Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First-Page Critique - Mystery-Thriller

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, and speaker

This week's critique is of the first page of a mystery thriller. Here's the opening to the novel:


The smell woke him first—a spicy, rancid arousal—followed by the fetid hot breath on his face. William Law’s eyes flickered open. In the dark alleyway, he’d fallen asleep. He gasped and struggled to draw breath, aware of the pressure at his throat. Dark eyes stared down into his.

“Shut up. Don’t make a sound.”

William wheezed, thrashed his legs, and clawed at the man’s hands, desperate for air. A knee dropped down hard onto his chest, threatened to crush him. He beat his fists against thick muscular biceps and dug his heels into the ground, tried to buck his body beneath the weight on top of him. He brought up his leg and drove a knee hard into the other man’s lower back, used every ounce of his strength to resist.

“Damn it.” 

The man fought back harder, grabbed William’s head and twisted, put agonizing pressure on his neck. Pain exploded behind his eyes. Frantic, William clawed at the ground for a rock or a stick, anything he could use to beat off the mugger. As his sight faded and the edge of blackness crept in, his fingers touched a hard object. He clutched at it, gripped hold, and swung with the remainder of his strength, heard the dull sound of glass against bone, followed by a groan. Blood pumping, heart pounding, he lashed out again, his last chance to survive. The jagged edge of the broken glass bottle tore across the soft exposed flesh of the man’s throat.


This is a gripping, very well-written opening that definitely grabbed my attention right away. I can tell this is going to be an intriguing page-turner! 

But I would move this scene further down and back up and let us get to know William Law a bit first, before thrusting him into a life-threatening situation like this. Readers need to warm up to the protagonist a bit and start bonding with him before they can start worrying about him. No need to spend pages introducing him, but I'd present him in a scene where he's interacting with others in his "normal" world, then something suddenly happens to disturb that world. He encounters the first problem or conflict of the story, which could then lead up to this much more critical situation. 

Also, that approach would establish the main character and his world right away, and answer the 4 W's that every opening should reveal: Who, What, Where, and When. Readers like to get situated at the beginning of the novel. They want to know immediately whose story it is and a bit about that person. And they want to know where the story is taking place and roughly when.

This writer is obviously very talented, so I can't wait to see the new opening and read the whole novel!

Click on these links for other first-page critiques: mainstream, historical fiction, historical thriller, and western.

If you'd like me to critique the first page of your novel or short story anonymously, please email the first 400 words or so, plus the genre and a sentence or two about the story, to: j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com. Thanks!


Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (published about 4-10 times a year), please click on this link: http://eepurl.com/C9dKD

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Notable Regional Workshops for Writers

REGIONAL WRITERS’ WORKSHOPS

Today, I’m highlighting some notable, exciting, regional writers’ workshops or smaller conferences, all of which feature top-notch instructors who are leaders in the field. If you’re tired of huge, expensive conferences or don’t want to feel overwhelmed or lost in the crowd, these workshops will not only stimulate you, but they’ll make you feel like you’re part of a community and among friends. Please let me know of any other regional writers’ workshops and I'll add them.

WRITING FOR LIFE WORKSHOPS
NEWARK, CA, San Francisco Bay Area

Susanne (C.S.) Lakin, highly respected editor and writer, is offering three upcoming workshops for writers, all held at The Marriott Courtyard, 34905 Newark Blvd., Newark, CA 94560, which is in the San Francisco Bay area.

For more details, go to Susanne’s website, Writing for Life Workshops, at http://www.writingforlifeworkshops.com/. Upcoming workshops:

~ June 28-30, 2013 – Next Level Fiction, with James Scott Bell

“In one weekend I’ll teach you more secrets about writing novels that sell than most writers will learn
in years of trial and error. And I’ll help you take your current project to the next level.”

Those who have taken acclaimed author and writing instructor James Scott Bell’s workshops and classes give high praise for his deep, concise instruction and expertise. His professional manner and astute understanding of the writing craft will help you broaden your knowledge and give you excellent tools to add to your writers’ “toolbox.”

