Tag Archives: how to get published

Halt! How to Not Lose Readers on Your First Page

 

When it comes to enticing readers (or literary agents) to read your novel, the first page is extraordinarily important. Many people, including agents, believe that they can tell whether a book is worth reading from the first page. This means that your first page has to deliver what a reader expects it to.

495969512_f317d59719_oThink about how many times you’ve gone into a bookstore, the library, or onto Amazon in search of the next book you’re going to read. You probably first look at the title and the book cover. If those two aspects draw you in, then you read the blurb. If you’re still interested, you’ll open the book or, if on Amazon, go to the free preview, and check out the first page. If the first page doesn’t impress, then you move on to the next book. After all, why would you stick around to read an entire novel, if the first page isn’t interesting?

So, what can you do to make your first page enticing?

While there’s no hard-and-fast rules, certain elements can help or hurt your first page. Oftentimes, starting a novel with dialogue or weather will not catch readers’ interest. Readers want to picture what is happening. Have you ever read a scene where two people are sitting somewhere and having a conversation? The conversation may be intriguing, but you have no idea where the two people are or what the two people look like? Or, maybe it’s the opposite, where you have so much description that you’re overloaded. You can probably think of a novel where the author spends the first pages describing the weather, the house, the landscape…and nothing else happens. Nothing occurs that sets the scene in motion.

When it comes to writing a novel, readers want and expect the novel to read like a movie. They want scenes to be visual, as if a camera is guiding them.

Why is this?

Because readers want to be immersed in the story. In essence, readers want to be shown a story instead of told it.

How do you go about writing a scene like a movie?

Think about scenes the way a director would. Where should the camera be angled at this moment? Where is every character positioned in this scene? If something happens at point A, how does that effect point B? For example, your two protagonists (sisters) are fighting a gang of five people. The younger sister is stabbed. This effects the older sister’s actions. She may get distracted, and so gets punched in the face. Does the camera catch the younger sister getting stabbed, or is the camera focused on the older sister, so that the older sister, and readers, only hear the younger sister scream? It’s only when the older sister whirls around to look at the younger sister that she and readers realize the younger sister’s been injured.

When combining the camera technique with a novel’s first page, set the scene with a brief camera shot. This shot shows where the character is by using sensory detail. By setting the scene, your readers can follow what is occurring.

Notice that I said, “occurring,” instead of “about to occur.” Begin the first page in the middle of an action. Readers don’t want to be told that something is going to happen; they want to be immersed immediately in what is happening. Here’s a great opening line from Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: “The small boys came early to the hanging.”

This line throws readers into the story. Something morbid is occurring, and a group of children are about to witness a horrendous act that will change their worldview. Readers want to know more.

No matter what, the camera should never feel like it’s stuck in one place. You want to choose the best angle for each shot. A close in view will limit what readers’ experience, while a faraway shot will give readers a bigger picture view. However, while a close in shot will showcase small, vital details, a bigger picture will pass over the details for a more bird’s eye view.

You want readers to notice what you want them to see. Give readers enough information to make them want to know more.

(Photo courtesy of Stephen.)

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Why Writing for Yourself Isn’t Always the Answer

When I began writing, I couldn’t decide whether to write for the audience or myself. Writing for myself meant exploring content that was important to me. I believed that by writing for myself I would create intensely honest and captivating work. By writing this way, I wouldn’t feel like I had to impress anybody. I wouldn’t be hindered by the constraints of genre or age group. As Cyril Connolly said, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

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However, I wanted to get published. And, when you’re trying to get published, it helps to know your audience. It helps to write for your audience.

I’m not saying to give up your unique voice, writing style, interests, etc. All those are important in creating a compelling piece of work that differentiates itself from what’s already been published. What makes your book unique will be what ultimately gets you a book deal.

But you need to write for someone. Too often, when you write for yourself, the plot, characters…something ends up being inconsistent. You’re too close to the story to realize that there are plot holes or other aspects of your work that weaken it.

