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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript – Romance

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Katie McCoy allowed herself a little twirl and a skip as she took in the sights and sounds of an empty Alabama Arena, thrilled by the rows of empty seats, the sounds of the road crew working on the stage set, the faint scent of old popcorn and stale beer in the air. Her band, Sterling, was opening for huge country star Blake Jackson tonight and she felt like they had finally made it. The band’s debut album had been released to great reviews, and their first single, Valentine, had been getting so much radio airplay that even Katie was kind of getting tired of hearing it. When the band got the opportunity to tour with Blake on part of his Country Summer Nights tour, they jumped at the chance. The last couple of weeks had been a whirlwind of planning, rehearsals, contracts, wardrobe fittings, and local publicity stops. Only one thing dampened her enthusiasm, and she had been so busy getting ready that she barely registered the nasty emails and late-night phone calls from her scary ex-boyfriend Shane. He sent vaguely threatening missives from anonymous email accounts, hinting at creative ways he might end her music career or destroy her beautiful lying face. If she answered his phone calls, he called her terrible names and grumbled about how someone ought to teach her a lesson. His voicemails were unintelligible growls, or rambling mumbles punctuated by shouts of “whore!” or “liar!”. Her restraining order forbade him to contact her in any manner, but he managed to get to her anyway. She could never prove that it was him sending anonymous emails, and he never called from a number registered to him or anyone she knew. It had been exhausting, but she couldn’t let him ruin her chance to finally make it. The big day had finally arrived and there was so much security at the arena that Katie felt certain that she was perfectly safe for the time being. She was supposed to be in her dressing room waiting for the road crew to set up their equipment for sound check but she couldn’t resist a little sneak peek at the arena before it filled up with Blake Jackson’s adoring fans. It was exhilarating to walk around without looking over her shoulder, and the fact that it was just hours before her band stepped out in front of their largest audience yet just sweetened the experience.

She wandered around the stands, viewing the stage from all angles as she imagined what it would feel like to play in front of such a huge crowd. Crew members swarmed around the stage, running wires and cables, setting up chairs, props, and platforms, testing equipment. Katie clasped her hands in front of her chest and squealed with delight as the band’s giant banner was unfurled at center stage. Sterling’s logo was fresh and bold on the crisp new banner. It had cost the band a fortune but seeing it on the huge stage now Katie figured that it was money well spent. She could almost hear the crowd and feel the hot stage lights while she let herself slip into a daydream. The band plays flawlessly, the crowd goes wild, and then the band takes their bows in front of roaring fans. She smiled and giggled, hoping that the reality will be even half as good as the dream.

“Hey, doors don’t open until seven.” Katie froze, terror momentarily gripping her, and spun on her heel at the sound of the deep masculine voice. She looked up and was shocked to see Blake Jackson sitting in the stands, a smile on his rugged face and worn cowboy boots propped up on a seat in front of him.

“You’re Blake Jackson!” Katie stammered. God, I sound like an idiot! She blushed furiously and covered her face with her hands. Relief flooded her, giving her a moment before she registered the fact that Blake Jackson, the country’s biggest star, was sitting just a few dozen feet away from her.

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. Katie T.
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 04:35:10

    It’s not that good, to be honest.The first paragraph was super long, the sentences ran on, and too much details were given. I got the impression that the heroine is a ditzy, childish character, easily impressionable, even if she’s strong enough to stand up to a stalker ex. She sounds more like a love struck teen at a concert than someone about to own the stage. I also didn’t enjoy the writing style.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 05:41:03

    I think you’ve got too much backstory going on. Readers don’t need to know the entire history right up front – let us discover it as we go! I’d cut most of this and insert it, if needed, in little bits later on.

    And watch out for the smaller unnecessary bits, too. For example, the MC looks up to see someone we’re told is Blake Jackson and her first line is “You’re Blake Jackson.” You could have cut out the earlier use of his name, and cut out the ‘telling’ of her shock by simply giving us her reaction.

    I’m also not sure why the MC was terrified at hearing a male voice right behind her. Startled, sure, but I didn’t see the need for terror and if it WAS really terror, she recovered pretty fast!

