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First Page: Contemporary

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously.


Sarah Jenkins had never  played hockey, much less coached it.

Yet here she sat, perched on the edge of the seat in her SUV, staring up at the hulking building the fans in Buffalo had affectionately nicknamed "The Barn". It was the arena the Buffalo Intimidators of the NHL played in, and since Sarah had been hired a few weeks' prior as a consulting coach for the team, it was where she would be spending a lot of time in the coming months.

Excitement didn't seem like an adequate word to describe her mood. This job and the move it necessitated were a fresh start for her – new town, new job, and hopefully some new friends. Forcing herself to relax, she leaned her head against the head rest behind her and tried to recall a time when she'd been anticipating something more. Not even her first day as a CIA agent years ago compared, and certainly nothing since then even came close.

Jumping out of the car, she hit the alarm remote and then grunted as she turned and crashed into a veritable brick wall, stumbling for a moment at the force of the impact. She glanced up at man in front of her in surprise – she didn't know it was possible for a man to feel that solid.

After he gave her a long, thorough once-over that left her skin feeling hot and feverish, she blew out the breath she'd been holding. Her reaction to him was positively primal, and she wondered idly if this is what scientists meant when they said women were attracted to males they subconsciously thought had the strongest DNA. As far as she could see, this man's DNA seemed to be damn near perfect.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, and she immediately noticed a sexy French-Canadian accent, her knees weakening as soon as he spoke. Like most women, she was a sucker for accents.

"I'm, um, fine," she stammered, her heart pounding against her rib cage from the remains of the fight or flight reaction she'd had when they'd collided and undoubtedly also from the pure rush of lust this man evoked in her.

The top of her head barely reached his chest, so she craned her neck to get a better look at his face. She was glad she'd made the effort: he was gorgeous. Bringing her hand to her mouth, she nibbled absently at one of her nails and detected a glimmer of male interest as he stared back at her. Finally he took a step back and motioned for her to pass.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Danielle D
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 04:42:58

    Ok, I want more! I’m hooked!

  2. Aislinn Macnamara
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 06:20:03

    If you’re going to use a fictional name for the hockey team, I’d suggest a fictional league, as well. Anyone who knows hockey knows that the Buffalo team is the Sabres.

    I also have a little trouble suspending my disbelief that a NHL team –NHL, not the minor leagues, but the big time– would hire someone with zero experience to become a “consulting coach.”

    So I’m afraid you lost me at the second paragraph. Sorry.

  3. JJ
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 06:23:49

    You have piqued my interest. It sounds like a book I would buy.

  4. okbut
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:01:25

    I agree with the Sabres thing, your story starts on an unbelievable note, that a complete stranger to the game of hockey, would somehow land a job as a consultant coach, would be excited by the prospect and then we find out she is or was a CIA agent…
    The lady comes across as unprofessional and not quite right in the head. If she did get this job for whatever reason, she should be terrified on her first day, and her encounter with the big French Canadian leaves her bitting her nails? how old is she, 12? does not come across like a CIA agent who has experience with uncomfortable situations and should have much more self control.
    Your first page has to many incongruous elements, as if you haven’t quite decided who your protagonist is and what she is doing.

  5. job
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:22:08

    I love a good espionage story. In this case, though, the First Page feels a little scattered. We seem to just be rushing through backstory and introduction. Can that background wait? May I suggest you look at Sarah’s situation and pick about three things she would be concerned with right then.

    Maybe she’d be thinking —

    ‘I have a parking space in the employee lot. Cool.’
    ‘I’m going to bring down Big Ricky, Crime Boss and Game Fixer.’
    ‘At last. Undercover again. I love undercover work.’

    I have concerns about the set up. As Aislinn M. said above, a coaching job seems unlikely for a woman with no experience.

    And an undercover operative would want to be much lower profile. Maybe consider something along the lines of consulting nutritionist, there to regulate team diet, or a publicist/photographer, or somebody doing an internal audit who needs to track everyday expenses.

    In this introduction to Sarah, you probably want to emphasize those characteristics that make her an effective agent. She would be canny, practical, tough and so on.

    Final thought — Is she CIA still? Despite what you see on TV, the CIA is not allowed to operate inside the United States.

  6. Mary G
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:35:53

    I loved it, love athlete stories. Maybe I missed something: I just assumed that she’d been doing something else since the CIA. If she’s still CIA & undercover, then she’d be prepared for this job. Not being American, I don’t know but can’t the CIA travel for cases? The team is based in Buffalo.

  7. Gen D.
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:39:35

    For the critique:

    1.I agree with Aislinn M., the factual inaccuracies combined with Sarah’s lack of experience are distracting. As a reader, I don’t want to be drawn out of the story trying to remember the real name of Buffalo’s NHL team or if it would be possible for me to get a job surrounded by professional athletes with no experience required.

    If this story centers around the NHL, then NHL fans will be the most excited to read it. You don’t want fans questioning the author’s knowledge of their sport instead of enjoying the story.

