Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Carlie Webber of CK Webber Associates May 31, 2013

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 2:33 pm
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FFF SideWords




If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript.  You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript.  By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Carlie Webber’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.



Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Carlie: It’s only important if it’s terrible. A good first line can be memorable, but it won’t survive if the rest of the book isn’t great, too. The first line should be an invitation to the rest of the book. It can make a statement, ask a question, establish a voice, or set a scene. I don’t really have any personal rules as to what makes a good first line, but I know when I feel invited to read on, and when I don’t.



Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Carlie: A character waking up almost never works, even if they wake up someplace unusual. I’ve also seen many openings that are action-packed three-page prologues. I like action, but the problem with these prologues is that they don’t usually tell me anything about the main character. Readers connect to characters much more than they connect to events, so I feel that the opening pages should generally be used to introduce people rather than places or events.



Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

Carlie: Each manuscript has something different that draws my interest, but I think the one thing that always gets me to request more than the opening pages is showing me what’s at stake for the main character. Not every character has to save the world, but I do want to know what the main character wants most and what will (or might) happen if he or she doesn’t get it.


Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?



Carlie: Taking too much time to data dump, especially through dialogue. I’ve seen a lot of submissions where the opening pages are nothing but people sitting around and talking. I don’t need to see a car chase or anything that extreme in the opening, but it’s always most interesting when people are moving around and doing things, not just saying things.



Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


All of these. I don’t really have any rules for what must happen in the first pages in order for me to find a book appealing. If I ranked those three, I’d say the voice is the most important, followed by pacing, with concept a distant third. I’ve seen many good concepts fall apart in the opening pages because the voice and pacing didn’t make good on the concept’s promise.



Carlie Webber refused to major in English in college because no one would let her read Stephen King or R.L. Stine for class. She took her love of YA and commercial fiction to the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science. For ten years, she worked as a public librarian serving teens and adults, served on book awards committees, and reviewed books professionally for journals including Kirkus Reviews and VOYA. Wishing to pursue her interest in the business side of books, she then enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course. Her professional publishing experience includes work with the Publish or Perish Agency/New England Publishing Associates and the Jane Rotrosen Agency.


If you’re interested in submitting to Carlie, please make sure to check the CK Webber Associates website for their guidelines.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Anne Blankman May 29, 2013




I think one of the most important things to learn from Anne Blankman’s writing odyssey today is the need to step back from your manuscript for a while.  This may sound contrary to the writing process, but as Anne points out, sometimes it teaches you how much you love writing.  For many of us, writing is a passion that we can’t live without.  But sometimes, we get so caught up in our stories, we forget what needs to be done to make them better (serious edits and revisions).  Anne’s story proves that if you take a break from your work, even if it’s just for a short time, it can refuel your passion and help you create something extraordinary.


Here is Anne’s journey…


Amy: What drew you to write a Young Adult manuscript?


Anne: After getting a master’s in information science, I began working as a youth services librarian, so YA literature feels like a natural fit for me. There’s so much to love about YA books — they’re usually high stakes and their characters are grappling with big issues and figuring out who they are.



Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?


Anne: I wrote a terrible picture book a few years ago that, thankfully, was rejected. PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG is my first YA manuscript, and I was incredibly lucky that it received so much interest right away.



Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?


Anne: I was fortunate enough to land an agent and book deal with my first ms (Sorry! Ducking furious glares right now!). What happened to me is atypical. I think if my ms had gotten tons of rejections, with criticisms that I couldn’t fix, I would know I had to set it aside.



Amy: Did your query for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG come easily or did it go through many drafts?


Anne: Ugh. Many, many drafts. This wasn’t easy for me at all. I’d never written a query, and I started off composing a business letter of sorts. Yup, it was as boring as it sounds. Once I researched what a query letter is, and read examples of good, agent-garnering ones, I had to learn how to trim all the unnecessary details and boil the essence of my ms into a tight paragraph, all while maintaining a “voice.” This isn’t a painless process, but a well-crafted query can pull your ms out of the slush pile, so the hard work is worth it.



Amy: Did you have critique partners for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?