During these three full days of lecture, writing exercises, and Q & A, you’ll be challenged in practical hands-on work while learning advanced writing techniques. James Bell will teach you insights and skills that will help you succeed in today’s publishing environment and create a novel that readers will love.

~ September 14-15, 2013: Prose in Motion: Crafting Fiction for Commercial Success with Davis Bunn

How can writers craft their fiction so it sells—without selling their soul? Is there a secret to fashioning a novel so it will hit the best-seller lists? Davis’s huge success— with seven million copies of his novels sold—attests that he knows what it takes.

This unprecedented event for intermediate fiction writers of all genres featuring international best-selling author Davis Bunn will go deep into the technique and structure needed in your fiction to make it grab the attention of publishers and readers.

~ October 19-20, 2013: Story Mastery with Hollywood story expert and script consultant Michael Hauge

Hollywood story expert Michael Hauge presents the essential components of storytelling for film and fiction writers in this intensive 2-day event never before held in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“No one is better than Michael Hauge at finding what is most authentic in every moment of a story.” – Will Smith, actor: Men in Black, The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend

If you haven’t taken a workshop with Michael Hauge, be prepared to be blown away by this innovative approach to story mastery.

Michael has coached writers, producers, stars, and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron, and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network. He also works extensively with Hollywood executives, producers, agents, and managers, helping them sharpen their story and developmental skills.


SUMMER IN WORDS
WRITERS CONFERENCE, CANNON BEACH, OREGON, June 20-23, 2013

Sought-after editor and craft-of-writing guru Jessica Page Morrell hosts an annual Summer in Words Conference every June in gorgeous Cannon Beach, Oregon. I attended this conference last year and it was excellent! Intimate, friendly, and supportive, with stimulating and informative presentations and great food, all in a breathtaking, inspirational setting! For more info, visit: http://summerinwords.wordpress.com/

Whether you’re a writer just starting out, a writer in search of answers, a writer who needs to get more words on the page, or a writer who wants to hang with other writers, you can find inspiration, answers and camaraderie at Summer in Words Writing Conference. Three days of events, talks, and workshops taught by a stellar cast of authors and writing instructors will help you learn more about story and craft and invite you to move forward. Some of the instructors and topics:

~ “How High Concept Really Works,” by Jessica Morrell

~ “Yakety Yak: Writing Dialogue that Speaks,” by Lauren Kessler

~ “Deep into Memoir,” by Melissa Hart

~ “Considering the Senses,” by Monica Drake

~ “Setting the Scene: The Writer as Prose Cinematographer,” by Lauren Kessler

~ “Captivating Co-Stars,” by Jessica Morrell

~ “Sell is not a Four-Letter Word,” by Randal Houle

~ “Deep Point of View,” by Jessica Morrell

~ “Sentence by Sentence,” by Monica Drake

~ “Making Waves: Write and Publish Your Essays,” by Mellissa Hart

~ “Why Do We Do This Anyway?” by Jonathon Evison

~ “Your Reader, Deep as the Ocean,” by Jonathon Evison

~ “What’s in a Title?” by Jessica Morrell

~ “Write Like it’s Your Job,” by Kelly Williams Brown

Do you know of any other good upcoming writers' workshops I should add here? If so, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft-of-fiction writer
www.JodieRennerEditing.com; www.JodieRenner.com
Facebook
Twitter: @JodieRennerEd
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her editing website.

Jodie has published two An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
For more info on Jodie's books, please visit her author website.

Friday, May 24, 2013

12 Dos and Don'ts for a Riveting Opening

by Jodie Renner, editor & author
Follow Jodie on Twitter

Gone are the days when fiction readers were willing to read pages of description and lead-up before being introduced to the characters and the plot. Readers, agents, and publishers today don’t have the time or patience to wade through pages of backstory and description, so you need to grab their interest right from the first sentence and first paragraph of your story.

