Have you ever read a book, and when you finished it, thought "Man, that could have been SO great if only X..."
What do you think X is?
Let me share a few of my X's.
1. The characters had been better developed.
If we can't relate to the characters as readers, the book falls flat - no matter how exciting the story itself is. Make sure you flesh out your characters and give them heartbeats. Make them real and relatable and 3 dimensional. Give them habits and quirks and physical descriptions and fears and strengths and weaknesses.
2. The book had gone through more editing.
Typically vanity presses or self publishing gets the most heat here, and for good reason - the stories aren't edited by a professional editor. (in most cases) Either the author thinks "Good enough" or there is miscommunication between the author and the publisher and the author thinks there will be an editing service that isn't provided. Of course this isn't always, but it is often. On the other side of that coin - sometimes traditional houses leave mistakes in their books too. Accidents happen, and I'm not dissing vanity or self pub - I'm just speaking from what/where I see the most of. If you publish yourself or use a vanity press please be aware of the editing process, and hire a freelancer editor to give a thorough overview of your book - NOT JUST FOR TYPOS AND GRAMMAR AND SPELLING BUT FOR STORY CONTENT!!!! Using commas correctly throughout isn't nearly as important to readers (in my opinion) as it is making sure you don't contradict yourself throughout the story or change the character's hair color suddenly in the middle of the book, etc. All of that is considered editing as well.
3. The author had used more internal thoughts to help us get to know that POV character better.
Too much white space is a bad thing. If your story is nothing but action and dialogue you are missing an important piece of your book. We can't get to know your character (see Point #1) without getting inside their heads. Show us their mental and emotional reactions in scenes. Visceral reactions as well. Show us what they see/hear/taste/feel. Not just where they go or what they say.
4. The author had laid off the amateurish use of repeated dialogue tags and used more action beats.
I've harped enough on this lately, so you get the idea. ACTION BEATS ARE STRONGER THAN DIALOGUE TAGS. USE THEM. Moving on :)
5. The setting had been more vivid.
Setting can be a character in your story too. I've heard it said to set your story somewhere that the story wouldn't work otherwise. As in, make your setting a crucial element of your story. I don't totally agree with that, because not ALL stories require their setting to be a significant part of the book and if you force it, its obvious. BUT setting definitely still needs to play a part. So use your descriptions throughout, and do some research and try to incorporate unique things in whichever city you're setting your story in. Wildlife or landscape or weather or physical landmarks or restaurants, etc. If you make up a fictional setting, this is still important. SHOW where your character is.
6. The author had used more subtext and made the dialogue count instead of using so many fluff words.
Subtext is crucial, as is writing tightly and not filling your manuscript with "okay" and "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "mmmhmm" and other fluff words that work in real ife but that slow down the scene in fiction. There is ALWAYS a stronger, better cohice if you let yourself get creative and think :) Challenge yourself to let some of your phrases of dialogue carry a double meaning. Start noticing it in the books you read and see how it's done. It makes a world of difference in your writing. :)
Which of these ring true for you? What is your X list?