Anne: I worked with a critique group while writing PRISONER. My mom, who’s an MG author, is my alpha reader, and her comments were incredibly helpful. Since PRISONER takes place in 1930s Munich, I sometimes let myself get carried away with historical details — stuff I found fascinating but would bore most of my readers. My mom helped me trim the fat, so I only included information that readers absolutely had to know.



Amy: How many agents did you query for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?


Anne: My experience was very unusual. I had signed up for a fifteen-minute critique session at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference. I could hardly believe my luck when I was matched with my top-choice agent. At that point, I had finished PRISONER about two weeks earlier, and I hadn’t sent it out because I wanted to meet with Tracey Adams first. If she didn’t offer me representation (and I knew the odds were, she probably wouldn’t–I mean, how many authors get offers of rep on their first time out?), I would get some great editorial comments.


Meeting Tracey felt like meeting a new friend. Not only did we click immediately, but she loved my ms and wanted me to send her an exclusive full! About a week later, she called to offer representation.



Amy: What can you tell me about “the call” with your agent, Tracey Adams?


Anne: Amazing! It was a Friday afternoon, and I was playing with my three-year-old when my phone beeped. Tracey had sent me an email, saying she would love to talk to me as soon as possible and when was a convenient time? Once I picked myself off the floor, I replied, “Now is great!” (yup, I know how to play hard to get, right?), plunked my daughter in front of the TV, and raced to answer the phone.


I have no idea how long we talked. The whole conversation is a happy blur. What I remember best is Tracey going on about how much she loved my book before she interrupted herself, saying “What I want to say is I one hundred percent want to offer you representation.” I didn’t need to consider it. I’d done plenty of research, and she was my dream choice. I signed with her that night, and it’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.



Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?


Anne: Of course. I was about halfway through PRISONER’S second draft when I put it down for a few months, not sure if I could pick it up again. A very dear relative had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to be available to help out. I had a very active toddler; I loved my job at the library branch ten minutes from my house. I wasn’t sure if I could handle more, and PRISONER was an ambitious book to write. The amount of research alone was enormous.


But I wasn’t happy. Sure, I had more free time and I was getting more sleep, but I felt unfulfilled. I decided I was letting myself down by not giving my writing career a decent shot. Three months later, I met Tracey, and three weeks after signing with her, we had a three-book deal at auction. So I would say to all aspiring writers: Keep trying! Your first break could be right around the corner!





Anne Blankman grew up in a small town in upstate New York, where she spent all of her time reading, writing, and doing sports. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and daughter. She’s lucky enough to be an author and a librarian. You can visit her online at or follow her on Twitter.


ONE – A Self-Publishing Journey with Leigh Ann Kopans May 27, 2013

Final ONE cover




I think some of the bravest writers in the marketplace right now are those who choose to self-publish.  In an ever-changing,  and expanding, publishing world, these authors are taking the reins of their future. They are deciding what they want their edits to look like, how their covers should be designed, and where they want their work to be available.  It proves it is an amazing, and exciting, time for those who want to share their words with the world.


Many of these writers I see as explorers in a new age.  Testing the retail waters to see what does, and does not, work.  Hundreds have little or no success because they don’t know what it takes to make a book successful in the competitive world of publishing.  Others, like Leigh Ann Kopans, do their research.  They find the best editors, and cover designers, and surround themselves with an army of writers and supporters who will lift their book up in the marketplace. It takes hours of work to make a self-published book successful, but as Leigh Ann shares in the interview below, if you take the time to do it right, your book has a good chance of being a bestseller.



Amy: Tell us a little bit about ONE.  Where did you get the inspiration for the story?


Leigh Ann: ONE is about Merrin Grey, a One. That means she has only half a superpower – she can float, but she can’t push the air around her to make her fly. She’s obsessed with getting an internship at the Biotech Hub, so she can finally figure out how to fix herself. Then she meets Elias, another  One, who does push air – and when they touch, they discover they can fly. Merrin still wants to fly solo, though. The only problem is that the Hub is looking more and more sinister by the day.


