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 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:
To 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.
Onto a revision. Second draft:
And fail. Biggest flaw: Voice. Doesn’t match the rest of the story. Not engaging.
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:
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!
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)