Thursday, April 16, 2009

(My) Butterflies are Free!

Well, I survived my first skinning on Miss Snark's First Victim blog. Still not sure who the agent is, but he/she was pretty brutal with some of his/her critiques. I was lucky. I came out only slightly bruised; which, given the depth of negative criticism towards some of the submissions, was a blessing. The experience was worth it, though, and I'll tell you why.

Some of the suggestions I got from folks (not from the SA, btw) were eye-opening and allowed me to tweak the first 250 words of my ms even more. I greatly appreciate that. It also made me look at the first page of my ms in a new light: as a whole world unto itself, which is an interesting and worthwhile exercise. Of course, there is no way to tell your story in the first page, and really, why on earth would you? This is your first 250 words, remember, not a query. However, it does help to see what an agent sees when they first glimpse your partial or full ms (or sometimes even your query, since many agents request the first five pages or so with your query). We, as writers, know what's ahead in the story. Agents don't.

The trick is to grab them "right away" while still maintaining the integrity of your work, and therein lies the challenge.

My suggestion to all of you wonderful writerly types out there is to grab your first 250 words or so (basically, your first page) and dig in. Here are a few of the things I adjusted due to this experience that made sense to me: (And, of course, you should only make changes if they ring true for you!)

1) Added a small bit of detail (from "window" to "big, bay window");
2) Noted the year of my mc's parent's car, letting readers know what year it is (from: "their car" to "their new, 1980 Dodge Colt");
3) Combined a couple of lines of dialogue eliminating unneccesary details;
4) Included my mc's age so it would be clear I'm not "flashing back" in my first scene.

For me, these small improvements were well worth the butterflies and angst of having my work "on display." But believe me, there were butterflies and plenty of them!

I highly suggest you try this yourself, maybe with a few trusted writer friends, and see what you come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised. It's a great exercise in wringing out the last few drops of the "good stuff" for your ever-important ms intro.

45 comments:

Amy Sue Nathan said...

You are smart to take the good stuff away from this exercise. I try to remember that all opinions are valid -- to the person expressing them. And, like I said to you before, I wish that we could have learned *why* certain things don't float this agent's boat. It would have helped a lot of people. But, then take Nathan Bransford's challenge and remember how hard it is to critique 50 pages -- and I'm trying to keep that in mind as I read some of those critiques. For me it also helps me hone my editing skills when I see what others say -- writers, readers and agents.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Here's the problem I have with the Secret Agent deal: A lot of what people submit seems to be condensed first chapters, in that they end with a sentence you would typically see at the end of a chapter. There aren't many books with a first chapter of 250 words. It makes me wonder whether or not some entrants cut things to make the word count limit. A lot of them certainly feel that way, with character names flying at you without any character building, action scenes that resolve themselves too quickly, and what I think is a lot of overwriting, most likely done to catch the attention and impress the agent. I know it's a pain for the secret agent, but I'd rather read actual, entire first chapters.

DebraLSchubert said...

Here, here, Amy! Getting input from writers, readers, and agents is priceless. Of course, you always have to go with your gut as far as what makes sense. I could never be an agent - way too much information! However, yes, a little more info from the SA would have been nice, but...

DebraLSchubert said...

Paul, I couldn't agree with you more. For the record, I didn't change a thing in my submission, which probably explains why there was confusion. I don't think my ms is different than most in that all of the relevant info is not included in the first 250 words! I was talking with a writer friend earlier and we were saying the same thing; that it seemed like some folks edited like crazy to try to make that first page tell the whole story. Given the SA's mainly negative responses, it was certainly not worth the effort.

Beth said...

I'm glad you found some constructive criticism in your endeavor.

I didn't read any of the other submissions (there is only so much time in the day!), but I'm surprised to hear that anyone would try to cram a full chapter into a mere 250 words in order to submit to that site. I would think something would suffer there.

writtenwyrdd said...

You might check out Evil Editor's blog, because over there the Evil Minions provide query critiques as well as first page critiques alongside EE's highly amusing commentary. That guy's a hoot!

evileditor.blogspot.com

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Just a note to Paul Michael: in defense of SA...it's not supposed to be your first chapter at all, in any way. It's supposed to be your first page, which is approx 250 words. No one expects a first chapter. It's all about "the hook."

DebraLSchubert said...

Beth, I don't know that people tried to cram a whole chapter in, as much as tried to make sure all the important details were there so the SA would understand the story better. I don't know for a fact than anyone did this, it just looked like some folks did. Again, thanks for reading my first 250!

DebraLSchubert said...

WW, Thanks for the tip! I'll head on over.;-)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow, congrats on submitting and getting some good feedback! I like the tips that you took away from it too. Description is always one of the my weak points and it never hurts to be reminded again to always be specific as possible.

DebraLSchubert said...

Kate, Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I learned a lot from this exercise, which I'll use to make the story better. It's a tough ride, though! Builds thicker skin I suppose...

Lady Glamis said...

Ah, yes, I have been through this and it was painful. Several times, actually, and I've learned a lot.

I am so happy you came out well! Good luck to you in the contest. That will be pretty darn cool if you win!

Kelly said...

You were brave to submit. It does seem well worth it since you made some relevant changes! Is it only for YA? I'm a PB writer, but also am writing a chapter book.

DebraLSchubert said...

Michelle, There's no way I'll win, I'm just glad I didn't get slaughtered like some. Were you in the game this go-around? If so, what was your overall feeling about it? I got a lot out of it, but I thought the SA and some of the readers were a bit harsh. Ah, we writers are so sensitive!!!

DebraLSchubert said...