I was obsessed with superheroes as a kid. Beginning with Saturday morning X-men cartoons, I fell in love with the characters, the stories, and this crazy bio-punk idea of mutated cells causing superpowers. Of course, that led to me thinking of all the different components that would go into making up a superpower, and realizing that, most times, it was more than one. That’s how the idea of half a superpower started.



Amy: Why did you choose to self-publish?


Leigh Ann: My agent at the time had submitted the manuscript to the big 6 publishers in NYC, and the rejections we got all praised the writing and the concept, but disagreed about everything else. I knew that meant that it was coming down to subjectivity, that ONE was a solid book, and that my  readers so far had enjoyed it. I didn’t want something like that to go back into the drawer, never to have the readers it deserved. So I self-published it.



Amy: Why kind of research did you do before deciding to self-publish?


Leigh Ann: A TON of research. The steps and time it would take, exactly how much work was involved, what my costs would be, and what “success” would look like. I figured out what team members I would need to assemble and how much they would cost. Most importantly, I watched all the work that even traditionally published authors put into marketing their own work, and I knew I could do the same thing.



Amy: ONE has an extraordinary cover.  What goes into designing and selecting a cover?


Leigh Ann: Thank you so much! I really got so lucky with my cover designer, Nathalia Suellen. She does freelance design work as well as designing for NYC publishers (she’s the artist behind A.G. Howard’s SPLINTERED and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy,) and she’s a straight-up genius.


I gave her the blurb for the book, a description of what Merrin looked like, and told her that I thought sunset colors should be important, and she just went with it. It really is genius on so many levels, and I’m still baffled by her skill. I did a full post on the collaborative process over on my blog (here:



Amy: Marketing is key to self-publishing. Tell me about the TEAMONE street team.  How did you organize it all?


Leigh Ann: One of the incredible things about self-publishing is that you are in charge, so you can do whatever you want. Only the biggest-deal books seem to have street teams, usually, but I figured my book could be a big deal too, right? So I wanted to assemble a street team – basically, a group of fans that agree to use word of mouth and social media to help you promote your book in whatever ways they feel comfortable. They also read the book and reviewed it early, are lending me blog space for pre-release promo, and sometimes help me distribute swag.


I had already built up a pretty big platform in the writing community, but when I decided to self publish I had to beef up my relationships with book bloggers and teen readers. Luckily, that’s easy when they’re all such lovely people! The result was that when I mentioned a street team assembling this winter, a bunch of people that I’d already become friendly with on Twitter jumped to join and recommend others who might be interested.


As for organization, that was pretty simple – I used to manage signups, but a Google form would have worked just as well. I did a full post on street team organization and management here:



Amy: What is your follow-up plan once ONE is published?  Will you continue to do contests and offer SWAG?  How will you keep the buzz ongoing with your book?


Leigh Ann: I’ll continue to do contests and guest posts, and my street team will keep working on word of mouth promo.  LOTS of interaction with readers and bloggers, if they’re interested. I’ll do some school visits, via Skype and in person.  But really, after the release promo blitz, it’ll go back to business as usual. I don’t want to be that author who only promotes her book, ever. Plus, I’ve got TWO (which comes out in October) to start loving on!



Amy: Are there plans in the works for a ONE sequel?


Leigh Ann: Yes! TWO is in edits now, and releases on October 8, 2013. I don’t want to give a summary because it would be spoilery, but I will say that it’s told in Elias’s point of view.



Amy: What advice do you have for authors who are considering self-publishing?


Leigh Ann: I think doing your research, not making the decision on a whim, is key. The whole self-publishing thing is so tough as it is that going in blind will, in my opinion, only make it tougher, and increase your chances of failing and quitting. Marketing is important, so spend time building your platform and watching other authors you admire market their work. Take the time to learn, and prepare yourself and your book so that your release is the best it can be.


And make sure you have a good group of friends who will stick by you through thick and thin. Because, trust me – there’s going to be a lot of “thick.”



More about ONE (Release Date: June 11, 2013)


When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak.


It makes you a One.


Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly – too bad all she can do is hover.


If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.


Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other.


