Rhonda Stapleton is the author of the Stupid Cupid trilogy and she also works as acquisitions editor for Carina Press. She sees lots of query letters and sample pages every week, and she has her finger on the pulse of what gets noticed in the industry, and why. Here, she gives us the inside scoop on what keeps many books buried in the slushpile, and how to avoid rookie mistakes.
Take it away, Rhonda!
Thanks for having me! I’ve got four tips for writers, which comprise the most common flubs I see in books, day in and day out. Correcting these things will go a long, long way to getting your story in front of editors and agents.
1.) ClichΓ© characters. I see too many gay guys who are crazy flamboyant. I see too many crazy old ladies with cats. Writers need to think outside the box when they write their characters. It’s of course okay to have some stereotypical elements in your character, but go deeper. Look at their education, family, location, interests, careers. All these things will inform who your characters are. What’s more, writing cliche characters makes them unlikable in many instances. And we need to be able to relate to, and root for, the characters in a novel.
2.) Too much information all at once. We call this an “info drop” and it usually happens in the beginning of the novel. It’s way too much detail that we don’t need, and it succeeds in dragging the pacing and taking away all suspense. Writers forget that they don’t have to say everything at the outset. I trust you as the writer — and I believe you’ll drop in the pieces as I need them. You don’t have to front-load it all.
3.) Too many characters. Starting a story in the middle of exciting action is good, but it becomes an exercise in frustration if a.) I don’t quickly get a sense of what’s going on and b.) there are too many characters to keep track of. It’s great to have a large cast if that’s what the story calls for, but then the writer has to be extra careful to introduce them organically and at the right pace. Overwhelming the reader with people at the outset is never a good idea.
4.) Ho-hum voice. I see a lot of writing that’s clean and I suppose fine, but it’s not…enough. In order to grab me, the book needs to have an interesting voice, a character with flaws but also strengths. I need to see big stakes, something that really matters if the protagonist doesn’t succeed. People can and do over-edit their stories, taking out all the flair and all the exciting elements that keep us turning the pages.
Bonus tip! In your query, be sure to tell me why your story is different. How is your vampire different than all the other vampires? How is your romance different from every other love story on the shelves? Don’t bog the query down with extraneous information about people who aren’t the main character. Tell me about the conflict your protagonist will face, and how it’s different than everything else that’s out there.
Thanks, Rhonda! For more information about Rhonda, her books, and her thoughts about the world, check out her blog over here.