Here’s an article I’m going to be studying. You might want to take a look, too. It summarizes what sends up red flags for readers (agents or not).
Here’s an interview with a top literary agent about the first five pages of your novel. Amy Boggs is currently open to queries. See her preferences on the Donald Maass Literary Agency site. (Also, be sure to read The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. It’s amazing!)
Those first pages make all the difference. If you do not capture an agent’s, editor’s, or reader’s attention from the beginning, those eyes will move on to another story. In this post, literary agents tell us what not to include.
Yesterday, I returned from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. As usual it was an amazing experience. Here are some things I took away:
1. I heard top agent Barry Goldblatt critique first pages read by attendees. Now, I have a much better idea where to start my story. I had way too much dialogue up front. Not enough was happening. I need to start at a more dramatic moment. Actually, that’s easy. I just need to skip more pages.
2. The night before the conference started, my roomie, an amazing writer, had reviewed my own first page and synopsis. Together, we pinpointed the organizing principle of my protagonist’s personality. I now can see the thread stringing the pearls of my plot together. It was always there, but not as clear to me as it was to her. That help was priceless. (You know who you are–thank you!)
3. I spent some time with other writers and an agent chatting in Zebulon’s Library, an intimate bookless conference room near the restaurant. It was a different and relaxing way to meet people and share information.
4. I met an energetic, fascinating, famous, and powerful professional writer in the bar. Her example was a gift. Most immediately applicable of the many things I learned from her is a working method. She uses a bluetooth microphone and paces around her office, dictating, during working hours. She logs 4000 words a day. Okay, I ordered a bluetooth microphone this morning. Reviewers say it works with Dragon Naturally Speaking, which I like and have trained. This week I have assignments to turn in and errands to catch up on, but this weekend, I am going to finish my novel, or at the very least, come close. I am one of those strange people who finds it much easier to rewrite than to do the initial draft, so this is going to work. It will also help my sciatica (caused, in my case, by too much sitting) heal and increase my calorie burn.
5. I heard an accomplished thriller writer discuss his Stanislovski-style method of characterization. I couldn’t do it the way he does. (He actually shoplifted once as part of his character research.) I can, however, use my imagination to immerse myself more deeply into my protagonist’s mind. He emphasized the characters’ feelings, but, more than that, the responses of other people to the way a given character acts. Coming home, I found myself observing people in the airport more closely.
6. I heard a professional nonfiction writer, an architect, giving advice about how to break into writing. I have been broken in for quite some time, but his talk reminded me of avenues to publication I have not explored in a while, and I will be watching them more carefully in the coming months, making notes for possible projects.
7. I attended two panels where literary agents answered questions commonly posed by attendees. I was able to see people who represent the kind of book I am writing. When I am ready to submit, I will be able to associate their names, faces, and personalities with information I find online. I will also be able to say what impressed me about them. (One of my major goals this year is finding appropriate representation for my work.) By the way, don’t be discouraged if you get rejections from agents. They get more than 1000 queries a week and ask for few sample pages (even fewer full manuscripts).
8. I heard a famous thriller writer extol the virtues of self-publishing (though Amazon). It’s not for me, but, hey.
9. I added to my list of books to read.
10. I met many wonderful fellow-writers, ate great food, took a walk in the Garden of the Gods, sipped Blue Moon, had a massage, and watched Eat, Pray, Love on Saturday night in our room. (Husbands will not share that one.) What could be better?
If you have started your book with a prologue, here is something you should read from Kristen Lamb. Her entire blog, by the way, is fantastic!
From an editor, here’s a well-thought-out post on the pros and cons of prologues from a contemporary point of view. It starts with the pros. which, if you have used one, you already know. Keep reading. You may need yours, but you do need to know why they are less common in contemporary fiction than in works written 30, 40, 0r 50 years ago.
Good sense about prologues from author and former agent Nathan Bransford.
Here’s a great blog post about prologues in novels. It provides an interesting and balanced view.
When I was a kid I skipped prologues. I wanted to get to the story. (I still do.) All readers are different, though. Some people love them.
Check your opening and make sure these two reasons do not apply.
Here’s a nice collection of articles about handling rejection from Writer’s Relief.