Kelly, This time around it was YA and Middle Grade as well as Women's Fiction. I write WF. The genre is determined by the Secret Agent depending on what they represent. You should submit if they run a contest in your genre. Just make sure you buckle in for the crits!!!

Rebecca Anne said...

I'm glad you made it out alive and full of positive changes you can make. I didn't go peek yet, I remember when Miss Snark used to murder queries and such and I'd feel gut wrenched for the poor people who nailed their words to her site.

I know it's for the good! I know! But it still breaks my heart alittle to witness it.
Rebecca

DebraLSchubert said...

Rebecca, Yeah, it's definitely not for the weak at heart! I'm glad I did it, but I doubt I'd do it again. BTW: Good for you for sticking to your daily post!!! I'm seriously impressed.;-)

Robert A Meacham said...

I had a good experience with the exercise in that I took all that was said, at least the contructive ones, and put it to good use.

DebraLSchubert said...

Robert, I received some good suggestions out of the exercise as well. I'm glad you're putting the constructive crits to good use, and I wish you the best with your writing.

It's great to hear from another writer who was in the contest. I really appreciate your stopping by, and hope you'll be back again.

Debbie said...

That must be a very emotional and grueling experience. I'm glad you came out the better for it.

DebraLSchubert said...

Debbie, Yes, emotional and grueling sums it up pretty well. Actually, it was wonderful for the first few hours and then it got emotional and grueling. However, I got some great tips, so the emotional "stuff" was worthwhile.:-)

Lilly said...

Well done to you for doing this. what an interesting exercise it is and thanks for sharing it - you will be published I just know!

DebraLSchubert said...

Lilly, From your lips to the Big Guy/Gal Upstairs' ears! The road to being published is rocky and unpredictable - if it's meant to be it'll be. In the meantime, I'll just keep on writing...;-)

nsiyer said...

Thanks for the tips. Keep sharing Debrah. Loved it.

DebraLSchubert said...

Nsiyer, Hope the tips help! And, I hope all is well on your side of the world.;-)

Fragrant Liar said...

Hey, I didn't realize you'd done this. I'll go over and check it out. I'm thinking of doing something like this myself. So, off I go, to see #27.

DebraLSchubert said...

FL, Yeah, well you'd better put your army gear on. It may be a rough ride. But, thanks for the support. I need it now more than ever!

Pen Pen said...

if u post ur 250 on the site, does it put ur stuff at risk to be taken by others. ---is there legal protection?

Kasie West said...

you brave, brave soul. Miss Snark scares me in a big way.

DebraLSchubert said...

Pen Pen, I guess. But, it's highly unlikely anyone would do that. I don't really worry about things like that - life is too short.;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Kasie, Brave or stupid, I'm not sure which.;-)

Anita said...

I love your attitude! You keep plugging away and your making your ms better every day.

DebraLSchubert said...

Anita, Thanks so much. Some days are harder than others, however, staying positive is key!;-)

WendyCinNYC said...

You have some serious balls to do that. Kudos to you, my dear

DebraLSchubert said...

Wendy, Some of us have to learn by our mistakes, she said grinning. Are you all done with your revisions?

jamiemason said...

Good for you! I'm glad you got something out of it that didn't require stitches.

Those exercises can be great.

DebraLSchubert said...

Jamie, You're TOO funny! I might not need stitches, but the bruises to my ego may take a little while to heal!!

giddymomof6 said...

You are so brave! I'm so glad you had this opportunity! I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've had to face editing and rewrites on my books--but every hurtful/wonderful comment just makes it so much better! Jenni

DebraLSchubert said...

Jenni, You're right. It's so hard to see anyone say negative things about your work but - if looked at in the right light - the work improves because of it. Hope all is well in your world.;-)

Wendy said...

I remember crying for hours after one review of my first novel...once I pulled myself together I got to work and 4 edits later am glad I was humbled...I hope the end result is better.
~ Wendy

Kathryn Magendie said...

I wonder - if someone took my first 250 words from the published TG and put them somewhere, I wonder what people would say - not knowing that it's already pub'd ....sometimes when one is looking at something FOR CRITIQUE, one finds critique....but when one is just reading for fun and pleasure, one cuts the slack -- so, relax into that first 250 words - and while it should pack some of a punch or engage the reader in some way - no one cares if it's perfectly done or if it is a bit flawed, or if we stumble a bit --

All that said, I write the ENTIRE book and then go back, with 20/20 HINDsight and then I tweak my first paragraph, etc.... :) then you can frame the story sorta kinda in its own way

I'm making no sense today- I need to get back to work!

DebraLSchubert said...

Wendy, First of all, thanks for stopping by! You're so right. I already feel so much better about my first page. I just made a few minor adjustments, but that can be the difference between good and great. I'm excited about this book and looking forward to sending it off into the world to make it's little mark. Hopefully, that day is soon approaching...

DebraLSchubert said...

Kat, You're a big, pile of adorableness.

"...when one is looking at something FOR CRITIQUE, one finds critique....but when one is just reading for fun and pleasure, one cuts the slack -- so, relax into that first 250 words..."

Thank you so much for that. You're absolutely right. Your book is staring at me saying, "Read me! Read me!" I promise, TG, I will get to you soon.;-)

Lady Glamis said...

I wasn't in this time around, but I was last time. I always have a good experience, even if people are harsh. Authoress's post today was a good reminder of how to deal with harsh criticism. :D

DebraLSchubert said...

Michelle, True, her post was quite interesting. Still, I believe it's not that hard to give constructive criticism without being rude or mean. Then again, maybe that's just my Long Island upbringing talking.;-)

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