As James Scott Bell says in Revision and Self-Editing, about the opening paragraphs, “Give us a character in motion. Something happening to a person from line one. Make that a disturbing thing, or have it presage something disturbing.”

Here are twelve dos and don’ts for making the first page of your novel more compelling:

1. Don’t begin with a long description of the setting or with background information on your main character.

~ Do begin with dialogue and action; then add any necessary backstory or description in small doses, on a need-to-know basis as you progress through the story.

2. Don’t start with a character other than your protagonist.

~ Do introduce your protagonist right in the first paragraph.

1. Don't start with a description of past events. Do jump right in with what the main character is involved in right now, and introduce some tension or conflict as soon as possible.

2. Don't start in a viewpoint other than the main character’s. Do start telling the story from your protagonist’s point of view. It’s best to stay in the protagonist’s point of view for the whole first chapter, or most of it, and don’t change the point of view within a scene.

3. Don't delay letting your readers get to know your protagonist, or present her in a static, neutral (boring) situation. Do develop your main character quickly by putting her in a bit of hot water and showing how she reacts to the situation, so readers can empathize and “bond” with her, and start caring enough about her to keep reading.

4. Don't start with your character all alone, reflecting on his life. Do have more than one character (two is best) interacting, with action and dialogue. That’s more compelling than reading the thoughts of one person.

5. Don't start with your protagonist planning a trip, or traveling somewhere, in other words, as a lead-up to an important scene. Do start in media res — jump right into the middle of the action. Present her in a meaningful scene.

6. Don't introduce a lot of characters in the first few pages. Do limit the number of characters you introduce in the first few pages to three or less.

7. Don't leave the reader wondering what the characters look like. Do provide a brief description of each character as they’re introduced, or as soon as you can work it in, so the readers can form a picture of him or her in their minds.

8. Don't have the main character looking in the mirror as a device for describing him/her. This has been overdone. Do work in the description by relating it to his or her actions or interactions with others.

9. Don't wait too long to introduce the romantic interest in a romantic suspense, or the villain in a thriller. To add intrigue, do introduce the hero (love interest) or villain within the first chapter or two.

10. Don't spend too long leading up to the main conflict or problem the protagonist faces. Do
introduce the main conflict (or at least some significant tension) within the first chapter.

Remember, you can always start your story wherever you want in the draft stage, if it’ll make you feel better. Then in the editing stage, you can go back and cut out the first several paragraphs or pages or even most of the first chapter, so that, in your final draft, your actual story starts after all that lead-up (some of which may appear later, in snippets here and there).

In conclusion, here’s a little rule coined by James Scott Bell, for writing compelling fiction:

Act first, explain later.



Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Critique of First Page - Western

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer

So far in this series of critiques of the first page of a novel or short story, I've introduced the series, then critiqued the first page of a mainstream novel, historical fiction, and a historical thriller. Today's first page is from a western novel.

I recently presented a workshop on writing compelling first pages to a writers' group, and afterward, volunteers read their first page aloud and we discussed their strengths and also ways in which they could set the scene better and be more engaging and intriguing, to hook readers in right away.

This one, the beginning of a western, is obviously well-written, but could have been much more gripping right from the first paragraphs. The author, GK Parker, has given me permission to use it and their name in today's blog.

Here's the original:

Trip Forrester studied the bank of heavy clouds collecting over the distant peaks of the Wyoming Cinnabar mountain range. Winter was coming. And it would be nothing like what passed for winter in Alabama. Overhead, the sky transformed from pink to soft shades of deepening purple and red as the sun slipped behind the mountains, stealing the day with it. A cool breeze sprang up, whispering through the branches of several nearby Ponderosa pines. In the buckboard traces Wilson, his ten-year-old gelding, shifted, his harness jingling. He stamped one foot impatiently. 

