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First Page: Any Price

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Men do not go into heat. When faced with a line of willing women, frustrated refusal was not the correct reaction. Who the hell cares if they are the right woman? Men fuck the willing. The right woman is the one in his bed.

Alexander Francis Jozef VIII, King of Dracovia, Guardian of Kersonov, moved through the dark room in barefoot silence to the expanse of windows across from his mammoth bed. Harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breathe the night. Far past midnight but a long way from dawn, it was the predator’s hour and he wanted nothing more than to hunt. Hunt the witch screwing with his libido. Doing it bare assed wasn’t a problem but would probably upset the locals.

Until recently, being the crown prince of these two small kingdoms that no longer existed after the maps changed in World War I meant nothing to him or the world. His family had no illusions of regaining a throne.

This tiny slice of Eastern Europe had accomplished the feat of extracting itself from the crumbling Soviet Empire. Apparently not everyone had forgotten his family and suddenly he was a king. Damn it.

He didn’t need classes in world politics. He’d spent fifteen years on the front lines of world politics in action. What they did need to give him was crash courses in diplomacy and the rules of being royal. It was a thin skin over the hardened warrior but the combination worked. Dragging a struggling country out of the dark ages wasn’t a job for the timid. Tabloids called him the Savage King.

Five years he’d been working the plan that got them to the prosperity his little kingdoms were enjoying. The authentic renaissance festival promised to bring years of financial return. He would not tolerate the distraction he was feeling. The woman he couldn’t find was a problem he couldn’t afford.

His lips thinned in a grimace of concentration as he reached into the night with senses much more advanced than he’d be willing to explain. Natural abilities that edged on phenomenal were the weapons that made him a deadly opponent in his former life. Uncanny knowledge of which way an enemy would jump, night vision better than twenty/twenty and the heart of a predator had always been his. But he’d never felt the type of awareness that invaded his body this week.

A breeze picked up, pushing the mist into swirling agitation and he felt her, the essence of a woman. He knew her the same way he’d often known there was an enemy in a place it shouldn’t be. The knowledge was instinctive. With her it was more. He felt more.

She was restless tonight. Her body ached and she sighed as she threw off covers. Unable to sleep, she was- fear suddenly gripped her-

NO! Alex rejected threads of emotion reaching for him. He would not put up with some phantom female slipping in and out of his soul. The hard evidence that his body disagreed throbbed between his legs. Alex stretched, flexing layers of tense muscle to deny the ethereal sensation of gentle hands sliding down his taut body. A scent drifted on the air but he chose to consign it to the night blooming jasmine far below. There were no soft sighs disappearing with the mist.

Scrubbing a hand down his face, he turned to his starkly empty bed.

***

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67 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 04:41:21

    Man, this is clumsy writing. I could barely get through all the info dumping, but it lost me at the first paragraph. This:
    “Who the hell cares if they are the right woman?”

    Wrong tense, wrong pronoun, just awkward, awkward.

    And then we have the narrator describing himself – “Harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breathe the night.” – with disembodied body parts and more clumsy writing to boot. Word choice and phrasing is really thuddingly dull too.

    I wouldn’t turn the page. I wouldn’t get past the first two paras in a book store. I wouldn’t want to read this if it was a gift. Alex (named over and over) is all telling not showing, and I’m already bored with him.

    Sorry, dear author. There are too many faults with the writing here to pick apart and rescue.

    ReplyReply

  2. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 05:05:41

    Men do not go into heat. When faced with a line of willing women, frustrated refusal was not the correct reaction. Who the hell cares if they are the right woman? Men fuck the willing. The right woman is the one in his bed.

    Hmm. I don’t think I’d get any further than the first paragraph, because it would set me off on a rant about the male sexual drive discourse and rakes in the romance genre (along the lines of this post).

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  3. Erastes
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 05:25:51

    I actually found it intriguing, but not entirely for the right reasons – it seemed like two separate stories interspersed with each other. If you’re going to start with a punchy first para like you have done, don’t then drift into politico-social details. I was interested and then suddenly I’m learning about crown princes and WW1.

    Stick with one or the other. We don’t need to know at this point who the person is if you are just creating the “predator’s hour” – you can go into the renaissance, and the coups a little later.

    But there are a lot of errors, so I’d advise you get a good beta – or a better one, if you already have one.

    This is an example:

    Five years he'd been working the plan that got them to the prosperity his little kingdoms were enjoying. It jars.

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  4. joanne
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 07:12:34

    As a reader —and completely without the talent to say how to fix this odd mix of good writing and bad composition —I see many opening lines I LOVED… I guess that’s my way of saying to the author: read it again. re-do it. Edit. There’s good stuff there and thank you.

    Far past midnight but a long way from dawn, it was the predator's hour and he wanted nothing more than to hunt.

    He would not tolerate the distraction he was feeling. The woman he couldn't find was a problem he couldn't afford.

    The woman he couldn't find was a problem he couldn't afford.

    he felt her, the essence of a woman. He knew her the same way he'd often known there was an enemy in a place it shouldn't be.

    ReplyReply

  5. Bernita
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 07:51:32

    odd mix of good writing and bad composition

    Agree with Joanne.
    Intriguing set-up, character potential and some really good lines.
    But with a backstory that intrudes and diffuses as well as composition issues.

    ReplyReply

  6. Sparky
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 08:23:04

    There are a lot of errors but a beta could fix that.

    No, my problem with it is that there’s just too much there.

    This is the first page? There’s an entire novel worth of of info on this page! In the action of, what, crossing his bedroom floor? He has managed to sum up the socio-political history of his country. This could have been revealed in manageable chunks over the coruse of a chapter or so. The author could have then gone into depth about something that looks like a genuinely interesting setting

    I mean, this is a guy who apparently can’t get any rest because he’s got a serious case of night-wood and he spends his time having an in-depth thoughtful mental monologue on the political history of his kingdom? Interspaced with with a brief personal description? I mean there’s not even a convenient mirror there (but since I’d lay odds to evens the guy’s a vampire I shouldn’t think that would help)

    So, my view? Great concept. Great setting. Great idea. Horrendous execution. Remove the info dump, the personal description, the history resume and dole it out in pieces as and when it’s RELEVENT in the story. Oh and change the name of the kingdom. “Dracovia” a kingdom with a vampire emperor? No, just no. If the National Coat of Arms depicts a large bat I may have to reach for my stake.

