Tag Archives: Writing

Thinking About Self-Publishing? Here’s A Quick Reality Check.

Self-publishing seems to be all the hype right now. Whether you first try to get an agent or go straight to publishers and are unable to get their attention, or decide to skip attempting the traditional route altogether, you’re looking into self-publishing.

It seems like a good deal. You don’t have to mess with any of the middle men, who take the majority of the money your novel makes. You have the freedom to choose how you want to represent your work. You even get to select what you want your book cover to look like.3407402643_7d11d2717f_z

You’ve heard the success stories:

  • Andy Weir’s The Martian was originally self-published in 2011. It’s now been re-released through Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, and was made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was not only first self-published, but also was based on fan fiction. The rights for this novel were obtained by Vintage Books, a subdivision of Random House, in 2012. Selling over 125 million copies, this book was made into a movie that earned over $571 million worldwide.
  • Mark Dawson’s self-published John Milton series has sold over 300,000 copies. And while that in itself is impressive, Amazon pays for Mark to speak at seminars and workshops, sort of like their poster boy for the self-publishing world. To learn more about Mark’s success story, click here: “Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer.” 
  • Amanda Hocking self-published out of a need to make some desperately needed money. Over a period of about 20 months, Amanda sold 1.5 million books and made more than $2 million. To learn more about her story, click here: “Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online.” 

What you don’t hear so often are the hundreds of thousands of people who self-publish in the hopes of making enough money to quit their day jobs and end up not finding success.

Talking Writing’s article “Three Money Lessons For Starry-Eyed Authors” discusses the truth of self-publishing.

In this article, three lessons are addressed:

  1. “There’s Way Too Much Competition”
    1. It’s really easy to self-publish. Therefore, everyone and their grandma feel like giving it a try. On one hand, it’s great that people have the freedom to see their work published. On the other hand, most times the work wasn’t ready to be published, or in some cases, should have never seen the light of day. (I’ve seen multiple self-published novels that have misspelled titles.) It’s this other hand that causes a lot of problems because (1) your work gets lost in the noise and (2) a stigma forms about self-publishing.
  2. “Literary Fiction Is Still the Ugly Cousin”
    1. Literary fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, has never been all that great at selling books in the traditional publishing world. Literary fiction sells even worse in self-publishing.
  3. “You Can Drive Yourself Insane Tracking Sales”
    1. Having the ability to check real-time sales is both a blessing and a curse. When your book is selling well, you get a positive boost every time you check your sales statistics. However, when your book isn’t selling, the real-time sales can become a black hole that takes over your life.

These three challenges aren’t meant to deter you, if you’re interested in self-published. They’re here to show you that you most likely won’t get rich quick with self-publishing and that self-publishing involves a lot of work (potentially more work than traditional publishing because you are responsible for doing and paying for everything). But, like with everything, self-publishing presents opportunity, and with opportunity, there’s always a chance of phenomenal success.

Have you ever self-published or been interested in self-publishing?

(Photo courtesy of khrawlings.)

Being Happy as a Writer

6941440367_53fbc30754_zHappy Leap Day! Hope everyone is enjoying their extra day of the year. (My grandma and great aunt get to have a birthday this year.)

Writing is challenging. It’s time consuming and frustrating. It’s also amazing. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you’re finally satisfied with your work can seem miraculous. That feeling can safeguard you against all the ups and downs that are inevitably tied to the writing process.

If you enjoy writing as much as I hope you do, then it can make you happy, whether you’re published or not. However, in order to truly experience happiness and satisfaction from your writing, your work must have some significance to you.

I recently read an article titled How To Be Happy: 5 Secrets Backed By Research. This article isn’t writing specific, but I found it informative and intriguing. Plus, it’s filled with links to other science-based articles, books, lectures, etc. that back the information Eric, the author of the blog, states.14209441301_c2a017cf72_z

The articles delves into five ways to be happy. I’ll briefly include them here, but check out the article for more detailed information.

Five ways to be happy:

  1. Pursuing pleasure in life is not enough to be happy. Your life needs meaning. It’s only when you combine pleasure and meaning that you find happiness.
  2. Write down what you do in a day. It’s easy to lose track of time. You hop on the computer for a quick Facebook check and end up spending an hour scrolling through your feed. Did that hour make you happy? Fulfilled? Evaluate how you spent your time by looking at how it made you feel. You’ll discover which activities generate happiness and which ones don’t. Increase the time spent on activities that make you happy.
  3. Happiness is more than just doing things that make us feel good. We must enjoy the process of doing those things. When we enjoy what we’re doing we create a “flow.” In other words, we’re able to focus on the present, and though we may end up working very hard, the work doesn’t feel painful.
  4. Answer this question: If no one could see what you were doing, and therefore couldn’t judge you, what would you do? By answering this question, you’ll discover which activities you truly enjoy doing and which activities matter most to you, instead of which ones are more impressive or acceptable by your peers.
  5. Similar to saying versus doing, or showing versus telling, it’s one thing to know what makes us happy; it’s another thing to do what really matters to us. Therefore, we must make a habit out of doing what makes us happy.

