Last week I talked about the Writers’ Digest webinar I attended called “How to Make your Romance Hot Enough for an Agent”. The webinar was hosted by agent Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency (http://www.nelsonagency.com/) After her presentation, Sara generously invited attendees to send her the first five pages of a work in progress for evaluation. There was the possibility that if she liked what she read in the first five pages, she might ask for the full manuscript.
When the ad for this webinar popped into my inbox, I was intrigued by Sara’s offer to look at the first five pages of a WIP. I’ve only made one submission to an agent (which went nowhere). That was several years ago and I know my writing’s improved since then. Do I have what it takes to interest an agent?
I sent her the first five pages of “Welcome to Paradise”, an 85,000 word romance I’ve been working on for at least two years. Actually, that’s not true. I really haven’t worked on it since 2009 because I got involved with other writing projects. That was another reason I thought I’d take this class; it might inspire me to complete this manuscript. It’s close to being done, but definitely not ready to send out into the world.
Here’s the first page of “Welcome to Paradise” that I sent to Sara:
It was official. She’d just hit rock bottom.
Bridget Grant sighed as she wiped the sticky remains of spilled beer and nacho cheese sauce from one of the tables. Is this what her life had come down to? Serving wench in her mother’s bar?
As she lifted her head, she caught several patrons staring at her. They quickly turned away when she stared back with all the haughty pride she could muster. Less then a day in Paradise and she was already the talk of the town. She felt naked in the small town fishbowl that was her hometown.
Paradise, North Dakota. Never had a town been so erroneously named. With a population of less than a thousand, counting dogs and gophers, Paradise had little to offer. She’d known twenty years ago she didn’t belong here, but here she was, back where she started. Everything she’d worked for, all her dreams for herself and her family were gone. Anger and despair pressed on her heart as she swiped blindly at the dirty table.
Suck it up, Bridget.
Bridget took a calming breath as she straightened her shoulders and gave herself a mental shake. It didn’t matter what she did for a living or what anyone thought of her. As long as her daughter stayed out of trouble she’d gladly sling beer and wipe sticky tables.
And here’s how Sara responded:
“Thank you for participating in the webinar and thanks sincerely for sending in these sample pages. Your heroine is super charming and the story is right up my alley. Unfortunately, if this came through the slush pile I would pass on asking for a full but it's a close call. I have some notes here so hopefully this will help you find just the right publishing partner.
Like I said, you have a charming story and a strong, wonderful, engaging heroine - great work! For me, there were some moments in the mechanics of your writing that I felt could be stronger. You open with tons of character and personality - my suggestion is to trim the backstory and telling. There is just a hint too much of it. Your instincts are correct - get the story moving and show Bridget's cute personality. Here's an example, "Paradise, North Dakota. Never had a town been so erroneously named. With a population of less than a thousand, counting dogs and gophers, Paradise had little to offer. She’d known twenty years ago she didn’t belong here, but here she was, back where she started. Everything she’d worked for, all her dreams for herself and her family were gone. Anger and despair pressed on her heart as she swiped blindly at the dirty table."
My suggestion is to cut this out entirely and any moment, especially in the first 30 pages, that reads like this. It's a bit of data about the world and the heroine that we could show easily, so do that instead. Use body language and interactions and dialogue and plot to show her exasperation with Paradise, ND and her disappointment at being back here.”
Darn. I don’t always recognize the difference between internal monologue and telling. I’m hoping to take Sara’s advice and move this story from “almost there” to “you made it, baby!” Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Do you have an Achilles heel in your writing, some area that needs improvement that you struggle with?