One of the things I noticed while reviewing books is the differences between the books I managed to pick up in the stores and those I pick up at GenCon and less commerical places. I'm not going to say one is better than the other, because they aren't. But, when I'm reading it, sometimes I get a nagging feeling that they are somehow "different".
As much as I'd like to say otherwise, it can be a big difference. Obviously, I can't identify a book as commerical or POD just by reading it, but there are little things that can suggest self-publishing.
And, since knowing the problem doesn't make you immune, I noticed those same things in my own writing. One of them is passive voice. Many of the books I got at GenCon over the years start off with too much passive voice. It fades after twenty or so pages, but those initial chapters are littered with "was" and "is". I see it in commerical books, but the point where the writer gets to the active descriptions occurs much faster than many self-published books I read.
In working with DG, I tried to keep aware of that. That and a ton of little other things like characters sighing too much and the glares. I also found out that it is really hard for me to avoid passive voice when I'm setting up a scene. My brain hurts trying to improve myself in this manner, but I think it is a good hurt.
Last night, I basically razed the entire first chapter and started laying down a new introduction. That consists of basically putting in a newline and rewriting the chapter above the old one, deleting as I pass the relevant bits. I'm much happier with this new version. It doesn't set up all the relationships as neatly as I wanted, but I think there are merits in spreading those out in the first three chapters instead of cramming it into one.
There is a danger in focusing on little things, like passive voice or re-using words too frequently (sighed, glare). I need to work on the bigger things too, but in this case, I think I have a good story. It just needs polish. And polish is, at the moment, my weakest part of writing.