Those first five pages – setting the hook

All the how-to book writing books, articles, blogs and tweets insist that the first five pages of a novel manuscript are the most important. This is an author’s best chance to set a hook.

This is where readers first decide whether it’ll be worth it to read the whole book. So publishers insist they be gripping. So agents insist they be gripping. In fact, many agents ask wannabe clients to submit only the first five pages.

So do you write those pages to pander to this demand?

I’m rewriting The Murder Plague right now and I decided to give it a try. Here was my problem. The action really ramps up midway through Chapter 1 … on page seven. Too late? I decided it was.

But those first six pages have gone through multiple rewrites. I liked them as they were; at least I did after the first few drafts. What do I get rid of? Continue reading

How many agents is it appropriate and practical to query at once?

How many agents is it appropriate and practical to query at once?

There are many agents who insist on getting exclusive submissions – meaning one. I’m not talking about them. I skip them. I’m sure many others would hope and assume (but can’t really realistically demand) that we submit to only one at a time.

But let’s face it, at the 3-6 weeks to never that agents tend to reserve to respond even to a query, the prospect of querying enough to get that one-in-a-100 bite would go on until forever.

So I ask you writers and realists: how many simultaneously?

My standard has been five to ten.  That’s for practical reasons. You want to research them. You want to personalize your pitch, accentuating your manuscript’s stengths and your own strengths to appeal to an individual agent’s interests. And frankly I have a hard time keeping track of more than five or ten at a time. Continue reading

Recognizing a major flaw and fixing it; will a second time on market be received?

One of the big differences between the new and improved version of Eve’s Swath and the version that I half-heartedly floated on the market a couple of years ago involves a major flew that I knew all along existed but just couldn’t push myself to fix, until recently.

The flaw involved a hole in the background of the main protagonist, Eve Mirada. I hinted at a troubled past, I clumsily described the troubled past, but I just couldn’t make it real. She was a far weaker character than her co-star, Max Studebaker.

Now that I’ve tackled that issue head-on, with full energy, I feel as if I installed a backbone into a character who was something of a jellyfish. I feel really good about it. I can’t understand why I didn’t come up with a fix for that problem earlier. Part of the problem, of course, was I just couldn’t come up with the answer then.

But frankly, that’s a cop-out. I couldn’t come up with an answer two months ago either. But I read around, I researched, I thought, and I came up with it.  I think Eve’s Swath rocks now.

So I really regret putting the flawed version on the market two years ago. Here’s why: Continue reading

The doldrums: writing, reading, querying, waiting

I’ve entered a doldrums period, where I’m feeling a little isolated as I tweak my The Murder Plague manuscript, read, dash off occasional queries, and wait for something to happen.

Something tells me that waiting for something to happen is a bad strategy. But I’m finding little tactical advantages, among the few websites, forums, books, ideas and other resources, to drive my mission of becoming a former unpublished author.

So I count. I’ve now sent out 33 agent queries, which is a relatively low number compared with the 50-150 range that seems to be the sweet spot for authors to find agents. I remain however naively optimistic. Twenty-one of those queries went out before I suspended my effort in mid-March in order to go through the beta-reader step. Since I completed that phase and resumed my solicitation three weeks ago, I’ve sent out 12 more.

I still find it curious that so many agents simply do not respond at all. There’s nothing much gained from a rejection letter, especially a form letter. But they do bring closure. When I get one, I can at least cross an agent off the list. So far, out of 33, I’ve received, 10 have sent me rejection letters and I have declared another 11 to have “expired” based on their stated response times.

That leaves 12, with a couple more expiration dates only days away.

Doldrums test faith, resolve and patience. Continue reading

Manuscripts are alive: never stop revising them

I know that when an agent says she wants the manuscript in near-pefect condition before she is queried she is saying she wants it complete and clean. But she’s not really expecting it to be finished.

I can’t imagine ever stopping the revision process of mine. It’s ongoing, like raising a kid.

I recently sent an agent the first chapter, on her request. Then minutes after punching the send button I promptly read through and rewrote that first chapter on my laptop.

I now have manuscripts out to a bunch of beta readers and none has responded yet. Meanwhile, I’ve done some significant revisions here and there behind their backs.

It’s not that the work wasn’t complete and clean. It’s that I keep changing every day and so does a living, breathing document like a novel manuscript. I’ve not done any research on this and I’ll not bother. I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years — albeit as a newspaper reporter — and I am supremely confident that no work of writing is ever truly finished until it is published.

In a way, publishing something kills it — that’s the day the work stops changing.

Beta readers: Who are you? Where are you?

I have a confession to make. All of you agents to whom I’ve already sent queries, please turn the other way for a moment. I’ll tell you when you can begin reading again.

I haven’t beta-tested my manuscripts yet. It flat-out didn’t occur to me. I’m naive, remember? And I’m not really sure how to find good beta readers, or whom they should be. Or what to ask of them. I somehow overlooked all the cautions from many agents that they want the manuscript beta tested before the query arrives. I’ve had a couple of family members alpha test it — that is, read a chapter here or there while I was actually writing, and give me feedback.

But no one’s gotten the whole manuscript with the instructions, read it, tell me what you think, be brutally honest, please. It seems to me that’s a lot to ask of someone, and I just didn’t bother.

OK agents with my queries in hand, you may resume reading again here. Thanks.

There’s a lot of advice out there on finding good beta readers, and what they are, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus.

Continue reading