    2.This may just a personal preference, but the blatant CIA name drop made me groan. The ex-CIA angle has been done before. Many many many times. If you’re going to use it, find a way to work it into the story in a way that makes your character unique.

    Maybe Sarah’s first instinct when she literally runs into Mr. Sexy is to reach for her gun or karate chop his throat, and she has to remind herself that she’s moved on now. She’s a consulting coach on her first day, not an intelligence operative on a mission, so she has to fight to control the instincts she honed to a fine point when she was in the CIA.

    3.The CIA possibly involves being shot at. Consulting for a hockey team, even if you have no experience, will probably not be life threatening. If she’s more excited about this job than she was about the CIA, we need to know why.

    4.I think the bottom paragraph needs to be moved up some. Let him look at her. Her look at him. Then let the hearts start racing and the blood start pumping.

    5.In paragraph 5, it is not an idle moment if she’s suddenly hot and feverish from a stranger’s glance. The DNA sidebar reads a little like an out of body experience.

    With all that said, I think the writing is basically solid, even if the plot needs a little tweaking. I would be interested to read more. Good Luck!

  8. Sunita
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:46:03

    I agree that “consulting coach” sounds odd. It isn’t a title you see in professional sports, and coaches don’t get hired at the top level without experience in the sport. However, she could be a psychologist or some other kind of therapist and be hired without professional sports experience. Or she could have a relative who’s in professional sports who’s gotten her the job because of her skill set.

    Also, some arenas have the offices and practice facilities built in, but many NHL teams practice on separate ice rinks. So, game rink in one place, admin offices there or somewhere else, practice rinks in yet another place.

    These are little niggles, but they can take the knowledgeable reader right out of the story.

    I would love to read a hockey romance, especially with a French-Canadian hero. Good luck!

  9. theo
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:55:09

    Foregoing the comments by aislinn, okbut and job (which I agree with) the overall writing needs lots and lots of tightening.

    Yet here she sat, perched on the edge of the seat in her SUV, staring up at the hulking building the fans in Buffalo had affectionately nicknamed “The Barn”. It was the arena the Buffalo Intimidators of the NHL played in, and since Sarah had been hired a few weeks' prior as a consulting coach for the team, it was where she would be spending a lot of time in the coming months.

    She sat on the edge of the seat in her SUV and stared up at the hulking building the Buffalo fans affectionately nicknamed, “The Barn.” Home of the Intimidators. As a consulting coach for the team, she would spend a lot of time there in the coming months.

    The NHL reference is redundant since we know from the first line that’s why she’s there.

    Same with several other place such as:

    This job and the move it necessitated were a fresh start for her – new town, new job, and hopefully some new friends. Forcing herself to relax, she leaned her head against the head rest behind her and tried to recall a time when she'd been anticipating something more.

    We know she’s in a new town with a new job. Leave it at that. We also know the headrest (all one word) is behind her. Been anticipating can be just anticipated.

    You can clean a lot of this up without losing your voice. There are lots of areas like that throughout this page and as much as I’m willing to suspend belief, it’s got to be because the story and the writing are really good. Right now, I can’t do that.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 09:21:58

    It needs more work. You need to think through the awkward stuff, so that the reader doesn’t.
    Most of the improbabilities are outlined above, and this isn’t a sport I’m familiar with, although I will say that in football you have to have lots of well known credentials to get a job as a coach. It’s a small world. And a female coach? In the macho world of sport, that’s big news.
    Is she still an agent? In that case, she’d be thoroughly briefed and given a cover that would work. She’d have done her homework. She wouldn’t go in ignorant of the job.
    If the NHL is a big deal like the Premiership, I’d say no way ever. She’s too ditzy, too disorganized, and too young. Ditto the CIA. A CIA agent thinks first, always, so she won’t be crashing into people without seeing them first. And if she’s operating in the US, wouldn’t she be FBI or HS?
    The first paragraph is backstory. Cut it right down, or out. The crashing into him is cliche, but it can still work. Then you tell us how she feels – you don’t show us. Or her reaction. Yes, he’s big – so what?
    “Perfect DNA” is irritating. You can’t see DNA without a powerful microscope.
    You have some problems with tense. Keep it all in the same tense, preferably past tense.
    As it stands there’s not enough believability or originality to have me reading on, but your voice is fun and I’d like more of that.

  11. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 09:33:04

    I can actually believe the set-up because of past contemporaries that do this like SEP’s It Had To Be You and Rachel Gibson’s Nothing But Trouble and See Jane Score. The trope, if we can call it that, of a woman who lands a job she knows nothing about is very fish out of the water. I think what you need to do is tell or show the reader how she got this job—like in SEP’s case Phoebe’s father died and left the team to her. There needs to be a believable reason for this woman to get this high-powering job w/ no experience. But I did like the concept.

    The mention of the CIA past experience totally threw me and made me groan because I thought oh god is this another spy-like novel. If the CIA thing does not factor into the novel at all—as in she doesn’t rely on past skills (and in your writing she doesn’t really come across as a former CIA agent to get all hot and bothered by the French-Canadian guy—I think Sarah shows her cards too soon and I would think that she would know NOT to do this from her former job), etc then why tell us about the CIA thing w/in the first few paragraphs but not tell us how she got the hockey job?

