Monday, May 29, 2017

Query Kombat Round 1 Match-ups

The big reveal is done as to who was on our Query Kombat teams - now it's time to find out who the Kombatants will be going up against in the first round! The first round will start on Friday at 8:00 am and the match-ups will span all our blogs




Friday, May 26, 2017

Meet the 2017 Query Kombatants!

The time is finally here! Time to release my Kombatants onto the unsuspecting public!

The choice was excruciating. The hosts agonized, weighing this query against that 250. We received hundreds of amazing entries. Of course, making it into a contest is no indication of the quality of your query. Many people who don't make it into contests find agents the tried-and-true way, by querying. (Ahem, me!) Thanks to everyone who entered and everyone who made the Twitter party so fun!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Query Kombat 2017 is HERE!!!

The submission window is NOW OPEN until May 19 at noon EDT. There is no cap on entries.



If you don't receive email confirmation within an hour of submitting your entry, contact us via Twitter and let us know. Kontestants will be revealed on May 26, and the tournament will kick off on June 2.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Guest Blog: Writing Diversity by Nia Davenport

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Nia Davenport.

WRITING DIVERSITY

Diversity is important because we don't live in a homogeneous world. We live in a world that's rich with differences. Those differences should be more than recognized and depicted. They should be celebrated, uplifted, and positively portrayed. When you don't promote and encourage and believe in diversity, you get the unfortunate result of story after story being produced that only features one kind of individual out of the multitudes that comprise our world. Deciding against or simply not caring to make your fictional world diverse is both toxic and harmful to readers.

Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye explores and engages in a literary conversation with this issue in a much more poignant and heart-wrenching way than I ever could. If you have never read it, I urge you to do so—especially as a writer who is creating characters and content for people to absorb. The story’s  protagonist is a young Black girl named Pecola. Pecola loves Shirley Temple, believing that whiteness is beautiful and that she is ugly. Her belief comes from the very real-life fact that whiteness is what every form of media, including books, bombards consumers with as the gold standard of beauty. Pecola lives a very difficult life. Her father is an alcoholic, her mother is distant, and she often sees domestic violence between her parents. Pecola believes that if she had blue eyes, like Shirley Temple, she would be loved and her life would be transformed. Pecola is a fictional character but her experience represents the experience of too many people of color. Non-diverse stories tell any reader other than the standard white, able-bodied, cishet individual that they are unwanted. They are ignored. They don’t matter. They are not beautiful and the world does not see them as so either.

In addition to the toxicity and harm non-diverse stories commit against readers in regards to standards in beauty, they also do readers a disservice in regards to the roles and positions any reader other than the white, able-bodied, cishet reader see themselves as being able to fulfill. Growing up, the heroes, the princesses, the saviors, the queens, the kings, the explorers, and the adventurers of 99% of the stories I read were white. I never saw myself reflected as the hero in the pages of the stories I read or the movies I watched. This lack of diversity basically says to any diverse reader, YOU CANNOT FULFILL THE ROLE OF THE PRINCESS OR ADVENTURER, OR EXPLORER, OR HERO, OR SAVIOR. YOU ARE NOT WORTHY. Over time, it makes readers, especially young readers, start to hate the skin they live in. It makes them begin to reject who they are in favor for looking like or being like the protagonists in the stories they read.

              Equally as toxic is the fact that non-diverse stories reinforce to the entire would that there is only one type of good guy. One type of hero. One type of protagonist. Non-diverse stories set up a psychological construct where white, able-bodied, individuals are the heroes, the good guys, and the saviors. Furthermore, when you only think to include diversity when it comes time for a villain, you do even more harm by reinforcing bigoted notions that vilify diverse individuals.

 The only way to combat the negative stereotypes in the world is to tear them down by bombarding the world with images that speak counter to them. One step towards doing that is with the heroes in our stories. Let them be diverse. Let them reflect the uniquely rich world we live in.

I don't know what you write for, but I write for my readers. So if I don't write diversely and then as a result have a reader who questions their identity, questions if they're valued, questions if they matter, questions if they're loved, questions if they’re beautiful, questions if they can be a hero…I HAVE FAILED AS A WRITER. I HAVE FAILED MY READER.