"Yep, me too," Trip said. He slapped the leather reins and they made their way down the valley to Snake Creek ranch. The crumpled letter rustled in his pocket. He ignored the temptation to throw it away just like he'd resisted the urge to punch the post office clerk who handed him the letter that had arrived five days earlier. Not that the pock-faced kid had really done anything to deserve it, but he was in front of Trip when he opened the letter and read the Mr. Forrester line. 

The small homestead he had put up with his partner, Marty Helms, stood in deepening shadows. Coming around the last copse of trees lining the dirt lane he caught sight of the small cabin. A light glowed through the single window of wavy glass Trip had bought from Otto Gramm's in Laramie at great expense. So, Marty was back from his hunting trip. 

He pulled into the yard, stopping on the apron of raw earth near the front steps to the porch. The wagon creaked when he set the brake, jumped down where he unhitched and led Wilson to the small paddock. Blue Dog, the roan he had won in a poker game last fall, hung his dark head over the top rail and nickered at them. Cactus, Marty's mustang, joined in.

With Marty home, maybe they could get the drift fence finished this week after all. He glanced toward the wood piled beside the newly finished barn. It was ready, now it only needed two men willing to put their butts to work and keep them there until the job was done.

The three geldings nickered back and forth while Trip unharnessed Wilson. He slapped the gelding's broad rump to get him moving through the gate. He checked the water and feed trough and found Marty had already taken care of both. Using his calfskin gloves, he wiped the dust and sweat off Wilson's back. Gate latched behind him, Trip carried the harness to the barn, sidestepping Nonny, Marty's milk goat, on the way out. Striding toward the cabin, he tried not to think of the letter scorching a hole in his pocket. He had ridden thirty-one miles to Laramie to meet the train carrying his potential bride only to be handed her letter instead." 

Jodie: I felt that, although quite lyrical and nicely written, to hook in today's busy and often impatient readers, this opening needs a lot more tension, conflict, and intrigue. Also, to bring the character alive and make us identify with him and start worrying about him, we need to see his emotions and reactions more. And it would be more dynamic to have him interacting with someone else, preferably someone with an opposing agenda, rather than alone, thinking. There's way too much description and not enough action and interaction and reaction. Also, I wasn't sure whether it was a historical western or a modern western, so it would be good to clarify the time period.

The author emailed me a second version, which was much improved, but I offered a few more tips. then they came up with this final version, which is much more gripping and engaging, I think, and really makes me want to read on and find out more about this character and what happens to him. 


Here's the second rewrite:

October 6, 1874 

Trip Forrester's fingers fumbled as he struggled to get the ivory buttons through the button holes. Even before the top one closed, the starched collar of his white shirt was chafing his neck. It would be raw before he reached town. He pulled on the blue silk vest and got the bolo tie in place and pushed the discomfort aside. He'd wanted this. 

Once he'd figured the only way he was going to get a wife was to advertise for one. He'd started all this with his post to the eastern papers before Christmas last year.

No time to get spooky. The girl come all this way to marry you.

He stared down at the brand spanking new boots that hurt and made him feel like a dandified Eastern dude. The bowler hat just looked ridiculous.

"Yer barkin' at a frog," he muttered, running calloused fingers under the stiff collar. "She's gonna come."

So why were his hands shaking? 

He pulled his duster on to keep his fancy clothes looking good. His gaze kept darting toward the door; he was gonna be late if he kept this primping up. 

"Never had to look this good for no damn cayuse."

Sweat dripped down his brow, stinging the raw flesh of his neck. He strode out into the sun-bleached yard. It hadn't rained in weeks, the road to Laramie would be bone dry. He'd be able to make the trip in three hours. The Union Pacific was due in at twelve-ten. He pulled out his pocket-watch. Nine-twenty. 

Pulling Roach, his ten-year-old gelding out of the paddock he put him to the buckboard. It was nearly twenty minutes before he guided the wagon off Snake Creek ranch.

[...] (Left out two short paragraphs in here that slow the momentum a bit and could be condensed or deleted.)

