As I’m preparing to query agents for my completed manuscript, I’ve been doing a lot of research about tricks for standing out from the slush pile. I thought I’d share a few tips I picked up from the “Selling the Hard Sell” Workshop given during RWA’s 2010 Conference by speaker Jeannie Linn. Ms. Linn discussed her process for querying and eventually selling her hard sell novel. She discovered during her initial query process that agents generally were not reading on past the first few pages of her manuscript. When she started doing the following in the first 5 pages, she quickly began getting more requests:
- Layer in Voice
Everyone always talks about voice. It’s the number one thing agents say they need to see in writing. So what is it? Well, voice is a writing style that is distinctive to you (comprised of word choice, analogies or metaphors, and the way you phrase sentences). Your voice must show up early; it’s what distinguishes you from everyone else. So even if your first few pages are good, that alone won’t sell your book. You need to layer in voice. Ms. Linn’s tip is to read a couple of paragraphs on the page. If they sound like they could have been written by anyone, they need some modification to show your voice, maybe even just a word or two to make them unique.
- Have an Active Opening
Make it interesting. Doesn’t have to be a big fight scene. In many cases it’s better if it isn’t, since we don’t yet know or sympathize with the characters. But it should be something that engages you and draws you into the character’s world.
- Have Compelling Characters
Readers, especially romance readers, want to be drawn in by the characters. Make them immediately sympathetic so your readers have someone to root for. Or at the very least make them memorable.
Do you have a favorite story opening you’ve read? What makes it so compelling? Is it the action? The characters?
One of my personal favorites is Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione. It opens with an action scene featuring the hero. What makes it so compelling is that you know by the end of the first sentence exactly what kind of guy the hero is. Not necessarily a nice guy, but no doubt someone who’s going to be very interesting to read about.