Katie at Creepy Query Girl and I must have been on the same page this weekend. Or in the same book. Or maybe not, since there are a lot of published books that could be counted in our thoughts. What are those thoughts?

That story comes first, then comes the writing. Katie says premise. Same diff, in this case.

I was reading a book this weekend by a major author who’s been published several times. TV programs have been made from her books. This is no small-time, self-published author. And there are phrases such as:

He whispered  in an urgent voice.

‘Any questions?’ Heads were shaken.

And the drawing–the drawing was even more horrible. It was…grotesque.

What a wonderful place. [Not dialogue or thought, but prose, followed by nothing showing how it’s wonderful.]

On one page, I counted 7 “was”s and 4 “very”s. While describing a Rottweiler, its shoulders sank, its muzzle drooped and its tail tucked between its legs (Rotts don’t have tails). There’s an adverb on nearly every dialogue tag (and just about every line has a tag).

Another book I read nearly a year ago that became a NYT Bestseller, includes countless phrases such as “I could hear…”, “I could feel…”, “I saw…”, “I decided…” and “I realized…” Lots of showing rather than telling and even more “was”s and “that”s. In fact, “was” and “that” make numerous unnecessary appearances in almost every book I read.

I’ve read the first of bestselling Amanda Hocking’s self-published books and there are more than a few typos. She’s said she hired an editor, but, sadly, she didn’t get her money’s worth. But the story was still good. And when Hocking signed on with St. Martin’s, one of the publishers said they wanted her work because she was an excellent story teller.

In other words, story comes first. Then comes writing and everything else.

I haven’t finished the book in my first example, but I can vouch for this in the second example and Hocking’s. And I’m not saying any of these books were poorly written. In fact, two of them were very well written. They just needed some polishing.

Others, however, are absolutely awful enough that they detract from the reading experience. As in Katie’s example, you just can’t stand to finish it. And in that case, who cares if the story is even good? You’ve read those, right? And wonder how on earth those books even got published?

The moral here is to keep weeding out those “was”s and “very”s and “that”s, but remember that story is most important. It doesn’t matter if your book doesn’t have a single “was” or “that.” If the story’s lame, it won’t sell. But if you have a strong story, you can be forgiven for the little things.