Get Noticed! Eight Tips to Catching an Editors Eye
The first five pages of a novel are critical.
Editors make quick judgments. They don't like to admit it, but they do. Somewhere an editor is sitting in an airless room staring at a pile of manuscripts hoping to strike gold, but doubtful. She wants to get through the toppling pile as quickly as possible. Therefore she is going to look at your manuscript and search for one thing: A reason to say 'no'.
Your goal is not to give her that reason. There are many factors you can't control (whether an editor has had a bad day, or has already accepted a manuscript similar to yours) but there are a few things that may get an editor or agent to stop and read your work. Please understand that these are merely guidelines, don't substitute my judgment for your own. Writing is an art after all.
1. Get the action started. Start your story on the day when something is different. The beginning of your manuscript is not the place for back story. You don't need to explain how the protagonist came to be where he is. You can pepper that information in later on. You only have a few seconds to capture the reader's interest. Routines are boring; change is exciting.
Think about it. If your next-door neighbor always picked up the paper at 7:30 AM, wouldn't you be curious if you still found the paper lying there at 10:30 AM? Or if your boss was always grumpy in the morning then one day came in whistling, wouldn't you want to know why? Your goal is to put a story question in the reader's mind. Intrigue them. How do you do this? Consider these beginnings from different genres:
(Fantasy) "What in the name of cold hells is this?" Sun Wolf held the scrap of unfolded paper between stubby fingers that were still slightly stained with blood. -The Ladies of Mandrigyn by Barbara Hambly
(Young Adult) The paperweight should have been clear, but it was not. -Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan
(Women's Fiction) Jaine Bright woke up in a bad mood. -Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard
(General Fiction) Something was wrong with Paul and Elizabeth's cat, Charlotte. -Publish and Perish by James Hynes
Check your bookshelves for more examples. Get into the habit of seeing what other successful writers do. Learn the tricks of how they draw you into a story.
2. Have tension. If you succeed with number one, you'll probably have tension. Tension doesn't have to be heart-pounding suspense. It could simply be a missed phone call, a strange voice message, a lunch date that should have arrived but didn't. Tension draws a reader deeper into a story. Try to have plenty of it in your first few pages (literary agent Donald Maass suggests you have it on every page, but I'm only focusing on the first five here). Make the reader wonder what will happen next.
3. Grab the reader with your characters. When a reader is sucked into a new world they want to have an idea of whom they will be traveling with. They want someone to root for or somebody to hate. Give the reader a quick sketch of who these people are.
4. Show what is at stake. In your first five pages you have to answer a vital question properly or your manuscript will be shipped back to you. The question is: 'Who cares?' The reader needs to reply 'I do' or your story has failed. Make the stakes high for your protagonist. You get bonus points if you make the stakes high on both a private and public level. For example, if a man wants to get a promotion to make more money, that's nice. We all want to make more money, but I don't really care. If that same man needs the promotion so that he can pay off a rogue hit man he'd hired to kill his wife who he's come to love again?well now that's interesting. Make the reader care by making the stakes count specifically for your protagonist.
5. Describe setting. It doesn't have to be a long, lush description. Many readers don't have the patience for that; however, try to immerse your reader into the world you've created for them. Give them clues as to where the story is set. Whether it is in a London tube station, a marketplace in Kansas or an office in a city you've invented.
6. Foreshadow what is to come. Most stories are circular, they have a beginning, middle and end that all tie together. Hint at how the character will change or won't change. It helps to give your story resonance.
7. Be conscious of pace. This depends on the genre. Lead the reader on the journey at the pace they're used to. A slow moving thriller will be a let down; a fast moving cozy mystery may be confusing. Stories are like music, a reader expects a certain beat depending on the style. Country music has a different rhythm than jazz.
You can mix genres (sci-fi detective or horror romance) but understand the rhythms of both genres so that when readers pick up your book they won't be disappointed. It's likely that one genre will be more prominent than the other. Meet their expectations or better yet exceed them.
8. Write with passion. If you don't care about the story or your characters, no one else will. Put you spirit into it. Make your language come alive on the page. Many editors and agents talk about 'voice'. Basically that means the way a writer tells a story. Stephen King's voice is different than Dean Koontz's; Jennifer Crusie doesn't sound like Jane Heller. Put your own unique spin on the story. That will make it stand out.
