To all new and unpublished novel writers:
I'm struggling like most to get an agent and a publisher. I've read all I need to know, I think. I've finally received some useful input. Here is what I've learned...
I finished my first novel, satiric/humor genre, about Reality TV. Total spoof of this arena, peopled with outsized characters, and lots of fun with Hollywood and American pop culture.
Then I made my first mistake: I sent it to agents and publishers before the critical first chapter was right -- by my standards. Not smart! I see that now in all its painful, horrifying impact. Massively turned down. That first page, those first few pages, not yet wonderful.
Now we all know this: First impressions are critical to all concerned -- agent, publisher and CONSUMER. Yet I said, "It's fine" and blasted it into America's publishing core. Really stupid.
Here's the way it's been put to me lately by two reputable fiction editors: The first page, the first few pages usually decide your fate. First, don't confuse with multiple points of view too quickly. (I did.) Don't confuse with first person interior monologue. (I did.) Make your characters at least intriguing, if not likeable. (Apparently I did not.) Make sure you provide plenty of "detail" when getting it started, both in character description and useful character beats or dialogue. Meaning, give it a little literary pizzazz without being pretentious. (Not enough.) AND MOST OF ALL IN THESE CRITICAL FIRST FEW PAGES, AND FIRST CHAPTER, aside from everything else, the key hook is nothing specific but is this: "You must have a promise of a story." A promise of a story, not THE story. A promise of good things to come. And finally this: "Good agents and publishers will usually keep reading a manuscript until you give them a reason to say No." Well, that is a big one, very broadly stated, and hard to apply when you are writing your best (you think) and may be just too damn close to your work or no nothing of how to edit your work as your rewrite.
So I had impatiently sent my frigging masterpiece out too soon to about 70 places, and turned them off right away. At least now I have a clear understanding why. I needed coaching even beyond what is a "must-read" for all fiction writers -- "Self Editing For Fiction Writers" -- which will get you alot closer if you follow it closely and rewrite and rewrite with it in mind. I'm saying I needed a real critique of my open and I finally got it by sending it to two reputable editorial houses who will read your first 5 or up to 15 pages, and critique the first 5 pages as if you were paying them to do it.
1) www.EditorialDepartment.net 2) firstname.lastname@example.org
Voila, now I know, from the people who know what appeals to publishers or savvy agents. It's all about making those first few pages work, with a promise of a story (the emotional hook), the convincing detail, and not too much all at once which can make it hard to follow and turn off your reader. One of these two editors called this introduction to the reader "the fragile reading experience." Which is the decision to keep going, or close it up and not come back.
Therefore, I'll either succeed with solving my novel's first few pages or it will go nowhere. And it is difficult to fix now even knowing all this, because I am deliberately trying to start my novel MY WAY, not the usual way, and I'm paying the price for my stubbornness. But at least now I know how it works, the expectations, THE SYSTEM.
If I sound naive in my early fumblings, yes I was. We'll see if I've learned anything soon. But if I had not learned these things, not heard these "insider" comments, I would never succeed. So think about it, and take what you need.
PS. Of course, my bigger gripe with all publishers and agents is, unless they're interested, none will take the few minutes in turning you down to ever tell you exactly why they are turning you down. Such as maybe pointing out that there's not enough detail, or you're trying to do too much, or jumping into first person interior monologue which is hard to make work, or your mechanics of dialogue or yada yada yada... NONE WANT TO BE BOTHERED WITH EDUCATING. NO ONE WANTS TO HELP YOU REALLY. AS IN LIFE, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN... SO REACH OUT, AND KEEP REACHING OUT, UNTIL YOU FIND THAT PROFESSIONAL SOMEONE WHO WILL TAKE FIRST INTEREST. So keep working to find that person. That professionally qualified mentor, and that objective fan. All the best.