Why Your Novel Sucks and 4 Steps That Can Help Fix it

Continuing the succession of guest posts by fiction authors sharing writing advice, Shannon Mayer is at Daily (w)rite today, telling it like it is. Take it away, Shannon!


how to fix your novelOkay, if you know me, you know that I don’t pull punches. In fact, my writers group has nicknamed me Blunt.  I don’t like it when people tell me I look nice when I know it looks as though I just crawled out of a sewer pipe. I hate it when people say that my writing is “Just great!” with that falsetto high pitch we all know means they are trying not to offend. It doesn’t help us improve ourselves when people placate us about how we look, or how we write.

So how do you figure out if your novel sucks and how can you fix it?

Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up the hard, expensive way. Now pay attention, I’m only going to say this once!

– Your novel has 90% narration, 5% flashbacks and 5% dialogue.  Okay, let’s be honest, it takes a freaking MASTER to keep the attention of a reader with this kind of breakdown. MASTER, not NEWBIE. And if you’re reading this, even if you’ve got several books out, you’re a NEWBIE, just like me.

Up your dialogue people! Every time you step into narration and flashbacks, you SLOW your reader down. Way down. Might even put the book down. So try, really, really hard to “up” your dialogue. Turn that narration into a CONVERSATION.

– The characters in your novel all get along and float through life. Okay, conflict is #1 in a story. Who the hell cares if their lives are perfect? Mine isn’t, I sure don’t want to read about someone who has a better life than me. Readers want a story to show them just how BAD life can get and how the hero deals with it. Look at every chapter, if there isn’t some sort of conflict, put something new in. Maybe the evil stepmother we all thought was dead comes back to life as a zombie. Or maybe the husband who ran off with the sister was really poisoned and now needs to be rescued! The possibilities are endless regardless of the genre, so make your characters SUFFER!

– Your novel is receiving reviews about TYPOS! Please, please, please get at least one editor to go over your book! If you can’t afford an editor, there are ALWAYS options. Beg another author, do a swap with them and give them an “edit” on their book while they do the same for yours. But dang, there is a reason you can’t get reviews, or that the reviews you do get are 3 stars at best (not including family and friends in this of course because we all make them give us 5 stars ;p).

Typos, dropping plot threads (e.g. A character shows  up in chapter 1 but then never again and yet they seemed important, that is a dropped thread), and general issues with your “baby” (that I won’t go into here for sake of space) can be VASTLY improved by having someone in the industry do a pass. Not just your mom or your best friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, even if it makes you CRY!

– Last and final way to improve your novel.  Learn your strengths and play to them. I write FAST PACED, high octane books that always center on the power of relationships between loved ones. That is MY strength. I can’t write police procedurals, I’ve tried. I can’t write children’s books, the kids get nightmares.  Figure out what your STRONG points are. Maybe you have a knack for building tension in scenes to the point of making people grip their books/Kindles in a white knuckle grasp. Build on that. Write emotional scenes so strong you bring tears to people’s eyes? Go for it! Full force on your strengths will make your novel stand out from the crowd. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.

In conclusion, in this shifting world of self publishing going head to head with the traditional publishers, we HAVE to stand out from the rest.  And not because we are the best at sucking.

As a reader, what puts you off while reading a novel? If you’re a writer, what are your strengths? Do you play to them? If you’re an editor, what are the most common problems you come across while working on novels?


how can you fix your novelAfter a 2 year period waiting on her agent to actually do something, Ms. Mayer dropped the agent, and  self published her first trilogy, A Zombie-ish Apocalypse which includes Sundered, Bound and Dauntless.  Her latest book, Dark Waters: Celtic Legacy Book 1 centers on the bonds of sisters while delving into the world of nightmares and magic. For more info on Shannon Mayer and her writing, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @TheShannonMayer

Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page in case you’d like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have posts delivered to your inbox: CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Add Yours
  1. Rik Davnall (@eatthepen)

    I agree with most of what you’ve said, but I cringed at your ‘up the dialogue’ advice. My first couple of novels were about 95% dialogue, and every bit as terrible for it as a 95%-narration novel. It’s balance that matters (as well as an awareness of genre; fantasy generally wants more narrative than a thriller, for example).

    • Ronald

      If you are good at it, it isn’t boring. It’s my strength, and building on emotion.

  2. Jeff Schinsky

    I don’t know if this has been said yet, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to run the spell-checker prior to submitting a work for proofing/editing. It won’t catch everything, and you have to watch the little bugger to make sure it’s not making changes to things intended to be “that way,” but all in all it’s still a kindness to your readers. Other than that, I loved this overall blog entry — it definitely brought the core offenses to light and gives us all something to think about.

    • karensdifferentcorners

      I don’t usually run spell checker, because if the word is misspelled it gets underlined, but also the typos I tend to do, spell checker doesn’t catch, because “Hi” is a word when I meant to say “His” or my other favorite “here” instead of “hear”

  3. Novel Girl

    Thank you. We could do with more honesty like this. You are right. If I open a page and find glaring editing errors, I put it down because if the first page is the one the author goes over the most imagine the rest!

  4. mystichawker

    Excellent article. Some of the very things I keep telling new authors I talk with. And you reiterated what my editor keeps telling me, you can’t catch all the typos, let someone else do it for you.
    Thanks for passing this along.

  5. Shannon Mayer (@TheShannonMayer)

    Thank for having me on here! It was actually a fun post to write, as I let loose a little ;p Good point on making sure your facts are right KittyCorgi, especially if you are working in anything historical. I’ve seen big names get slammed hard for incorrect facts.
    Sean- putting it away for a year is another good idea, one that I’ve also used. 🙂

  6. Sean P. Farley

    I enjoyed this post! Great points all around. If I can throw this in there, I think another good way to know if your novel sucks is to put it away for a year and reread it with fresh eyes. I made the mistake of unconvering (more like unearthing) a mystery I wrote five years ago. Yeah, there was a reason I shoved that sucker into a drawer. SUCKS. Anyway, that’s my rant and I’m sticking to it.