    I also agree w/Theo that there you could tighten some things.

    But overall I did like the concept, and I think you have something here if you just went deepen and strengthened a few more things. Good luck!

  12. Ann Bruce
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 09:41:36

    If this story centers around the NHL, then NHL fans will be the most excited to read it.

    Ah, no. I avoid any books with hockey, hockey players, and the NHL because I’ve yet to read a hockey romance that didn’t make my blood boil because of the inaccuracies. Really, a hockey player born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta saying “aboot” and calling hockey “ice hockey”? Please.

    Now, a Québécois hero? Oh, so many more details to get wrong.

  13. SandyO
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 10:07:55

    This set up is totally wrong. She’s a “consulting coach” for an NHL team and has never coached or played? Can’t wait to hear what they say about that on Hockey Night in Canada. If she is a CIA operative, she’s just blown her cover for being one very high profile person who will be scrutinized for her lack of experience.

  14. DS
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 12:36:33

    So what is a consulting coach?

    I googled it and came up with a lot of stuff about life and business coaches– a concept I don’t really understand although my insurance adviser has one.

  15. hapax
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 16:35:42

    Agree with most of the comments above about the unlikely set-up.

    I just want to add, I hate hate hate comments similar to “like most women, she was a sucker for accents.”

    Even if I personally *am* attracted by *some* accents, this line would make me bristle. Who the heck is the author to make sweeping generalizations like that? My first thought is “oh, yeah, and she probably loves shoe shopping and secretly wants babies, too”. My second thought is “A CIA agent who gets all woozy at a foreign accent? No wonder she washed out!” My third thought, if I get that far, is “Pass on this one.”

  16. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 18:37:17

    The more people care about the setting of your book, the more accurate you have to be. If it’s Buffalo and it’s NHL, it has to be the Sabres, or you’ve lost people.

    If she’s consulting on whatever her specialty is—personal security or mindfulness or healthy eating or yoga or whatever—don’t call her a consulting “coach”, because in professional sports coaches are people who help players build the specific skills of their sports. The other folks are consultants or trainers, not coaches.

    Tell us what she’s consulting about, so we get the “fish out of water” thing without us feeling like a professional sports organization has suddenly become Plot Stupid.

    And I hate the DNA thing. There’s no such thing as “perfect” DNA, and no scientist ever said that women were looking for men with “perfect” DNA—some scientists hypothesize with pretty much zero actual proof that humans have instincts to seek partners with compatible DNA, but that’s not the same thing.

  17. Julie Bertrand
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 19:20:45

    @Ann Bruce: Eek. Which novel was that? Not Rachel Gibson I hope.

  18. Ann Bruce
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 19:50:48

    @Julie Bertrand: Yes, it’s See Jane Score. I was willing to go with the story because I found the secondary romance interesting. Then heroine said she loved the hero’s “accent,” especially when he said “aboot” or something ridiculous like that and I was done. It’s been a few years and I have tried very, very hard to erase this book from my memory.

    I can’t remember which passage mentioned “ice hockey,” but I know the author’s research was lacking because none of the players I know refer to the sport as such–and definitely not a Canadian player.

  19. Courtney Milan
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 19:52:32

    I am on iPhone access, so can’t say much.

    But this triggers one of my pet peeves: The improper use of veritable/literal. These are words that mean “truly” or “actually.” They are not used for emphasis.

    So when you say she ran into a veritable brick wall, you’re trying to say she ran into something that was really, really hard. But, in fact, she did not run into a veritable brick wall. She ran into a *figurative* brick wall.

    It is like that commercial where someone says, “If you don’t own your own home, you are literally throwing your money away!” NO. I am figuratively throwing money away, even if I accept the premise.

    This is a very long rant for the iPhone. Sorry. Knee-jerk response.

    I think I am the only person in the entirety of the world who lets this get under her skin, so ignore it.

  20. Ann Bruce
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 20:00:12

    @Courtney Milan: No, you’re not the only one. However, I didn’t bring it up because abusing my beloved sport is the only reason I will speak up on the First Page posts these days.

    – A Canadian and die-hard hockey fan…which I think are synonymous

  21. Lynn Raye Harris
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 20:27:14

    I fully admit I don’t know the first thing about hockey. But if Chicago can have two baseball teams, why can’t Buffalo have two hockey teams? Is it just not done in the NHL? (My hubby is from Buffalo actually. I even have a Sabres jersey — but don’t ask me what anything means in a hockey game. No clue.) *g*

    And didn’t SEP give Chicago another football team? I didn’t mind it when I read her books. :)

    To the writer: I think there’s something fun and sparky in your voice. Keep writing and working on your story. Any problem areas can be revised, so don’t get discouraged. Best of luck to you. It can be hard to put your work out in public, so bravo to you.

