It was a weird sort of a weekend for me. I attended the conference, but I have to admit I had trouble focusing on what the speakers were saying because of the personal stuff going on in our lives. I did, however, have a couple of real lightbulb moments – thank you Fiona Brand and Mary Theresa Hussey – and I think that once I return from holiday, it will be with renewed energy and inspiration for my writing.
I attended an early morning talk with agent Melissa Jeglinski from the Knight Agency. They read the first pages of manuscripts and she stopped them when she reached the point where she’d make a decision. The following is a summary of her dos and don’ts. For you experienced writers out there this is probably commonsense to you, but a reminder never hurts!
1. Don’t start your manuscript with a one-sided conversation. i.e. phone call. You’re wasting an opportunity to use characterization through dialogue.
2. It’s good to make the reader want more. i.e. intrigue them but don’t throw everything and the kitchen sink into that first page.
3. Add characterization rather than too much backstory. i.e. have your characters make an appearance early rather than giving lots of narrative first up.
4. Sentence length – don’t make those opening sentences too long and convoluted. You want the reader/agent/editor to understand the sentence. If they have to read it twice you have a problem.
5. You need a coherent flow of dialogue and narration. Don’t have all dialogue and no narration at the start of your story. Make the dialogue meaningful.
6. Don’t feel the need to give a detailed description of clothes etc in that first page. One or two details are fine but don’t describe everything in minute detail.
In a talk about Harlequin and the various lines editor Mary Theresa Hussey gave us a list of points that the editors use when they’re reading a submission.
1. Are the opening and closing lines strong? i.e. it’s that hook thing. Use strong hooks!
2. Do the characters make decisions? i.e. are they active rather than sitting back and letting things happen.
3. Do the conflicts come across as strong and interesting?
4. Are the characters compelling?
5. Does the story start in the right place? i.e don’t be tempted to slide in all that back story!
6. Do you want to read on?
If they can answer yes to all these questions, your manuscript is in good shape.
And two final things: If you’re interested in the new Harlequin YA line check out the prequel for Rachel Vincent’s debut story. You can download your free copy here.
Harlequin do regular podcasts that can be downloaded at this link or at iTunes. There are some additional ones coming any day now so keep checking back. The existing podcasts include editor inside information and interviews with authors.