The steady clop-clop of Roach's shod hooves mesmerized him, messing up his sense of time but not his growing apprehension. Late. What kind of man was late for his own wedding? Butterflies, or something a whole lot bigger, thrashed around in his stomach. The road into Laramie was a flat stretch of dusty clay, pot-marked by much heavier traffic than what was near Snake Creek ranch. He trotted the last mile, passing a wagon carrying newly cut logs and a few riders out on business. One group led a half a dozen young horses down the side of the road. Mustangs. The canyons around here were full of them, ripe for the picking.

With the arrival of Union Pacific a few years ago the town was exploding. Too much so for Trip's taste but it meant a steady market for the stock he planned to bring in next year.

In the distance he heard the train whistle.

He didn't have time to stable Roach and left him in front of the terminal amid a cluster of other carriages and buckboards. Climbing down, Trip found himself hanging back, one hand on Roach's collar. He sucked in several deep breaths of air that smelled like burnt sand. 

The low, red brick two-story building loomed at the east end of town. As crowds streamed past him, he straightened, smoothing his hands over his hair, hoping the grease he had put on it was holding the normally curly mess in place. His newly shaved cheeks left him feeling naked and he knew he stood out like a peacock in a pen full of chickens.

"Big day, isn't it?" Ross Parker, the druggist slapped him on the back. "Bet this day's been a long time coming."

"Yeah," he said. "A long time."

I think these first two pages bring the scene and character to life much more vividly than the original. If I were working with this author I would probably still have a few more small suggestions here and there, but I think this opening has come a long way! It definitely hooked me in!

Feel free to submit the first page of your novel or short story (maximum 400 words) to j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com. I'll be glad to add it to the ones I've already received to critique here anonymously.

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

To subscribe to Jodie’s Resources for Writers newsletter (published about 4-10 times a year), please click on this link: http://eepurl.com/C9dKD

Monday, May 20, 2013

The 5 Key Book Publishing Paths, by Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has published an excellent breakdown of all the avenues now open to author to publish their books, from fully assisted traditional publishing to self-publishing with no assistance from companies or industry professionals.

Here's Jane's introduction:

One of the biggest questions for authors today is:

Should I traditionally publish or self-publish?
 
It’s an important question—one that tends to result in heated debate—but it’s becoming an increasingly confusing and complicated question to answer because:
  1. There are now many varieties of traditional publishing and self-publishing—with evolving models and varying contracts.
  2. You won’t find a universal, agreed-upon definition of what it means to “traditionally publish” or “self-publish.”
  3. It’s not an either/or proposition. You can do both.
To see the rest of this post and Jane's very informative, comprehensive infographic on the 5 Kep Book Publishing paths, click on this link:

http://janefriedman.com/2013/05/20/infographic-5-key-book-publishing-paths/

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First-Page Critique - Historical Thriller

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer

Today I'm continuing my Wednesday feature in which I critique all or part of the first page of a novel, anonymously. You may also want to check out my first and second critiques, of the first pages of two different novels.

If you'd like me to critique the first page of your novel or short story, please send the first 400-500 words to me at j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com, and I'll critique the first 150-300 words here. If you have a prologue, don't send that - send the beginning of Chapter 1 instead.

Also, include the genre, setting (time and place), and a few sentences about the story and main character. Thanks.

The author who sent this to me called it a historical thriller, and it seems to be a travel adventure, too.

Here's the first page of the novel: (I've changed the name of the protagonist.)

Paris, December 1888 

Strolling down the leafy Boulevard des Italiens, a patch of glittery snow on the cobblestones reminded Francois Beauchemin of the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush. The muddy sidewalk became the wind-swept valleys of Fergana, and the frozen puddles beneath the horses' hooves shimmered like the pristine blue lakes of Turkestan.

To Beauchemin, France's most famous traveler, exploring the four corners of the globe was his life's obsession. When he wasn't out trekking on some windswept mountain trail high up in the Karakorum range, he was thinking of ingenious ways of getting there. Even sickness and ill health couldn't stop his fertile imagination from wandering to exotic, far-flung lands.