    You’ve clearly polished this and the word choices and style seem pretty good, but I think you need to focus on the action and trust your readers to stick with you long enough to learn the history of it all.

  3. Rhian
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 06:05:27

    The first paragraph is a huge infodump. I think it’s fine to talk a bit about how the band have finally made it, but you could bring in the stalker ex-boyfriend later.

    Katie’s reaction to the stalker ex-boyfriend seems pretty odd – he’s dampened her enthusiasm but she “barely registers” the harrassment? She feels “perfectly safe” but as soon as she hears a male voice behind her, there’s momentary terror? It’s inconsistent. I think it would be better to nix any mention of the stalker until she hears Blake’s voice behind her, then you could explain why she felt momentary terror, and then have her reassure herself of her safety. In addition, his threats seem extremely serious and no sane person would treat them as lightly as Katie seems to here, so maybe you could tone down her insouciance.

    I get that Katie is meant to be cute and feminine, but she twirls and skips, squeals with delight, giggles, and blushes furiously – all in the space of the first page! One or two of these would be sufficient to get the character across. As it is, she seems far too silly.

  4. SAO
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 06:10:44

    When I saw that first para of unbroken text, I nearly choked. I almost didn’t read it. I thought this could use a fair amount of work:

    1) Katie’s actions could easily have been a depiction of a five year old. She skips, she twirls, she squeals with delight, and covers her face with her hands when she’s embarrassed. Frankly, nothing she does sounds like someone who’s past elementary school age. While you are maturing her actions, make it fit her as a country musician: ‘She did a little Texas two-step’ (or whatever, I’m not exactly up on country) doesn’t come off as cutsie pre-school girl as a skip and a twirl and it reminds us of who you want us to believe she is.

    2) The scene is implausible, because you show her alone right on stage, right before a show. Where’s her band, the stage crew, the roadies, the many people who have stuff to do? They are not interacting with her. They aren’t even making her embarrassed to be caught twirling around like a toddler in a Disney princess outfit. They are scenery. It’s not realistic.

    3) Until the last few sentences, this is a sit-and-think disguised as action. She’s musing over backstory. Make it a scene, not an indigestible chunk of backstory. For example, the banner unfurls, Katie does a little two-step imagining, gets a call from Shane, mood changes, etc. Or skip the Shane thing until later.

    Don’t give up. The first try is often not so great. My first first page was a work of incomparable prose, I thought at the time, and — I’m embarrassed to confess — something I re-read admiring my own genius. Later, I realized it was the wrong place to start the story, so I moved it to a prologue. A little more learning and I gave it it’s proper home — the trash bin.

  5. DS
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 06:52:54

    Lacks a feel of authenticity. I would think that a few hours before showtime the members of the band would have something to do besides hopping around on the stage.

    Reads like a teen’s fantasy of what a music career would be like.

    The headliner didn’t recognize the lead from another act? You’d think they had never met.

  6. Jane Lovering
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 07:20:36

    Kudos, author, for putting your work out there for our opinions! I have reservations about whether this version will work though, but I can see the bones of the story you are going for, so that’s a good thing.
    Firstly you have to remember that Katie is a professional musician. She must be, to have got where she is. Knock off the twirling and the giggling and the simpering, shove an instrument in her hand and have her doing a soundcheck or working with her band in rehearsal. She’s not six, she’s a businesswoman.
    If her band are fronting for Blake Jackson, the chances are that he’s been to their gigs, maybe even talked to them personally before taking a chance on them opening for him. He will know them, and they will know him. Maybe not to have drinks with, but at least on a face-to-face basis. And, see above, she’s a professional. He’s another professional in the same business, not someone to be greeting with giggles and blushes – she needs him to know that her band can cope with some heavy-duty work. Yes, we need to know he’s an attractive man, but we might be better off seeing that through watching him work…who doesn’t love to watch a man doing what he’s good at, right?
    Strip this down, scrub it up, make all the participants believable adults, doing what they are paid to do, not golden wish-fulfillment placeholders, and you will have something the readers will lap up. Good luck.