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  7. Leah
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 08:23:46

    The writing is fairly choppy and a little over-dramatic. Almost every sentence tries to be portentous, and I think that would be hard to sustain throughout the book, and off-putting to the reader; eventually, all those dark, weighty sentences would lose their intended effect. I gather that you want us to know that Alex is someone who is used to just casually sleeping with anyone he wants, but that this as-yet-unknown woman has gotten under his skin in a disturbing (to him) way. This is an attractive premise. But the first line just makes me see him as a total jerk, and it’s hard for me to find him sympathetic later. The kingdom situation is interesting, but it might work better a couple of pages down the line. Perhaps while he’s brooding about this woman, he gets a call from one of his ministers or something–some annoying administrative snafu that interrupts his thoughts and makes it easy for you to give the political backstory and his feelings about his situation. That would also allow you to put all the brooding stuff in the first few paragraphs, then lighten it up right after (if that makes sense)

    Well, the family is getting impatient for their Sat am pancakes. I think this has potential. Keep at it, and best wishes!

    ReplyReply

  8. Keri Ford
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 08:39:50

    I too had a hard time getting through this. Many sentences I had to re-read then re-read the entire paragraph. I was confused by the whole girl thing. I think that could be clearer. In the opening paragraph, you set her up as a real live person. I went with that. He’s frustrated, has a lot of king important type weight on his shoulders and can’t perform. And then at the end, she’s part of his imagination? You mention witch, and I took that as a term for ‘bitch’. But then at the end with all the confusion of the girl, I thought maybe you really did mean witch as in the magical sort. All the middle with him being King was a lot of backstory. That should be condensed down to one small paragraph of no more than three sentences. Just enough to let us know who he is. The rest should be sprinkled through the rest of the story.

    As you can see I had a lot of questions. These aren’t the sort of questions you want the reader to have. You don’t want your reader to have to think about the words she’s reading. Like the others, you’re writing is good, but, I don’t know, the word selection to string your sentences together is what had me lost. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have made it past the second paragraph.

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  9. NCKat
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 08:50:18

    Men do not go into heat. When faced with a line of willing women, frustrated refusal was not the correct reaction. Who the hell cares if they are the right woman? Men fuck the willing. The right woman is the one in his bed.

    I hated this opening – too demeaning to women and so off-putting! I wouldn’t read past this.

    But if I pushed on and read this:

    Alexander Francis Jozef VIII, King of Dracovia, Guardian of Kersonov, moved through the dark room in barefoot silence to the expanse of windows across from his mammoth bed. Harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breathe the night.

    then I wouldn’t read any more at all. I was confused by this – did his firm lips swing open to breathe? You need to work on your structure and phrasing.

    I’d be more interested in the back story if your writing focused on that first.

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  10. Sarabeth
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:08:02

    Getting through the first paragraph was difficult for me. I instantly didn’t like the character. Then, the author presents me with history. Too much telling, not enough action. Nothing moves the story forward. I wouldn’t move past the first paragraph if I picked this up in a book store.

    ReplyReply

  11. theo
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:10:06

    I was very confused through this entire page.

    I am still trying to figure out how the first paragraph fits with everything else I read.

    You write about WWI and then renaissance fairs which are a fairly modern occurrence now. So, are we reading a story set shortly after WWI, or something in much more modern times? His ‘fifteen years on the front lines of world politics’ doesn’t tell me if that was before, during or after the war so I have no sense of time here.

    This section:

    She was restless tonight. Her body ached and she sighed as she threw off covers. Unable to sleep, she was… fear suddenly gripped her…

    NO! Alex rejected threads of emotion reaching for him. He would not put up with some phantom female slipping in and out of his soul. The hard evidence that his body disagreed throbbed between his legs. Alex stretched, flexing layers of tense muscle to deny the ethereal sensation of gentle hands sliding down his taut body. A scent drifted on the air but he chose to consign it to the night blooming jasmine far below. There were no soft sighs disappearing with the mist.

    …really makes no sense. He feels her sudden fear, then ethereal sensations from gentle hands. What is it? Is she being suddenly threatened and calling for his help? Or is she trying to seduce him? It has to be one or the other. These two thoughts are disjointed at best.

    And your last line:

    Scrubbing a hand down his face, he turned to his starkly empty bed.

    Is the complete opposite of your opening paragraph and the sense I get that he has a woman in his bed, one he doesn’t give a rip about, she’s ‘filler’, as he pines for while pushing away, the one who invades his thoughts.

    Not enough of one thing to give me a good idea of the premise on this. I would have to pass on reading it. I think if you can rearrange things and tighten up your writing, it would be worth a second read but as it stands, no, I wouldn’t get past the first few paragraphs.

    Sorry.

    ReplyReply

  12. veinglory
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:11:50

    I think that something needs to actually be happening on the first page. You can demonstrate most of the backstory through dialogue and action rather than essentially narrating it over a series of grimaces and a bit of pacing around. Just my 2c.

    ReplyReply

  13. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:27:58

    I’m not put off by the guy’s personality. I don’t mind if he thinks all women are interchangeable, except for a certain witch. You’ve set a sexy tone and I like that.

    I agree that there are some POV problems. A character notices the facial expressions of the person he is talking to, not his own.

    As others have said, there is too much background information here. I’m not sure I understand how the countries disappeared after they weren’t included on a map. Is that plausible?

    ReplyReply

  14. Anon76
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:36:27

    As others have said, way too much info for a first page. Actually, IMHO, this is too much info jammed together no matter where the page lies in the book. The reader has to take time to sort through the back and forths of past to present, and that slows the reading down to a crawl.

    In the opening, we need only learn just enough about the character to pique our interest regarding his dilemma.

    And I also agree with Theo about the opening and ending seeming to be at odds with each other. While I feel focusing on these elements would make for a strong opening, it will take some serious re-editing to bring things back into line.

    I wish you the best. Cutting and slashing is most every author’s least favorite part of writing. Be strong. Make a slush file to paste your cuts to. In that way the sentences you have come to love won’t just dissappear. You can revisit them with a better perspective on whether they can be used in current form later in the manuscript.

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  15. Deirdre
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:40:09

    The first paragraph also almost pushed me away and there was too much there but I was also interested in some of what was going on under some of the writing that jarred. A story that could sell to me if it had more editing.

    ReplyReply

  16. cecilia
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:46:24

    This may be a dumb question, but is this “first page” shaped for reading in this context? I.e., are we getting so much information because we can’t read further, and can’t refer to the back blurb for the overall set-up? I ask this because I’m sure I’ve read comments (and maybe even posted one or two) that said something about not knowing enough about the situation/characters/backstory for the first page to make sense or be assessible. I agree that there is a lot of information here (too much), but when I imagine it without all those facts, it because a less distinguishable from a many other novels, and I find the premise intriguing. If we knew those background facts from an intro blurb, though, the writer could get on with a tighter opening without us losing a sense of the bigger picture.

