Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Start It With A Bang

It is a fact that the first readers of the work you’re seeking to publish will be the hardest on you: the agents and editors whose help you need in getting your work published and into the hands of the reading public. It is also a fact that if your work doesn’t start off with a bang...and I mean will more than likely never get published.

Let’s face it: agents and editors are notoriously busy, and most don’t care that you’ve slaved away on your manuscript for 25 years, laboriously honing and rehoning your baby until every word is perfect. At least, you hope so. What matters first to these readers is your beginning, and what you’ve done with it.

As an editor myself, I know that I initially look at the first few pages of the submission. If I am intrigued, I’ll look into the middle, check out a few more pages, flip through, and finally, head to the end. However, if the manuscript does not garner my attention right away, then I usually close out the document and head to the next submission.

What am I looking for? In a word, something that is compelling. Forceful. Demanding attention. Convincing. Effective. Persuasive. All of these words encompass what an agent or editor looks for when first beginning to read your submission.

What that could be might be a thought or two by the main character, an action, a piece of can really be anything, as long as that anything is written right. Here’s an example:

Mary headed to the back yard where she was going to pick up some sticks for the fire she and her friends were going to start so they could roast marshmallows.

Blah. We could all write that, and none of us would read beyond the first sentence. After we reread it a couple times to figure out what it said. Or...

Mary shivered. What was it about the blackness of this witching hour that brought to her mind the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman on his nighttime ride?

Which is more compelling? Obviously, the second. We’re drawn in. We want to know why Mary is shivering, what is hiding in the night, and just why it is that she is thinking about a headless horseman. And why does she call it the witching hour? Is it Halloween? Is there a coven of witches in the area? Have paranormal events been occurring?

All of these questions generate interest, and interest draws the reader into reading the next sentence, paragraph, page, and eventually, the whole book. Of course, there are authors who have spent their 25 years of writing on their first five pages. Which is why when evaluating manuscripts, an experienced agent or editor, once enticed by good writing, flips through the book to read parts in the middle, and the end, to see if that writing is carried through the entire work.

So take time with your story. Be careful with your beginning. Ask yourself: Have I done everything I can to draw my reader in, to make them interested, to demand their attention, and to convince them to read further? If you’re not sure, then you’ve got more work ahead of you. But, if you have, you’re well on your way to your goal: getting your book published.

Katie Hines is an editor, and author of "Guardian," a middle grade urban fantasy published by 4RV Publishing.

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