Great Openings: Standing Out From the Slush Pile

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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.


6 thoughts on “Great Openings: Standing Out From the Slush Pile

    Ciara Knight said:
    December 1, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Some of my favorite openings are not action, but you know it’s coming. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I could read them so many times and still get a rush. I think I like the jounrey more than the reward. 🙂

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      December 1, 2010 at 9:06 am

      Anticipatory openings are great. The Harry Potter series rocks at that. I think Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series also does an excellent job of building anticipation from the get go.

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    December 1, 2010 at 10:12 am

    You do post the most useful information! I’m very serious. Linking to your blog today. As far as an author’s voice and compelling first few pages? I’m actually going to say two of my works, Anytime Darlin’ and Captured…leaving ego out of it. I’m pleased with the way they begin. (There are lots of other authors out there I love too!)

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      December 1, 2010 at 10:20 am

      Thanks, Julia, and I appreciate the link. I really love to research tips and information on writing, and I find that blogging about them actually helps cement the ideas in my brain. At least I hope it does. 🙂 Right now I’m especially obsessed with openings, since it seems that’s where the majority of manuscripts are rejected by agents and editors.

    Rachel Firasek said:
    December 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    I’m thinking of Jeanienne Frost’s first book with the heroine dragging the soon to be hero from the bar, thinking she’s going to have an easy kill. That’s my all time fave opening scene. If you haven’t read it. Must read!!!Great post as usual.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      December 2, 2010 at 9:14 am

      Yeah Rachel, that’s my favorite opening. My favorite series altogether!

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