Sunday, January 8, 2012

How to Write a Better Book

by Maria Geraci

No writer wants to be a one book wonder. But maybe worse than being a one book wonder is the writer who peaks with their first book. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be the M. Night Shyamalan of literature. (I don’t think you’d find too many film buffs who would disagree with me when I say that he hit the ball out of the park with his first film, The Sixth Sense, and has yet to direct a better movie).

But how do we do write a book that's better than the one we've just written? How do we continue to grow as writers and improve our craft? Just like the protagonists we write about, growth occurs through conflict and struggle.

First, let's talk about the struggle.

It's no secret to anyone who writes that writing is hard work. If you're familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, then you know what I'm getting at. In his best-selling book, Outliers, Gladwell theorizes that natural talent has less to do with success than the power of sheer hard work. The rule is that it takes about 10,000 hours for an artist to hone their craft. In other words, if you do something long enough, you're going to get better at it. So the first key to writing a better book is to simply write consistently. The old adage practice makes perfect has been around a long time because it's true.

Then, there's the conflict.

Again, unless you happen to hit one out of the park (and do so consistently with each book) your writing career will be filled with ups and downs. It's those "downs" and how we react to them that teach us the things we need to learn to be better writers.

"Downs" come in many forms- rejections, bad reviews, etc... I know there are a number of people out there who will disagree with me on this, but I happen to believe that reviews can be a writer's best friend. I read every single review written about my books. Yes, every single one I can get my hands on--this includes reviews from Amazon and Goodreads.

Now, lest you think I'm a sadist (trust me, I'm not) I can tell you that I've learned a lot from reviews. I also read and study reviews for books I've read not written by me (I've found this to be one of the best teaching tools out there.)

Most of the time, I discount 5 and 1 star reviews. Loving (or hating) a book is usually a visceral reaction. It's the 3 star reviews that interest me most. Many times, those reviews hold a tiny nugget of something that reverberates with me. That teaches me something I don't get from the reader who loves my work (or hates my protagonist). The hard part about this isn't reading that someone thinks your work sucks (because believe me, someone will always think that), it's knowing what to take away from those reviews. Over time, however, I'm come to trust my instincts and to know what criticisms feels right and what feels wrong and I think my work has become better as a result.

Conflict and struggle. It works for our characters, and it will work for us as writers.


Maria Geraci writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction with a happy ending. The Portland Book Review called her novel, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, “immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous.” Her fourth novel, A Girl Like You, will be released August, 2012 by Berkley, Penguin USA. You can visit her website here.


16 comments:

  1. Nice post, Maria. I read all my reviews too. The longer the book's been out, the less bad reviews bother me. It's the fresh stinkers that get me most.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brilliant, Maria! Off to read my 3-star reviews, now . . . Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post, Maria. I hadn't focusedon the 3-star thing, and you're right. In the end though, we all have to be our own critic.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maria, You are very smart and very brave!! Excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for all the lovely comments, ladies :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post! Right on time for all of us midlisters out here. Most unpublished writers believe that once you get published it's easier, but sometimes I think things get harder. Looking at it like we do a character's arc, it makes sense: of course it gets harder! The stakes are raised.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post. When your book is edited you have to take the criticism and not let it get you down. Your editor is trying to help you make it a better book. I believe we should do the same with reviews BUT use the criticism we find valid for our future writing.
    Patti

    ReplyDelete
  8. Carleen, I think it gets harder too. There is no such thing as an overnight success (it just looks that way!)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Patti, you are so right. The hard part is knowing which criticisms to use and which to discard. I believe that a strong sense of self and voice help an author to know when criticism can help their work become stronger.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great piece, Maria, and good advice about reviews. I always read them and often I find things to learn - I can't make the published book in question better, but I can use what I learn to make future books better.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You are a brave woman, Maria! I agree that fair and balanced three-star reviews can be very revealing. I appreciate when someone says, "This isn't my cup of tea, but I appreciate these things about it." I just can't stomach reviews that lay waste and offer little insight (if any) at all. Those are just mean.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Maria, I'm a reader of reviews, too, and I find the well-written ones that explain both the pros and cons of a novel (for that particular reader) to be very insightful. Great post!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Maria,

    So glad to have stumbled on this blog! I bookmarked it and will be back. I write for Berkley too.

    I'd not heard that 10K hour rule before, but it makes sense to me. I always tell people that for every 350 page novel that they read, I write an easy 1200 pages or more. Sometimes, it's just plain focus and "butt-in-chair" time that gets it done.

    Cheers!

    Oh--and I try not to read my reviews.

    Except for the good ones. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Lauren, Susan and Marilyn, thanks for your comments:)

    Lisa, I've seen the cover for your new book. It's gorgeous! Best of luck with the new release :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree, I've always found the less than glowing reviews that explain what the reader didn't like helpful in identifying some of my weaknesses, but I can also weed out the ones that just don't "get it."

    Glad I'm not the only one!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Writing a better bio book is not more easy especially when you are going to write in the beginning stages, you will probably go for the help and there is every possible guides been given.

    ReplyDelete