    Therefore, I’m wondering whether a combination blurb and first page might be useful for getting feedback, with comments focusing on the first page, because the blurb on the actual book wouldn’t be written by the author.

    ReplyReply

  17. HK
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:51:47

    I liked the first paragraph. I was intrigued by the whole concept of what I assumed (based on the first line) to be a very frustrated male.

    But then you went into other stuff. Back Story I didn’t care about (at this time) when I was expecting more of So why was he not doing a willing female, there were plenty around… etc

    I wanted more to happen on this first page. You intrigued me with the first paragraph, then lost me. I probably wouldn’t have read on.

    Sorry. I like the idea though.

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  18. Jill Myles
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 09:58:54

    You know, I might be the lone opposition…I liked it. It actually held my interest past the first paragraph (and most don’t).

    Some of the sentences made me cringe, but those can be easily fixed with another read through or a good beta. I do think the info dump can be trimmed down/cut away so there’s more action on the page. We want to see the hero doing something!

    But overall? Good voice, and good set-up, concept-wise. I’m all over predatory alpha men hunting for a woman. :)

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  19. Marjorie Liu
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 10:01:19

    Actually, I loved the first paragraph.

    After that, show more and tell less. Streamline. Otherwise, I think this is an excellent start.

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  20. JaimeK
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 10:15:26

    As a reader, with the obvious clean up, I was intrigued enough that I would turn the page. The big HOWEVER? This sentence would have to go “Harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breathe the night.” I thought about that sentence the entire time I was reading – I visualized his lips fluttering in the breeze or swinging back and forth completely independent from the rest of his face. I even went back and read it several times thinking that I had to be reading that incorrectly. Nope. Read as written.

    I agree with Ms. Liu – “show more and tell less” and for sure keep going. I do think you have something.

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  21. LauraB
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 10:16:29

    Hmmm…. You’ve got guts here to post something still being formed for critique. I think the difficulty is that you start out with the protagonist being an all-around jaded bastard and then proceed to defend him by providing us with his back story.

    BTW, I really thought the backstory was interesting and wonder if it couldn’t be given in a sort of prologue so that we have the hero’s context before we get his POV.

    I’m not a huge fan of the sexism he displays at the start. I like my alphas to actually like women even if they can’t or won’t be intimate with them beyond the swapping of body fluids. Also with your “harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breath the night” also made him sound like a mouth-breather, which isn’t at all sexy unless the inbred do it for you.

    Good luck! I think the story has potential and the character of Alex has glimmers of interest (love the whole reluctant king thing).

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  22. Backstorybound
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 10:27:32

    There is nothing so helpful as cold eyes looking at a ms. Thank you all for taking the time to read it and providing feed back!!

    Dear Author Ja(y)nes, thanks for providing this opportunity.

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  23. Gennita Low
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 11:00:26

    I like how the first paragraph set the tone. The “frustrated refusal” tells me immediately that he has been saying no and that this man is frustrated at his “pickiness.”

    The second paragraph switched to omniscient POV and that could be why it is confusing to some readers. I don’t mind it; I’ve been missing omniscient POV in my books lately. The sentence: “harsh lines bracketed firm lips as he swung them open to breathe the night” needs to be rewritten, though.

    As an experiment, perhaps you can start the story with the second paragraph, then insert first paragraph. That way, we start with the introduction of the character, then moves quickly into his POV about his current problem with his libido.

    Take out paragraphs three, four, and five for now. You can show these details later through dialogue or action.

    I like the rest that follows. So you get this:

    Alexander Francis Jozef VIII, King of Dracovia, Guardian of Kersonov, moved through the dark room in barefoot silence to the expanse of windows across from his mammoth bed. He swung them open to breathe the night. Far past midnight but a long way from dawn, it was the predator's hour and he wanted nothing more than to hunt. Hunt the witch screwing with his libido. Doing it bare assed wasn't a problem but would probably upset the locals.

    Men do not go into heat. When faced with a line of willing women, frustrated refusal was not the correct reaction. Who the hell cares if they are the right woman? Men fuck the willing. The right woman is the one in his bed.

    His lips thinned in a grimace of concentration as he reached into the night with senses much more advanced than he'd be willing to explain. Natural abilities that edged on phenomenal were the weapons that made him a deadly opponent in his former life. Uncanny knowledge of which way an enemy would jump, night vision better than twenty/twenty and the heart of a predator had always been his. But he'd never felt the type of awareness that invaded his body this week.

    A breeze picked up, pushing the mist into swirling agitation and he felt her, the essence of a woman. He knew her the same way he'd often known there was an enemy in a place it shouldn't be. The knowledge was instinctive. With her it was more. He felt more.

    She was restless tonight. Her body ached and she sighed as she threw off covers. Unable to sleep, she was… fear suddenly gripped her…

    NO! Alex rejected threads of emotion reaching for him. He would not put up with some phantom female slipping in and out of his soul. The hard evidence that his body disagreed throbbed between his legs. He stretched, flexing layers of tense muscle to deny the ethereal sensation of gentle hands sliding down his taut body. A scent drifted on the air but he chose to consign it to the night blooming jasmine far below. There were no soft sighs disappearing with the mist.

    Scrubbing a hand down his face, he turned to his starkly empty bed.

    I italicize the second paragraph because it was in present tense and thus, a direct internal monologue. In fact, try inserting the second paragraph at the end of the first page (as he is walking towards his empty bed). It might emphasize his frustration even more.

    Thanks for letting me rearrange your work. Good luck!

    ReplyReply

  24. LauraB
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 11:24:10

    Oh and is he some sort of a dragon-shifter? Hence, dracovia which would be from the Latin, draco.

    : )

    ReplyReply

  25. Backstorybound
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 11:38:03

    Oh, nicely done Laurali, but no.

    I have to say I love the revisions to this opening. The fresh perspectives have been liberating.

    The novel is complete at over 99,000 words but the opening was not working. I’ve rewritten it, completely, twice previously without getting it right.

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  26. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 11:49:17

    The good news is this isn’t set in New Orleans and it isn’t Mardi Gras.

    The other good news is that despite the opening salvo, I liked this dark and contemplative bad-good guy and his lust.

    (I didn’t read through all the comments, though, and now see the author has chimed in on much of the above.)

