Well, folks. It was fun while it lasted.

As you can see, not much has been happening on this blog lately.

There are several reasons for this, but I will only hit on a couple:

First: It's amazing how much can change in a couple of months--both in our personal lives and on the writing front. A couple of us have signed publishing contracts, and so the need to write, edit, market, promote HAD to take preference over this blog and the services we were providing.

Second: Running this blog, critiquing submissions, providing feedback...well, that's a LOT of dang work. We weren't getting paid for this service. We had a concept and we went with it--for free--not realizing how much time it would involve with very little (nothing) in return for our effort.

Third: Probably the biggest factor that made us come to this decision, was the fact that a good portion of the submissions we received just weren't ready. They needed more revision. We were wanting to give out reviews on AMAZING, fully complete, well edited novels. 90% of what we received didn't come close.

So we've shut it down. We've moved on.

If you liked our comments and our posts, you can check us out on our individual blogs:

Angela Scott: www.whimsywritingandreading.weebly.com or @whimsywriting on twitter or http://www.facebook.com/AngelaScottWriter

D.S. Tracy:

Kacey Mark:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why your first paragraph is SO important

Posted by Ready, Aim, Hook Me at 8:22 AM

As I mentioned last week, D.S Tracy and I went to a writer's convention over the past weekend. During the Saturday luncheon, there was a panel of editors and agents who read what was called the "First Page Slush Pile" while we ate our meals. These first pages came from those sitting in the audience. No names were revealed.

One at a time, a first page was pulled from the pile and one of the editors would start reading out loud to the whole crowd (several hundred people). Pretty daring, if I might add. 
As the piece was being read, if the remaining panel of editors and agents liked it, they kept their hands down and the reader would go on. If they didn't like it, they would raise their hand at the place where they, personally, would have rejected it. Once all the agents and editors hands were in the air, the reader stopped reading.

Not one piece that was presented made it to the end of the first page. EVERY piece was rejected. Some were rejected by the editors and agents half way through. Others were rejected on the VERY FIRST WORD. Others didn't even get passed the first paragraph. 

The agents and editors were tough, BUT they explained why those pieces didn't work--too many adverbs, too many adjectives, describing the setting or scene WAY TOO LONG, not jumping into the action right away, there was nothing to hook them to keep reading. 

As I sat there listening, I agreed with the agents and editors on all accounts. Most of the submissions were boring, describing the color of the male characters eyes or what the weather was. Others sitting near me were getting FURIOUS. They were not happy at all by what appeared as coldness and cruelty the agents and editors expressed toward these works. 

One lady was even so bold as to challenge the panel. She thought it was unfair that the agents and editors rejected these pieces of "art" so quickly. She said sometimes it takes 30 pages before the story picks up and she would NEVER reject a story without reading the first three chapters. Boy was she mad (you could see it written all over her face and in the tone of her words). It was a pretty tense moment for sure. 

The agents and editors went on to explain just how many query letters come across their desk in a year--thousands, folks. Thousands. And this is in addition to the regular work they are expected to complete each day as well (dealing with their already signed clients, contacting publishers and editors, etc . . .) They explained that YES, sometimes they reject a manuscript based on the first paragraph. It's that fast. It's that quick. Sometimes that's all the time they have. And because they've done this so long, they can usually tell by the end of a first page if the novel is worth their time to read on. 

Cold. Hard. Cruel. But it is the reality. 

That's why it is SO important to make your first paragraph, your first page, your first chapter the very best it can be. You are competing against a whole lot of other writers out there who want the same thing as you. 

One gentleman on the panel (not an agent or editor, but a well-known author) even went on to say (paraphrasing here): "It's your first word that will hook an agent/editor to read the first sentence. It's the first sentence that will buy you the first paragraph and the first paragraph that will buy you the first page." 

Very true. It was never made so clear to me as watching that panel of agents and editors destroy the hopes of those individuals who submitted their first pages. 

