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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

How to Get Your Novel Off on the WRONG Foot

Updated: Jan 2, 2019

The good news for writers is that Amazon Kindle and similar platforms allow them to get their books directly to readers. No longer does a writer have to search frantically for an agent and wait to get the nod from one of a handful of major publishing houses.

The bad news is that many self-published novels are not edited, proofread, or scrutinized in any critical way before being offered to the general population. And believe me, some of the novels that show up on Kindle can be described in one word: horrible.

Many others, however, fall into a gray area. They're not really that bad. The characters are solid. The plot has possibilities. The writing is okay. They just contain a few too many rookie mistakes. Most of these mistakes become obvious in the first few pages. Readers who encounter them usually move on to something else. A few of the cranky ones may leave bad reviews. 

If you've published a novel that isn't doing as well as you'd hoped, give it another look to make sure it doesn't contain any of the following mistakes.

Beginning Before the Beginning

Your novel should start when the action starts. Don't show your heroine driving across the country on her way to a life-changing meeting. Instead, start with the meeting. If you write romances, begin when the two main characters meet. If you write thrillers, show the reader immediately what's at stake. If horror is your thing, begin with an event that's creepy or gross. Whatever you do, don't leave your main characters sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. Involve them in the action on the very first page.

Too Much Backstory

Writers who escape the first trap often fall prey to the second. The story opens with your heroine, Paula Plucky, facing off against half a dozen angry men who want the golf ball sized diamond she has hidden in her jacket pocket. So far, so good.

Then we get to the second paragraph: "Paula had grown up in Boston, the youngest of three children. One of her older brothers was a successful surgeon, and the other…" Argh! Who cares about Paula's childhood? The reader just wants to see if she survives the first confrontation. It it's really important, you can tell us about Paula's childhood – in small pieces – later in the story. 

Stilted Dialogue

Dialogue can be a wonderful way to propel your plot forward, establish character, and inject back story. Used badly, though, it can be downright silly.

Consider this: "Hello, George," said Paul. "I'm here to pick you up for the two-o'clock movie date we planned last Thursday night when we were having drinks at the Boy Zone Bar. I hope you didn't forget again." Ouch, huh?

Instead, try something like this: Rubbing sleep from his bleary eyes, Paul answered the door. He scratched his bare chest and blinked at the man in front of him. George shook his head. "You forgot again, didn't you?" Not perfect, maybe, but better.

Irrelevant Details

Don't tell the reader more than he or she needs to know to understand the characters and to follow the plot. Or, in the words of Anton Chekhov: "If you say in the first chapter, that there is a rifle on the wall, in the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off."

This is a great time to put your novel before millions of eager readers. Just take the time to make sure that the product you are offering is the strongest it can possibly be. Competition among writers is fierce, and it only takes a few small mistakes before your story falls out of sight. 

I provide substantive and copy editing. If you would like me to work on your manuscript, shoot me an email at

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