Merrin’s mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub’s internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub’s purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it’s up to her to decide if it’s more important to fly solo, or to save everything – and everyone – she loves.



LeighAnnRaised on comic books and classic novels, Leigh Ann developed an early love of science fiction and literature. After earning degrees in Sociology and Hebrew, she went on to become a rabbi at The Ohio State University. Surrounded by college students, she found her niche writing science fiction and romance for teens.


Leigh Ann, her husband, and four children live in Columbus, Ohio, which sadly lacks superheroes but does have the best football and fabulous ice cream. For more information on Leigh Ann check out her website or follow her on Twitter.


At a Query Crossroads May 24, 2013


If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you know I’ve been querying my YA Thriller, FIGHTING CHANCE, for about six months. It took me quite a long time to get the nerve to send out the first batch.  Just five to begin with.  Out of the five, one came back as a full request (hurray!) which later received a rejection (boo!).


Weeks after that I attended The San Francisco Writers Conference.  I went to an event on the last day called, “Agent Speed Dating.” It was basically a three minute face-to-face to pitch your book.  I pitched six agents and got six requests.  Coming back from that conference I felt so good.  I thought, “finally I’ve written something that merits attention.”


Two months after sending my requests, I got four rejections. My confidence began swirling slowly down the toilet.  But after talking with my CPs, I put on my big girl panties and went back to querying.  Twenty letters out.  One request in.  I’ll take it.


Cue two weeks later, the lovely Brenda Drake hosts her Twitter pitch party, #PitMad.  I sent out six, seven, maybe eight tweets (okay, who am I kidding, it was more like twenty over the course of the day) and I received four requests.  And the rollercoaster shifted up again.


Now it’s three weeks later, and three of the four have replied with rejections.


Anyone seeing a pattern here? It’s not just the rejections, but what’s being said in the rejections.


Although I’m slightly embarrassed to share, I know most of you have heard, or maybe even been on the receiving end of some of these statements…


“Not connecting with the voice.”


“Great writing, but not loving the premise.”


“Not enough action in first chapters.”


Um What??? There’s a huge fight and a death (SPOILER ALERT!) in my first three chapters.


So here I am today at a crossroads, unsure what to do. My instincts tell me to wait until the rest of my requests come in before doing any more querying.  If I get the same feedback, then clearly my MS needs some work.  I’m toying with the idea of sending my MS to an editor for a big picture look.  I’ve worked long and hard with my CPs, and they’ve all been a huge help, but I’m wondering if I need to go beyond that.


One thing is for sure. I’m not giving up.  I’ve poured my heart and soul and a hundred sleepless nights into this story.  Now I just need to figure out  which direction I need to go.


What about you fellow writers?  Have you ever been in my position? What did you do?  I’d love to hear from you, because believe me, I could use the advice!


A Truly Compassionate America May 22, 2013

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration — chasingthecrazies @ 10:13 pm

I wanted to take a break today from my W.O.W. series to share something that’s been weighing on my mind A LOT lately.


The tornadoes in Oklahoma this week has me thinking about all the crazy events that have happened this year-and it’s not even June yet.  I’m not a superstitious person by any means.  I’ve walked under ladders, let black cats cross my path, and opened an umbrella inside a time or two.  I don’t believe the whole “13 in 2013 is bad” element floating out there.


Instead, I see these past months as something much more hopeful.  Out of all the tragedies (Newtown, Boston, West and now Moore, Oklahoma) one thing has struck me: the enduring spirit of the American people.  Instead of running from terror, normal, everyday citizens run toward it and try to help.  People put aside their own fears, and reach out to help strangers in need.  Just this week, people in Oklahoma ran toward the demolished elementary schools and dug through the rubble with their bare hands looking for children.  They worked side by side with first responders without any thought of the risk to their own lives.  Heroes-each and every one of them. In the sadness of each of these horrible events, I see humans helping humans, and for me, it’s the single, shining light in the darkest of moments.