Nia is a YA and Adult SFF writer represented by Caitie Flum at Liza Dawson Associates. She is an alumni of the University of Southern California (Fight On!) and the University of Texas. She has an undergraduate degree in Biology and graduate degrees in Public Health and Teaching. By day she teaches English and Biology, by night she writes strong, kickass heroines who are perfectly capable of saving themselves, and by way of dreams she is the Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, sailing to Westeros to seize the Iron Throne. Hey, a girl can daydream right?



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Guest Post: Motivation/Reaction Units

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Teresa Richards.

MOTIVATION-REACTION UNITS

Hello lovely writers! I’m here today to talk about motivation-reaction units.

“What the what?” You say. “I’ve heard about plot and pacing and world building and character development, but what is this motivation-reaction witchcraft you speak of?”

Well. I’m so glad you asked.

Have you ever had a scene with a big reveal or shock or scare, but once your big bang happened, things just felt sort-of off? If so, there’s a good chance your motivation-reaction units need looking at.

At it’s core, a motivation-reaction unit, or MRU, just means that when something happens, there’s a motivation (a stimulus) and a reaction (how the characters react to the stimulus). We have Dwight V. Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer to thank for identifying this little nugget of knowledge we call the MRU.

The motivation part is pretty easy. Something crazy happens. Done.

Problems often arise, however, in the reaction part of the MRU. When something crazy/scary/shocking happens, humans react in several ways. These feelings happen in such quick succession, that it’s often hard to separate them out, but they are all different parts of a reaction. And they happen in this order:

1: There’s an unconscious internal reaction—a feeling
Nervous. Happy. Terrified.

2: There’s an unconscious physical reaction—a reflex in response to how we are feeling
We gasp. Our palms start to sweat. Our blood rushes to our face. We freeze in place.

3: Then there are conscious physical reactions—what we say (if anything) and what we do.
“I can’t believe you forgot my birthday,” and the character starts to cry.
“I can’t believe she wore socks with her Chacos,” and then the mean girls blast a picture out on Instagram.
Or, if the motivation is a rabid werewolf apparition, a la ghostbusters, the physical reaction will just be to run.

Now, all of these things happen in our reactions, but you don’t need to list every single thing in a character’s reaction every time there’s a motivation in your book. Actually, please don’t. If you do, it will clog up the flow and slow the pacing way down. It’s okay to let the reader imagine one of more parts of the character’s reaction when something happens in your story. But in pivotal scenes, when the tension is high, the reaction you include on the page should contain more than one of the three parts above.

And—here’s where many beginner writers go wrong—THE REACTIONS MUST BE IN THE RIGHT ORDER, and THEY MUST COME AFTER THE MOTIVATION!

We never react to a stimulus before feeling that initial burst of fear or anger or whatever, and when our characters do this, something feels off.

As an example, let’s take our undead werewolf monster from above.

Lucy heard a noise.
She crept around a corner and when she rounded it, the sight made her scream.
She ran, her blood racing through her body, as an angry werewolf apparition jumped out at her.
It roared, its yellow eyes hungry for a kill.

Something about this passage seems off, yes? The first problem is that Lucy’s reaction comes before the werewolf actually jumps out at her. As a writer, it’s really tempting to keep our readers in suspense, so we make our characters react first, and then reveal the horrible motivator behind their reaction in hopes of getting a bigger reaction out of our reader. But this doesn’t work for a reader, because if we do this, they are no longer experiencing the story along with the main character. It starts to feel inauthentic, and will pull the reader out of the story.

So. Always put the motivator first.

Then, in the reaction part of this example, Lucy reacts physically (screaming and running) before she reacts internally (her blood racing through her body). In other words, she reacts on purpose before she reacts automatically. And this never rings true. The first thing that should happen when Lucy sees the apparition is her blood racing through her body. This is an immediate reaction that she doesn’t control and takes no thought for. She hasn’t really even processed what she’s seeing yet. After that visceral reaction, then she starts to think. Her brain kicks into gear, and she can then scream and run away.

Here’s a better version of the above example:


The undead werewolf jumped out at her, roaring, its yellow eyes hungry for a kill.
Lucy’s blood turned to ice. Her lower lip trembled, the only part of her that seemed able to move.
The monster roared.
She screamed, and her limbs unfroze. She ran.