Here are some habits to help increase happiness:

  1. Physical exercise. It improves both physical and mental wellbeing.
  2. Hang out with friends. Those intimate relationships make all the difference.
  3. Be grateful. Show gratitude to others and yourself.
  4. Meditate. This helps you to focus. No more monkey mind.

One of the most important realizations about being happy is to know that you’re human, and by being human you won’t experience happiness all the time. Without the dark times in our lives, we can’t recognize happiness, gratitude, compassion, love, and all the other wonderful emotions we, as humans, come to understand and appreciate.

What do you think? What makes you happy?

(Photos courtesy of Bob B. Brown and Vladimir Pustovit.)

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

The year is almost over. A new year is about to begin. These next days before we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015 are a time to declare resolutions for the coming year. Some will resolve to lose weight or save money, but as writers, our New Year’s goal(s) tend toward writing.

341866875_a0e8c69f1e_oHere are some common resolutions for writers:

Make time for writing (consistently).

This is easier said than done. As writers, we know what we have to do to get a novel or short story written. We have to sit down and write. But, since most of us have jobs, families, various chores and errands, pets, other interests, trying to stay fit – not to mention needing sleep – it’s easy for our writing to get pushed to the side.

However, there is time to write. We just have to realize it. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes on some days. Set goals for yourself. Maybe try to get 250 or 500 words written a day. Or work on outlining. Writing isn’t just about getting words down on paper. It’s also about doing research for your work, outlining your story, etc. There are some days where the time I allot for writing is all research!

If you write everyday, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, you’ll find yourself accomplishing a lot more than putting off writing for a month and then spending seven hours in a writing fury. Not only will you have to remember what you’ve already written, but you’ll have to get back into your story. Both of which take up valuable time.

Finish or start your work.

Whether it’s a novel or a short story, you are determined to finish what you’ve started or begin putting that great premise down on paper. It can be frustrating to have an unfinished work laying around, but it’s easy to put off continuing working on it. The same applies for beginning a novel or short story. Why not write your goals down on a calendar or tell someone about your goals? Find a way to make yourself accountable to finish or start your work.

If you make the resolution to finish your work, that includes editing and revising. Make the work as close to perfect as you can. Then, reward yourself and work on a new goal: submission to agents.

Edit your work.

A fair amount of people think writing the novel is the hard part. That part is challenging, but what takes longer and is more demanding is revision. As the author, you get to a point in your work where it’s hard to see what needs to be improved. This doesn’t mean to stop revising. It means to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work, unless you are one of those lucky few who can step back and look at their own writing from an objective point of view, as if they had never seen or heard of the story before.

(I only know of one person who can successfully take an objective view of his work, which is why I’m in a critique group. I don’t catch all of the little things (and the occasional plot hole) missing from my work, and I very much appreciate those people who take time to review my work. Without them, my writing wouldn’t be as clean as it is.)

Submit your work.

Don’t submit until your work is ready. It can be tempting to submit to magazines or literary agents before you’ve finished editing, or sometimes before you’ve completed the first draft, especially when most agents take at least four weeks to get back to you. Resist this feeling. By waiting until your work is ready, you have a better chance of getting accepted.

Get involved with other writers.

Be supportive. Writing isn’t easy and it tends to be solitary. Not to mention how writers tend to be harsh on themselves. I don’t know about you, but there are times where my negativity gets the better of me. The way I help overcome that? Knowing other writers, talking to them, and supporting them. I know I’m not alone with the emotions and negativity I sometimes feel, and it helps to both encourage other writers (and be genuinely happy for them when they get published) and hear other writers encourage me to continue pursuing my goal of getting published.

Call yourself a writer (and believe it).

This one seems deceptively easy. But saying, “I write,” is different than saying, “I’m a writer.” Writing is more than a hobby. If you want to get published, you have to commit, and one of the most important things you can do to help yourself commit to writing is to admit that you are a writer.

It’s a little scary to admit that, especially if you’ve never been published because you may fail and never get published. That’s something I think about a lot. One thing is certain though. If you don’t call yourself a writer – if you don’t make that commitment to writing – you will have a very difficult time being successful in your endeavors.