Another extraordinary thing that comes out of these moments is people’s urgent need to help those affected, even if they live thousands of miles away.  After the Boston Marathon, The American Red Cross sent out an alert hours after the tragedy, saying they no longer needed blood donations because so many people had already given.  One woman, who is a teacher in my area, collected donations for the children in Newtown, and then drove across the country to visit the community and deliver the items in person.


You may be wondering how you can help.  As always there is The American Red Cross, which does amazing work. If you’re a writer, there is a great opportunity to donate via Rebecca Weston’s blog.  If you donate to a credible charity, where funds are funneled directly to victims in Oklahoma, you can submit your query or first 250 for a critique by some amazing authors and/or bloggers.


If you aren’t able to donate, I think one of the best things you can do is send a good, positive thought to those affected.  The next several weeks, months, and perhaps years, will be very difficult for them. But as we’ve seen this year, those affected by tragedy will soldier on with the help of those who care, and of course through the indomitable strength that is the American spirit.


Are writing rules meant to be broken? May 20, 2013

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 3:11 pm
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Over the last two years I’ve become a student in the school of publishing.  I started out not knowing what a query was, much less how to format a manuscript or create a pitch. But over time, and through all my teachers (writers on AgentQuery Connect and Twitter – I’m talking to you), I’ve learned how to navigate the crazy world that is publishing.


Do I know it all? No.


Will I continue to learn and make mistakes every day? Yes.


Yet there are some hard and fast rules I’ve learned about publishing I try to adhere to:



1) Read and follow submission guidelines.


2) Your query should be written in third person, present tense.


3) Never use adverbs


4)  Do not start your first chapter with a dream, eating breakfast, waking up, or riding in a car.



And I’ll stop right there. Why? Because I’ve learned rules 2-4 can be broken. Yes, I said broken. But only if done the right way.


Allow me to elaborate with examples:


#2 – Your query should be written in third person, present tense


While this is almost always the best route to go, one well-known YA author broke this rule and still signed with an agent.


How? Because she did it right.


Do you know who I’m talking about? Should I leave you in suspense???


No, I’ll be nice. The author is Miranda Kenneally and she broke many query rules when she wrote her letter for CATCHING JORDAN. She wrote it from the perspective of her lead character.  I would venture to guess many “experts” would say not to do this.  But for Miranda it worked in so many ways.


Here it is:



My name is Jordan Woods, I’m seventeen, and last year, I blew it in the final seconds of the Tennessee state championship football game. This year, I can’t let that happen or I’ll never get a scholarship to play ball in college. I have a lot to prove, what, with an NFL star for a father – a father who doesn’t think I should be playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps?


I’m a girl.


But I’ve been playing quarterback since I was seven, so everyone’s gotten used to me by now. I’m a normal teenage girl. Well, as normal as I can be. I mean, obviously I think Justin Timberlake is a mega hunk, but I’m also over six feet tall and can launch a football fifty yards.


Other ways I’m not normal? A girl who hangs with an entire football team must hook up all the time, right?




I’ve never had a boyfriend and most people think I’m gay. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a guy. But that might be about to change because the hottest guy, Ty Green, just moved here from Texas. Just the sight of him makes me want to simultaneously fly and barf. It turns out that he’s also a quarterback, and he’s a hell of a lot better than me. Last year, Ty led his team to win the Texas state championship.


And I’m scared. What if Coach gives my position away? What if Ty isn’t interested in me? The worst fear of all? What if Ty distracts me from my dreams of playing ball in college?


And why is my best friend, our star wide receiver, acting so strangely all of a sudden?



So why does this break all the rules and still work? Because this query is full of voice. Miranda tells Jordan’s story in a few sentences and makes you want to read more. I’m not surprised her agent, Sara Megibow, requested after receiving this query.  It is brilliant.


Should a beginning writer take this risk? That’s for the individual to decide.  But Miranda was brave. She sent this query out as a test. She didn’t send it to fifty agents, but just a few, and the response was overwhelming. Again, she DID IT RIGHT.



#3 – Never use adverbs


I see people railing about this subject all over social media.  And while the advice is somewhat true, I think it’s difficult to avoid adverbs.  Yes, why say, “he walked quickly” when you can say, “he raced” or “he ran.”  But there are times in writing where it’s almost impossible to describe a movement or action without using an adverb.


