With the world of publishing changing before our eyes, more and more would-be authors are turning to self publishing to get their works out to the masses. Many are offering some of their titles for free in the hopes of hooking fans who will willingly fork over $4.99 to read more. This can work, however, if your free book only offers readers what they pay for, you could be forfeiting future readers should you ever find that elusive publisher.
As someone who's come across all too many bad freebies I've put together my top five corrective actions before hitting the publish button.
1. Each word counts.
My seventh grade History teacher forbid us from using the words "things" or "stuff" in any of our essays. While sometimes it's a pain to replace them, they really don't have any place in your novel. Words like this are nondescript placeholders and your sentence will be better off without them. Dust off those Microsoft Word skills and use the Ctrl+F function to hunt down these prose killers. Of course, feel free to leave them in your dialogue if it suits your character. And don't stop there. Do you have other words that tend to crop up in an abundance in your writing? Now's the time to branch out and use some new vocabulary.
2. Outlining isn't just for research papers.
Please, please make an outline, if you haven't already. Each chapter should be a main point with each scene as a subset. If you can't decide what the main point of the chapter or scene is, how do you expect the reader to know? This can be scary if you realize that an entire scene or (gasp) chapter doesn't really matter. I'm sure the scene is a masterpiece, but if it doesn't move the story forward or divulge new info it doesn't belong. And next time, outline first to avoid writing the scenes that will only end up on the chopping block.
3. Does it matter.
Sometimes in an effort to create depth in our characters we give just a little too much information. Do we really need to know every meal your character eats over the course of a month? Probably not, but I don't know. Maybe that information will be important when the character realizes in chapter seven that citrus gives him magical powers and he would never have know the key if not for his infamous food log. However, if citrus has nothing to do with it and your character would have developed those powers anyway, you have officially bored your reader to beers. The point is, be careful about all the details. If you have too many your reader will start veering off course wondering about the courses. And yes, the puns were intended.
4. That's all folks.
In this humble readers opinion the last few chapter are what can make or break a book. If the ending is bad, your reader will be left with a sour taste of your writing no matter how good the first 60,000 words were. So what makes a good ending? Resolution. The ending needs to bring a close to all the conflict going on and it needs to make sense. This is harder than it sounds and even the masters can blow this one. Have you ever read The Dome by Steven King. What a great book! Right up until the end. I won't spoil it for anyone still waiting to read it, but I was seriously disappointed.
Some of the worst offenders of this rule are series books. For some reason, authors think that because they are planning a sequel or two it's OK not to resolve the conflict. They are wrong. While it's alright to leave a few loose threads to keep the story going, each book in the series needs to have a finite ending that resolves a major conflict. A special note here: Do NOT leave the reader with a cliffhanger. Save this kind of over-the-top marketing gimmick for TV drama/cop shows. Your reader wants to know who killed JR and will not be pleased if your books ends with "To be continued."
5. Your mom is not a good Beta.
For that matter, neither is your sister, brother, best friend, co-worker or any of the people in your book club. These folks (hopefully) love you and while they are sure to give you some good tidbits on ways to improve your writing, they will find it very hard to be completely honest. My suggestion: find strangers. The good news is the internet is crawling with them. Another idea is to stalk the stacks containing your genre at the library. You may get some weird looks, but most readers will jump at the chance to read your MS.
Now arm your Betas (the readers, not the fish) with a full printed copy of your MS and a red pen. I ask my Betas to circle anywhere in the MS where they get pulled out of the story. This could be a glaring typo, a confusing phrase, or a character acting out of character. Really, anything that makes them stop and go "Hmmmm". In addition to these circles indicating work to be done, ask them to slash through any paragraph where they find themselves skimming. Skimming is bad and generally means the reader is bored. You either need to cut that paragraph or rework it to hold the readers interest.
There you have it. Five ways to improve your writing and pull in more readers. Plus, with all this extra effort, you can feel good about going ahead and charging $.99. :)