While he was laid up with a rheumatic fever that he'd picked up on his latest expedition to the Pamirs, Beauchemin would spend hours in bed leafing through his trusty Schrader Atlas, watching as the pages sprang to life.

Before his eyes, a map of Central Asia became a living, moving world. Snow-capped mountains burst from the pages flanked by murmuring forests of emerald and jade, bowing and swaying under a gust of Siberian wind, while dashing waterfalls and streams of glacial water erupted from the heights and snaked down to the ice-covered plateaus of pristine land where no man had ever stepped foot before. And just as his eyelids grew too heavy and sleep was about to overtake him, a gentle layer of snow fell across his bed quilt, carpeting the old volume with a fine layer of Himalayan snow, prompting Beauchemin to pull up the blanket before closing his eyes and falling into a deep sleep.
 
Jodie's critique:
Although these descriptions are well-written and kind of interesting, especially to people who love to travel, this first page reads more like a travelogue than the opening of a novel. And for a thriller, you really need to grab the readers from the first paragraph, with a gripping, dynamic scene in real time, with lots of tension, conflict, attitude and intrigue.
This first page is all telling, when we need showing. Show this character, Beauchemin, in an animated, tense scene with others, with conflict, dialogue, actions, and reactions. Make something happen on the first page, preferably within the first two paragraphs, that shakes up this guy's world. Don’t spend a whole page describing and reminiscing. That’s too slow-moving for today’s fiction, and way too slow-moving for a thriller!
Also, the style and tone here are too leisurely, too dreamlike for a thriller, or for any popular contemporary fast-paced fiction. I realize the author is trying to capture the feel of 1888, but this lyrical style risks lulling today's readers to sleep right from page one, or even putting down the book, which you definitely don't want to do! Think about the latest Sherlock Holmes movie – set way in the past, but fast-moving, with lots of conflict, intrigue and suspense.
Also, for the most part, this seems to be told in omniscient point of view, the author talking to the readers. To engage readers quickly and keep them turning the pages, you need to get into the point of view of your main character immediately, right from the first sentence. Get into his head and body and show his inner fears, hopes, and insecurities, as well as his physical sensations and his attitudes and reactions to people and the world around him. That will bring him to life on the page and start the readers bonding with him and rooting for him, right from the opening paragraphs, which is what you need to do.
Overall, although a pleasant leisurely read, this first page lacks purpose, drive, tension and conflict, which are absolutely essential to engage readers and make them want to keep turning the pages. It also needs some hints of worse trouble to come, to add suspense and intrigue.
What is the character’s main goal here? And how does it get thwarted quickly? Who is in danger, and how is he going to deal with it?
Especially for a thriller, be sure to shake up the hero’s world right away, in the first page, and introduce the villain or villains and even bigger problems by the end of chapter one at the latest. And keep piling the problems on and raising the stakes for the hero! Challenge him at every turn, and keep the readers rooting for him in his fight to conquer evil.
For more tips on writing a riveting thriller, see my e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller, which I am in the process of expanding in order to publish it in paperback soon. I'll add the new chapter on thriller openings by early next week.

Thanks for submitting this first page for a critique! I hope you find my comments and suggestions helpful. Who's up next?

Or, if you're tired of waiting for your first page to be critiqued here or you prefer to see the results in private, please contact me about critiquing your first page for $12. (PayPal takes $2, so that leaves me with $10.) Thanks! Alternatively, if you write a positive review on Amazon for one of my books below (please read the book first!), I'll put your name in a much smaller draw, so your chance of getting a free critique of your first page will be about 50%.

Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor
www.JodieRennerEditing.com; www.JodieRenner.com
Facebook
Twitter: @JodieRennerEd

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her editing website.

