A Writer’s Analysis of her own First Page

Some days I look back at my youth and early adulthood days and fondly recall when writing was just for fun.  Then at some point in my late 20’s I was bit by the desire to be published–which threw me into an entirely unknown world.  A world that is monumentally overwhelming at first.  I might be slower than the rest of you but feel like it has taken me a good few years to finally begin to understand the way things work.

The Query

The Synopsis

The Opening Pages

All these things we must master as writers reaching for conventional publication.  The next step: obtaining an agent.  Here you will most likely enter the realm of the slush pile.

Slush.  Partially melted snow mixed with grit and mud, a grey, depressing mess that exists between the enchanting stillness of winter and the beautiful growth of spring.

So in that sea of grey, we must find a way to shine and that is to put together a stellar package from the query to the opening pages.

My first query submission round was utter failure.  So was the second.  And the truth is, while I thought I knew what I was doing– I didn’t have the first clue.  And of course, I submitted to some of my top tier agents.  So not only did the rejection hurt but knowing that I had blown my one chance of getting that agent to view my manuscript, was injury to injury.

And in the wake of the form letter rejection we are often left numb and wondering:

“Where did I go wrong?” 

Unfortunately, that’s not a question to which we often get an answer.  Agents are too busy and it’s not their job to tell us.

My first tip: invest in yourself as a writer–join critique groups, attend conferences, participate in agent-hosted live webinars.

The most valuable resource I have discovered are webinars.  I have participated in three so far (two on the query, one on the opening pages) and have learned so much.  A synopsis webinar is next on my list.  To me, the most valuable part, the part that makes paying worthwhile, is the agent’s critique.  Just a few words offer a trickle of light in the darkness.

And it is with what I have learned that I begin to prepare for my next round of queries.  New pitch, new title, new opening.

Here is the first page from my original draft that sunk in the slush pile:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft ITo figure out where I had gone wrong here, didn’t require a webinar, just some time on the internet perusing one of my favorite agent’s Pubrants.

Not only does this page suffer from a critical cliche: opening scene in a battle.

It also suffers from White Room Syndrome– I have not anchored my reader in a time and place.

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/07/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-2/

Onto a revision.  Second draft:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft II

And fail.  Biggest flaw: Voice. Doesn’t match the rest of the story.  Not engaging.

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/08/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-3/

One agent did give me feedback and said that it didn’t draw her in as she had hoped.  Drat. Back to the drawing board.

So here, here it is.  My current draft:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft III My hope is that this draft, with a much improved query letter and synopsis (when required) will finally get me a yes.

There are two more “openings to avoid” in Kristin Nelson’s series and when they come out, I will be holding my breath as I read through them, like I always do.

Good luck, fellow writers on your journey!

mont-st-michel-986320_1920

A quote from Ms. Nelson on cliches:

“Here are things I can’t stand: cliche openings in fantasy novels can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my pet peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is). Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing or what have you) is usually a firm no right from the get-go.  Gross.  Long prologues that often don’t have anything to do with the story. (So common in fantasy, again.) Opening scenes that are all dialogue without any context.  I could probably go on…” – Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary 

9 Story Openings to Avoid (7 out of 9)

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/06/new-article-series-9-story-openings-to-avoid/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/07/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-2/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/08/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-3/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/09/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-4/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/01/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-5/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/02/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-6/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/04/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-7/

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Synopsis: an affliction

Synopsis [si-nop-sis] noun: the atrophying of synapses, a common affliction found in the brain of a writer trying to get published.

I thought this somewhat clever while staring at my computer screen this morning at 1:28am.  With a little bit of drool hanging from my lower lip, my synapses certainly felt fried and I seemed to resemble a lobotomy patient.

lobotomy

When I finally did go to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  And what surprised me even more, when I woke up later this morning, after only a few hours of sleep, I felt great.  My brain seemed to be eager to get back to work, back to the synopsis.  Maybe today will be a break through or maybe I will just continue to stare at the computer screen like the victim of an ice-pick lobotomy…

Query letters and synopses present their challenges and there is an overwhelming supply of information and advice on the internet.  There are multiple books published on the topic.  What should an aspiring writer buy into and what should she not?  I’ve tried to save my pennies and do most of my research online but who can you trust?

While I am no expert, I will say that online, the greatest advice I could find about query letters came from Janet Reid the Query Shark.  When I first went to her blog, of course I didn’t want to read through the archives.  I wanted to submit my query.  Dammit.  But I found that after reading through a good majority (seriously, just do it) I was able to critique my own query letter fairly well.  Of course I was still plagued by uncertainty but that will always be part of the game.  Because of the query shark, I was able to compose a brief list of how to detail my query letter.

  1. Keep it main character focused
  2. Keep it around or under 350 words (including everything from the salutation to the sincerely)
  3. Who is the main character?
  4. What does she want?
  5. What is keeping her from getting what she wants?
  6. What must she sacrifice to get what she wants?

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

I also found a great resource in Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency as she posts awesome PubRants.  Read them, they’re great.

Here are the essentials of what I took from her rants in regard to the query letter:

  1. Shorter queries get quicker results – Make every word count – No more than 5-7 sentences long
  2. Agents read pitch first (you have 30 seconds to sell yourself, go!)
  3. Clearly outline in query letter how story fits in the market – List other titles comparable to yours – Add a line that readers who enjoyed X, Y, Z will also enjoy yours – Clearly distinguish your novel’s correct genre type
  4. Have a good title
  5. Remember that a great pitch is the second most important aspect of writing after, of course, writing a great book.  So perfect your pitch!  A novel’s pitch will be used extensively in the beginning life of the novel.  The agent uses it to get the publisher excited, the publisher uses it to get sellers excited and the seller uses it to get the reader excited.

http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/

And lastly, for the synopsis, I have found the best help and advice from Chuck Sambuchino.  He has an amazing blog that I wish I had found earlier.  I feel that nearly every post I read offers some insight or detail into the publishing world.  He also introduces new agents so it is good to keep an eye on his list of literary agents.

What I’ve taken from his blog so far in relation to writing a synopsis:

  1. List no more than 5-6 characters
  2. When name of character first mentioned –> ALL CAPS
  3. Objective – convince agent to read book
  4. Focus on telling the story – think flash fiction – same tone and style
  5. Expand your query blurb
  6. Cover essential points of novel from beginning to end in the correct order
    1. main characters
    2. main plots
    3. ending

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

Maybe you already knew this and I am late to the game.  If not, I hope I’ve helped, maybe even just a little.  And if you have any advice, please feel free to share 🙂