ROW80 Check-In 5: Susan Dennard’s Advice on Writing a Saleable Book

Welcome gentle reader,

today again I thought I would share with you some writing advice from a published author.

Susan Dennard is a YA author repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is available now from Harper Teen. Susan has an AWESOME blog where you can find invaluable advice on the craft of writing, on the art of storytelling and revising, on the querying process, on the value of critique partners, on grammar and style and on genres. She regularly writes for the Publishing Crawl blog and you can also find her on Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook.

I really recommend you check out her blog and if you need convincing, I have posted below one of her blog posts entitled Writing a Saleable Book. It was first posted by Susan on the Let The Words Flow website on August 10th 2011. You can read the initial post here.

“Recently, someone asked me:

What is required to make a book saleable?

That is a rather large-in-scope question, and as such, I’m afraid my answer will be kinda vague. All the same, I thought it was worth taking the time to answer for everyone.

My super broad response is the:

The most important thing in writing a saleable book is writing a good book.

I am 100% convinced that if you have a well-written, compelling story, your novel will eventually find an agent/editor. Period.

That said, there are a few critical things that define a “good book”. Again, these answers are vague, and I’d be more than happy to get specific for anyone with questions (ask in the comments, please!).

Parts of a Good Book

1. First and foremost, the story absolutely most flow. Stilted dialogue, poor pacing, or unreadable grammar/syntax will kill a manuscript. A reader can put up with slow scenes if it all flows beautifully, and a reader can put up with a less-than-compelling plot if it’s smooth.

The way to ensure your novel flows is to revise-revise-revise. Learning to master the written word is absolutely critical. Few people write stunning first drafts, but give them a red pen, and they can line-edit their words into perfect prose.

2. Secondly, a book needs a compelling plot with tension on every page. The story builds, the tension builds, and everything ends in an explosive climax (and this applies to any genre—by explosive I simply mean all aspects of the story finally come together).

This is something you can learn by reading about writing, taking workshops, or simply reading heavily in the genre you write. There are structure to stories (three-act is the most common), and your job is to practice until these are second nature when you write/revise.

Again, my first drafts are rarely good examples of compelling plot, but I can revise them until they shine and all the subplots weave into the main plot.

3. Third, a book needs a cast of characters that readers care about. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the MC has a desperate need—secondary characters too. This is also something you have to learn by doing/practicing.

4. Fourth, the book must have high stakes. “High stakes” simply means we are invested in whether or not the MC achieves his/her goal. What will she lose if she fails to reach her goal? And why does that matter? A common reason a book fails to compel readers is low stakes—if we don’t care about the MC’s failure, we don’t care about reading the book.

Finding Problems

My biggest suggestion in terms of how to address these 4 components is to start critiquing and getting your work critiqued. Either find a critique partner, join a critique group, or stay active in a critiquing community. This is no doubt something everyone here already knows, but it’s so important (in my opinion) that I just have to emphasize it!

When you see others make mistakes, you learn to spot them in your own writing. Additionally, we, the writers, are often too close to our novels to see them “as a whole”. CPs and betas have the needed distance to spot problems

When I got an agent, Something Strange and Deadly had been through 4 crit partners and 2 betas. Did I always listen to my CPs’/betas’ comments? No—you must decide and filter feedback—but it was thanks to my CPs/betas that I caught some of my biggest mistakes (character inconsistencies, flat climax, plot holes, etc.).”

I hope this post by Susan helped!

Now for my ROW80 goals:

After 10 days off (I was travelling) I have been somewhat back on track for the past three days.

1-          Write everyday: 3/7 days.

2-          Self-edit The Last Queen: done.

3-          Continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King: done.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

10 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In 5: Susan Dennard’s Advice on Writing a Saleable Book

  1. Shah Wharton says:

    I enjoyed this re-blog. Thanks for sharing her blog link too. Will hop over there now. Good going on your goals too, concisdering you’ve been away. X

  2. Juliana Haygert says:

    Great talk about writing something publishable 😉
    Glad you’re back!

  3. Gene Lempp says:

    Great information there and I’ll have to bounce over and take a look at her site. Thanks for sharing it. Great job with your goals this week, keep it up 🙂

  4. EM Castellan says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting Gene!

  5. Thanks for posting this. I loved what she said about writing being smooth. As a reader it does bother me when I notice the mistakes, as a writier I’m trying not to make them myself… I

  6. EM Castellan says:

    I know what you mean. I recently read a dystopian book where the world building wasn’t consistent and it annoyed me so much! I definitely want to avoid that in my writing…

  7. Lauren Garafalo says:

    Loved Susan’s post. Have you seen her adorable video crying all over her first copy of her book? Knowing nothing else about her, I’ve loved her since then lol!! Glad you’re back in action. Have a good week!

  8. EM Castellan says:

    Susan is one of the loveliest authors out there. She was one of my first Twitter followers, back when I had a grand total of…er, 5 followers. For that I’m a big fan. Also she has an awesome blog and she writes about zombies, what more can you ask for?! Thanks for stopping by and have a great week too 🙂

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