Can you see the difference? First the motivation happens (the werewolf jumping out at her). Then her response is 1: a feeling of fear, which manifests by her blood turning to ice, 2: an immediate physical reaction in response to the fear—her lip trembling, 3: conscious action—screaming and running away.

This example was one of fear, but MRU’s come into play all the time, whether your motivation is something sad like losing a pet, something embarrassing like a bad Instagram post going viral, or something climactic like when the romantic tension peaks and they finally kiss already. Anytime something happens—especially when it’s something big—make sure your characters’ reactions happen in the right order so that they ring true.  

If you really want to have some fun, pay attention to what happens inside you the next time someone surprises you or scares you or ticks you off. Break down your reactions in order (after you’ve cooled off) and study them. It will make you a better writer.

For some more reading on MRU’s, see the following two articles:





Teresa Richards writes speculative and contemporary YA. She is the author of Emerald Bound, a dark twist on the fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. She found her agent through Query Kombat 2016, and her manuscript (nicknamed My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery) is now on submission. When Teresa's not writing, she can be found chasing after one of her kids, driving one of her teens around, or hiding in the house with a treat she'd not planning to share. She is represented by the amazing Mallory Brown of Triada Literary Agency. You can connect with Teresa on twitter @byutm33 or visit her website www.authorteresarichards.com.

To buy: Amazon I BN

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guest Post: Writing LGBT Characters

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Aden Polydoros.

Writing LGBT Characters

There are certain things to be mindful of when writing about LGBT characters, particularly if you are a heterosexual and/or cisgendered author. One of the most important things is to represent LGBT characters in an honest, non-stereotypical manner.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Meet the 2017 Query Kombat Agents!

The big reveal is HERE.

Want to know what agents and editors we have for Query Kombat? WE HAVE THIRTY-TWO, AND COUNTING!! There are so many publishing professionals participating, we can’t fit them all on one blog! View one-third of them below, then click on over to Michelle's and Michael’s blogs to see the rest. We’ve got both well-established agents/editors and some newer professionals who are actively seeking to build their lists. Query Kombat 2017 is going to be an AWESOME Kontest. 

For more information on how to enter when the window opens, please click here

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Query Kombat Judge Nicknames

Since the kontestants get to invent amazing nicknames, naturally the judges want one, too! Plus it lets them vote with more freedom. To recognize our wonderful judges and know the vote is legit, here is a list of the nicknames they have chosen:

Guest Post: Going Deeper: A Few Pointers on Using Deep POV in a Manuscript by Lisa Koosis

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Lisa Koosis.

Going Deeper: A Few Pointers on Using Deep POV in a Manuscript

I can still remember learning the basics of point of view (POV) back in fourth or fifth grade. We learned the difference between first-person POV and third-person POV, the difference between the all-knowing, all-seeing, godlike narration of third-person omniscient, and the much narrower, third-person limited. I remember learning, albeit more briefly, about the rarely used second-person POV. And that was pretty much it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Friend (With Benefits) Zone Cover Reveal!

Today, I'm excited to be a part of the cover reveal for FRIEND (with Benefits) Zone by the amazing Laura Brown. I was lucky enough to get to read an advance copy of this book, and it's fantastic. I can't wait to see what Laura comes up with next.

And now.... on to the reveal!

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

Why You Should Double, Triple, Quadruple Check Before you Enter that Contest

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from K.D. Proctor.


Why You Should Double, Triple, Quadruple Check Before you Enter that Contest 

Confession:  I don’t always think things through.

Case in point, the dog we adopted six years ago.  We talked about getting a shelter dog.  Then these puppies came in.  And I told my husband, “Under no uncertain terms are we getting a puppy.”  But wouldn't you know it...by some divine intervention, I ended up at the shelter the next day, put down a $20 deposit, called my husband who was none to thrilled I went down there, and the next thing I know, we’re coming home with our dog, Maggie. 

The same is true for writing.  Case in point?  My first manuscript.

I loved that story. I poured my heart and soul into that thing (then again, don’t we all?).  Truth be told?  It was a hot mess.

It was an action thriller with romantic elements.  Back then I thought it was THE BEST MANUSCRIPT EVER WRITTEN.  I finished it, did some spot editing, and then I asked people to read it.
People = my mom and a few friends.
Naturally, they all said the same thing.  “Yeah…it’s good!” 