  22. Liz
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 20:27:25

    @Courtney Milan: It’s not just you! I recently read one in which the heroine “literally shattered” (during orgasm). Ewww, must have been messy. Definitely sloppy writing.

  23. Amanda
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 20:45:53

    Hello everyone – I’m the writer of this first page. I want to address some of the comments and questions. I think it might clear up some things.

    First, I love hockey and am a huge, very knowledgeable fan. I would never write about a sport I didn’t know a lot about. Second, you can’t use a real sports team’s name without paying them royalties or some such thing, according to the research I’ve done, which is why I used a fake name. Most sports romances do the same thing for the same reason.

    Third, I was told by an editor to use the phrase “ice hockey” in the beginning to make it clear for readers who were not strong hockey fans what sport we were dealing with. Fourth, regarding her hiring: Sarah knows a lot about hockey despite never having played or coached it, but was hired because she worked in another capacity for the owner of the team after she left the CIA.

    Her hiring is a bone of contention in the book and she spends time proving herself. And yes, consulting coach and administrative coach are real hockey titles. The video coach, which is what she is, is usually called the administrative coach.

    Now, about her CIA background. She is not currently an agent. She was never a field agent – she worked in Langley exclusively. Her background is in information analysis, which is what makes her qualified on a macro level for the job with the hockey team.

    As far as the location of the offices and the rink, in Buffalo in real life there is a main arena which also has offices, and a practice arena in the suburbs. For the purposes of the story the hockey takes place only at the main arena. Considering what types of things authors bend to their will to make their stories work I don’t consider this a deal breaker.

    And regarding the mistakes from the French-Canadian aspect, my ancestry is French-Canadian, so I am already pretty familiar with the language, etc. I’m sure he won’t be perfect but I think I’ve done a pretty good job with the French-Canadian piece. :-)

    Hopefully I’ve cleared up some of the questions you all had after reading. I appreciate the comments and plan to go through all the feedback and tighten things up based on your suggestions. Thanks so much!

  24. theo
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 21:13:21

    At the risk of causing a great offense to someone here, I need to make this comment.

    If you need to do this much explaining to cover everything going on in your first page to people reading to critique, how much explaining do you think you’ll need to do for your “everyday reader” to cover everything that’s going on? In other words, this much explanation for a first page is way too much explaining and shouldn’t have to be done at all. Your reader should have exactly what they have to know at the time to move the story forward and keep their interest. If they’re left scratching their heads at the end of the paragraph, they’re not going to remain readers for long.

    And as a lifelong Wingnut (Red Wings country) I would never call it ‘ice hockey’ either and would have dismissed the editor’s suggestion at that one, hands down.

  25. Amanda
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 21:34:35

    I’m not offended. If I got offended easily I shouldn’t be in this business. However – I’ll say this. At least some of what I “explained” would be back-of-book stuff.

    If you read the back of the book you’d know she 1- was in the CIA as an information analyst but isn’t anymore, 2- was hired as a video coach but not everyone is happy about it, 3- she meets a French-Canadian hockey player. That right there would clear up several of the questions people had so they wouldn’t be so confused when they read the first page.

    As far as the royalties thing: see Deidre Martin’s hockey books, Rachel Gibson’s hockey books, or any other sports-related romance – they all change their team names for that very reason.

    If an editor doesn’t like the use of “admin coach”, I’ll change it. No biggie. I doubt the setting is going to bother anybody, and the hero isn’t going to say “aboot” or make any other dumb, stereotypical speech flubs because I know how French-Canadians talk.

  26. Mary G
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 22:35:50

    Hi Amanda
    I definitely want to read this book. I am Canadian & I agree with the “ice” hockey reference. I was a hockey mom, my son played on ice hockey teams & roller hockey teams. I never assume it’s ice hockey when talking about hockey. Books are written for the international market so we can’t assume everyone is a “ice ” hockey fan. I can’t believe a little three-letter word could piss people off LOL.

    I agree with Lynn-Raye. Sounds like a fun voice.

    Oh and the DNA thing. I took it as “chemistry” between people. I’m reading a contemp not a molecular cell biology book.

  27. Ann Bruce
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 22:41:41

    @Lynn Raye Harris: In short, no. The NHL fan base in any single city is not big enough to support two teams. In fact, Jim Balsillie wants to start a franchise in Hamilton, Ontario, but has met with huge resistance because Buttman Bettman and some of the owners fear a new team in that area would siphon fans from Toronto, Buffalo, and possibly Detroit.

  28. Mary G
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 22:45:21

    Ann you had Bettman’s name right the first time LOL. Good one.

  29. job
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 23:02:51

    I guess the question is, ‘Do the words work?’

    So ‘ice hockey’ is perfectly correct, but feels awkward and unnatural. Like talking about ‘snow skiing’ in Aspen.

    If the heroine is backstage at the opera and says she’s a ‘coach’, the reader is going to think, ‘voice coach’. At the hockey rink, the reader assumes a coach is the big sweaty sports expert, rather than someone who teaches breath control for the higher octaves.