We here at Ready, Aim, Hook Me have been "preaching" this concept since the very beginning when we started this blog--can you hook us with your first line, first paragraph, and so on. We didn't just make this up to torture you. I promise. We just know the realities of what you're up against.

Is it fair to be judged so quickly? No not at all. It's completely unfair. I will agree with you on that. 

Is it going to change? Nope. Agents and editors will reject you based simply on how your first paragraph reads. They will. I saw it in person. 

So you better darn well make your first word, first line, first paragraph, first page stand out--in a good way. 

~The Reluctant Hook'er


Michael Offutt on September 21, 2011 at 9:26 AM said...

It makes me wonder how many of them would have rejected Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter if they had no idea what they were looking at and had just a first page.

Lyn Midnight on September 21, 2011 at 10:50 AM said...

That is so very true! And I love the quote. Personally, I write my beginnings last because I try so hard to have a strong beginning. I've been known to obsess over the first sentence. Now I know better... if it feels right, it might be. But having some feedback helps beyond all else. :)

Anonymous said...

We had a much better response to our cold reads at RWNZ conference in August...I assume that was much the same as you describe... and editors and agents asked writers to submit work on those first two pages.

But those first pages are so very important and that's why they are such hard labour.

Elaine Allen on September 21, 2011 at 2:59 PM said...

Awesome! I had my first paragraph written for years, thinking I would never change it. One day a new sentence jumped into my mind and I had to change it. I can't believe I even thought thought the first one was any good! :) Maybe I'll send it in to you someday...:)

Brooke R. Busse on September 21, 2011 at 4:46 PM said...

I plan to redo the first chapter of my manuscript (as soon as I finish up my rewrite :D) because I'm cutting my original first two chapters. I love them, but they are slightly revealing and are set in the past so...

D.T. Conklin on September 21, 2011 at 5:47 PM said...

Woah, this is a crazy good piece. How did I not know about this site yet? I call foul!

Marc Mattaliano on September 29, 2011 at 9:01 AM said...

Very interesting blog today, :-) But see, that just goes to show that there's truth and mistruth in what those agents and editors said...

You're right, criticizing for verbiage, word usage, strength of a first line, they are absolutely important. Since submitting my work to you ladies, I have honestly looked at everything I write in a different light and I feel better for doing it, :-)

However, even if those agents and editors are 100% correct in how powerful an author's work SHOULD be, like you said, they come across thousands of submissions a year and can only give each one a few minutes of their day before trashing it.

Thus, how real in-depth could they be thinking about the style? While it may not strike them as deep right away, it might be intriguing enough to read on a teensy bit farther till they have enough context, character, setting and circumstance to really drag them in by their earlobes.

This is why I've been leaning on self-publishing even back in high school. I've always wanted to be a nationally published author, it's always been a dream. But if I kill myself until I'm 50, 60, 70, 80 years old, micromanaging my first page until it's nothing like it's supposed to be just so agents and editors think it's sparkling, when in reality I'm just praying I catch one on a good day, then my dream can stick it because it won't have been worth shedding that many pints of blood. :-)

I want readers to assess my work. I want to make it because I put my work out and readers enjoyed it and took the good with the bad (because let's face it, even classic books...hell, ESPECIALLY classic books, have all sorts of problems, issues and things that probably should've been changed, despite being amazing). I want readers to get my approach and understand why it makes sense instead of having agents pull it apart merely because they think it's not marketable, or because they think it's not typical enough a formula to stack up against other authors.

I was in Walmart the other day and saw Hunger Games on a bookshelf. Curious, since you guys mention it a lot, I read the synopsis on the back. Honestly? The concept seemed really overdone, the premise a little too general and the setting kind of cliche. Yet apparently that approach earned it not only publishing rights but at least one movie.

I want to attack readers with things they think they know, and prove to them by practice that my approach is surprising, entertaining, engaging, fun, and emotional.

And I will succeed, whether publishers, agents, movie houses or anyone approaches me, :-)

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