November 6, 2020

Don’t be a bore…and 5 other lessons authors can learn from the Thanksgiving feast

By BlueInk Staff

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And while this year, the guest list is limited due to Covid-19, it’s more important than ever to plan the evening with care. That takes time, attention to detail and concern for the people you are inviting.

Come to think of it, it’s not unlike writing a book. To create something that will be satisfying for your reading audience, all of the above is required —and more. In fact, there are many lessons authors can learn from our annual gorge-fest, in this or any year. Consider these:

It’s critical to know your way around the kitchen. Sure, anyone can throw a turkey in the oven and hope for the best. But the most enjoyable feasts are given by those who have learned some rules of the craft and taken time to practice cooking delectable dishes long before Thanksgiving comes around. Writing is no different; it takes practice to perfect. Some people feel all they need to do to write a book is to fire up the computer and start typing. That’s a recipe for disaster. The best books are written by those who have taken time to learn the foundations of the craft.

Presentation matters. OK, we all know the first rule of Thanksgiving is to enjoy your guests, even when they’re spaced six feet apart. Still, a lovely presentation – no matter how humble – makes an impression. A beautifully set table sends a message that the host cares about his guests. A stack of paper plates and a stained tablecloth sends the exact opposite message. The same is true of your book. If it looks slapped together, with shoddy cover production, poor copyediting and offbeat fonts and spacing, readers will feel that they are an afterthought and wish they had been invited elsewhere.

A little bit of stuffing goes a long way. Don’t get us wrong, we love stuffing as much as the next guy. But we don’t want an entire plate filled with it, either. When it comes to your book, be sure you have enough meat. We see many books that are hundreds of pages long, yet contain mostly filler. (On the flip side, we also see many books that are as slim as a paper napkin, with equally little substance.) When writing your book, a little bit of filler will be forgiven; more than that will make readers long for a reader’s equivalent of Pepto Bismol.

Guests come first. The best hostesses take time to think about who is coming to dinner. Are there vegetarians in the group? Is anyone gluten free? What sorts of conversational topics will these particular guests enjoy? It’s equally important to know your audience when writing a book. If you’re “inviting” thriller fans to your pages, be sure you know what thriller fans expect. Ditto if it’s historical fiction, mystery and so on. We often see writers who don’t seem to know their audience and offer a mishmash of ideas and genres. Their books are discarded faster than the leftover scrapings on a dinner plate.

No one likes a bore: We’ve all experienced that crazy host who prattles on and on, one idea leading to the next until everyone is exhausted and numb from the sheer amount of verbiage. Think of your book in the same light. We’ve seen far too many books that careen from topic to topic, with only the slimmest of threads connecting them. Readers, unlike guests stuck at a dinner table, will leave a book like that long before it’s over. Make your points succinctly; keep your focus; then wrap up.

Send your guests home gracefully: A good hostess doesn’t kick everyone out the minute dessert is finished. She eases into that moment when everyone will get up from the table and start looking for their coats. An offer of after-dinner wine, generously wrapping up some leftovers for people to take home… and the signal is sent. Similarly, a good author doesn’t end the book abruptly, but offers clues that things are winding down. And then she gently sends her readers out the door, happy, satisfied and looking forward to next year’s feast of words.

BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. We offer serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Our reviews are penned by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine, a highly respected review publication that reaches 60,000 librarians.

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