  7. jch
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 07:50:43

    I’m going to have to jump on the bandwagon here and agree with all of the previous comments: too much info dumping and too little realism. The interminable first paragraph is very off-putting and you are likely to lose most readers before they even read your work if it remains as it is. I definitely get the feeling that you are in a rush to share all of your ideas about the characters and events to come….slow down a little. :) Just give readers a taste of what’s to come instead of the full course all at once, and they are more likely to stay with you.

    Your characterization needs quite a bit of work here. As mentioned earlier, Katie is far too immature with the twirling and blushing and squealing — she doesn’t have to be kick-ass, but she does have to be a grown-up. As it stands, she is not only childish but the fact that she shrugs off the seemingly very real threat of the ex-boyfriend makes her TSTL by the end of the first paragraph.

    The two other characters mentioned here are stereotypical: the “rugged” cowboy star in his cowboy boots and the “scary ex-boyfriend.” The ex-boyfriend, in particular, is almost a caricature of a villain, with the threats to “teach her a lesson,” the mumbling, calling her names, etc. He will need a bit more depth before his actions will make sense on a realistic level. Divulging so much about his actions without allowing readers to know who he is, what he meant to Katie before, etc., makes him lack any credibility. It would be more effective for him to be revealed slowly. For instance, let the first mention of him be later in the chapter, when Katie gets a threatening email/phone call, realizing that he is in town following her. Then have her worry about what he’s going to do/say, maybe have her think back on an incident with him or share it with someone (or something like that). Let the threat of the ex-boyfriend build some narrative tension.

    You clearly have some talent with the writing, so just work on structure and characterization and any other areas that need more polishing, and just learn as you go. Don’t rush to share it all at once; most readers won’t mind a little waiting.

    Best of luck with your work, and thanks for sharing. :)

  8. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 08:46:35

    Okay, I get that she’s supposed to be giddy, young and beautiful. But somehow, she just can’t bring herself to change her phone number? Or anything that could stop the old boyfriend from contacting her? The tension of not knowing when he’d pop up would seem to be more scary to me.

    For a character who gets all tongue tied when meeting a big country star, she sure has ice water in her veins knowing her ex is stalking her. Something about her isn’t adding up in this first page.

    I get that this will probably be about a budding star who falls for an established star and there’s a crazy ex who may spoil their HEA. But right off (and because I’m a musician) her lack of business plus artistic savvy was offputting. This may be the biggest night in her life to prove herself and her group. It’s all about making certain everything is in place – at least that’s what I’d be concerned with- like rehearsing in the venue to make certain my group’s mics and earpieces work, that the sound is balanced so a pre warmup with the sound engineer is mandatory (cause there can sometimes be tension/competition between a hot opening act and the headliner), how’s my group’s set up opposed to the main headliner, saving my voice from unneeded strain, etc.

    Even in romance it’s good to make her competent. Right now she reads like a Mary Sue, and I don’t think that’s what you intended. But female musicians are on the ball, and I think your work would be stronger if you have her more aware of what she needs to concentrate on to have a successful performance. Yes, she’s awestruck at finally seeing her “idol” in the flesh. But she wants to be where Blake is and worked hard to be where she is now. So she’s obviously got ambition and drive. And that’s not a bad thing for a female character to have. I do wish you the best with this, and thanks for submitting it.

  9. theo
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 09:33:05

    I’m going to echo what the others have said for the most part. This is thinly disguised backstory and way, way too wordy. Your first sentence is 53 words. O_o Cut half of those. And then cut half of the rest of this submission. Though I’m not a proponent of “was,” it can be your friend. About the 8th ‘had been,’ I was hoping you’d use it.

    I agree too about your characterization. She comes across as twelve rather than an adult. I know she’s excited to be where she is but if she’s at all professional, she’d be worrying about everything until the last minute. Then she might give herself a moment to take in the wonder of it all. A note about the banner…her band having to pay for it doesn’t sound right though it may be, I don’t know. I would think the promoters would have taken care of that though along with all the other publicity.