I’ve talked in terms of getting published. Not everyone has that goal. Regardless of whether or not you want to get published, writing takes commitment, and in order to do your best, you have to call yourself a writer. More than that, you have to believe it.

One of the best little bits of writing on writers I’ve read is from “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks. I first saw this piece on a Writer’s Digest blog (http://bit.ly/1c3L8ca) and liked it so much I thought I’d share it here:

We are lucky. Very lucky. We are writers.

Sometimes that may seem more curse than blessing, and others may not regard what we do with any more esteem or respect than mowing a lawn. To an outsider this can appear to be a hobby, or maybe a dream that eludes most.

But if that’s how they view you, they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …

Whatever we write, we are reaching out. We are declaring that we are not alone on this planet, and that we have something to share, something to say. Our writing survives us, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. Because we have given back, we have reflected our truth. We have mattered.

Enjoy the New Year. Embrace your resolutions. Write.

What resolutions are you making this New Year’s Eve?

(Photo courtesy of Naeema Campbell and Tim Hamilton)

Don’t Sweat It. Love Your Writing.

Often times writers worry about their writing. Worrying in itself isn’t horrible, but sometimes the anxiety and doubt a writer has about his writing takes over. Questions like if his novel is ever going to get published, if he’s going to be successful, or if everything he’s doing is just a big waste of time become predominant. And as those questions and doubt crowd his mind, he may never send out his manuscript or may abandon a work in progress.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t let anxiety and doubt take control. So much of the concern writers get stems from misconceptions.

Forget failure.

  • Failure isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it hurts, but you can move past failure and learn from it. Fitzgerald and Melville both faced multiple failures during their lives, but they’re considered two of the greatest writers of their age.
  • Failure doesn’t mean your work sucks. Just because not everyone loves your writing doesn’t mean you can’t write. There will always be people who love your novel, and others who don’t. Think of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Though Rowling got an agent quickly, twelve publishing houses rejected her novel. It was a year later when she got a publishing house, and even then she was told to get a day job because she’d never make any money being a children’s author.

Failure can sometimes feel like you’re never going to make it. Don’t let it stop you. Keep writing, go to workshops, join a critique group, etc.

Agents and publishers aren’t all knowing.

  • Agents and publishers like to believe they know everything. I’ve even seen some of them say they know what the next bestseller will be. The deals publishing houses make are pretty much a direct correlation with how well they believe your novel will sell. However, publishing history is filled with rejections and huge advances for novels that never sold well. Publishing houses guard their sales statistics, and tend to only share their success stories. The truth is, publishing houses lose money on books every year. And have you looked at some of the authors agents represent? Most of them aren’t wildly successful with bestsellers. If agents and publishers knew the market, they’d all be representing bestsellers.

The bottom line is that the market is unpredictable. Agents and publishers do have experience in the publishing world, but they can’t read readers’ minds and the market is constantly changing.

Every writer, at some point, doubts their work. Anxiety comes with being a writer. The key is to push through despite the worry, and to improve without letting uncertainty get in the way.

Perseverance is the key to success.

How do you deal with anxieties surrounding your writing?

10 Things You Should Do Before Writing Your Novel

You get that novel idea and you can’t wait to start writing. Your fingers are itching to pick up that pen or start typing away at your computer.

Stop. Hold up. Here’s a checklist of things to do before you sit down to write. You don’t have to do everything. Read the list and choose what works for you.

