Thursday, June 18, 2009

What do you think?

Recently I’ve been going out of my way to find books in the bookstore with these requirements:

1) First-time author (meaning, their first novel)
2) Not someone writing uniquely about a different country (ala Kite Runner, etc…)
3) The writer should have no connections with publishing companies/family of published writers, etc…
4) No platform (meaning an already semi-celebrity, or someone who has worked for the CIA for 20 years, etc…)
5) The book is under 300 pages

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’ve found less than two. =). Of course I don’t expect much success with my top five requirements. It’s what I hunt for. About a week ago I was fortunate to find a novel called ‘The Girl She Used To Be’, by David Cristofano. Great book, writing flowed, the voice was crystal clear. Of course before I started the book, I found that he met the top five requirements above. He had somewhat of a platform. The book is about the Witness Protection Program and he did work with the federal government for ‘over a decade’, but it didn’t sound huge enough to warrant a book deal with Grand Central Publishing. So it gave me hope, and I just wanted to pass along this criteria to you, because so often I talk to friends (or myself) and get frustrated about how some stories seem ‘phoned in’, or sloppy, or just downright lazy. And then that up and coming writer thinks…’well damn. My story is as good as that.’ Only recently did I realize I was referring to a bestselling author’s 21st novel…of course they’re getting a little lazy.

There are two parts to my blog entry this week, because I myself was lazy and missed last Thursday (sorry about that…brother got married!)

I am going to try and sound very objective here because I want to hear what everybody thinks about these phrases that I see in about 98% of published books. Again, the phrases below have been lifted from bestselling books, and I want to know what you think.

-he cocked an eyebrow.
-…raises a curious, disapproving eyebrow.
-she pursed her lips.
-Her heart panged.

There are others, but I’d love to hear what you think. True, they are taken out of context, but I don’t think it does that much harm.


  1. Thanks for sharing your findings and this is the first I heard about it.

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  3. You'll find more books that meet your criteria if you slide over to the Middle Grade section of your bookstore. Go on....slid on over....there's some great stuff there :D

  4. Ooooh, I love that you are doing this!

    I bought a book recently that was well written, full of snappy humor with a comfortable voice. When I looked on the back to see the author's platform it said, "Sally Sneezers lives with her husband and two kids in City, State." How refreshing! Gave me a little hope.

    As to the quotes from bestsellers, I am put off by the first, the second and third are trite and overused, and the fourth doesn't make sense.

    Thanks for this encouraging post!

  5. I like your criteria, because it shows that there are authors who can get published without having the "right connections" or ready-built platform in place already.

    I think I posted about this already, but check out the first couple of chapters of those books. They should be captivating. As you mentioned after a writer has 21 best sellers, they get lazy. The first few chapters of a first time author have to be amazing, or they never would be published.

    I haven't used those particular quotes, but I do appreciate that the author was trying to show not tell.

    For instance I would rather read
    he cocked an eyebrow

    instead of
    he looked back at him disbelievingly

    I would probably write
    he arched an eyebrow or
    his eyebrow raised a few millimeters

    but even those sound goofy out of context.

  6. -he cocked an eyebrow.

    As long as there is just one person in the novel that does this. :-)

    -…raises a curious, disapproving eyebrow.

    OMG a sentient eyebrow! Ick.

    -she pursed her lips.


    -Her heart panged.

    Is panged even a word? In any event, that sentence hurts.

  7. Panged is NOT a word. "Pangs" is what the author was trying to say, but she missed.

    This is what you get when you have a reasonable command of English, but lack a true understanding. "Panged" indeed!

  8. I found Tess's comment to be interesting, because the two authors that immediately came to mind for meeting your criteria write middle grade and YA fiction. Both got their start purely from writing talent, hard work and persistence. Also, they put in the time to make connections. It took one of the authors about ten years to get his first book published, but now he has a bunch of books out. One was even a best seller in Germany. It's called Demon Keeper and is by Royce Buckingham.

  9. RE: Panged

    I thought so!

    Note to authors: if the Hack Writer can spot trouble with your grammar, there are deep issues with your manuscript.


  10. Very cool replies. Thank you. notenoughwords, thanks for validating what I thought as well about panged, yet there it was. Personally any kind of move of the face that makes me imagine a machine instead of the person kills my reading experience. 'Sideways glance' is another one. I know, I know, we should just read the story, enjoy the ride, not nitpick, but these little things do jab at me from time to time.

    Tess, good call about middle grade. I should have mentioned I only looked in the mainstream/adult fiction section.

  11. I wrote on my blog recently about the search to find first book by a new author on the shelves. Not the first book by a new to me author, like the first in a series that I haven't discovered yet, but an honest to God, first print run, new book by a new author.

    It was a very difficult task.

  12. It's interesting that there seems to be such a prevalence now of mobile body parts. Hands get flung about, eyebrows cock, shoulders shrug and eyes roll.

    This is an author trying too hard to 'show, don't tell'. And while I'm all in favour of showing, in my opinion, dancing body parts are worse than saying "he was skeptical" or "she looked angry", because they make the reader pause, and are often so ridiculous that they make you laugh.

    If the character is doing a St Vitus dance on the page, trying to 'show' their emotion, consider finding another way to 'show' the reader how they feel.

    That's got to be $0.04, at least :)


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