    If the heroine says she did well at the Police Academy, the reader is going to think she did well as a rookie cop, not that she was the best typist in the front office.

    So it’s not enough that a word choice be justifiable and correct, it also has to not mislead the reader.

  30. Sunita
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 23:21:46

    @Amanda: Thanks for answering so many questions.

    Is her position as video coach integral to the plot? Because video coaches are basically like regular position coaches, except their job is to put together and break down video for players and coaches. If you know of people who hold this position in the NHL who are not experienced in hockey it would be helpful to reference them, because from what I can tell it’s the equivalent of having a woman without football experience get a job as, say, the tight ends coach on an NFL team. Not gonna happen. It’s much more of a regular coaching position than the video position at, for example, an NFL team

    I think that your knowledge and love of hockey will be very helpful in making your book more authentic. But the knowledge you have as a fan isn’t necessarily the knowledge youwould have as someone who works for a team, which is what you’re trying to convey.

    ETA: I totally agree with Mary, Ann. You shouldn’t have changed his name. You had it right the first time.

  31. Ros
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 03:31:54

  32. Ros
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 03:35:08

    @Amanda: Purchasers of ebooks don’t get to see the back of your book.

  33. Courtney Milan
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 07:24:58


    I know nothing about hockey. And for the record, I agree with Lynn Raye Harris–I think your voice is very fun.

    All that being said, you absolutely cannot rely on the back of the book to explain anything, for two reasons.

    One is that editors and agents will not have a back of the book. Ah, you say, but they will have a query letter! Um. Yes, but the gap between reading the query letter and the manuscript will likely be weeks–if not months–and the chances that they will remember it are almost zero.

    Reason two is that purchases mimic agent/editor reading. A lot of readers will buy a book, and not read it for days, weeks, months.

    Personally, I didn’t think you needed a back of the book to explain–but a lot if the comments seem to be about hickey things that sort of go in one of my ears and out the other. But I really do think that if your thought is that the back of the book will explain all of this, it’s not a good idea.

    Oh, and here’s reason three why the back of the book might not work: you might not get to write the copy. Marketing might nix your ideas. They might say, “Ex-CIA heroines don’t sell; let’s focus on her big breasts instead!” Depends on your publisher, of course, but I know people who have not seen back cover copy until it was presented to them on the cover flats that had already been printed for the upcoming book.

    So while I thought your voice was interesting and had a lot of energy, I think that relying on the back of the book to do work for you is not a good idea.

    iPhone still so plz excuse the spelling errors.

  34. Courtney Milan
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 07:28:11

    In case you are wondering, by “hickey things” I mean “hockey things.”

  35. sue
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 07:59:06

    New York has two NHL hockey teams, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers, so yes it is possible. I thought the passage was a fun read, and sure things need to be tightened up, but OMG, some people are so damn picky about small things.

  36. Lynn Raye Harris
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 08:53:03

    @AnnBruce Ah, thanks for explaining. But it does seem as if this isn’t a formal rule, which is what I was thinking. Not that I was clear when I said it. I think, in fiction, the author can get away with a bit of creative license (said by a writer who’s written her fair share of fictional kingdoms and handsome princes). As a reader, I want a good story — and yes, I admit I know diddly about hockey so I wouldn’t be sitting there going, “You can’t do that! No city can support two teams!” etc. It might be a deal breaker for you, as a dedicated hockey fan, but for me it doesn’t matter. :) I’m sorry to be a hockey idiot, but it just wouldn’t bother me at all. Nor, I suspect, would it bother a lot of the readers who already love the sports books of SEP, Martin, and Gibson. :)

    @sue Thanks for the reference to NY having two teams! I did not know that. Heck, I barely knew that Chicago had two baseball teams. *g*

    @Amanda, I have to back @CourtneyMilan up on back cover copy. I get what you’re saying, I really do, but the back cover to my first book made me scratch my head. The second was better. The third was also a bit of a head scratcher. You just never know what marketing will want to emphasize. I have a friend who had something on her back copy about an indecent proposal — and there was nothing of the sort in the book. We still laugh over that one.

    Not that you need to put every blessed detail in the first few paragraphs, of course. As I read it, I was willing to keep going in order to find out more of the story — which you would naturally explain as I turned the page. The details you gave were intriguing enough to keep me reading to find out more.

    As for ice hockey, I’m a hockey idiot as I’ve stated, and yet I wondered what other kind of hockey there was when I read that. But do I care you used it? Nope. I’d be far more engaged by your voice and story. And I do realize that you have to set the scene for people who know nothing at all about hockey — including that it’s played on ice.

    I think, again, that you have a fun voice and you have something here that I’d keep reading. The core idea is there, and you seem to know enough about hockey to pull it off. Best of luck. :)

  37. Courtney Milan
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 09:10:21

    Okay, still on iPhone: but now, I wonder if maybe, Amanda, your first two sentences aren’t doing you more harm than good. Any reason you have to start off telling us how little your heroine knows? That’s what is getting people’s backs up, I think–and then, because they’re starting off in that space if feeling critical they are never getting invested in the book.