    There was–as stated above–a lot of info and little movement, so my feeling is start with him sending out his senses and sensing her. You would have us all with that first perception.

    Then work on the history and the theories of male/female/vampire type person dynamics later, too, as things start to roll.

    And most definitely–get in a writing group of some kind so that you can get rid of the easily fixed but senseless writing errors.

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  27. Val Kovalin
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 12:13:39

    I’ve got to agree with some points others have made:

    1. On this first page, stick with establishing his personality and his libido problem, and move the kingdom/political info to the next scene, interspersing bits of info with action he’s taking.

    2. “Swung” isn’t the right verb for the firm lips opening.

    3. I was a little confused about the time-period and finally got it with the mention of the crumbling Soviet Empire. But as others have stated, the politics don’t seem to fit in this initial scene with his libido problems. Maybe have something else to anchor the contemporary time-period such as him reaching for his cell-phone to call one of the willing women – and then realizing he’ll be unable to get it on with them, or whatever.

    4. I also got confused over the woman seeming to be a witch deliberately casting a spell on him and his libido in the opening paragraphs and then being unconscious (sleeping) and experiencing fear in the later paragraphs. Then I read it as this woman unconsciously affecting him like this, i.e., she doesn’t know she’s doing it, though he knows and takes it personally. But the confusion did knock me out of the story momentarily.

    The hard evidence that his body disagreed throbbed between his legs.

    The line about his erection threw me because it seemed overly euphemistic and coy. Why not just say he has a hard-on? But – this could just be me coming from fantasy/mystery genres, and maybe this is totally fine in the romance genre? Take my comment with a grain of salt.

    This 574-word excerpt seems like something that’s still in the beginning stages, enough so that you the writer still have the flexibility to insert stuff that may get rearranged later: specifically the political stuff that I think you put here for our context and may have been planning to reorganize later back into its proper place later on.

    With this in mind, I think Cecilia has a great idea that will free the writers from having to do this sort of temporary info dump on their first page for our context. Let the writers provide a brief summary, like 75 to 100 words, right up front to give us context. Then let them go into their actual first page which we can critique in light of the blurb.

    This would more closely approximate the situation a reader would have in a bookstore anyway: scanning the first page and the overall description of the back cover before deciding to buy. Jane? What say you to this nifty plan? :-)

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  28. Leah
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 12:48:16

    I think Gennita has it!

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  29. Robin
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 13:13:23

    For some reason this reminded me of Jennifer Ashley’s The Mad, Bad Duke, perhaps because the hero’s name is Alex in both stories. But there are also superficial similarities to the Ashley series in the reluctant royal characterization, as well as the Eastern Europeanized setting (in the Ashley books it’s Nvengaria). These similarities may be merely coincidental, but the similar flavor put me off a bit. It may be, though, that by eliminating the backstory about the kingdom and the crown prince/king’s status might help.

    I also thought that the first paragraph was compelling.

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  30. K. Z. Snow
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 13:35:36

    I must admit, the jumble of tenses and pronouns in the first paragraph immediately discouraged me from reading further. I was definitely intrigued by the character’s outlook, but awkward prose that violates many rules of grammar just . . . discourages me from reading further. When I did forge ahead, I ran into jumbled points of view.

    If these problems, along with the info-dump issue, can be corrected, there’s a lot of potential here.

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  31. Tracey
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 13:58:52

    You lost me in the first paragraph. In fact, this is where you lost me:

    Men fuck the willing.

    My automatic reaction was, “Oh, really? Men never fuck a woman who is unwilling, huh?”

    And then to read “The right woman is the one in his bed”…well, it seemed to imply that the woman in a man’s bed could never be unwilling. Or could only be pretending to be unwilling.

    I suddenly had a feeling that the rest of the story would feature one of those male kidnappers from romance novels who needs to “master” a woman, verbally and physically, in order to get it up and a previously independent woman who turns into a super-submissive around her kidnapper and who eventually mistakes Stockholm Syndrome for love.

    Alex’s mention of “the predator’s hour” and his urge to “hunt the witch screwing with his libido” only confirmed my opinion of his personality. And his insistence that an unnamed, unknown woman–never mind that we readers have no proof that she exists–has to be messing with his mind and his sexual desires…well, I found it creepy. He’s not responsible for his thinking or his sexual impulses, oh no. It’s all the fault of that evil, evil witch-woman. That’s not romantic; that’s the mentality of an abuser. “This is all your fault! You make me do this to you!”

    And when and where is this story taking place? I can’t figure out if it’s happening:

    1) After the fall of the Soviet Union, in our world;
    2) After the fall of the Soviet Union, in an alternative world;
    3) After World War I, in an alternative world;
    4) After World War I and the downfall of fledgling Soviet Russia, in an alternative world;
    5) Current time, in our world;
    6) Current time, in an alternative world.

    Between the muddled time and setting and the odious main character, I wouldn’t buy this. I wouldn’t even rent it from a library.

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  32. Val Kovalin
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 14:50:55

    Good point, Tracey, about the time-period:

    And when and where is this story taking place? I can't figure out if it's happening:

    1) After the fall of the Soviet Union, in our world;
    2) After the fall of the Soviet Union, in an alternative world;
    3) After World War I, in an alternative world;
    4) After World War I and the downfall of fledgling Soviet Russia, in an alternative world;
    5) Current time, in our world;
    6) Current time, in an alternative world.

    I myself didn’t have the imagination to think of all these possibilities. That’s where Cecilia’s blurb-idea comes in handy as follows:

    If we knew those background facts from an intro blurb, though, the writer could get on with a tighter opening without us losing a sense of the bigger picture.

    Therefore, I'm wondering whether a combination blurb and first page might be useful for getting feedback, with comments focusing on the first page, because the blurb on the actual book wouldn't be written by the author.

    The author of this piece could just start out with the following:

    CONTEXT BLURB: Setting and time are modern-day Eastern Europe (or alt-history Eastern Europe, or whatever). Alex is the recently restored king of two small, former Soviet-bloc nations.

    FIRST PAGE: “Men do not go into heat. When faced with …” etc. which frees up the author to work the political details into later scenes.

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  33. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 18:22:33

    Speaking as a European:
    The first para or so is pure American. Fair enough, I like American. Then it swings wildly into Europe, then back to America?
    I got really confused with the timeline. World War I wasn’t called that until the 1950′s. The Soviet Empire didn’t crumble until the 1980′s.
    Then you get a Renaissance festival? How popular is that going to be when you have Rome, Venice and Florence on your doorstep? Festival nothing, why not go and see the real thing? There are no Renfests in Europe, there’s no point.
    The other stuff is just confusing. A historical, a fantasy, and what’s with all the backstory that doesn’t make sense?
    I’d say start where the action starts, do your research and maybe get someone in Europe to beta-read for you.