Now, if you use adverbs at the end of dialogue tags, we are talking another thing.  Recently, I tried to read the fourth book in a very popular YA series.  I stopped reading after 80 pages. Why?  Almost every dialogue tag had an adverb attached. You can only read, “he said angrily” so many times before it gets annoying. Plus, it pulls you out of the story.


So yes, adverbs can be an issue, but the rule can be broken if they are used sparingly and in the correct places.



#4 – Overdone beginnings


After doing numerous agent interviews in my First Five Frenzy series one thing is clear:  you should NOT begin your story with a canned opening. No waking up. No looking in a mirror. No eating breakfast or riding in a car.


But again, this rule can be broken if done in a convincing way.


Another example: The Hunger Games


The story begins with Katniss waking up and describing her family and surroundings. A big no-no, right? But for Suzanne Collins it works. Her prose drives the story forward. In those few paragraphs she eases the reader into her world. It’s a lesson all writers could learn from.


The thing to remember as a writer is this: rules can be broken.  You have to know what’s going to work for your own plot and characters.  Don’t be afraid to stretch and reach outside the norm to create a beautiful story that will grab readers and never let them go.


And one last thing about rule #1:   That one should never, ever be broken.



What writing rules do you think are okay to break?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Annie Bomke of Annie Bomke Literary Agency May 17, 2013



If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript.  You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping  your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript.  By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Annie Bomke’s, perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.



Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Annie: A great first line does help grab my attention, but it’s not as important to me as the first page or the first chapter.  The first line should set the tone for the rest of the book, it should intrigue me and give me a sense of the voice or perspective of the novel and what makes it special.



Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Annie: All of those, as well as looking in a mirror while they’re getting ready in the morning, having a dialogue that isn’t that interesting (and won’t be important later).  Anything that involves a lot of reflection and little action is a bad way to open a book.


A lot of mysteries and thrillers open with a murder, or from the point of view of the killer right before he/she does the deed.  This can be exciting, but it’s just such a popular opening that writers need to find a way to make it fresh and polished.


In the first five pages, there’s a fine line between giving away too much information and giving away too little.  If you give away too much information about who the characters are, what they look like, and what their motivations are, etc., the pacing of the story slows down.  If you give away too little information, the opening can seem too vague, and it’ll be unclear what’s going on and what makes this story special.  Either way, your readers will lose interest pretty quickly.  The idea is to put enough information there to intrigue the reader and make them curious to read more.



Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?


Annie: Sometimes it’s a really unique concept, but usually it’s the writing.  I want to see writing that’s vivid, visceral, emotional, and unique.  I like writing that’s suspenseful, and writing with a great sense of humor.  I want to see ideas and images presented in a way I’ve never read before, and characters that feel rich and real.


And the writing should have some tension.  By tension I mean the feeling that something is going to happen, that events are being put into motion.  And for this tension to work, I have to understand the character enough to become invested in what happens to them.



Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Annie: They feel the need to explain some background information on the characters, the setting, or the plot before the story gets going.  Or they open the book with a scene that’s not that exciting, like a character driving in their car, reflecting the past or future.  They include unnecessary information, like a character’s hair and eye color.  They use language that doesn’t help me visualize the scene or get to know the characters.  They rely on clichés and stereotypical characters instead of showing me something new and interesting.



Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Annie: I’d say it’s usually the voice.  The voice is what pulls me into the story and keeps me there.  And interesting writing is always a plus.



Annie Bomke is a literary agent with over a decade of experience in the publishing industry.  She has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Ken Blanchard, Spencer Johnson, Bob Burg and John Assaraf.  Authors have called her the pH test for good writing, and a bedrock for literary quality control.  She is interested in representing a wide range of fiction and nonfiction—including commercial fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, YA, business, self-help, health/diet, and memoir—though she is most passionate about character-driven literary fiction, and psychological thrillers.


If you’re interested in submitting to Annie, please make sure to check the Annie Bomke Literary Agency website for their guidelines.


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