  1. Why are you writing? Why are you writing this novel? What is it about this story? The story should engage you. It should excite you and scare you. Writing a novel isn’t easy. Writing one well is even more difficult. You need to care about the characters, the story, etc. If you don’t, you’ll lose focus.
  2. Check your expectations. Writing a novel is a long process. It’s not going to be all sunshine and butterflies. There are going to be days where you want to trash everything and give up, go do something else. Remember that this is your first draft. Some parts may be fantastic the first time through. Most won’t. Make time to clarify. Make time to revise.
  3. Know your characters. You need to know your characters inside and out. They have to be real to you. If they aren’t, they’ll seem fake to readers.
  4. Plan it out. You don’t have to do an outline, though they can be very helpful. And you should at least know how to write an outline. One day you may be asked to do so. At the very least, you should know what’s going to happen over the course of your novel. Hundreds of pages, tens of thousands of words, major and minor plots, multiple characters, settings, etc. all add up. If you go in blind, you’ll end up with plot holes.
  5. Create the rules. If you’re creating a world, your setting’s in the future, or you’ve got fictional characters, you need to have rules for your story. Vampires? They drink human blood. They can survive off animal blood for short periods of time, but it’s human blood that sustains them. They can’t go out in the sunlight, unless they’re Originals, those of the first bloodline. They turn others into vampires by drinking their blood until the point of death, feeding them their blood, and then killing them. You get the point. Make the rules and stick to them.
  6. Know your ending. Know your ending before you begin writing. Why? Because it matters. Your entire story is tailored to how the novel ends. Know the ending and plan for it. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to the original ending. Most likely you’ll think of a better ending as you’re writing, but you don’t want to be left scratching your head during the last thirty pages.
  7. Research. Get some of the research out of the way before you start writing. Even if you’re writing fiction, you’ll still find you need to do research, whether it’s creating hybrid creatures or figuring out what’s most likely to happen if a hurricane and earthquake occur simultaneously. What’s the emergency plan? How will the power grid be impacted? Flooding? How will people react? You don’t have to do all your research ahead of time. You can do it as you go, but it’s good to do some early, so you’ll know what you’re talking about. Nothing’s more irritating than having someone talk about something they know nothing about.
  8. Write the query. A query letter will give you a clear image of what’s going on in your story. Aim for two to three paragraphs that explain the hook, the story, etc. Make sure to include the critical pieces.
  9. Forget about it. Forget about writing for a moment. Instead, think about your idea. Go to bed thinking about it. Ask questions. Envision problems with the story or with what the protagonist will face. Research. Let your brain absorb all you read and think about.
  10. Commit. Commit mentally and physically. Willpower has a lot to do with writing. You are going to finish this novel. It’s not a question. You’re not wishy-washy. You will complete this. No more waiting. Sit down and write. Get it all out on paper. The time is now.

What are some things you do before writing?

There Are No Rules

There are a countless number of books, websites, and classes designed to teach people how to write, including the rules associated with writing. Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Glitz, etc., has ten rules for good writing. However, W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Elmore Leonard’s rules include:

  • Never open a book with weather.
  1. Rule: Weather is usually used as a conversational opening, when there’s not something better to talk about.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Though weather is continued for the next paragraph, the main character is introduced after the opening line.
  3. The Rapture by Liz Jensen: “That summer, the summer all the rules began to change, June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperature was merciless: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, then a hundred in the shade. It was heat to die, go nuts or spawn in…Asphyxiated, you longer for rain. It didn’t come.”
  • Avoid prologues.
  1. Prologues tend to be used improperly as massive information dumps, are too long, have nothing to do with the main story, can be folded into the main story, or are used to set the mood (which should be done in chapter one anyway).
  2. Prologues can be good, if used correctly: used for a critical element in the backstory or used to resolve a time gap with critical information
  3. i.e.: Garth Nix’s Sabriel and Lirael novels both contain prologues that resolve a time gap and include important background information.
  • Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  1. There are plenty of published and successful books that use more than “said.”
  2. i.e. – Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, “‘She is not my friend,’ snaps Lynn.’”
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  1. Again, there are lots of successful novels that break this rule.
  2. i.e. – Delirium by Lauren Oliver: “‘Hi, Carol,’ Hana says breathlessly, catching up to us.”
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  1. Rule: When overused, an exclamation loses its meaning.
  2. i.e. – In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants five exclamation points are used within the prologue.
  • Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  1. i.e. – Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants: “‘Oh Jesus,’ I said, suddenly understanding. I stumbled forward, screaming even though there was no hope of my voice reaching her. ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’”
  2. i.e. – Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories: “Funeral, he said suddenly. Going to my brother’s funeral.”
  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  1. Rule: Convey the feel of speech through expressions and phrasing, not misspellings, etc.
  2. i.e. – The Color Purple by Alice Walker: “My mama dead. She die screaming and cussing. She scream at me. She cuss at me. I’m big. I can’t move fast enough. By time I git back from the well, the water be warm. By time I git the tray ready the food be cold. By time I git all the children ready for school it be dinner time. He don’t say nothing. He set there by the bed holding her hand an cryin, talking about don’t leave me, don’t go.”
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  1. This is subjective. Some readers like description of characters, other do not.
  2. i.e. – In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, three men are described in one paragraph: “Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners…His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien…”
  3. i.e. – In Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, it takes multiple paragraphs to describe Kennan: “…he did nothing but smile. / And he was devastating when he did. He glowed faintly all the time, as if hot coals burned inside him. His collar-length hair shimmered like strands of copper…tan and too beautiful to touch, walking with a swagger that said he knew exactly how attractive he was…he was almost average in size, only a head taller than she was. / Whenever he came near, she could smell wildflowers, could hear the rustle of willow branches…a taste of midsummer in the start of the frigid fall.”
  • Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  1. Rule: Too much description and the story’s action comes to a standstill.
  2. i.e. – John Crowley’s Four Freedoms: A Novel has long, detailed descriptions of objects and places sometimes extending for over a page.
  3. i.e. – James Joyce’s The Dubliners: The Dead: “The middle of the room was occupied by two square tables placed end to end, and on these Aunt Julia and the caretaker were straightening and smoothing a large cloth. On the sideboard were arrayed dishes and plates, and glasses and bundles of knives and forks and spoons. The top of the closed square piano served also as a sideboard for viands and sweets. At a smaller sideboard in one corner two young men were standing, drinking hop bitters.”
  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  1. Rule: Readers skip thick paragraphs of prose, but not dialogue.
  2. This is another subjective rule. For instance, I’m not an erotica fan. I once bought a book thinking it was a fantasy adventure. It turned out that the book was more erotica than anything else. I didn’t finish that book, but gave it to a friend, who devoured it. So, where I found the sexual descriptions repetitive and rather boring, she was engrossed.