I was over the moon.  I probably even used the phrase “NAILED IT” one too many times.  But I was READY to send this baby out into the world.  So, imagine to my surprise when I started to have people outside of my trust circle read this thing and they said the following:

Too much telling, not enough showing.
Over written.
Boring chapters.
Scenes aren’t necessary.
Characters aren’t necessary.
Word count is WAY too long. 

And for every constructive criticism I had a rebuttal.  Including my favorite:   JK Rowling wrote a book for teenagers that has to be longer than mine—how is that okay and mine isn’t?

(Yep.  I used the classic JK Rowling Excuse.  Rookie move.)

For those who have been around the block a few times, this all sounds very familiar, right?  Classic mistakes that make us smack our foreheads and wonder how in the world we could overlook the basics before we submitted it for contests or query.  But if this is your first manuscript that you’re tossing into the query trenches—I am going to ask you to do me one favor before you hit “send” on your e-mail.

Do one final check to make sure your word count, plot/story beats are following the general rules.

Here’s what I see too often from agents, contest hosts, and mentors for various contests:
·         Word count not aligned with industry standards
·         Flaws/goals/stakes not clear
·         Overwritten
·         Too much telling
·         Rambles 
·         Doesn’t align with genre

And that’s just a tiny snippet of the stuff I see.

My point is this:  I don’t care how long you’ve worked on your manuscript.  I don’t care how many CP’s, beta readers, or editors you’ve hired.  And I really don’t care if you think your manuscript is unlike any story out there and it will no doubt win everyone ever in an instant.

You MUST make sure your query and manuscript are hitting the basics.  Like….

WORD COUNT:
While I used my JK Rowling example above, it is important to note that word counts can fluctuate.  However, if you’re shooting on the high end of word counts—or exceeding them—you run the risk of rejection because it likely means there will be a lot of pre-editing that needs to happen before your book could go on submission.  Guess what? That may be a deal breaker for an agent because they simply don't have the time to invest in that task.  My encouragement is to find the “sweet spot” in the middle of the suggested numbers.  And like many writing websites, the numbers vary.  Some go higher.  Some go lower.  So, again—shoot for an average.  I’m a fan of this article on the Writer’s Digest website that addresses word counts by genre.  http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post


STARTING IN THE RIGHT SPOT:
I’m not going to talk about an opening that hooks you—that’s a given.  No, what I want you to double check is that in your first chapter we’re being introduced to the character and what they’re up against.  I think authors are getting better about minimalizing the info dump in the opening chapter (from back story, to world building, etc).  That first chapter should put us right smack dab in middle of the conflict.  Think about your favorite movies or books.  Notice how we are put right into the conflict early on (not 7 chapters in)?  One of my favorite movies, Mona Lisa Smile, does this well.  Catherine is a new teacher at a very conservative college, her dream school.  She’s ready to make a difference in the lives of these girls.  The first day of class, though, is a disaster and she’s already called into the dean’s office to discuss it.  Her conflict is apparent in first 7 minutes of the film.  Do that with your writing.  Get us in there.


BEATS AND PLOTS (AKA…PACING):
Asking you to look at this just days before the window opens for Query Kombat is risky.  Your query and first 250 words could be rock solid.  But what about words 251 – 85,000?  Are they?  Is your plot as strong as can be, following the basics in plot and pacing?  

There are several workbooks out there that help with the basic craft of plotting.  Even if you’re a pantser, your story needs to check the boxes to ensure your story is hitting the plot points every story should have. 

Where this gets tricky is that authors confuse the basic craft of plotting with being told that they cannot write what they like.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  You can write whatever you want.  You can push the envelope.  You can twist those tropes into something amazing.  But every story, regardless of genre, follows a pattern.  

That pattern is a must.

Jami Gold shares a basic outline on her website.

The starting point for the main conflict.
Something happens near the mid-point.
Another something happens near the ¾ mark
The battle at the end, resolving the conflict.

There are minor beats woven into this, of course.  These minor beats push our characters towards their goal, and also pull them away.  This push/pull is important towards their growth.


And if you want to download some cool beat sheets in excel, you can find those here: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/

GARBAGE WORDS
Listen.
I'm in the thick of this right now with my own manuscript as we finish up the final editing pass.  Adverbs are my nemesis.  Same with starting sentences with "and", "but", "or", "because", etc.  And don't even get me started on my use of the word "THAT" or "JUST".  

