Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Grab an Agent or Editor

How To Make Your First Five Pages Grab an Agent or Editor by the B----
Author: Stacy-Deanne

You might think that an aspiring writer has a tough enough time coming up with an enticing query letter. Yet it’s nowhere near the real challenge. There is loads of advice; articles and people who can help you change a query letter into something that will get you a request for your fiction manuscript. Aspiring writers pour their souls out by getting queries in the best shape possible. One day they hit gold and an agent or editor requests their manuscript! They jump up and down, shout and even post the news on their favorite writer’s forum. A "request for a full" for an aspiring writer is like telling a seasoned pro their book has made the New York Times Best Seller List! It’s amazing!

The only problem is that while the writer spent 85% of their time beating that query into something exciting, they neglected problems in their manuscript. Maybe they’ve edited and revised their manuscript a million times and honestly believe it’s ready. But the problem is, most aspiring writers are so new to the game they have no idea what a truly "ready" manuscript looks like. Previously published and veteran authors can spot the mistakes in their work. It comes from time of dealing with agents, editors and others who’ve shared different techniques and who have helped them shape their work before.

All traditionally published novelists know one thing: the manuscript must pull the reader in immediately or they’ve lost them forever. So while newbies are pounding away on that query letter, they often do not realize their manuscript could use more work. Sometimes the work isn’t much but sometimes it consists of doing an entire rewrite. Things need to be switched around, some characters need to be cut or maybe your word count is too long or short. Oddly though that is not the number one reason newbies are rejected. There is one thing that can make and break any aspiring writer. It’s called the dreaded First Five Pages. If your first five pages don’t sparkle, shine or grab the agent and editor by their b----, then your query letter pounding was all for not. What aspiring writers don’t get is that this is the technology age so it’s much quicker to get your partial or full rejected. Agents and editors read manuscripts on e-book devices, on their cell phones, on their blackberries. So they only have to scroll up a few paragraphs and they can tell what type of writer you are. They can tell if you’ve edited, if you use too many metaphors, if you use too much needless description and just if the writing doesn’t work. At least for them.

Agents are all different with different opinions but if you are getting rejections, it’s often because your work doesn’t stand out, is bland and boring, or the writing just isn’t there yet. People wonder if agents and editors can really tell a saleable manuscript by looking at the first page let alone the first five. Oh yes…they can. Why? It’s their job and duty. Agents look for manuscripts that will put their clients on best seller lists, have critics salivating, lead their client to multi book deals, possible film deals, a spot on the NYT list, and yes, the kitchen sink as well. But despite them wanting to find clients that will be bigger than big, which is for your benefit too, they want a book that’s interesting first of all. And most novels by newbies don’t bring the "bang" that’s necessary to get an agent or editor to continue past the first page. It might seem unfair, but this is a business. Calm down and relax. That’s what I am here for, to help you. Through my career and journeys of publication, I’ve learned a lot. I also know many reasons why aspiring writers’ work finds fast homes in that dreaded slush hell. I’ve provided some tips that can point newbies in the right direction. Once you see this list, go over your manuscript to see if your work would most likely make an agent snooze in their chair or have an orgasm while waiting for the AT&T repairman to pinpoint what’s happened to their Internet connection. Yep, agents read manuscripts whenever and wherever they can. That’s why a newbie’s work has got to keep them interested. Now to the tips:

1. Don't Start Your Story Off With "the waking up, breakfast and coffee". Start with the Actual Story, Conflict and Action! You don't want to start off with your character doing ordinary, boring everyday things like waking up, having breakfast and getting dressed, etc. Yet a lot of newbies do. This will get your work tossed out before the first page. Unless something important to the story or something amazing is about to happen in these instances, do not start your story with them. You'll only bore the reader.

Start with the beginning of the story. If it's a mystery, start off with the murder and crime or after it’s already happened. If you write fantasy, start out with the main character’s dilemma right away. If you write romance, start off closest you can to the beginning of the romance. Example: Your novel is an action/adventure spy thriller. Think the Jason Bourne series-type books. You must start your book off with what its audience would expect from the very beginning. In your book, Joe Blow is going to get robbed at the airport by foreign spies on his way to Turkey to sell a top-secret disk with US military secrets to a secret terrorist group. Okay we realize immediately that Joe’s a traitor. But how can you make an agent or editor care enough to keep reading? You should start with Joe already at the airport or better yet, start off with the robbery in progress. Do not start off with Joe getting up that morning, dressing, brushing his teeth, feeding the cat, thinking of being dumped by his girlfriend, driving to the airport, at the security gate, lounging around the airport or anything else that comes off as "fluff".

