Excerpted from “The Top 10 Elements of a Book People Want to Read” by Helga Schier, PhD

From the Writer’s Digs by Brian Klems, Guest Column | March 16, 2015, Helga Schier, PhD: So you’ve got a great idea and you want to write a book. Go for it, I say, because these days, anyone can publish a book. Self-publishing empowers the writer in all of us. Nonetheless, quality still matters. Why? Because we don’t just want to publish, we want to publish successfully; we want to publish books people want to read. And that takes more than a good idea. That takes craft.


I’ve listed the headings of her ten elements below and offered my interpretation of how to apply them to my writing. If you are reading this, your input is welcome. How would you apply her 10 elements to your writing?
Dr. Schier says: Aim for High Readability (i.e. High readability books are “polished, refined, sophisticated, and mature” in “surface structure, style and voice, and content.”

[Did you know there are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass? Read about them here.]

I haven’t reached my hoped for sales levels on my kindle book offering of “Beware the Sleeping Dog”. Cassandra Becker in Goodreads wrote of my mystery: “Really liked the character development as well as the writer’s descriptions of scenery, conflicted emotions, and untangling of old business.” I loved her comment but her 3 stars out of 5 tell me I have work to do on my current manuscript. But where do I focus? How do I apply the unspoken?
1. Your Words Are Your Tools; Make Sure They Are in Working Order.
No one remarked upon my grammar, punctuation or spelling. Am I to assume my tools are market worthy?
2. Check for Inconsistencies.
This was a challenge for me in “Beware the Sleeping Dog” because I had several false starts and many rearranged elements and whole chapters. I’m hoping I’ll have less polishing to do on time line issues, subplot reworking and disappearing characters in my current manuscript. I think I’ve planned better and am hoping it pays off.
3. Avoid Overwriting.
A rule I try to follow: if it doesn’t move the plot ahead or develop a character, cut it.
4. Avoid Underwriting.
When I read my previous manuscript aloud, I listed some words that I used regularly. At the end I searched on each of these words and replaced many instances of each with alternatives. I was surprised at the high number of occurrences of wanted and about.
5. Make Sure Your Characters Are More Than a Name.
At http://www.amazon.com/Beware-Sleeping-Professor-Walker-Mystery-ebookamazon.com, Ilona commented:

Libby draws a protagonist at once believable and even familiar (she reminds me of someone we all know) and at the same time infuriating. (She has a habit of running right into the dark just to prove to herself that she’s not afraid to face the demons out there or in her own head) More than once, I shouted at her, (inside MY own head, of course) “Nooooo! Don’t go out there alone, you idiot! How could you be so stupid?” But this is the kind of tension that keeps the reader reading.

6. Show, Don’t Tell.
This was a struggle for me initially but I found that if I became my characters, put myself in their situation, it was easier to express what they were doing and why they were doing it. So one of the skills a writer develops is dramatic acting! I recently purchased “The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Just glancing through this manual gives me expectations of great things to come when I rewrite my current manuscript.
7. Sharpen that Dialogue…
8. …And Expose that Subtext.
The author who has taught me the most about revealing characters through their conversations is John Lescroart. If you’d like to see the master at work and have not yet read anything by this New York Times best selling author, you could start with his 2nd Dismas Hardy novel, “The Vig”. Prepare to become attached to Dismas Hardy, Abe Glitsky and Wyatt Hunt.
9. Drive the Plot towards Your Reader’s Aha-Moment.
Another author whose books continue to teach me is Louise Penny with her Inspector Gamache series. This Canadian author has been described as a modern day Agatha Christie (yet another author I continually learn from)! Penny has mastered the art of surprising the reader at the end. But in retrospect her twists all make sense because she’s built the logic into the plot from the very beginning. And all that preparation leads inexorably to the ‘aha’ moment when everything makes sense.
10. Build Your World.
And again on http://www.amazon.com/Beware-Sleeping-Professor-Walker-Mystery-ebookamazon.com, Ilona commented to this tenth element:

The whole story unfolds in a single small town where the tranquilizing rhythms of nature and provincial social commerce are repeatedly disrupted by the ominous intrusion of an unidentified stalker. The natural imagery isn’t just background or geographic location; it immediately becomes an intricate part of the web of plot as well as the emotional landscape of her strong but frightened female protagonist, Mavis.

And in closure Dr. Schier says, “Your words are your tools; make sure they are in working order.”

I am trying and–I hope–to good effect.

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