1. A Good Story to Tell
This is a basic requirement. Why would a reader devote hours to a story that meanders without a goal, populated with one-dimensional characters that speak with the same voice? Your story should move the reader and resonate with his emotions. It should have a structure that pulls the reader along with an interesting plot that follows well established storytelling patterns: a beginning with a hook, a series of escalating try-fail cycles in the middle, followed by a dark moment and a climax, ending with a satisfying resolution. Whether happily-ever-after or tragic, the reader must leave fulfilled by a damn good story.
2. Edited and Polished to a Spitshine
Nothing kicks a reader out of your story faster than tripping over typos, grammatical errors and amateur sentence construction. Do you and your readers a favor. Have your work either professionally edited, or take the time to pore over grammar books and study the levels of editing: structural, content, copy, and proofreading. A few of my pet peeves? Overuse of introductory present participial phrases, autonomous body parts, head-hopping, and misplaced modifiers.
Don't overlook book formatting. Being self-published is no excuse for surprising font changes, crowded line spacing, paragraphs without leading indents, or a shoddy cover that looks like Uncle Bob pulled it together with a child's first paint program.
Just because you're a self-published author does not give you license to behave like a kid in the playground. Readers do not expect Stephen King to roll up his sleeves and join in a brawl about a one-star review, nor do they think J.K. Rowling would get her friends to send e-mail defending her decision to kill off Voldemort. Being a published author means being a public figure. And that means taking lumps with grace, shrugging off the vitriol tossed at you in reviews, forums and blogs. True, no one likes to receive criticism, but never respond to a review even if the reader completely misunderstood your book, or confused it with another author's book that is diametrically opposite to yours. Commiserate privately with friends, or fuggedaboutit.
What can you do to beat the expectations of today's savvy reader?
- Take classes to learn the craft of writing: story structure, plot, characters, dialogue, setting and description. See SavvyAuthors.com for reasonably priced courses.
- Join a critique group. See my post The Best Online Critique Group.
- Hire or find help for editing. See Choosing an Editor and My Self-Edit Checklist
- Don't go it alone. Join author communities that can help you learn book marketing and offer cross promotional opportunities. The WorldLiteraryCafe is the premiere community connecting readers and writers.