Adverbs are commonly known as the words that end in -ly, 

One of my favorite authors, Brighton Walsh, had a great post on garbage words (as well as some other great tips for showing vs telling, dialogue tags, etc).  You can find that there:  http://www.brightonwalsh.com/catch-all/

I also like this list, too, for common adverbs--not all ending in that pesky -ly,  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/A-very-long-list-of-adverbs,-not-all-of-which-end-in--ly.htm

Of course, like the word count and other things I've pointed out today--sometimes adverbs are necessary.  Doesn't mean you need to get crazy and chop them all.  But it does mean you need to find the right balance between using an adverb (which is often "telling") and choosing words and phrases that "show".  


Remember, lists like this are meant to help you be successful.
I wish you the best of luck as you put the finishing touches on your manuscript and I hope to read your query and first 250 words during Query Kombat!

GOOD LUCK!!  


KD Proctor loved college so much that when it came time to graduate, she didn’t want to leave.  Trading in her textbooks for student handbooks and policy manuals, she began a career in College Student Personnel and she fulfilled her wish to stay on a college campus forever.  Her mother, however, if glad she's finally using that English degree. 

KD lives in West Central, Minnesota with her husband and fur-kids.  She likes to write fun twists on the usual tropes that we all love. Her characters are smart, funny, and always swoony.  And yes. They always get their happily ever after. 

Before being accepted for publication, KD's debut novel, MEET ME UNDER THE STARS (formerly titled IF YOU'RE EVER IN TOWN), was the 2016 YARWA winner for the New Adult category.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Becoming Bonnie Release Day Blitz and Giveaway!

Today, I'm excited to be able to participate in the release day blitz for Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh. Historical fiction fans, you're in for a treat!

Book Summary

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

​The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc's.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn't know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie's life prior to meeting her infamous partner. InBecoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

Check out this excerpt!




Bio

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. Becoming Bonnie is her first novel.

Please learn more about Jenni and her books at jennilwalsh.com.



Buy Links
​Amazon: http://amzn.to/2qaFQsH
Barnes & Noble: www.barnesandnoble.com/w/becoming-bonnie-jenni-walsh/1124483106
iTunes: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/becoming-bonnie/id1171071056?mt=11
IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780765390189
Social Media Links

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennilwalsh
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jenni.l.walsh
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/jennilwalsh

And check out the giveaway!



A Query Kombat Surprise

The QK Crew has a spectacular surprise for our Query Kombat hopefuls!






With an estimated 300+ people joining in on the fun this year, we figured we needed a place to bring together our agents, editors, industry professionals, and kombatants. Not only that, but we wanted a place for entrants who don't make it into the tournament to find advice, friends, and support.

So, if you plan on entering the tournament or just rooting for your favorite entry, join us in our new forum.  There's also a place to get feedback on your query and first 250. And who knows who might reply to your post! 



Remember: Forums are open to the public, and agents/contest hosts/PitchWars mentors will be watching. Please give other posters the same respect and consideration you’d want them to give you.


Final note: Sincerest apologies for the lack of non-typical gender options when creating a profile in our forum. Proboards hasn't quite gotten with the times. I've put a bug in their ear. Hopefully this time next year, the login in process will be more inclusive. After creating your profile, to hide the gender from your posts, go to Profile -> Edit Profile -> Privacy -> Gender Visibility. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Guest Post: Great Expectations: Starting your story in the right place

In the days leading up to Query Kombat, I'll be featuring guest posts from the judges on a variety of writing topics, from ways to polish your writing to common openings. Check back and follow me on Twitter to stay updated. Today's post is from Kelly DeVos.

Great Expectations: Starting your story in the right place

As a writer, one of the most difficult things to do can be to decide on the right moment to begin your story. Crafting a great first page is really tough. For me personally, the first ten pages or so are the pages I tend to edit the most as I revise.

In order to help get ready for Query Kombat, let’s talk a bit about great beginnings.

Why It Matters
The first page is the writer’s chance to really hook the reader. Ideally, the opening paragraphs make the reader want to keep going, keep reading and buy the book. For a writer seeking an agent, the stakes are even higher. For agents, the first 5-10 pages might be all they read before deciding to pass. Agents actively accepting submissions can receive around 3,000 queries per month, so the pressure is really on to make your opening special and unique.