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  34. LarisaM
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 19:54:05

    If you’re thinking about submitting this to a publisher, I would advise against. Not in the shape it’s in. It reads like something written by a rank beginner who needs to bone up on basic grammar, especially sentence structure. My advice is to hook up with a crit partner who has a solid knowledge of such things and try to clean it up.

    Best of luck! And don’t let all the negative comments get to you. We all have to start somewhere.

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  35. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 21:39:25

    You can’t get away with “Well, it was explained in the blurb.” Seriously, guys, that’s not how it works. The story has to be able to be followed from the first page, whether that’s the first page of Chapter 1 or the first page of a prologue.

    The idea of a predator-king is great. There are some great descriptions in there.

    But this is a mess right now. You have to clue people in to what’s going on without it being a big old info dump. Right now, you’ve got too much information about some things and too little information about others. It’s confusing.

    First pages are hard, I know. You can do it.

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  36. Lauren Bethany
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 22:22:47

    I like the introductory paragraph, but the huge info dump afterwards looses me. We have to wade through nine paragraphs of babble before we get back to the frustrated male. The information in these expendable paras can be incorporated later to build the backstory and the action.

    Keep the starting page in one spot. Tell us more about the frustrated man, hint at the woman who is driving him crazy and give us the info in bits and pieces later.

    I also want to point out that we don’t need to be introduced to characters by their full names and titles. A formal introduction seems out of place here. We can be given a hint of royalty with a description of his posh surroundings. Dropping in a word here and there would also give us a hint of where and when he is, too.

    Now, grammer, sentence structure, basic phrasing… there are too many problems here to fix in this forum. This would be acceptable for a rough, not for submitting to an agent, editor or even a crit. If you can’t see the problems find a CP who can rip it apart and help you put it back together.

    I find this setup intriguing, the first sight of the hero is promising, but it needs a lot of work before it’s readable.

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  37. Mothella
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 22:23:25

    The opening would NOT make me want to buy this book. At all. I would have put it down after the first paragraph. Especially if Mr. Sexist Alpha-Male gone bad is our hero.

    And if that hadn’t been the clincher there was too, too much navel-gazing info-dump on the first page. It’s jarring and unnecessary and almost impossible to get through- certainly not enjoyable to get through- which should be your aim. Don’t forget that, if this stuff is really all that important, you have 300 some odd pages left to get it into the story. Readers don’t need to- or really want to- know absolutely everything about the last 15 years of the character’s life on the first PAGE.

    I too had problems with someone thinking about their own facial expression like that.

    Oh and 99,000 words isn’t that a bit…long? I’m not up on standard Romance word counts, but generally the cap for anything that’s not space-opera or high fantasy is 85K to 90K. You got about 10,000 extra words, buddy.

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  38. Dee
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 00:09:17

    Umm…this kinda reminds me of Dark Prince by Christine Feehan. The deep insightful (macho) leader contemplated the future and past downfall of his country/people…..

    Hated the first paragraph, but storyline sounds decent

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  39. Ann Somerville
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 01:40:17

    I'm not up on standard Romance word counts, but generally the cap for anything that's not space-opera or high fantasy is 85K to 90K. You got about 10,000 extra words, buddy.

    The advice for authors is that a story is as long as it needs to be. Until you read the entire story, talking about whether it’s too long, is a bit previous.

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  40. Bernita
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 03:09:05

    There are no Renfests in Europe,

    Except that there are.

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  41. Jane
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 23:23:54

    I’m not sure whether we should have blurbs or not in addition to the first page. I’m not opposed to allowing something longer than a first page (i.e., 2 pages or something like that). I’ve actually been thinking alot lately about how many pages in an average reader will give a book because I have found myself putting down a lot of books after the first three or four pages.

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  42. Ann Somerville
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 23:27:04

    My feeling is that blurbs are often not written by the author, so to judge them together is misleading. Also, a couple of pages might be okay, but longer than that and I feel that I would be acting as a de facto beta for the author. In all the pages that have worked, it’s been easy to judge the writing and tenor of the work. It’s impossible to give a full assessment without reading at least a couple of chapters, but that’s not really appropriate or possible here. Unless you want to set up a reading club or something, I think you’re doing as much as you can in a blog.

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  43. Moth
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 23:30:19

    The advice for authors is that a story is as long as it needs to be. Until you read the entire story, talking about whether it's too long, is a bit previous.

    Ok, here’s the thing: we’re talking about selling this right? To an agent, to an editor. And I’m working under the assumption that this is a debut author with little or no pub credits. SO you want to make your story as appealing as possible for the query. Word count is a big part of that. You don’t want to give agents a reason to auto-reject you. True, some will not reject based on word count alone but some will:
    http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/ Like Bookends. Who are successful, reputable agents that rep Paranormal Romance.

    This author’s word count seems to be OK but on the long side for ANY novel. 100,000 is the cap for ALL genres so she’s on the edge. Like I said, I’m not up on the appropriate word counts for Romance so I don’t know if she should be closer to 75K or 90K. But this is something to keep in mind for revisions.

    And sure you can write a 200,000 word novel if that is what the muse dictates. But it will have to be pretty exceptional to sell- especially for a first timer. So, Ms Somerville, please don’t take me to task for trying to provide some realistic advice for this author.

    Best of luck,
    Moth
    :D

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  44. Moth
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 23:48:22

    Urgh…And then my first AND second go at this responce seemed to have been eaten so here we go again.

    Ann Somerville wrote:

    The advice for authors is that a story is as long as it needs to be. Until you read the entire story, talking about whether it's too long, is a bit previous.

    Here’s the thing: it’s all well and good to think you can just write as long a book as your muse dictates. But good luck selling it- especially if you’re a new author with no publishing contacts. I don’t have to read something to be able to know what range of word counts are acceptable. I’m assuming this author is new to the business with little or no pub creds. Why should they cripple themselves and risk auto-rejection (and some agents- good, solid, reputable agents- will reject based on nothing but an overlong word count) if they can avoid it?

    I said I wasn’t entirely up on word counts for romance novels but the cap for most genres is 100K and this author is pushing that. Something to keep in mind for revisions. And really, for a debut author, I’ve read on agent blogs that the erring on the side of shorter is better. 85K as opposed to 100K.

