Monday, August 2, 2010


by Jodie Renner, freelance manuscript editor,

1. Read the top-selling books in your genre. Go to a big bookstore or a library and look at published books and bestsellers in your line or category. Have a look at the types of topics, settings, characters, plotlines and writing styles that are selling. Buy or borrow several books similar to the one you want to write, and read them, taking note of the specific literary techniques that made that writer successful in the genre.

2. Read the bestsellers in your genre critically. Read the first sentence, first paragraph, first page and first chapter to see how they hook the reader in. Ask yourself why the main character is intriguing to you. What makes you want to continue reading about him or her? Study the dialogue, and make note of techniques that were used to bring the dialogue to life and make it more natural-sounding. Notice point of view. Whose viewpoint is the story mainly told from? Does the author shift to other characters’ points of view? How many? How frequent are point of view shifts? How much description is there, compared to action and dialogue? What techniques does the author use to heighten suspense?

3. Go to the Writers section of large bookstores, or look through or for books on how to write effective fiction, YA fiction, mysteries, historical fiction, children’s fiction, romance, etc. There are a lot of excellent books on the market on techniques for writing effective, compelling fiction. It’s well worth the investment and time to thoroughly read several of these guides.

4. As you’re planning your novel, make sure it fits into a specific genre or category, as bookstores want to know where to shelve it. Walk around your favourite bookstore and look at the headings of the different sections. Your novel can have aspects of another genre, but it needs to be predominantly one genre, for marketing purposes. A romance mystery historical western, for example, would be a marketing nightmare. Make it mainly one of those genres, and make sure when you submit it, that you play up the main genre.

5. After you have finished writing your book, put it away for at least a week, and preferably a month, while you do other things, or even start another writing project. Then go back to your book with fresh eyes and start revising. Don’t be afraid to condense wordy passages or cut scenes or even chapters that are irrelevant or boring. Perhaps you have too many characters, and need to combine a few into one. Does your plot make sense? Are the characters interesting, sympathetic, and plausible? Can you find ways to up the ante and increase the conflict? Can you tighten up your writing? Successful writers go through their whole book, revising, cutting, and adding, at least four or five times, often many more than that, looking for different aspects each time.

6. The first page of your novel needs to be the best it can be. It needs to hook your reader (and agents and publishers) and grab their attention, right from the first sentence and the first paragraph. Gone are the days when you can start with a description of the landscape, town, etc. You need to jump right in with the main character and the problem they’re encountering, in a very compelling manner. And don’t start with your main character alone, musing or contemplating her life – put her in a situation that matters, with another character (or more). Throw in some interesting dialogue right away.

7. Publishers and agents no longer have the time or funds to work with authors to improve their book, as they used to. At the very least, have several qualified, knowledgeable, unbiased friends or acquaintances (rather than someone close to you) read your novel over and give you advice. Give them a list of questions to answer, including any weaknesses they may perceive in the plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc., to avoid a pat “It’s great!” when they may actually feel it has several specific areas that need work, but are reluctant to say so.

8. Better yet, hire a freelance manuscript editor or copy editor to read and edit your book before submitting it to an agent or publisher. You can find a freelance editor or proofreader by Googling “editing,” “book editing (or editor),” “manuscript editing (or editor),” “freelance editing,” “freelance copyediting,” “proofreading,” etc. Editors do more than proofreaders, who mainly check grammar, spelling and punctuation.

9. Finally, for a shameless plug: please visit my website at to find out about my process and services, and to read glowing testimonials from authors whose books I have edited.

10. Keep on writing!

© Copyright Jodie Renner, August 2010, August 2010

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