♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
What does it take to impress you when you
are reading someone else’s book?
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. We appreciate, even more so, when you share our writings with your friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
Before I answer the question, I want to explain how I generally approach my own projects. Whenever I sit down to write a book, I make sure I have a great idea that is well-formed in my head before a word makes it to the page. Research is important to me, regardless of my genre. Examining other work, whether it is film and television or the written word, to make sure I’m not retreading well-trod ground. While writing, I am very hard on myself. Names chosen must have a meaning to them and make linguistic sense (they fit the culture, time, and character even in a fantasy setting), because none of my characters are going to sound like they’re space strippers unless they are space strippers.
Being incredibly hard on my own writing means that I come to the work with a critical, editorial eye. My entire background feeds into this (history studies, research, film, and the like). It’s not something that I can just shuck off. Neither can I shuck off the feedback I have received from professionals in the feed about my own writing. Learning what makes good writing is part of the business. Thus, I apply that to reading other works.
First and foremost, I have an absolute allergy to typos in any books put out by the high-and-mighty big publishers. They should be embarrassed! Walking around with their noses in the air, insisting they are the cream of the crop, they had better present their books in flawless order. They don’t. Frankly, and rightly, this pisses me the hell off. They enjoy tearing down aspiring writers at every chance, and then present grammatical errors and typos for which they’ve scoffed at others. It just proves that the big publishers are an elitist club, and quality really isn’t the focus.
I’ve read highly-touted, big house published books and wondered who actually thought the works so fabulous. I’m not impressed. I find them dry and trope-filled. They are boring. There’s no revelation in them. There’s nothing relatable to grab onto. Yet, somehow, those works will be canonized? I certainly hope not!
The first thing that impresses me with any book is the clean copy. I can forgive typos from an independent author, but not a big publisher (not with their immense resources and supposed expertise). An independent author may have a couple proofreaders and one editor. With so few staff, mistakes are missed. When they’re fewer than, or on par with, big publishers that’s immensely impressive!
A beautiful cover assures me that the author has done their due diligence on marketing. I love art, but your art gorgeous cover isn’t a guarantee of your writing quality. After all, big publishing houses have lots of beautiful covers to boast. We know how I feel about their dry as dirt offerings. However, I am impressed you know to dress your baby well before sending it into the world. It shows you cared. It shows you are proud. This gives me something to connect to. That’s actually really important. I’m impressed!
When you write well (avoiding all those amateur foibles the writing world discusses, like passive voice), I’ll be even more impressed. I can tell how it’s going to go by the end of page 1. I’ll give you the first chapter to keep me interested with a compelling idea.
Compelling ideas will help me forgive any writing weaknesses you may have. More than anything else, story matters to me. What makes up a good story? As mentioned above: good names, depth, a sense of research, and crafting beyond tropes.
Recently, I watched an interview of J.R.R. Tolkien on his work, narrated by Dame Judy Dench. I found my attributes and it floored me. The man is already at fault for me becoming a writer. Did you know, my mother read his most popular works while I was in utero? We each care about languages immensely. They frame how we come to our writing. It is the basis of culture building and world building in our universes. Specifically, we both take care in creating the names of our characters, instead of applying frivolous, made-up junk. Take note, those names are anchored in a realistic linguistic process. The names each have meaning attached to their histories. History matters. History implies depth. Depth is compelling.
I’m also watching The Jetsons (1962) on Boomerang. The Jetsons was one of my first Science Fictions introductions. Gatchaman, Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Star Wars, Ice Pirates, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica all fed my imagination, alongside Tolkien’s works in animation. Fantasy and science fiction were my main hubs. These stories impress me because of their depths. Now, looking back at the Jetsons, I feel that it is far too trope heavy. This is because I’ve spent forty-plus years on this planet steeped in cultural tropes. They’re tired. I have to forgive the cartoon. It preceded both me and my experience at this point. For my daughter, I am sure it is all brand new, as it was back in the 1970s and 1980s for me.
When a writer avoids tired tropes, I’m very impressed. These tropes include the anti-hero. The 1990s and 2000s really burned that down. I see nothing wrong with an unrepentant bad guy, though. Evil, after all, truly enjoys being evil. If you have an evil character you don’t make them wonder if what they’re doing is justifiable. Evil doesn’t care. Just look at the sociopathic narcissist and understand exactly how they function. It’s best you write them accurately from their own point of view, instead of from a sympathetic personality attempting to soften and understand them. Sociopathic narcissist simply don’t care, not in the way that empathetic personalities do. Thus, it is an inaccurate portrayal.
Other tropes include formulaic story patterns, such as what Save the Cat tells you to write. Ever notice how formulaic and boring film has gotten over the past three decades? It’s terrible. Ever notice that when someone defies these prescriptions that the film is so much better? I’d use the book to study what not to do!
To summarize, a story with depth, well-named characters, research, packaging, and every attempt at clean writing is going to impress the hell out of me! So, when people advise you on how to market or write, remember these things. If you care enough to write down the words to a story, you should care enough to make it worth the reader’s time. You should love the story, the characters, the world in which you’ve placed them. The love letters in the story are its depth (those undertones, implications, messages, Easter eggs). Impress the reader by treating them to a journey they want to return to, because it keeps opening up layers every time they read it!
Think of your book as a restaurant. What’s on the menu? How is it prepared? Presented? Will customers return? Will they come back to explore other menu offerings? If you don’t care, the customer won’t either.
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Kendra Brooks says
I try the same things that you suggest. my biggest fear is that I will fail my readers.
Now that you mention it about the big book publishers; they should be held to a higher standard since they have such lofty standards for getting into their channels to begin with. I have noticed a lot of typos when I read their books and I never gave it a second thought before. i will have to keep that in mind in the future when I read another mainstream title.
Captain Maiel says
I feel that, too. I also feel like an imposter calling myself a writer, most days.
Big publishers should be held to the highest of standards, and they’re given a pass because people see them as the infallible filter-piece on content. They’re really not. They are just as subjective as anyone else, and they’re more concerned with making money than producing literature and quality.
Stevie Turner says
Good content is the key, for sure. As for ‘well-trod’ ground, I think every one of our stories has probably already been written in one form or another by somebody else.
Leon Stevens says
“I can tell how it’s going to go by the end of page 1. I’ll give you the first chapter to keep me interested with a compelling idea.” – I agree. A story should pull you in immediately. If it doesn’t, you think, “Why am I reading this?”
“If you care enough to write down the words to a story, you should care enough to make it worth the reader’s time.” – So true. Readers invest a lot of time and money. You don’t want to waste either.
P.J. MacLayne says
The problem with tropes is that at one point they were fresh, and worked, and then got copied endlessly. But we are applying today’s standards to the classics.