    Write what you want, write what you love, make it as long as you feel it should be, but be willing to cut it down from there if you want to sell it. That’s all I’m sayin’

    Best of luck all.
    Moth
    :D

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  45. Ann Somerville
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 07:33:16

    So, Ms Somerville, please don't take me to task for trying to provide some realistic advice for this author

    I’m not taking you to task, I’m repeating advice I’ve seen a number of times from agents and publishers, most recently here.
    http://www.erecsite.com/2008/07/ask-treva-part-1-of-2-veinglory.html

    The thing is, if the story is good, the novel being at the edge of length acceptability or even over it a bit, won’t put anyone off because it can be shaved off later. Better the author writes the story she wants to tell, as well as she can, and fuss about length later. From what we’ve seen of the first page, I think she might be a way off submission.

    If the novel was 200k, or even 150k, then it might be a priority, but 99K doesn’t strike me as ridiculous. It definitely varies by genre too. “100,000 is the cap for ALL genres” is not true for science fiction and fantasy, for instance, and I’d be surprised if it’s true for historicals, where long is definitely acceptable.

    Tightening the MS is always a good thing, regardless of word limits and length, and if the author can do this as part of her process of making this more coherent etc, then good.

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  46. Lauren Bethany
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 08:32:24

    On the subject of blurbs: I think including them with the first page would defeat the purpose of posting the first. The first page or pages, should introduce the reader to the character and story without a blurb to set the stage. I would be in favor of giving a time and location (London, 1811; Present Day Chicago; or Planet X, 3200), as many books which put the reader in an alternate time do, but giving us background that wouldn’t be available to a reader wouldn’t do justice to the author in the long run.

    To the subject of word counts: I was told early on that there are no hard and fast rules for length. If a publisher or agent gives a word count it’s an approximate goal, but they are flexible to allow for the story to be told. An editor stating a 100,000 limit wouldn’t reject a 120,000 based on the count if the story justfied the extra 20,000 words. If there really is extra baggage it can be taken out, shaved off and cut back in the rewrite and editing processes. Based on this I’ve never considered word counts to be an issue. As far as I’m concerned the story’s the thing and it should be the priority.

    JMHO

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  47. Moth
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 10:12:51

    Curse me and my impatience. I knew that first comment would get posted as soon as I posted the second. *sigh*

    Ann Somerville:

    “100,000 is the cap for ALL genres” is not true for science fiction and fantasy,

    which I mentioned in my first comment (“generally the cap for anything that's not space-opera or high fantasy is 85K to 90K”) and so didn’t feel needed repeating in the second.

    but 99K doesn't strike me as ridiculous.

    Didn’t say it was, I said, in fact: “This author's word count seems to be OK but on the long side for ANY novel.” Which is true. And since she should probably tighten and trim anyway aiming for a shorter word count can only, I think, help the book’s chances. I think if an agent is on the fence about looking at your book they are more likely to request a 75K to 85K book than a 100K book. Even the fact that you could GET your book down to a shorter word length is a recommendation since newbie writers’ books tend to sprawl more often than not.

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  48. cecilia
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 10:22:02

    The first page or pages, should introduce the reader to the character and story without a blurb to set the stage. I would be in favor of giving a time and location (London, 1811; Present Day Chicago; or Planet X, 3200), as many books which put the reader in an alternate time do, but giving us background that wouldn't be available to a reader wouldn't do justice to the author in the long run.

    Why? The first page isn’t much space to give much more than a sense of voice and character and maybe setting. I’ve been leafing through some of the books I’ve been reading lately (and they’re almost without exception books that people here and at SB have raved about), and there’s often very little hint of what the conflict or plot will be about, or what the unique ins and outs of the setting are, if any. (I’m thinking especially of Bujold’s books). This particular first page is being criticized for being an info dump. I think it’s partly because the author is trying to show some of the distinguishing characteristics of her story and characters, which wouldn’t all come out on the first page normally. She could leave all the political stuff out and it would make the writing tighter, but then it would sound like a million other stories. If she could write an intro blurb to say something about that stuff, we could take it as a given that this information would be revealed as we read on. And as far as not doing justice to the author, how many people jump into a book cold, unaffected and uninformed by query letter/cover image/blurb? If people will forgive an actual example of what I’m talking about, here’s the first bit of Shards of Honor, almost the same number of words as what was provided of Any Price: (The formatting got lost in the copying, but try to ignore that)

    A sea of mist drifted through the cloud forest, soft, grey, luminescent. On the high ridges the fog showed brighter as the morning sun began to warm and lift the moisture, although in the ravine a cool, soundless dimness still counterfeited a pre-dawn twilight. Commander Cordelia Naismith glanced at her team botanist and adjusted the straps of her biological collecting equipment a bit more comfortably before continuing her breathless climb. She pushed a long tendril of fog-dampened copper hair out of her eyes, clawing it impatiently toward the clasp at the nape of her neck. Their next survey area would definitely be at a lower altitude. The gravity of this planet was slightly lower than on their home world of Beta Colony, but it did not quite make up for the physiological strain imposed by the thin mountain air. Denser vegetation marked the upper boundary of the forest patch. Following the splashy path of the ravine’s brook, they bent and scrambled through the living tunnel, then broke into the open air. A morning breeze was ribboning away the last of the fog on the golden uplands. They stretched endlessly, rise after rise, culminating at last in the great grey shoulders of a central peak crowned by glittering ice. This world’s sun shone in the deep turquoise sky giving an overwhelming richness to the golden grasses, tiny flowers, and tussocks dotted everywhere of a silvery plant like powdered lace. Enveloped by the silence, the two explorers gazed entranced at the mountain above. The botanist, Ensign Dubauer, grinned over his shoulder at Cordelia and fell to his knees beside one of the silvery tussocks. She strolled to the nearest rise for a look at the panorama behind them. The patchy forest grew denser down the gentle slopes. Five hundred meters below, banks of clouds stretched like a white sea to the horizon. Far to the west, their mountain’s smaller sister just broke through the updraft-curdled tops. Cordelia was just wishing herself on the plains below, to see the novelty of of water falling from the sky, when she was jarred from her reverie. “Now what the devil can Rosemont be burning to make a stink like that?” she murmured. An oily black column of smoke was rising beyond the next spur of the mountain slope, to be smudged, thinned, and dissipated by the upper breezes. It certainly appeared to be coming from the location of their base camp. She studied it intently. A distant whining, rising to a howl, pierced the silence. Their planetary shuttle burst from behind the ridge and boomed across the sky above them, leaving a sparkling trail of ionized gases. “What a take-off!” cried Dubauer, his attention wrenched skyward. Cordelia keyed her short-range wrist communicator and spoke into it. “Naismith to Base One. Come in, please.” A small, empty hiss was her sole reply. She called again, twice, with the same result. Ensign Dubauer hovered anxiously at her elbow. “Try yours,” she said. But his luck was no better. “Pack up your stuff, we’re going back to camp,” she ordered. “Double time.” They struggled toward the next ridge at a gasping jog, and plunged back into the forest. The spindly bearded trees at this altitude were often fallen, tangled. They had seemed artistically wild on the way up; on the way down they made a menacing obstacle course. Cordelia’s mind ratcheted over a dozen possible disasters, each more bizarre than the last.