Jodie has published two An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
For more info on Jodie's books and workshops, please visit her author website

 
 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Sell Loads of Books, by Russell Blake

Here's an excellent article I just came across, by Russell Blake. A very comprehensive, down-to-earth, smart plan for selling a lot of books.

Here's the beginning:

"Over the last week, because of my burst of posts on the Kindle Boards, I’ve gotten a number of PMs from authors asking for counsel on one matter or another, so I thought I would take the time to lay out my thoughts so that the info is available to everyone. Obviously, this is intended for authors. Readers, just skip over this, it’s all technical crap you won’t be that interested in, unless you’re a masochist.

This does not represent the only way to do things, but it’s my way, and is the synthesis of everything I’ve learned over the last 23 months of self-publishing:

1) Pick one genre that’s popular and with which you are extremely familiar, and then write in that genre. Stick to it. Don’t hop around. It confuses your potential readers and muddies who you are in their minds, and will hurt your sales. If you want to write different genres, use a pseudonym, and if you like, let your readers know that moniker is you. But stick to one name, one genre, because you’re building your brand, and brand building is a function of clarity – clearly communicating what you do, and what your product is.

2) Write a series. Why? Because readers like series, and you want to give readers what they like. Or you won’t sell as much. You can try stand-alone – I have – but my series outsell my stand-alone books 4 to 1. Once you have at least three books in the series, make the first one free. Earn your income from the rest, but give readers a whole novel to decide whether they like you or not.

3) Write a lot. ...."

For the rest of this great advice, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Critique of First Page - Historical Fiction

by Jodie Renner, editor & author, @JodieRennerEd

Today I'm continuing my new Wednesday feature, where I critique all or part of the first page of a novel, anonymously. Click here to read my first critique, of the beginning of a different novel.

Red indicates comments by me and any words I have added, which would normally be in the margin, not interrupting the text as it is here, but unfortunately, I'm unable to reproduce that aspect of my Track Changes here.

If you'd like me to critique the first page of your novel or short story, please send the first 400-500 words to me at j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com, and I'll critique the first 150-300 words here. If you have a prologue, don't send that - send the beginning of Chapter 1 instead. Also, tell me the genre and a sentence or two about the story and main character. Thanks.

I chose this first page for today because it interested me and made me want to read more. But I could also see lots of ways to make it more compelling and intriguing, to hook more readers in and get them engaged right from the start.

I've changed the name of the character and the city, for greater anonymity.

Here's the original version first, with my suggestions in red in the version just below it.

Bonnie walked the noisy, dusty streets of Boston. The fishing ships were coming in for the evening as she passed near the docks. There looked to be another steamer in from Ireland as well. The smell of the city was always mixed, some wonderful aroma from a fire or a bakery... and something awful, rotting. Fish. Always, the smell of fish. She had to go a good ways inland to escape that smell. But tonight, she headed to work.  

She kept a close eye out. She had gotten in some trouble recently, but she had no idea if she was being pursued. Could be, no one knew. Or it could be she was a walking target. There was no way to know, but it had been two weeks now, since the incident, and no problems yet. She could never let her guard down- but that sort of survival was a strain on her.  

She hoped for a time that wasn’t so hard. In fact, she was planning on it. But her face gave a cynical slight grin, as she thought of it- her life had never followed the plans she laid out. If it had, she certainly wouldn’t be where she was now. She would have to work her way out.
 
Same three paragraphs, but with Jodie's suggestions in red:

Bonnie walked [Try to use a more specific, interesting synonym for “walked,” like “trudged” or “strode along” or "hurried along” or “strolled” or “raced through” or something that more accurately conveys her mood and how she’s moving.] the noisy, dusty streets of Boston. As she passed near the docks, she noticed the fishing ships were coming in for the evening. as she passed near the docks. There looked to be another steamer in from Ireland as well. The smell of the city was always mixed, some wonderful aroma from a fire or a bakery... and something awful, rotting. Fish. [Maybe “Like fish,” as there were other things rotting then, too.] Always, the smell of fish. She had to go a good ways inland to escape that smell. But tonight, she headed to work. [Try to add some urgency and tension here. Is she hurrying? Is she late for work? Is she worried about something at work? Also, what does she do? What’s her job? And how does she feel about it? Is she eager to go to work? Or does she hate her job?]