What NOT to do
Ideally, querying writers should try to avoid common, overdone scenarios in their opening pages. In Young Adult literature, very common openers include:
-       Moving day (characters saying goodbye to friends, leaving home, etc.)
-       Summer of Hell (all the MC’s friends are doing cool things, MC is massaging Grandma’s bunions)
-       Character Catalogue (a rundown of the cast of characters at the MC’s school or an introduction to the MC’s family). I’d also note that many of these scenes begin in the school lunch room.
-       New Kid or First Day in a New Place
-       Dead parents (parents immediately die or the MC is adjusting to their death)

In Adult Literature, I’d definitely recommend avoiding a few things:
-       Info dumping intros. This is probably the most commonplace issue with unpublished manuscripts I’ve personally read. Here, the writer directly tells the reader a bunch of information at the start of the story.
-       A character waking up or starting the day
-       A character thinking about their own appearance or looking in the mirror
-       Dialogue that’s difficult to follow
-       False beginnings (character is in a dream or dead, etc.)
-       Ungrounded action (things happening that the reader doesn’t yet care about)

Now, this is not to say that you absolutely can’t open your story with a common scenario. I recently read ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus. It has a Breakfast Club-type opening that would qualify as a bit of a Character Catalog in that it presents its full cast as they meet in detention during the first chapter. But it’s done in such a way that it hooked me and made me want to solve the novel’s main mystery. Likewise, THE LOVELY BONES is an epically good book that has a dead narrator. Sarah Dessen’s WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE opens with the main character, McLean, arriving in a new town following her family’s move.

But making the choice to use a common opener can really be a competitive disadvantage. I think of agents a lot like ice skating judges who score all the different parts of a skater’s program. I imagine agents judging manuscripts and assigning points based on things like originality, voice, characterization, etc. When you start with a type of opening scene that has been done to death, you essentially get a zero score for originality and then you are relying on other elements of the MS to carry you to a full request. Your rather cliché starter could also lead agents to conclude that you haven’t widely read within your category or genre and aren’t up to date on current books.

To Prologue or not to Prologue
For the sake of contests, like Query Kombat or PitchWars, I would recommend against including a prologue. Online contests are typically every limited in the number of words you can have as part of your entry and using them to show a judge or agent something that may or may not advance the main narrative is not the best idea. At conferences and in online interviews, I very often see agents say that they dislike prologues which they have come to associate with unpolished writing. Overall, I would again worry that using a prologue puts you at a competitive disadvantage. If you have your heart set on one, make it both the best ever and utterly essential to the hooking the reader.

Consider This
The best advice I ever received on starting in the right place was from my creative writing professor who said to think a lot about how people tell stories and communicate in person. He had a prompt that was something like, “Last night my roommate drove her car into a swimming pool,” and then had the class ask follow up questions. People asked stuff like, “Is your roommate okay?” or “Was the car destroyed?” or “Why did she do that?” Nobody asked for details like how long the two people had been living together, where the roommate was from, how old she was, what she was wearing, etc. Yet this same professor was constantly pointing out that, when writing, we were often dumping that kind of information into the opening pages of our work. The right approach, he said, was to introduce details and backstory when they became necessary, interesting and relevant.

How you know you got it right
Send a small sample of your MS, ideally the first chapter or first 10 pages, to a couple of honest critique partners or good readers. Do they ask to see more? Do they want to know what happens next? Did you hook them? If so, then chances are, your opening is pretty strong.

But make sure your full manuscript is as polished as your opening pages
This is a big one because I know from my own past experience that there were times when I had worked on the first 30 pages of a manuscripts until I almost couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore but didn’t spend as much time on the rest of the book. Nothing is more heartbreaking than getting lots of requests, thanks to strong opening pages, and then having the requests turn to rejections. If you have the funds, I definitely recommend investing in a good developmental editor. If not, find great critique partners and polish up those full drafts.

Good luck with those first pages and may the Query Kombat odds be ever in your favor!

About Kelly deVos
A third generation native Arizonan, Kelly deVos can tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about cactus, cattle and climate. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her debut novel, FAT GIRL ON A PLANE, will be published in 2018 by Harlequin Teen and her work has been featured in Normal Noise and 202 Magazine.

FAT GIRL ON A PLANE
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