    I think she can fly as “first time coach” as long as it doesn’t feel like the NHL team didn’t hire any woman off the street. The first sentences focus on her inexperience. Not her determination to make this work, how hard she worked to get this job, or anything that invests us in get success at the job.

    If the first two lines were something more like “After five years of X, Y, Amanda finally had achieved her dream job as blah blah. Now all she had to do was convince them to keep her”–you’re investing the reader in her merit right off the bat, not subtly undermining her capabilities.

    I really do think that the reason you’re getting so many nitpicky comments is those first two lines, which send a subtle signal that this woman is out if her league, got a job she doesn’t deserve, and is going to run into problems. It also lowers the stakes for the reader–because if it’s just a random job, and not something she’s worked for, her success is less material.

    As it is, the page makes it sound like she doesn’t deserve her job–and for me, at least, that’s a turn off. If you could make the page reflect what you’ve told us about your heroine, I think it would be 100% more effective.

  38. Ann Bruce
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:08:56

    @sue: The Islanders are based in Uniondale and the Rangers are in NYC. Two cities, two teams.

    I knew someone would bring them up.

  39. Ann Bruce
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:16:13

    The reason I’m being so nitpicky about these details is because these details color the story. They lend authenticity to the writing and story, which makes the reading experience richer.

    If you’re only interested in doing a wallpaper sports romance, that’s fine. I’m obviously not your audience.

    Also, outside of correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes, I think all editors’ suggestions are negotiable.

  40. anothercanadian
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:37:24

    Hi Amanda,
    I admire the guts it took to submit your first page and your tolerant answers to the many negative comments.
    As a Canadian, of French-Canadian ancestry as well, I’m uncomfortable with your general assumption that you ‘know’ how French Canadians sound. As we are dispersed over many provinces, I have experienced a pronounced variance in speech in each group, so your statement and assumption is flawled.
    As an emerging writer myself, I recognize your enthusiasm and energetic voice, but I also detect a lack of writing savoir-faire.
    A lot of the comments here point to the same issues. Your first page is confusing, unlikely and full of new writer ‘mistakes’.
    I think you come across as naive and should study a little more about ‘how to write successfully’.
    Because you can bake an apple pie, does not mean you can write and publish a cookbook…. Writing is hard work, requires long term commitment, humility and constant practice: just like any other art form.

  41. Amy
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:43:08

    I liked the voice in this page and would have read on. I had no problem with the DNA comment because our physical attributes are dictated, in part, by our DNA. I knew the author wasn’t implying we could see his DNA in the literal sense. I got that and I thought it was funny. Everyone’s reaction will be different.

    I don’t know anything about hockey. I love football (American)but I wouldn’t care about a made up team for the NFL, nor would I care that a town might only support one team. To me, that gets filed under the “who cares” category. But I DO think her job is important to get right, because that is clearly an integral part of the story. And as long as it is explained believably later on, I’m along for the ride.

    As mentioned above, the precision of the words are important. CIA “agent” implies field agent to me, and that is exactly what I assumed she was. So perhaps ditching that particular word and replacing it with “systems analyst” would help.

    I agree with Courtney above and Job even farther up in the comments. I think it would be helpful to limit the background you are trying to portray in those first two paragraphs. All I would need to know to keep me reading is: 1)she is starting a new job with the team 2) it is important to her in some way and, subsequently 3)she is very nervous about her first day. That would be enough to keep me reading. The details could come later.

    Again, I really liked your voice. I thought it was fun. Good luck!

  42. Amanda
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:47:45

    @anothercanadian I didn’t mean it to sound like it did when I said I know how F-C’s “sound”, merely that I’m aware of Canadian stereotyping, and that the French I’ve used in the book – limited so as not to confuse the reader or pull them out of the story – is not “French-French”, but rather the type of French they speak in the Montreal area, which is where he’s from (and where my extended family lives).

    I never claimed to be an accomplished writer – that’s why I submitted my first page for this critique. I agree with you – everyone can improve their writing technique and I constantly study different aspects of writing.

  43. brooksse
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:47:49


    As a reader, I thought the premise and writing was interesting and would be interested in reading more. But I have to agree with the comments about her being hired with no experience. You mentioned in one of your comments that she had worked for the owner in another capacity. You might want to include that in the first page so it doesn’t read like she was hired out of the blue with no experience whatsoever.

    I don’t have a problem with changing the team name. It’s fiction… I expect fictional names. In romances that feature a sports team, I actually prefer fictional team names over real life team names.

    I also don’t have a problem with the explanation being in the back cover blurb. I never start reading an ebook or an excerpt of an ebook without reading the blurb first. In fact, I often wish DA would include a blurb to accompany these “first page” posts. IMO, many of the first pages I’ve read here needed further explanation, which you can usually get in the blurb.

  44. Julie Bertrand
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 10:48:21

    @anothercanadian: Word. Acadians, Québécois and French Canadians speak different kinds of French. They also have different cultures. Moreover, just in the province of Québec, there are quite a few strong regional accents. So yeah, tread very carefully.

