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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4 Publishing Industry “Rules” You Can Break (and 6 You MUST follow!)

In publishing rules are just guidelines. We give you these guidelines to help you (believe it or not). We’re not trying to make your life harder; we are trying to show you how to succeed. These guidelines are what you should generally follow, but there are times you can break the rules.

A great skill for a writer to have is to know which you can bend and adapt, and which needs must be met. Read on…

4 RULES YOU CAN BREAK

  • Anything that is contradicted by multiple people at top levels – Have your go-to sources (Writer’s Digest, ME!, KidLit411, Debutante Ball, Writers in the Storm, Pub Crawl Blog, Query Shark, Jane Friedman, Girl Friday Productions, Susan Spann etc) and trust those who have years of industry experience at the top levels–we all agree on the important things. However, there will be things we don’t agree on. Therefore, trust your own gut sometimes or go with 1 trusted source (aka if you are querying a certain agent go with their guidelines, not some XYZ site that’s right 60% of the time). The most important thing is that you’re clear and concise–so if you bend the rules make sure you’re making yourself more clear, not adding complications.
  • “One Size Fits All” social media advice – If anyone is telling you there is one single way to build an author platform or brand they’re wrong. Recognizing and growing your brand will always be authentic to you. Just be yourself online, and be consistent about it. Emulate the frequency or interaction of others that you admire online, but develop your own voice. (More on platform/branding below.)
  • MFAs are the only route to getting published – You don’t need one. If you have one that’s great! But no one needs one to get published. Some people like the structure and built-in critique system. But you can recreate that outside of a school program by reading a lot and with writing groups and critique partners.
  • Marketing and publicity that began in the ice age of publishing – We are working in a very different world. The good thing about where we are right now is that writers can take chances on things! Cover reveals, price point drops, merchandise that is unique to your book. Be agile! Be forward thinking! You have full permission to question all marketing and publicity advice–but, here’s the kicker, you have to try everything and you have to throw yourself into it. You don’t get to complain that publishing is a different world and do nothing. You get to say “hey, things are different and discoverability has changed–so what am I doing as a writer to find my readership?” Finding your audience is up to YOU, not your publisher but they will help. Relying on what a publisher has done in the past shouldn’t be good enough for you, you can’t assume anything. You need a fresh plan for your book and a team that understands what your unique goals are. Everyone wants to sell books, your team will be on board for that, but it’s the ways we’re doing it that have changed.

If you understand why the rules are there, sometimes it’s okay to bend them to make a point. But you must know why the rule is there in the first place. It’s like satire. If you’re going to satirize something you have to know 1) what it is you’re playing with 2) what satire is.

6 RULES YOU MUST FOLLOW

  • Spelling and grammar – This should be easy enough in the manuscript, but sometimes writers like to get cute with puns in titles. (Please avoid! Puns in titles makes everyone question themselves and sales/booksellers think there is a typo.)
  • General length guidelines – Your adult manuscript should be between 70-90k words; if you can’t follow these rules then there’s something wrong with the structure of your book. Reasons it might be longer than 90: SF/F. However, even debut SF/F should try to be 90k because it gets really expensive to print (therefore the cost of the book goes up) and translate long works (you won’t get foreign rights deals) which makes it an uphill battle for debut authors starting a career.
  • Yes, you must get on social media – There are no excuses for a contemporary writer not to be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. Join the conversation! Learn more about the industry and your market. Unsure about social media? Read my post about building an online community and this one about recognizing your brand.
  • Communicate with your team – Rebelling against the establishment isn’t going to get your book published well. A great book might get published, but an author that’s willing to go above and beyond to promote themselves and work with their team will be a shining star. Rebelling against what your agent, editor or publicist needs from you will stop them from wanting to help you. Be a willing partner. Tell us what you’re up to and let’s work as a team.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction platform is a MUST MUST MUST – There is absolutely no way to get non-fiction published in a big way without a platform. Agents don’t look at non fiction unless it comes with a sizeable audience and a demonstrable expert. (Hint: Here’s what we want in a platform. And here are my important platform secrets that you should know from reading my blog.) Fiction authors: platform isn’t a requirement, but understanding that you’ll need to grow one eventually is helpful at early stages.
  • Submission guidelines – there is no way you’re going to get an agent’s attention by ignoring or modifying their guidelines to suit you better or try to stand out. The ones that stand out are the ones that follow the guidelines and do it well!

