Why You’re Starting Your Novel in the Wrong Place

Does your book start at the most interesting point in your character’s life? It should. 

The number one problem I see with sample material, and even client material sometimes, is that the book doesn’t start in the right place. If you are starting with the beginning of the day (waking up or eating breakfast) I don’t trust it’s starting in the right place. If you take 50 pages to introduce the conflict there is no way you’re starting in the right place.

HOW TO START YOUR NOVEL IN THE RIGHT PLACE:

  1. At the end, go back and rewrite your beginning. There is no way by the end of your novel you should have the same opening when you started the draft. Characters change, plot trajectories change. You don’t know what your novel is going to fully become until it’s over. So why keep the same opening? Revise to make sure it is the proper opening for the novel it became.
  2. We don’t need a car crash, but we do need a secret. “Starting with action” is often misconstrued as starting with a bomb going off. For some genres that works, for many it doesn’t and shouldn’t! What we do need to start with is knowing that your character has a secret. Action can be many things, but no matter what we need to know something big is coming. We can’t be reading about a normal day in your characters’ lives.
  3. Are you introducing too many people? We should meet the main character on page one and maybe one or two others–but that is it. Introducing too many characters is very confusing to the reader. We don’t know who’s who yet. And we don’t know who to care about. Establishing a bond between main character and reader starts on page one.
  4. Alternately, information dumping won’t win us over either. Want us to know everything right off the bat? Guess what…we don’t want to know everything on page one. Or else what are we reading about?! Give the reader some credit and let them connect the dots. Trusting that your reader is smart will win them over too.
  5. How do we know this is a novel? Something happens. As I said at the top: your book should start at the most interesting point in your character’s life. Or else why are we reading about them? What is the moment when everything changes? Why? And why does the reader care to find out what happened? These seem like simple questions but they’re the crux of getting readers’ invested in your characters from the moment we meet them.

Q: What do you worry about with your beginnings?

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How much do you know about hiring an external publicist for your novel?

Being a fiction writer in today’s era of discoverability issues is tough! If you’ve got an agent (congrats!), a book deal (terrific!), and a pub date (a book birthday!) you’re certainly set up for success. But what is that success? What do you want from your novel? The most people to read it, surely.

One thing debut authors (and many established authors) are doing is hiring an external publicist to partner with an in house publicist on your behalf. To be clear, every book gets an in house publicist. But some writers don’t feel comfortable having all their eggs in one basket, especially when in house publicists are managing 5+ books a season.

Everyone from my clients to audience members during conference panels ask: Do I need to hire an external publicist?

The answer is no, you don’t need to. But here are some benefits and reasons why you might want or not want to.

You have one chance to make a first impression. You’ve been waiting for your pub date for years, if not decades. Why not give yourself the greatest chance for success by getting more talented experts in your corner? If you’re able to give yourself an extra boost why wouldn’t you?

If you didn’t get a big advance the publisher doesn’t have to work as hard to recoup their money. This is a reality of the business. Marketing money and publicity personnel goes to authors that publishers know will do well, not the ones that usually really need it. There are exceptions of course! But this should be your default mentality.

You got a big advance and have some expendable income. Lucky you! Your publisher paid well, you have great foreign deals coming in or other monies from your writing–why not reinvest that in your career? This isn’t for everyone, no publishing advice is, but if you’re able it’s a great way to spread the buzz as far as you can.

The more you pay doesn’t mean the more you’ll get. You never know what a publicist can do. Internal or otherwise. Publicists can’t make promises. If you are going to hire someone you must know that they will do their best but you don’t know what those results will be. They will share their notes and tell you who they contacted, but they can’t guarantee their contacts will pick up the story. If you pay $5,000 or $30,000 (yes, that’s the ballpark figures you’re looking at) you might end up with the same results. Or, you might end up with much, much more! But no one can see the future.

Know their track record. Have they got authors into EW or People? Or is their experience with author blog tours? Firstly, know what you want out of it. Secondly, find a publicist whose confirmed experience matches your goals.

Tips:

  • Ask your in house team if they recommend anyone. You want everyone to get along.
  • Before you hire an external publicist ask your in house team what their plans are and see if that meets your needs first.
  • Looking for a publicist? Publishing Trends puts out this list yearly. Bookmark it!
  • Start looking 8-12 months before your pub date to get everyone acquainted and following the same plan.
  • Make sure you’re doing all you can to support your team. It’s not just in the publicists’ hands. It’s in your hands too and they’ll want you to help with interviews, Q&As, giveaways, sharing your contacts, signing copies, promoting events, and much more. Be an open and willing partner and accept both parties are responsible for the outcome.

Publicists, external or internal, are some of the hardest working people in publishing. We’re lucky to have them all working on our books!

The hard truths of publishing right now

There are some realities in publishing that are tough right now…

Format

Original trade paper is now the way to go with many debuts. Hardcover is a tough sell and no one wants to be placing their authors out of the market.

The traditional approach (hardcover release followed by paperback a year later) is now an exception, not the standard rule.

I know it’s hard for many authors to get their heads around the idea that they won’t be published in hardcover, but I frame it as something that has to be earned and worked up to right now.

Acquisitions

If a project is not amazing, editors aren’t buying. Editors see a lot of good things they might have bought 10 years ago, but right now books need to be remarkable to stand out in acquisition meetings and on bookshelves. That’s why agents are also extremely picky; we know how hard it is out there.  Continue reading The hard truths of publishing right now

Have You Written Your Breakout Book?

The Guardian article and subsequent twitter frenzy over the idea that some writers are famous for the wrong book had me thinking about what a breakout book really is. The Guardian argues that many authors’ most well-known books are hardly their best, so why did those breakout commercially while, for example, their first book did not?

There are two elements to this conversation. Firstly, what is a breakout book and is there a formula? Unfortunately, no. But, there are many puzzle pieces that when assembled correctly can provide a great foundation to a novel. This, mixed with talent and a great voice, can breakout. Secondly, what happens when your first novel isn’t a breakout book? Where do you go from there?

Continue reading Have You Written Your Breakout Book?