It can be overwhelming to write your first fiction book. You want to take a story that has been brewing in your mind for some time and transfer it to paper so that it comes alive and you capture the reader’s interest from start to finish. You want to make sure that the story conveys the tone that you want to set: if it’s a sad story, you don’t want too many jokes or laugh out loud scenes to detract from the sorrow. If you are like author Jodi Picoult and you deal with social issues, you want to make sure that you stay on topic, but that by doing so, you don’t sacrifice the drama of the story. It’s important to develop your characters well so that we feel that we know them; they don’t have to be likable—in many cases, protagonists are diabolical like the psychopathic serial killer Dexter or hitman Tony Soprano—but if you were, for example, to describe two different male friends in your novel, it’s important for us to know how Mark differs from Jeffrey. Spend enough time on character development and background settings that we can picture your book almost as if it were a movie, and we can envision specific details.
In order to engage the reader, develop a strong beginning and conclusion. If you don’t have the former, you will lose the reader quickly, and in today’s world where people can buy books inexpensively on Kindle, your reader might discard an otherwise excellent novel after the first chapter if you don’t draw them in on the first few pages. Your conclusion serves a different purpose—you don’t need the reader’s attention at this point. You already had that throughout the book. What you need now is to leave them with a certain feeling of satisfaction that things have ended properly, that you have tied up loose ends, that your finale makes sense and makes the reader feel inspired, awed, fulfilled, or whatever emotion you are aiming for. Someone like Nicholas Sparks often writes a bittersweet novel that makes readers a little weepy or conflicted (e.g., The Notebook) during the middle of the book but makes them feel oddly fulfilled at the end of the book even if the ending is not happy.
Avoid clichés in your writing. “She had a heart of gold. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Don’t worry about it; it’ll be a piece of cake.” Ditto for idioms such as “this smells fishy.” These terms are stale and vastly overused. Be aware, and try to come up with more original sayings and descriptions.
Also, be careful about spelling and punctuation. Although it is an imperfect tool, you should always spellcheck your documents. Having said that, you don’t want to accept everything that the spellchecker recommends. It’s not always right, particularly when it comes to the difference between its as a pronoun and it’s as a contraction or any proper name that it doesn’t recognize. Likewise for when to use who or whom and which and that.
Working with a good editor can help you to resolve all these issues. Professional editing services, such as Book Magic, provide several levels of editing, starting with proofreading, which is the most basic level, and moving up to an extensive manuscript evaluation that deconstructs your project and recommends specific suggestions for improvement either page by page or chapter by chapter. Know the difference between proofreading, line editing, copyediting, developmental editing and critiques, and make sure that you obtain the right kind of editing for your needs.
Friends, writers’ groups, and beta readers are important, but they may not be completely honest with you in a constructively critical way, or they may not have all the tools and knowledge that a professional editor has. You deserve the best for your first novel. Invest in your book in its early stages, and you will see the payoff down the line. Sound expensive? Some editing companies like Book Magic offer installment plans to make copyediting more affordable.