Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The $50 First Chapter Flogging

The reviews from beta readers have been almost uniformly stellar, but it is sometimes hard to extract constructive criticism. I suppose it's a good thing that many of them say, "No, I have no suggestions to make, I just loved it", but I'm very aware that the manuscript still needs improvement.

One friend (thanks RL) did do an edit with red pen in hand and she caught a number of things which made me wonder if I am blind, but that's not going to produce the same results as a thorough review by a professional editor. So I paid to get flogged.

Ray Rhamey at Flogging the Quill offers a variety of editing services, from free 'floggings' of reader-submitted first pages clear on up to complete book edits. I popped for his $50 edit of a book's first chapter. Off it went, and he returned it to my inbox in about 10 days.

First, Ray does a thorough job and his $50 flogging is well worth it, particularly if you've never had your manuscript looked at by a pro before. He returned 60+ individual edits and comments, as well as a summary overview of thoughts and suggestions.

Second.......... Holy crap. Looking at the trees rather than the forest for the moment, I had thought that Chapter 1 was relatively clean. Wrong. It's covered in green with erased adverbs, inserted commas, struck-out adjectives, etc. Sigh. I particularly appreciated his finding potential point of view (POV) errors, something I haven't been watching for closely enough because it's pretty easy to err that way when writing in first person.

The forest: In Ray's FWIW (his signature line) opinion the opening, indeed the whole first chapter, is too slow. He finds not enough story tension, conflict, and sense of plot. Not enough hook early enough. Hmm.

His major point, and it's supported by numerous blogging agents, is that you must hook an agent's - or a reader's - interest no later than the first page or you're done, you've lost them.

I returned (in an email exchange) that there are plenty of fine novels that start slowly. He granted that, but allowed as how those are almost always by established authors who can, so to speak, get away with it because agents, publishers, and readers will give them the benefit of the doubt and persist through a slow opening.

I'm thinking that may well be true, but I'm primarily concerned with writing the best book I can, not necessarily the book that will best appeal to an agent reading the first page.

Furthermore, although I have had beta readers comment that the opening is slow, when I did cut about 1/3 of the first chapter to open it in the afternoon rather than morning of the first day, some beta readers complained, saying, "Oh, I loved the opening and being eased into the story, you should have kept it."

Sigh. What are you gonna do?

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