    All you get is the sense that it’s a science fiction story, with destruction about to be discovered, and some details about one of the main characters. Absolutely nothing about the main conflict or how the two main characters will meet and interact is here.
    With a blurb (such as the one from Fictionwise), you get the bigger picture, and, in my opinion, are in a better position to say whether it’s going to interest you.

    First novel in the popular series that begins with the inauspicious meeting of Betan astrocartographer Cordelia Naismith and Barrayaran Captain Aral Vorkosigan during a treacherous war. As captor and prisoner on an abandoned outpost planet, the honorable captain and the resolute scientist must rely on each others’ trust to survive a trek across dangerous terrain, thus sparking a relationship that shares the struggles of culture and politics between their worlds.

    My feeling is that blurbs are often not written by the author, so to judge them together is misleading.

    My thought was that the first page would be judged in light of the information provided by the blurb, not to judge the quality of the blurb. However, if there seemed to be serious potential plot problems or unoriginality (or the reverse) outlined in the blurb, that might be worth noting.

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  49. Moth
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 10:29:16

    One of the agents on my morning blog roll happened to link to an old post of hers on word counts. What perfect timing! Here’s the link for those interested (caveat: she’s mostly SF/F)

    http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html

    Straight from the agent Colleen Lindsay of Fine Print Lit’s keyboard: “…sometimes a writer just writes a long book because they aren’t yet a very good writer. Good writers learn how to pare a manuscript down to its most essential elements, carving away the word count fat that marks so many beginning writers…[and] for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.”

    ~Moth

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  50. Moth
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 10:37:20

    The first page or pages, should introduce the reader to the character and story without a blurb to set the stage.

    How many books do you decide to read based on nothing but the first page?

    I would be in favor of trying a short blurb with these because the idea is whether readers on DA would like to read the book. Also, as far as selling it to agents and editors, even then you get a cover letter and pages (in many cases only the cover letter actually). I think more context wouldn’t hurt readers’ critiques of these pages. Even setting and time would be a help.

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  51. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:26:42

    When you’re writing, you can’t rely on the blurb to do your work for you.

    There are readers who will never see a blurb: some libraries, for instance, bind paperbacks in a way that doesn’t preserve the cover at all. Very few recordings of books for the visually-impaired begin with a reading of the cover or jacket copy.

    Yes, like everyone else, when I’m in reader mode and picking out books in the store or library, I look at the blurb and the jacket or cover copy.

    But in writer mode, you need to create a manuscript that stands on its own.

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  52. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:30:24

    I’m on the fence about including blurbs with this feature.

    Yes, I’d like a little more info or a longer excerpt before making my call, but I’m not sure including blurbs is the way to do it.

    A blurb isn’t quite as detailed as the synopsis that would be included if the writer was pitching the book in editors–it’s more a grab-me-quick sort of thing and it doesn’t always do much to set the stage. Wouldn’t recommend including a synopsis, either.

    Maybe something along the lines….

    Book A is a paranormal romance set in an alternate reality featuring XXXX, the hero and XXXX,the heroine who must first learn to work together before they can save the world.

    That’s not written blurb style. But it tells me who the main characters are…there was one a few weeks ago where the heroine was with a guy I’m thinking wasn’t the hero, but it wasn’t made clear in the short excerpt we had to read.

    Those kind of details aren’t necessarily going to always be apparent in the very first page-a lot of heroes/heroines don’t have their first meeting until a few pages in.

    Some sort of set up info might make it easier. I wouldn’t advise anything more than offering a short set up, though. Too often, that complicates things.

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  53. Moth
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:40:21

    At the very least I think it might be a good idea to include genre, setting and time period with these first pages.

    Maybe one of the Janes should do a poll?

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  54. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:48:27

    Maybe just a couple of lines. Genre and time. I gave up trying to work the setting for my historicals in the text, after a little research readers seem to prefer a little ‘orienting’ sentence in italics at the top, eg
    “London, July 1754.”
    So many authors are using this method these days, I think the first pagers should have it too, if they want it.
    With this particular entry, and some of the others, I’ve struggled with if it’s a fantasy or a contemporary. This story could easily be an “alternate universe” story, in which case, a lot of what I said would be irrelevant (your world, your rules!)

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  55. Robin
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 13:03:05

    Can I just say that I miss the longer, epic-scope Romances? Not that I’m in favor of long books just for the sake of length. But I think the trend in the opposite direction has hurt the genre, especially by forcing even more shorthand than ever.

    Oh, and I second the idea that it’s much easier to cut than to add. It’s like wrapping a present: if you have too much paper, you can cut without anyone knowing the excess was there, but if you have too little, everyone can see the patch.

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  56. MoJo
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 13:13:23

    Can I just say that I miss the longer, epic-scope Romances? Not that I'm in favor of long books just for the sake of length. But I think the trend in the opposite direction has hurt the genre, especially by forcing even more shorthand than ever.

    Heartfelt ditto.

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  57. cecilia
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 13:25:19

    But in writer mode, you need to create a manuscript that stands on its own.

    Well, yeah, but are you expected to write a first page that stands on its own, removed from the context of the rest of the book? Of course not. The fact is, we’re not getting the whole MS which presumably stands on its own, so why not have something to provide a bit of essential information?

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  58. Janine
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:02:59

    Can I just say that I miss the longer, epic-scope Romances?

    Heartfelt ditto.

    Me three.

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  59. Moth
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:12:35

    Robin said:

    Oh, and I second the idea that it's much easier to cut than to add. It's like wrapping a present: if you have too much paper, you can cut without anyone knowing the excess was there, but if you have too little, everyone can see the patch.

