Let me start this post by saying, there are some really, really good free e-books! And there are others that are free…umm…for a reason. I want to focus on the differences between the good and less-good freebies, and the mistakes we should all look for in our writing.
1. ALL of the good free e-books acknowledged an “editor.” Now whether this was a paid, freelance editor or a good friend who called themselves by that title is tough to tell. But someone — not a relative or neighbor — actually edited these books (For the record: I downloaded twenty-five free books and finished seventeen. Some were not readable*). Editor is substantially different from a proofreader and in the good books, you could tell because they did a lot of the other items on this list correctly.
2. Page counts need to be precise. I’m not exactly sure how programs like Smashwords equate e-reader pages to hard copy pages, but all the stories (except the four novellas) averaged 900 pages or more. In most cases, that was way too long. Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories I give a little more leeway, but a 960-page romance? Yeah. That’s long. Stories need to be the right length for the genre or you lose your reader.
3. Flowery prose makes me snooze. You spend forty-eight pages describing a forest and I’m going to pick a different book to read. And I did. Several times. While I can appreciate the beauty of a well-imagined setting, there has to be a reason. If the tree with the giant magenta blossoms that only open on the blue harvest moon during the twelfth-year of the drought…blah, blah, blah, you get the idea. If that tree doesn’t have something to do with the plot, then you are wasting the readers’ time.
4. There is no story unless there’s conflict. I’m really glad that your MC has a perfect romantic relationship, but I don’t want to read a story about all her wonderful dates with her gorgeous boyfriend. Congratulations! I’m glad they’re happy, but now I’m bored. So give said boyfriend a mole, that really irritates your MC and she obsesses about it so much that she breaks up with him which causes X,Y, Z to negatively effect the rest of her life. Get it? I don’t want a romantic romance, I want a conflicted romance (or paranormal or thriller or whatever).
5. Raise the stakes. Someone once told me to, “Write the worse possible situation you can imagine and then kill your main character’s mother.” Or dog, or steal their boyfriend, or poison them. When the situation is hard on your characters, your reader will be sympathetic, but only if the answer to said problem is difficult to reach.
6. Get the voice right. Boys should sound like boys. Girls should sound like girls. A woman in Victorian England is not going to say, “I totally know what you mean.” This was my biggest pet peeve for the not-so-good freebies.
7. Connect the dots and close the loops. Sometimes I’d finish one of the freebies and be like, “What? Fifty pages from the end it becomes a paranormal even though there are no other hints throughout the story?” Most of these issues could have been avoided if several someones read the story (or an editor) before it was published.
If anything this free e-book reading binge reminded me that there are writing lessons everywhere. Some are dos and some are do nots!
*Three of the stories I finished were “traditionally” published stories that were meant to entice you purchase the next book in the series. Actually…most of the stories were free for exactly that purpose, but of the twenty-five books I read there was only one that I felt invested enough to look for the next book in the series.