As you can see from the examples I’ve provided above, Maugham may be right. Leonard’s list of ten rules can be counted more as suggestions, observations, and helpful points than as strict letters of the law. If they were, these rules wouldn’t be contradicted.

With writing, it isn’t a linear process. There are no definite steps to follow. You move forward and backward. You write something brilliant one day and then the next you have no idea why what you wrote the previous day was so good. Eventually, if you stick with it, you finish writing a story.

Fiction writing holds no absolutes. There’s no right or wrong way to write your novel. There are suggestions and insights from successful authors. But, the only true measure of what kind of shape your novel is in is by how well it’s received by you and your readers.

Do you lean more toward Maugham or Leonard’s belief about rules for writing?

[Elmore Leonard’s rules from The New York Times “Writers on Writing; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”]

That Pesky Opening

A novel’s beginning is sometimes one of the most difficult aspects a writer faces. It gives the first impression, and, as we learn growing up, first impressions are very important.

The writer must grab a reader’s attention from the first sentence and continue to keep it. (And I’m not just talking about once a book is published. Many agents won’t read past the first line – the first paragraph – of a submitted novel if it doesn’t grab their attention.)

As much as writers hope that readers would give more than the first page or so of a novel a chance, for the most part that’s not the case. Hooking readers from the get-go is necessary to keep them reading.

Some examples of attention-grabbing opening lines:

  • “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty three since the scientists perfected a cure.” – Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984 by George Orwell
  • “I felt her fear before I heard her screams.” – Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  • “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.” – Gone by Michael Grant
  • “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Once that opening line or two is written, the rest of the page needs to continue to draw the reader in.

There are many ways to catch and keep a reader’s interest. Here are some more common ways:

  1. Start in the right place. Begin at the start of a conflict and build momentum from that first moment. If you start the novel by discussing something interesting that happened before the novel began, think about including that interesting event instead of simply talking about it (showing vs. telling). Likewise, including long, winding descriptions or a flashback before the story has moved forward at all isn’t all that compelling.
    1. In Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly, the author begins with the main character getting caught in the rush at the post office when one of the dead comes down the street. (Opening line: “‘Dead!’ a woman screamed. ‘It’s the Dead!’”)
  2. Include action. This does not mean throwing in a random car or plane crash. Every action needs to have context. Without meaning behind it, action becomes pointless. Action doesn’t have to be huge, it can simply be the character standing at a street corner and turning left instead of right like she has done every day for the past three years.
  3. Don’t jump ahead of your readers. Two points here. One: have your readers care about your characters before you put your characters in jeopardy. Two: don’t make the beginning confusing, even if the opening ends up making sense later. If readers don’t care or if they’re confused, they will most likely stop reading.
  4. Ground your characters. Set the scene. You can have great dialogue, but if the reader has no idea where the conversation is happening, it takes away from the novel. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, include paragraphs of background at the beginning. But including a couple of lines depicting laughter, the clanking of glasses, the thudding of feet against concrete, the screech of a bird, or the rich smell of hazelnut coffee will help readers to visualize where the conversation is occurring.
  5. Don’t forget the momentum. The opening should show off the character’s distinctive voice. It should show the audience the point of view the story is being told from, as well as introducing readers to the plot.
    1. The Giver by Lois Lowry quickly introduces the main character and his voice: “It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice.”

If an opening is done well, readers will feel that internal tug to keep reading. They may ask themselves why the grandmother felt the need to burn those letters, how a group of people could allow someone to be chosen at random to be sacrificed, where a girl’s brother disappeared to all those years ago, or the identity of a shadow following a young mother in a picture that was taken the night she was murdered.

Have any suggestions on ways to write a great opening?