Yes, these rules are there for a reason…to help you get published!

Q: What other “rules” are you still confused about?

5 Things To Do While Your Book is on Submission

Submitting your book to agents is one thing. It’s a writer’s first time putting it all out there and the responses are varied.

However, when your agent submits your book to a publisher that’s a whole other level of stress. It can be exciting! Finally, it’s out there in the world. And it can be worrying…what happens to my project now? You might hear back from editors in a week or a few months. It could be good news or bad. 

Here are 5 things to do while your book is on submission:

  1. Trust your agent. We have your best interests at heart, truly. If you don’t trust your agent then you shouldn’t have signed with them. Let us handle the submissions and worry about the business side. We will consult you on decisions. Pull together with your agent at this time because the bonding will happen.
  2. Vent with other writers, but never online. I hope this goes with out saying, but I do see writers participating in this and I want to warn them off. Tweeting/Blogging/Facebook-ing about your submissions to publishers (or agents for that matter) is not considered appropriate behavior for a number of reasons: privacy, keeping mystery, keeping your cards close to your chest–however you want to see it. But that information is yours and shouldn’t be public.
  3. Work on your platform. Pitch essays, build your online community, and join an organization (RWA, ITW etc). A month before your book comes out is NOT the time to build a platform. The right answer is AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. So there’s no better time than the present when you want to keep your fingers busy typing.
  4. Most importantly…get back to the next project! No matter what you have to keep writing. Whether that book sells or not, your agent needs to know what you’re working on next–either to tell the editors or to coach you through the next steps of submitting again. The right fit is always worth waiting for.
  5. Get used to this feeling. Publishing is about waiting. Learn how to control and manage these feelings. Develop your own strategy for coping because it’s different for everyone. Physical exercise, TV/movies, throwing yourself into your next project (always my advice!), chocolate, glass of wine/coffee–your choice!

Q: What do you YOU do while you wait?

February 11th Webinar: “Find Success with Your Query Letter: Getting Beyond Form Letters”

New year, new webinar.

Sign up here today! It also includes a critique of your query letter!

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • How to recognize patterns in rejection letters
  • When to rewrite your query and when to revise your manuscript
  • Why agents send form rejections and why they send personalized rejections-and what the difference is
  • Winning formulas for your premise, hook and query letter
  • Why your pitch should focus on plot, not theme
  • The truth about how agents process queries
  • How to think like an agent who is reading their slush pile

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Writers are tired of all those rejection letters piling up in their inbox. Some writers are confused about what they mean and how to learn from them. Agents don’t love sending rejections; in fact, it’s agents’ least favorite part of the job. Agents send them for many reasons like writers not following guidelines or targeting the right agents, or perhaps an agent really does like a pitch, but they don’t love it. Everyone can see that’s a broad spectrum. So how do writers know where they fall into it? Believe it or not, those form rejections hold the secret to writers’ success-they just don’t know it yet.

This live webinar will change the way attendees think about the polite passes they get from agents. P.S. Literary VP and Senior Agent Carly Watters will teach writers how to deconstruct rejections, interpret unknown patterns, provide attendees with winning pitching formulas, and empower writers to find their success within the querying system.

Agents actually love the slush pile because it’s where they find most of their debut clients. Carly will show attendees how to stand out in the slush pile and reduce the number of rejections received through simple and straightforward techniques they’ll wish they had before they began submitting. Carly has proudly found 95% of her fiction authors in the slush pile and she’ll share the patterns of success that helped land those writers with her.

It’s never too late to have a winning writing career. Those rejections aren’t the end. All it takes is one yes. And Carly will help you get closer to yes.

Here’s the link again. The webinar is Thursday Feb 11. Hope to see you there!