take advantage of any and all help. The bottom line is… this is your story and the beauty in that is you can write whatever you want to write, but if your goal is to publish, you want it to be a story that people will not only talk about but love. Use the tools you know about and ask other authors, bloggers, literary agents, publicists, or even readers for any recommendations regarding beta reading, editing, research, or even brainstorming. Just remember, taking advantage of the help you can receive to help make your manuscript absolutely perfect… can put your name out there for not only readers and fans, but for traditional publishers as well!