Tension and conflict are what drive fiction forward, and you especially need tension and intrigue in your first paragraphs and first page.

Also, since you mentioned this is historical fiction, I’d offer more indications of that right away, so the readers realize immediately that this story takes place in the past, and roughly how long ago – what period? For example, what kinds of vehicles or modes of transportation are passing her? Horses and buggies? Or...? Also, how is she dressed? How are people around her dressed? What are they doing? (Don’t get carried away in a great long descriptive passage, but add just enough telling detail to bring the scene to life and show the era.)


She kept a close eye out. [Try to add more tension to this sentence. Show her nervousness.] She had gotten in some trouble [kind of vague – can you be more specific?] recently, but she had no idea if she was being pursued. Could be, no one knew. [I’d take this sentence out, as it doesn’t really add anything more than we’ve found out from the previous sentence.] Or it could be she was a walking target. [Try to rephrase this in a more urgent, direct way, from inside her head, with more of her worries and fears apparent. Maybe something like, “She glanced around as she hurried along. Was she being followed? She felt like a walking target.”] There was no way to know [this is repetitive], but it had been two weeks now since the incident [can you give us some more hints, to add to the intrigue?], and no problems yet. [maybe rephrase this to show her worry more, like "and every day she expected to pay...." or whatever.] She could never let her guard down- but that sort of survival was a strain on her. [Try to rephrase this in a more direct way, showing her emotions and physical feelings/sensations. In other words, show, don’t tell.]

She hoped [“longed”?] for a time [maybe “future” or “life”] that wasn’t so hard. [This is a bit vague. Can you maybe add something specific here?] In fact, she was planning on it. [Can leave this out.] But her face gave a cynical slight grin [We’re inside Bonnie’s head, in her point of view, and she can’t see her face, nor is she thinking about the expression on her face, so this is a POV gaffe / violation. Show only what she is perceiving – seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking about, etc.] as she thought of it—her life had never followed the plans she laid out. If it had, she certainly wouldn’t be where she was now. She would have to work her way out. [Try to state this in a more urgent way, with more tension. How is she feeling? Overwhelmed? Discouraged? Worried? Exhausted? Determined? The more tension, the better, as a happy character is a boring character, and readers have no reason to read on or root for her.]

General comments from Jodie: I find this first page interesting, and definitely want to read more! But please show me more of Bonnie’s inner thoughts and emotions, with lots of tension! You want readers to identify with Bonnie right away and start bonding with her and rooting for her. In order for readers to become emotionally engaged with Bonnie and start caring about her plight, they need to feel what she’s feeling. So show us Bonnie’s thoughts, fears, hopes, worries, and other emotions, as well as her physical feelings, as much as possible in the first paragraphs and pages. Also, try to bring the scene more to life on the page by appealing to most of the five senses. What is she seeing? Hearing? Smelling? (that one's covered quite well). Also, is she hot or cold? Is it summertime? Any other tactile sensations or even tastes? And of course, her reactions to all this sensory barrage as she hurries to work.

Thanks for submitting this first page for a critique! I hope you find my comments and suggestions helpful. Who's up next?

Or, if you're tired of waiting for your first page to be critiqued here or you prefer to see the results in private, please contact me about critiquing your first page for $12. (PayPal takes $2, so that leaves me with $10.) Thanks! Alternatively, if you write a positive review on Amazon for one of my books below (please read the book first!), I'll put your name in a much smaller draw, so your chance of getting a free critique of your first page will be about 50%.

Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor
www.JodieRennerEditing.com; www.CobaltBooks.net
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Twitter: @JodieRennerEd

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. For more info on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her editing website.

Jodie has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

For more info on Jodie's books and workshops, please visit her author website.

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