You might want to be detailed about these things but you’re writing for an audience. If you don’t want to be published then you can write the book how you want, but once you embark on publication you are no longer writing for yourself. All published writers know and understand this. You see I cut out what would have probably been five chapters of nothing. The fluff version would only make the agent and editor push "reply" to send you that little line of rejection or they’ll just throw the hardcopy away and not think of it again. But if you eliminate the fluff, you might get a request for a full and if you’ve sent the full, you might keep the agent and editor reading on. From there you might be on your way to publication. Ask yourself. What type of beginning would keep you reading on? I hope you picked the one that starts off with the immediate plot because agents and editors will.

2. Do Not Place Backstory and Info Dumps at Beginning of Story You might want to sit there and type out tons of backstory about your character but guess what, no one wants to read it. Not starting off anyway. Let readers learn about your characters at their own pace. You should treat backstory like it's a spice. Sprinkle it gradually (if needed) as the story goes along. Don't pour in eight pages of backstory at the beginning. This is important in making your first five pages come alive. You should be quick and get to the point. Backstory and info dumps will bore a reader the moment they pick up your story. There are techniques to backstory and info dumps. Research and you'll learn methods that make backstory useful.

3. Too Much Description A lot of newbies start their stories with loads of unneeded description. That’s cool if you are competing to see how fast your work can be hauled to the slush pile with all the others. Description is only necessary when it moves the story or is important to a particular scene. You can add in a few lines of the scenery, smell and if a character’s eating something, taste. That’s fine but do not force it in just because you feel you should. In a fast-paced scene, description can have a negative effect if it’s irrelevant to what’s happening that moment. If two characters are in a bloodied brawl in a crowded bar, the writer shouldn’t stop in mid-scene and describe the color of the bar’s walls and floors. Avoid describing things when people already know what they look like. You don’t have to spend eight paragraphs describing a tree. Just say what type of tree it is if it’s not important to the story. If a reader is interested and doesn’t know the type they can look it up on the Internet themselves. Your book isn’t the National Geographic channel. It’s a novel that must be page turning! So stop describing things like trees and flowers when people already know how they look. Writers who do a lot of lame description are usually covering up for a lacking or weak plot and relying on description as a filler. Too much slows down, bores and frustrates the reader. Get on with the story!

4. Write Dialogue that Reflects Characters’ Emotions & Jumps off the Page! Bad or wooden dialogue hurts any time in a story. You must have exciting, realistic dialogue throughout but it’s crucial if you want readers to get past the beginning.

5. Don't Try to Introduce Every Character Right Off Don’t force introductions of your characters at the beginning of your story. Introduce characters as they are needed and when they are doing something important. The reader doesn’t need a list of characters thrown to them in a heap. It slows down the plot and confuses the reader. Introduce your characters gradually unless the very beginning calls for all characters.

6. Show Don’t Tell! Telling and not showing can kill any book no matter how good the plot is. It’s another sign of an amateur. If you insist on getting published you should know the difference between showing and telling. Readers want to "see" what's going on, not have the author point it out to them. Avoid long passages of narrative right off. Use dialogue and make readers interested at first glance.

7. Introduce Your Main Character Correctly (First Person) First person books are a very hard sale and agents know this. There is an art to writing first person stories effectively. The main problem with beginning first person writers is that they do not introduce their main character right off. How are we to know whose eyes we’re seeing the work through if you don’t mention a name? Readers do not want to follow a story through five chapters before recognizing whom the main character is. There are ways first person stories should introduce the main character. Not introducing the main character is a sign that the book isn’t written to the best ability.

8. Abandon False Beginnings Resist the urge to cheat readers with cheap thrills such as dreams or flashbacks that have nothing to do with the story. You’re tricking your readers when you get them involved in something that turns out to be a dream or fantasy. It will hurt instead of help.

9. Strong, Compelling Hook You might be surprised I saved this for last. Every writer should know what a hook is. The catch is finding the hook of your story. Hooks are not the same. They vary depending on the type of story you write. Don’t believe that a hook means a first scene loaded with action or violence. A hook is anything that keeps a reader wanting more. It can be as subtle as the first sentence. Research will broaden your mind as to the variety of hooks and how many different possibilities there are. Sticking to general tips like these makes any writer’s work polished and tempting to agents. The publication process involves a lot of roadblocks that you must conquer one at a time. Give your work the best chance it possibly can have. You are competing with millions of writers who would kill to see their dreams come true. Act like you’re the best in the pack and write like it then agents and publishers will take notice.

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About the Author:Stacy-Deanne is an award-winning novelist of mysteries and thrillers. She's been in the writing industry for twelve years. Her recent novels are published by Simon and Schuster. Stacy was featured in 2006's "Literary Divas: The Top 100+ Most Admired African-American Women in Writing". She was born, raised and resides in Houston, Texas. You can visit her sites to learn more about her and her books.

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