I know these guidelines seem like a lot to remember for the first five pages, but it is a competitive market and most successful authors include these elements. You don't have to get it right the first time, rewriting will help you polish your work. But if you want to be on someone's 'to-be-read' pile these guidelines could put you on the top of their list. Good luck!
Dara Girard is the author of How to Bounce When You Want to Shatter: Steps to Resilience in the Writing Life (http://www.howtobounce.com) and three novels. You can find more articles and links for writers on her website http://www.daragirard.com
Comma Usage Made Simple
Don't they drive you nuts?You can visit all the rules of style you want, and you can readall the books and articles you want. You'll still be confused.
Writing Made Them Rich #4: Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho was born on August 24th 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.At age 17 he announced his intention to be a writer.
Writing Made Them Rich #5: Peter Mayle
Peter Mayle was born in England in 1939.His fascination with France began at the age ofseventeen when, as the 'lowliest trainee' in Shell, hewas instructed to accompany his boss - a Mr.
Turbo Charge Your Career! Write And Produce Your Own Stage Play!
Have you ever wondered how you can adapt your screenplay or novel into a stage play? Do you have a story that you yearn to see on stage? Or, maybe you're an actor frustrated by the barrage of fruitless auditions and dream of performing before a live audience. If so, writing and producing your own stage play just may be the ticket to turbo charging your career.
Knock-Out Writers Block: Listening To Your Inner Voice
When I was young, I used to talk to myself. Long, drawn out, one-sided conversations.
Ways to Make Extra Income Using the Internet
To capitalize on ways to make extra income you can (and should) use the Internet for test marketing:(a) To establish demand for your extra income idea.(b) To prepare yourself to take advantage of other ways to make extra income i.
Water to Swim In
Not long ago, I took stock of my unrealized desire to be a published writer, or maybe I should I say ‚??Writer‚?? with a capital ‚??W.‚?? For some reason it always seemed a lofty goal, to want to see my byline in print.
Conflict - How To Keep Your Readers Turning Pages
Some writers are just too kind.They hate to put their characters under any kind of pressure.
You Cant Always Believe What You See On Your Computer Screen
You may not remember this, but in the early days of the personal computer, many industry insiders were predicting a paperless society.Of course, this hasn't happened.
Teachers Should Write, During Their Summers
Before I became a teacher, I was a sports writer. Working for a newspaper taught me a lot about writing, especially dealing with the pressures of deadlines.
Writing is a Discipline
If a writer considers writing to be a task, he/she is doomed to failure. Since it cannot be a task, then what is it? It is a discipline.
Basic Writing Tips - Some Controversial, All Correct
As a previous article ("Making Better Word Choices - 4 Examples") explained, writers can take steps to prevent simple, and common, errors from degrading their writing. Five areas of writing that cause authors problems are discussed in this article.
New Authors Publishing Options
All your publishing options are as follows:--Conventional publishing--Vanity or subsidy publishing--Print-on-demand publishing--Self-publish yourself--Get help with self-publishingLet's compare the publishing options.How to get in the publishing process and how long will it take to see your book printed?Conventional publishing optionIt is a very long and difficult process to get a publisher even if it is at all possible for a new author.
Common Writing Mistakes
Most books aren't rejected because the stories are"bad." They're rejected because they're not "ready toread.
Timer Magic for Writers
If your writing muscle isn't in shape, writing a novel may seem like a sheer, unscalable cliff. ("Gee, I don't think I can write today.
Celebrating Writing and Life
Every morning I excitedly get out of bed. Just a few minutes of goals and visions for the day swirl in my head.
A Checklist For Drafting Business Letters And Emails
Write Right - You have an all important business letter or email drafted, proof read and waiting to be sent. Before you dash it off, use this self questionnaire to ensure that you have written to Express and not to Impress.
Editorial Freelancing: 5 Must-Know Tips to Getting Your Foot in the Door
So, you want to freelance as an editor, writer, copy editor, copywriter, graphic designer, proofreader, etc.? But, how do you go about it?My mother was fond of saying, "If you want to know something, go directly to the source.
How To Stay Fit While Writing
Day after day, writers tend to sit for hours writing that novel or story, and over time, this can become a potential problem. Their metabolism may slow down and the pounds can inch up.
Personal Journaling - Strategies To Make It Easy
Recently I was watching the Oprah show and it was about doing something really great in someones life. Was it buying them a special gift? Or taking them out? Not really.