At the same time, simply saying that you’re writing for young adults, military personnel, or housewives isn’t enough. Why? Because these are generalizations of people. They’re too vague. Think about housewives. They come in all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Their life experiences differ vastly. Let’s compare two housewives:

Housewife A: Her name is Aubrey. She is 24 years old, was born in Louisiana to a white mother and a black father. Her father died of lung cancer when she was 17 years old. She started college with her long-term boyfriend and was majoring in English—she wanted to be a middle school English teacher—when her mother was in a car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. Aubrey dropped out of school to help her mother recover. Her boyfriend graduated and proposed to Aubrey. They married and Aubrey’s husband moved in with Aubrey and her mother. Aubrey was planning to go back to school, when she found out that she was pregnant. Aubrey is excited to be a mother, but while she loves the idea of being a stay-at-home mom, she hopes to one day go back to college and receive her degree.

Housewife B: Her name is Mary. She is 47 years old, was born in Connecticut to a white mother and father. She grew up wealthy, attended boarding school, and knew that she would be a housewife just like her mother. She graduated college with a degree in sociology, but was more interested in field hockey and her sorority. Those were the girls she’d know for the rest of her life. She ended up marrying her college boyfriend, who came from an equally wealthy family of doctors, who served on hospital boards and had stakes in three hospitals. They both signed prenuptial agreements and their parents bought them their first house, in Connecticut, as an early wedding gift. Mary has three children: two boys, both who play lacrosse at their boarding school, and a girl, who plays field hockey and tennis at her boarding school. Mary loves her life of private clubs, yoga, and martinis with the girls, but she secretly wishes that she had a more exciting sex life.

These housewives are extremely different. If you tried writing for both of them, your work would turn out inconsistent. So, choose one of the housewives to write for.

Whenever you’re writing something, choose a person that you’re writing for. Maybe this person is real or maybe it’s a persona you created. Ask yourself who this person is, what this person wants, why this person want what he wants. Learn about this person well enough that you know him inside and out. Then, write a story for that person. This will help you stay focused and consistent. This will keep readers invested in the reality you created, instead of being ripped out of it by some inconsistency.

When the writing and revisions are completed, you’ll have a piece of work with a firmly identifiable audience, and a work that has a great chance of grabbing an agent or editor’s attention.

(Photo courtesy of victorio marasigan.)

Overthinking Your Writing

 

More than once I’ve heard writers complain about how some really crappy books become bestsellers, and how these writers can’t understand why such horribly written novels get published, while their books don’t.

Most times – I’d say about 99% of the time – who gets published and who doesn’t has more to do with timing and luck than anything else. Of the other 1%, over half of those who get published have connections in the writing world that helped them.

359612723_65e3f5cb93_zHowever, writers tend to have two modes:

  1. What I’ve written is fantastic. I can’t believe I wrote that!
  2. This is horrendous. My writing should be burned.

These modes can make completing a piece of work difficult. Often the negative thoughts, where writers think their work is complete garbage, creep up during the middle of a story. The first 30,000 words are written, and then, suddenly, all that effort seems like a waste. The temptation to go back and revise is almost too strong to ignore.

Ignore it!

No incomplete book will get published, no matter how perfect the part that’s written is.

In those moments of despair, when your writing may seem like the worst writing in the world, don’t give in to the part of you that wants to stop writing and go back, because it’s better to get through the entire story first, then never reach that final page.

You’ll have plenty of time to go back and revise later, and you might find that what you thought was awful is actually pretty good.

A term used to describe the first draft of a piece of writing is called madman. Madman is that emotional, charged phase where you write without stopping. The madman doesn’t care if the writing is perfect, because he wants to reach the end.

It’s the final stage of writing – the judge – that is the analytical, unemotional phase, where every little mistake must be corrected.

Getting published is often a long, arduous process, where many complete, well-written, and entertaining books go unnoticed. Don’t cripple yourself by not completing your work.

Are you an over thinker?

(Photo courtesy of Fabio Venni.)