    This is what doesn’t ring true to me though: I had a stalker ex. Her actions aren’t consistent with having one. When you fear that much, you change your phone number and you might give it to five people if that. You don’t open anonymous emails, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you never quite feel safe. You say He sent vaguely threatening missives from anonymous email accounts and if she answered his phone calls and yet, you tell us she can’t prove the emails are from him and he always calls from a number she doesn’t know. If she isn’t TSTL, she’d never answer a number she doesn’t recognize. She’d give out a number from one of her band members for potential bookings to contact or really, at the level they’re at, her manager’s number. So yes, right now she comes across as TSTL and that would be a no read for me.

    Also, one other note, I realize this might not be a big deal to anyone else and just a personal thing for me, but Blake Shelton and Alan Jackson are too of my favs. I see where you might be going naming your character Blake Jackson, but it’s just too obvious for me. It’s your job to write the story so I believe how big a star your hero is (and I’m guessing that’s who he is) but to me, combining two of the biggest names in country seems like you don’t trust your writing enough to convince me.

    Kudos for putting this out there though. I now how hard that is to do and I know how hard it is to take the feedback. Kill your darlings when you revise this, make your characters true to their age and situation and you have a story I’ll want to read.

  10. Patricia
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 10:46:58

    Whoa, that’s a lot of backstory. Cut, cut, cut.

    I agree with the advice you’ve heard here from others so I will try not to reiterate. Overall, I am left with the impression that you don’t quite “get” your heroine on an intuitive level yet, and that’s why her attitudes and behavior seem inconsistent.

    I also think you probably don’t really want to tell a “stalker ex” story. Dealing with a real stalker is harrowing. I get the feeling you want to tell a story about becoming a star and finding love on the way, a story where lots of good things happen to your character. You were afraid that would not provide enough conflict, though, so you threw in the ex-boyfriend to up the stakes. If you don’t really want to commit to writing the paranoia and fear of living with a stalker, then don’t do it. There is plenty of drama in the music business on its own. The entertainment industry is famous, after all, for chewing up people and spitting them out. You might need to do more research on the nuts and bolts of a professional music tour to make it believable, but I get the impression that may be where your true interest lies.

    If I’m wrong and you really do want to tell a stalker story then you are going to need to seriously build up the tension. If she was scared enough to get a restraining order, she would not be brushing off his repeated violations of the order, even if he’s trying to make himself hard to trace.

    Good luck.

  11. Elyssa Patrick
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 11:02:59

    I wouldn’t name your country star hero Blake Jackson. It makes me think of Blake Shelton and then it makes me think that this is going to be a fanfic from an author who loves Blake Shelton and so has written a story about a girl falling in love with a hot country music star that’s eerily like Shelton.

    I’m all for rock star/musician storylines, but I strongly advise changing the hero’s name. I also agree with the others that it’s too much infodump and the paragraphs ramble for too long.

    Good luck.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 14:03:17

    I have a problem. I love Texas but I really don’t like either kind of music.
    But I don’t have to listen to it, so a story with a country musician hero would work for me. However, your heroine is a Mary Sue. She’s an excited teenager, and she so wouldn’t be. If she was, then someone rugged and handsome probably wouldn’t bother with her. He can have girls for the asking, and he’s probably had some very amusing and intelligent ones in his time. Your heroine doesn’t sound like one of those.
    He’d probably know her. Even if he hadn’t caught her spot, they’d have come across each other before. And allowed on the stage just before a performance? Not really. By then, the stage would be full of cables, sound men, the lighting engineers would be climbing the rigging, roadies would be lining up instruments according to the running order.
    technically – leave the reader a reason to carry on reading. You’ve put everything upfront, and now the reader knows exactly how the story is going to pan out. Remember you’re telling the story from her point of view, and is she really going to “think” her background out?

  13. Elizabeth
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 19:31:45

    I have to say that I wouldn’t read this. The first page seems to have a case of Dissociative Identity Disorder. One minute Katie is doing her I’ve made it thing, the next she’s going on about stalker ex, and then she’s back to be the next Country Music Star. It doesn’t make sense. If you think we need to know about him this early on in the story, have him call her while she is on the stage. Make it so that he bursts her happy little bubble.

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