If part of your story takes place in the military, make sure you use rank, terminology, and dialog correctly. For example, a superior officer would not tell an underling to “relax”, he would more likely say, “At ease.” Also remember that military personnel typically address one another by their rank instead of their name. Authenticity adds to the flavor and credibility of your story. Lack of it will throw a knowing reader out of the story and your fan base.
One of the most important things you must do as an author to make your work stand out is to create vivid characters readers will remember. One way to add color to your characters is by giving them a regional accent. Capture it in writing by deliberately misspelling their dialog to reflect how it sounds phonetically. Just make sure you’re familiar with what that particular accent really sounds like or anyone from that region will recognize it’s not authentic, which could do you more harm than good. Accuracy is always important.
Always strive to be the best writer you can be. Reading books by established authors published by well-known publishing houses provides examples of outstanding writing and editing that you should emulate. Most indie writers are still progressing to their best work. Some will be less skilled than you are, others more advanced, but to grasp the industry standard, read those accepted by reputable publishers. It’s good for your ego to read books from beginners, but to improve you writing, study techniques employed by seasoned, experienced authors.
Understand there are several types of editors. Just because you hire one, doesn’t mean they’ll do the job you expect, especially if you don’t understand there are different types. They may do a great job within their realm, yet miss other problems. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve found in books where the author supposedly hired an “editor.”
Here’s the basic run-down: Proofreaders look for typos. Copy editors look at punctuation and grammar. Line editors look at everything. Content editors look at plot & characterizations. If this is news to you, then I suggest you read this great article that gives more detail.
Suspense is essential in any story. If you don’t know what will happen next, that’s a good indicator your reader won’t, either. The more obstacles between the protagonist and what s/he wants, the better. When your character gets him or herself into such a mess you don’t know how s/he’ll get out, then you’re on to something. Be sure to let your character solve the problem in his or her own way.
Be original! If you’re going to rehash an over-used plot vehicle, give it a new twist. If your story is too predictable, you’ll lose readers. If you must use a theme that’s not original, such as zombies, vampires, space battles, or swords and sorcery, make sure your characters are real and interesting enough to carry the story. You see this in romance novels all the time. There’s nothing new about falling in love, but engaging characters who pull you into their emotions make it work.
If you write science fiction, don’t violate the known laws of physics without providing rationale for doing so. Invent new laws if you like, but make them believable. A lot of technical folks are likely to be in your audience and you’ll lose them forever if your science isn’t credible. Noises in the vacuum of space (like the explosions you hear in movies), earth-like gravity on a small asteroid, and unrealistic orbits are some of the things to look out for. If you don’t know something that relates to science, look it up or ask someone who does. Satires (such as “The Worst Man on Mars”) have a bit more latitude.
All fiction needs to be convincing and seem real. Create any possibility you want, just make sure the reader will be convinced. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you need to build a world that your readers will believe is possible. Spend sufficient time creating your story’s environment to a high level of detail and it will pay off later, perhaps in even providing new plot twists.
If something throws you out of a story you’re reading, figure out why. Then make sure you’re not guilty of the same thing. You can learn from all writers, whether more or less skilled than you are. Typos are one thing that really jolt me out, though blatantly inaccurate science is a close second.
Read your work out loud as part of your editing process. If you find yourself saying something different than what’s written, consider rewording it accordingly. If it’s awkward when read aloud, it’s not the most natural wording. Even better, read it aloud into a recorder and then listen, especially if you’re an audio-type. This is very effective for catching redundancies.