  45. Amanda
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 11:01:43

    @CourtneyMilan Thanks for your suggestions. I agree with you, after looking at the sentences again. As you know it’s sometimes impossible as the writer to catch things like that. I was going for something that would catch the reader’s attention but I can see where it would undermine my purposes for making the reader root for the heroine.

  46. Amanda
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 11:04:58


    Sarah DOES know a lot about hockey, and she’s working with another person in the video department, so it’s not like the entire job is trusted to her alone. This year is a learning/training/probation type-thing – she’s proving herself.

    Her background in information analysis does make her qualified to do this work. She understands hockey, and she uses her background in information analysis to go through the video w/ the other guy and the rest of the coaching staff to pick out specific areas of weakness.

    I did talk to some people who do this in the NHL and that’s exactly how the job is done. You need to know hockey but you don’t necessarily need to be an ex-player or anything. An analytical mind is essential, though.

  47. anothercanadian
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 11:10:00

    That is exactly what I meant. I’m from Montreal with a bilingual family background, but have lived or travelled within Quebec, and to N.F., N.S., N.B. and Ontario.
    It’s a lot like the USA, with their regional differences in English, something I enjoy, by the way.
    Plus there is the location factor, certain groups speak more of one language than the other, adding another dimention to their ease in speech and vocabulary, it being English or French.

  48. Lou
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 11:34:18

    Courtney is right, the problem is in the first two sentences. Because it breaks the trust we, as readers, have to have in the author in order to read on. We want the author to be knowledgeable about the subject they are presenting to us. And even if you ARE (it sounds as if you’ve done your research, Amanda), if it comes across that you AREN’T (inexperienced woman hired as a “coach”), you’ve lost the reader.

  49. RebeccaJ
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 13:12:20

    The one thing that stuck out immediately and bothered me the most was the thing that also bothered “hapax,” the line that read, “like most women, she was a sucker for accents”. Really? Who says “most women” are suckers for accents? How about “like some people…”

  50. Jackie Barbosa
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 17:48:58

    @Courtney Milan: I think there should should always be “hickey” things in romance, though :).

  51. Maili
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 21:12:18


    Third, I was told by an editor to use the phrase “ice hockey” in the beginning to make it clear for readers who were not strong hockey fans what sport we were dealing with.

    Good suggestion on your editor’s part. There are four popular forms of hockey (field, road, ice, and roller) at where I am. I’m more familiar with field hockey so I appreciate the ‘ice’ addition. Even though I know it should be obvious it’s ice as it’s set in Canada, but I’ve made too many mistaken assumptions to take it for granted.

    A couple of years ago, I read an American romance that revolved around football, set in the US, and I’ve learnt enough from American romances to assume the author was referring to American football, not football I’m familiar with.

    Half-way through the story, I discovered she really did mean football. Argh! In her defence, her hero was brought in from England to play for a U.S. team, so he’d think and speak ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’. (Note: we do say ‘soccer’ in the UK, but it’s heavily associated with children’s football, which is how some of us differ football from soccer.)

    Anyroad, from what I see over years, it seems there are always debates and disputes among readers about the accuracy and details of sports in sport romances. So you’ll probably have this kind of reactions repeatedly, even if you think you got all details right. :D Sorry for digressing, but big kudos to your editor for making that suggestion.

  52. Ann Bruce
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 21:56:53

    From the comments, it appears writers should leave nothing to chance and not trust their readers to pick up on clues like the mentions of hockey and the NHL.

    Football should be replaced with either American football or European football.

    Skiing should be replaced with either snow skiing or water-skiing.

    Polo should be replaced either field polo or water polo.

    And so on and so forth.

  53. Maili
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 23:17:31

    @Ann Bruce: I’m not sure whether you were being sarcastic (it seems you were?), but I don’t know what ‘NHL’ is and ‘hockey’ could be one of types I mentioned earlier, so clues aren’t always that helpful.

  54. SAO
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 01:19:37

    I had problems with this. First was the idea that a former CIA agent was sufficiently unaware of her surroundings that she’d not see someone in front of her.

    Second (and more deadly) is that bump into hero and feel clueless is a very tired cliche. Turned me off right there.

    Given what you’ve told us, sticking her in her first meeting would work better. She’d be new to the job, she’d still be able to see the hunk, and we’d get the beginning of the book’s conflict. You’d have the video on the screen, and that would let us know that it’s ice hockey. (A sport I’m not at all into, but to me, hockey is played on ice and all other sorts of hockey get prefixes, as in field hockey). It would be an excuse to let us know her CIA training was a desk job.

    Rather than having her sit passively and tell us she’s inexperienced and new to the job, you can have the hunk (or someone else) accuse her and her stand up and defend herself.

    I think you could work these important bits of information into the narrative better. For example, if it’s a hot day, she can be eager to get to the icy coolness of the rink. If it’s a winter day, she knows that it’s not going to be that warm inside. That way, you can say Hockey and make some prompt reference to Ice. The CIA thing needs a prompt reference to analyst.