    This is true. I did not mean to imply I thought the author should censor themself when writing. On the contrary: i know I throw in everything I think needs to be there in the first draft, elaborate even more in the second. The missing step might be that once I get the story structure in shape I go back in for some hardcore hack and slash to tighten my book into a literary hard-body.

    I’m not advocating self-censoring or muse muffling to manage word count. I am advocating a hard editorial eye and ruthless red pen to keep stories that don’t need to be overly long in check.

    My fault for not making that distinction clear enough. Sorry.

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  60. Robin
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:32:20

    Moth: I agree with you that not every writer has a tight 120K MS in them. Bigger isn’t always better, as that agent you linked to pointed out. OTOH, you don’t want that writer who has an amazing 140K MS in them to edit it down to 90K just because they don’t think anyone will take it otherwise. It’s a dilemma, and one that favors the average. Which, yeah, makes it important to have a number of people ruthlessly read your text before cutting or adding anything.

    As a reader, I’m not sure which is more disappointing to me, a bloated book or an underdeveloped one. But I definitely think that we’re getting more underdeveloped books these days, and I am a bit concerned about that.

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  61. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:43:49

    Cecilia wrote: Well, yeah, but are you expected to write a first page that stands on its own, removed from the context of the rest of the book?

    Yes.

    You want a first page that keeps the reader reading.

    The first page doesn’t need to contain all of the information in the book, of course. But it needs to be able to engage the reader on its own, without any of the information that’s in a blurb or jacket copy or the rest of the manuscript.

    Of course not. The fact is, we're not getting the whole MS which presumably stands on its own, so why not have something to provide a bit of essential information?

    It might be helpful in evaluating how well the first page sets up the rest of the book.

    But it wouldn’t be necessary to evaluating how well the first page works on its own.

    I suppose it depends on which goal is primary in this exercise.

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  62. MoJo
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:57:03

    You want a first page that keeps the reader reading.

    I’m sorry, but my attention span’s not that short. I buy on the blurb, period. I don’t look at the first page when buying because I don’t expect it to hook me; I want to be drawn in gradually, which ties into…

    But I definitely think that we're getting more underdeveloped books these days, and I am a bit concerned about that.

    There is no time for development, a gradual blossoming of story like a lotus flower, when you must must must at all costs and forever and ever amen have a first page that’s a contrivance to get my attention. My attention was got with the blurb; that’s why I’m reading it.

    I also think it does a disservice to readers by implication: That the reader isn’t tolerant enough to read for 25 pages or whatever to find out if they want to continue. It takes me about 50 pages to figure out if I want to buy the lie I’m being told and the abrupt beginnings only annoy me into giving it less of a chance.

    I don’t want to be jarred with that trick all the time (which is a must for the shorter books and to me, 75k is a SHORT book).

    Draw me in, seduce me, caress my mind.

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  63. Lauren Bethany
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 16:13:35

    Are we judging the book or the hook, though?

    The first page give a very good view of the author’s writing style and voice. It’s all that’s needed to know if we are or aren’t intrigued by the characters introduced. In this case, it’s enough for us to know there is some very nice writing lost in TMIland.

    I’m not saying having a scenerio review or blurb is a bad thing, I simply see it as something separate. The first should be able to stand on it’s own.

    I also understand what you’re saying about word counts, however I don’t see it as a priority until the book is getting down to the final draft. Even then it comes down to the words being justified. I’m not saying word count guidelines should be thrown out the window, just that they shouldn’t be considered a firm cap… and as Robin said, it’s easier to cut than add.

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  64. Julia Sullivan
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 17:35:14

    MoJo, I understand that you’re describing your experience as a reader, and I would never dream of dismissing that. Heck, I wish all readers were like you!

    But that’s not how agents and editors read books. The blurb isn’t part of the book, it’s part of the packaging. The first page has to engage the reader–that doesn’t mean that it has to be a “contrivance” or anything of the sort.

    And if you give a book a chance for 50 pages, I applaud your patience. The conventional wisdom in publishing is that you have to connect with the reader on the first page, and that’s how agents and editors read manuscripts.

    The conventional wisdom may well be wrong, of course. But at the moment, it’s something that writers would do well to keep in mind.

    And there are a lot of ways to engage readers on the first page. You don’t have to do all your characterization or worldbuilding or whatever. You don’t have to start with a gripping action scene.

    But you do have to establish a compelling voice that draws readers into the story.

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  65. Another Jane
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 18:26:20

    First off I’ll say that I would want to read this book if the author cleaned up some of the things others have mentioned.

    That said, I don’t necessarily want a full blurb with these first pages. I think blurbs can color my reaction a little too much set me up for something before I’ve even begun reading. And if the goal is for “cold eyes” as this author calls them, then a blurb wouldn’t work for me. I would like a time, setting, type of romance description.

    Mostly I’d like the exerpts to be a little longer which I think would alleviate the need for a blurb. Two pages as Jane suggests? I don’t know. But a little more would be welcome. Of course that just makes it harder when I like what’s been posted (makes me want the book right now!).

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  66. Seressia
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 21:50:19

    FWIW, Avon’s submission guidelines say 90-100 K for paranormal, historical and contemporary romance. Berkley’s guidelines also say 100K. So there are some romance houses which will look at longer books. That’s why researching the market is important before shopping the book around. So this author now knows thanks to this blog that there are at least two agencies that she shouldn’t try to submit to. (And I’m not being facetious about that)

    I think the standout so far of Query Saturday was that paranormal with the crime scene photographer. No info dump. Very much in the moment. It took a bit to even realize the main character was female. That first page had some wobbles, but it very much stood out, so much so that I still remember it. So I think a first page can stand on its own. I like the idea of the one-sentence set up, and I do think this entry needs a “byline” because I couldn’t tell when it was.

    I never buy a book on blurb alone. Blurbs are usually written by the marketing department to sell the story, and sometimes they’re not incredibly accurate. Blurbs only make me open the book to see how the writing is. The writing makes me buy the book. And that’s why this First Page Saturday is important.

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  67. Lynne
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 06:31:35

    I’m 50/50 on the blurb. I agree with Seressia that they’re often inaccurate, so a blurb alone isn’t enough to get that book into my shopping cart. I read the first few pages and sometimes even the LAST page before I make a decision. I’ve been burned enough times by crappy endings that I won’t take a chance on a new-to-me author without reading the end first. There have been a few books — clearly branded as romance, shelved in the romance section, yadda yadda — in which hero, heroine, or both were actually DEAD at the end of the book. And not a “they lived a long life together and were buried side by side” kinda dead, either. Oy.

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