Case Study – The New Writer TRAP That Awaits The Unaware

As readers, we consume a lot of average content.

And sometimes average is perfectly fine, it fills thirty blank minutes of staring at a television or 90-plus minutes of munching popcorn in a dark theater with perfectly reasonable satisfaction, an ROI of our time that doesn’t feel like a ripoff.

Then again, if that’s the case our expectations may not have been all that high in the first place.  Turn on an episode of Broke Girls and you probably know exactly what you’re getting.

It can be like a good hamburger or a cold beer in that regard.  The worst you ever had was… just fine.

But where novels are concerned…

… as new writers we need to understand the nature of the line between average and professionally-competitive, as well as the expectations of established writers versus the rest of us.

It boils down to this: as a new writer, if you turn in an “average” manuscript, the overwhelming odds are you won’t publish it.  Or if you slap it up on Amazon as a self-published author, the odds are just as overwhelming that you will be underwhelmed by the results.

Then again, if your name is John Green or David Baldacci or Nelson Demille, things are quite different.  Because in the real world there will always be a certain percentage of people who consider a story average, even if critics and readers have elevated it to the level of a bestseller. Over a third of the people reviewing The Davinci Code (which sold over 80 million hardcovers) rated it three stars or fewer, which is as average as average gets.

If the goal is to be better than average, then you better understand what that really means.

Today’s case study is a case in point.  

No doubt this author thought his story idea exceeded average. We all do, at first. There’s no explanation for that… and therein resides the trap.

There isn’t a thing wrong with this story idea… other than the observation that there is far too little about it that is anything other than average. The bar it reaches for is somewhere between eye level and the top of one’s head, you don’t even need to reach to get there.

Of course, the author believed this — and thus, this particular level — was just fine.  Ready for submission fine.  Which is the trap we fall into as new authors: our gauge of average versus excellent versus professional isn’t yet ready for the real world of publishing.

This case study is from my Quick Hit Concept/Premise analysis service, which takes a snapshot of your story’s chances in the open market.  Agents, editors and readers look at concept and premise in the very first nanosecond of consideration, and their attention dwells there long enough to make a decision about your story.  A verdict.  Or at least, create context and expectation for everything that follows.

Get this wrong — or in this case, fail to get it right enough – and your chances are dead in the water before the agent or editor will read to the end of your query letter.

Read this case study — The Need for More — and see what average, the complete lack of anything exciting or stimulating, looks like.

Then consider your own story at the concept/premise level, and ask yourself how exciting those agents and editors — who have seen thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of stories in your genre, making them damn hard to surprise and impress — will think.

Is your story concept really fresh and exciting and compelling?

This is something you need to know before you write it, and certainly before you submit it.

Click here to read what I have dubbed: The Need for More.

Feel free to chip in your thoughts, that’s the least we can do for this writer, who was considerate and brave enough to share this with us, no doubt in the hope that someone will help unlock the potential in this idea, an idea he thought was strong enough to compete.


If you’d like your story concept and premise evaluated, click HERE for more information.  It’s only 49 bucks (reading this case study is more than a preview of what you get, it’s the entire Questionnaire itself), and it can save you a year of drafting the wrong story… or at least a story that’s simply not right enough yet.


Filed under Case studies

10 Responses to Case Study – The New Writer TRAP That Awaits The Unaware

  1. My stratagy in using the Quick Hit Questionnaire.

    Don’t skip around. Not yet. Answer # 1. No matter what, answer #1 —– Then SKIP to # 5. If I can’t answer #5 in spite of what I think, I don’t have an answer to #1.

    Rewrite #1 until I can leave it alone for a week. Then read it. If I can say to myself, “Wow, did I write that? I want to read that book,” then, I’ll have a shot at #5.

    My guess. If I can’t position my book in the field I cannot tell anyone why it’s faster, stronger, cuter, “the same but different” from the leaders in that field. No #5 means number #1 hasn’t happened yet. Like I said, just my guess.

    • @Curtis – genius. Pure genius. Wish I’d have thought of it… though I may borrow it. It’s the perfect, purest essence of the what-and-why of concept. Thanks for contributing this nugget. Pure gold. Larry

      • Larry. Thank you. I hope the idea helps a writer with their work. I’ll be interested to see how you develop an expand on it. My next guess. If the writer gets #1 and #5 done, the chances of #2,3, and 4 falling into place increase by leaps and bounds. Again, just my guess.

  2. My advice would be to stick with it. Follow Larry’s advice. He shredded my (what I thought was a high) concept, and then helped me rebuild–and I’m lovin’ the way the story is coming together now. Good luck!

  3. Failure to recognize greatness. A primary flaw in beginners.

    I’ve worked with many a neophyte songwriter who claimed that Dylan and Lennon and McCartney were hacks; who’d never heard of Irving Berlin or Hoagy Carmichael.

    They are doomed from the word go.

    I read an Amazon review once which I still hope was a joke, wherein the writer claimed that Justin Timberlake was going to be mighty angry when he discovered that this Stevie Wonder guy, whoever he was, had stolen Timberlake’s entire sound for some album called Songs in the Key of Life.

    Failure to recognize brilliance. Confusing “good enough” with “worth reading.”

    Man, I hope I’m not that guy.

  4. I love this! So often I see writers that have taken a “not enough” idea and run with it for years (I’ve done it myself), writing draft after draft and getting nowhere. If they would just accept that what works for famous novelists isn’t gonna cut it for them, it would be so much easier.

  5. Trudy

    I felt the writer was holding back some key ideas from the questionnaire. Good advice all around.

  6. I was looking over the case study and what everyone else is saying but, I know for myself, I learn best when concrete examples are attached to theoretical talks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that)

    Anyway, in the hopes of helping the writer, here is my take loosely based on his concept about a world torn apart by magic.


    What if a dark and twisted magic spell was cast on the entire world that threatened to kill all children under 5yrs old in 90 days unless the parents murder the child of another family?


    In a world where war has raged on for centuries and warring states use magic as a weapon, a new shadowy group has emerged in the chaos. In order to distract the states, take control and force a new religion where magic is forbidden, they have cast a powerful curse that will kill all children under a limited period unless their family murders another child.

    An apprentice, John, has his young daughter barely survive the attack by turning 6yrs old but he witnesses the death of his nieces. However, he is shocked to learn his distant wife is 2 months pregnant. Can John go through another death or will he figure a way out?

    Hope it helps. ^_^)v

  7. MikeR

    Part of the problem with this entire premise is that … at least to me …

    (a) It smacks too much of the Book of Exodus. But even so, in that tale, “God simply killed them.” He had a lot more class than this premise does.

    (b) “Basically, a whole bunch of little kids are gonna die, and, one way or another, their deaths are gonna be pointless.” Whoever dreamed up this spell had a weird, sick sense of humor: “I’m gonna kill YOUR kid unless you kill HIS kid.” Well, this kind of devil’s-bargain devolves into “your kid dies .. it’s merely a question of who did it.”

    … and suddenly, as a reader, I feel cheated, because I recognize who the Evil Wizard really is: the author, himself. “Deus ex machina.”

    In a premise like this … and, I would say, in this entire class of stories … there’s a critical character that is almost always overlooked: the “Supreme Evil One” (SEO). This character must have a reason for exercising his/her/its SEO-powers “in this particular way.” Some plausible, albeit (of course) “supremely evil” motive and aim. If he/she/it does not have this, then he/she/it is merely a straw-SEO. An artifact of “the author himself.” The gentle-reader sees straight through this artifice, and feels cheated.

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