    As with coach. I also thought the NHL would never hire an inexperienced coach. Your explanation sounded like you know what you’re writing about, my take on this page was that you were laughably clueless.

    I’d recommend telling us more on this page about fewer things, rather than loading us down with CIA, Coach, no experience, and letting us add 2+2 and get a big, fat zero.

  55. Jane
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 06:38:04

    @Maili I guess I would expect that the books would have context to explain what type of sport it is. I.e., if the team is NHL then I know it is hockey as that is a commonly accepted US term. I wouldn’t want extraneous adjectives in there to explain an US book just like I prefer to have the flavor of a UK or Australian book without the Americanization of the books.

  56. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 06:39:31

    It sounds as if I’d be a good beta reader for your book. I’m British, my sport of choice is football (guess which kind) and I know very little about ice hockey.

    Soooo – on your first page you should hook the reader, not shove as much information as you can into it. Your concentration should be on how nervous she is and then the meet cute. You’ve confused me every which way, making me wonder about the CIA, how she got a job as a coach with no experience. You need to slow down, cut stuff out until it matters, concentrate on the hook.
    I’ve written a football book and it turned out very popular in the States (thank you!), because I didn’t insult the intelligence of people who knew nothing about it by constantly explaining things, and I made the romance the centre of the book, not the sport.
    You see I don’t care about hockey, ice or otherwise. I was forced to play the field kind at school, and ice hockey is just something to watch when the Winter Olympics are on, and I tend to look for a good fight to enliven proceedings. I know nothing about American football either, other than to scoff at what is probably a fine sport, but I devoured all SEP’s Chicago Stars books. Because I cared about Phoebe and Dan, Bobby Tom and all the others, not because I cared about American football.

  57. Maili
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 07:03:55

    @Jane: We are still talking about the first page, right? I would want to see it at first mention, for the sake of clarification. I don’t see any problem in leaving ‘ice’ or whatnot off, after the first instance, for the rest of the story.

  58. Ann Bruce
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 07:24:22


    Does the heroine being former CIA an integral part of the story? Is she going to use the skills and training specific to the CIA later in the story? If not, perhaps she should be an information analyst for any Fortune 500 company. It won’t detract from the story and your heroine won’t come off like such an idiot for being unaware of her surroundings.

    – AB, who should never be anyone’s beta reader or critique partner because I’d make people cry

  59. SandyO
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 15:26:01

    Never cross a hockey fan, the results aren’t pretty.

    I could never read Deidre(sp) Martin’s hockey books nor that atrocity Luanne Rice committed because they made their players far too recognizable.

    @Ann Bruce, silly girl. It isn’t Buttman, it’s Buttmunch. ;)

  60. Nicola
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 22:44:46

    I just wanted to say that where I’m from (Australia) ‘hockey’ refers to field hockey and ice hockey is always called ‘ice’ hockey, so for an international audience the use of the word ‘ice’ on the first page at least would be a good idea.

    @Ann Bruce, I have to disagree with you. I think some specificity to start with is a good idea. In Australia there are four codes of football played at a national professional level, so simply saying ‘football’ would not be enough information.

  61. Ann Bruce
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 23:44:13

    @Nicola: When I read books written by British, Australian or Kiwi authors and they use terms like “roundabout,” “hot press,” and “water closet,” I don’t demand that they cater to North American readers and substitute those terms with “traffic circle,” “closet,” and “bathroom.” Not even for the first instances. Why? Because that would dilute the flavor of their books. When I read a book set in a different locale, I want to experience that locale, not the Americanized version of it. I enjoy learning about the differences between countries and cultures.

    For characters who are involved in the NHL, to add a prefix in front of hockey is redundant and simply not done. If an author uses it, the first impression is that she’s not knowledgeable about the sport.

    Also, the NHL stands for the National Hockey League. There’s no “ice” in there.

  62. Vuir
    Jul 20, 2010 @ 07:32:15

    I played hockey at school and there was no ice involved.

    Hockey is a field sport, played with an hook-shaped stick, that has a knob on one side, so that the ball can only be hit one way. It has a lot of rules. Every time I got the ball, I’d turn around (as the ball can only be hit a certain way) and that would cause a foul.

  63. meganh
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 10:00:45

    I’m a Canadian, a hockey fan, and I’d never call it ‘ice hockey’ myself, but I didn’t get jarred by reading it (although I would if it were repeated in the rest of the book).

    Since others were though, could the author just make another reference to ice somewhere in the first page instead of saying ‘ice hockey’? Perhaps mention how she picked up her gloves (or toque!) in case she had to go down to ice level, or call it ‘The Ice Barn’, or show the hockey player with skates slung across his shoulder, or whatever.

    I did get jarred by the Buffalo team not called the Sabres, yet still part of the NHL. If there is a royalty problem with ‘Sabres’, wouldn’t there also be one with ‘NHL’? I bet Buttman would like some royalties too.

    I’d love to read a hockey romance.

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