I heard about this webinar from the lovely Roni over at Fiction Groupie, since it was her agent, Sara Megibow, putting on the webinar. The best part of the webinar? It comes with a critique of the participant's first 3 pages! Awesome, right? Totally worth the money. It's like they knew what bait to hang in front of us to entice us in
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
(also, she stated that, if she likes the first pages, she may ask for more. How awesome is she?)
Anyway, I took notes during the webinar so I could write this blogpost and let you all know what Sara said. I have to say, when the webinar was done, I felt totally confident. She said very little that surprised me and it seems I am on the right track.
She broke it up into a "why" and a "how" section, though most of the seminar was in the "how" section.
WHY (is it important to start off right)
- The agent has to be engaged immediately
- Sara says, for her to offer representation, she must love the manuscript AND think she can sell it
- She also almost always knows within the first three pages if she loves the novel
- She is actively looking for new clients (and she's with the Nelson Literary Agency. Pretty snazzy, IMO)
- She is looking for: YA, MG, Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Women's Fiction and Literary Fiction with a commercial bent
That was pretty much it for the "Why" it's important to start off strong. She then went into the "How" and this was broken down to "Hot" and "Not Hot" sections
HOW (to start off strong)
HOT (what she likes to see)
There needs to be:
1. A clear inciting incident
2. Compelling Characterization
3. Command of the basics
1. the writer needs to be able to explain in 1 or 2 sentences what propels the novel forward. This should also be in your query. She says it is essential for the writer to be able to do this. For her, it is a deal breaker if there is no clear inciting incident
2. Why do we care about the characters? This is clearly important and good characterization needs to be present early on
3. This is broken down into more sections:
- Superior writing. If you do not have a firm understanding of the basics of writing, this is a deal breaker for her. She stated multiple times that a writer needs to master the art of writing before one pursues the business of publication
- Unique concept. Which mean, no vampires, no super powered children discovering they're the key to saving the world, no women opening bead and breakfasts, and in sci-fi and fantasy, no prophecies and cliches. None of these things are deal breakers, but you'd better have an interesting spin on it to make her love it or think she can sell it.
- Effortless world building. She wants to be engaged by the world.
- Realistic character motivation. For example, if your character finds a body, that character better have a damn good reason for investigating the murder instead of doing the actually believable thing of calling the police
Then the last few minutes of the seminar were wrapped up in questions. A lot of the questions were unproductive or had already been answered (questions about prologues, or questions regarding queries, which the seminar did not address) but I took a few notes.
NOT HOT (what she does not like to see)
1. Data dump - we all know this is a no-no for the beginning of your novel
2. Ineffective use of dialogue - all the examples she showed were obvious things such as "as you know, David, I'm the king and was crowned thirteen years ago on your birthday".
3. telling vs. showing - again, she stated the necessity to have masted the art of writing before jumping into the business of publication
4. mistakes with POV - a deal breaker for her would be an adult narrator in a YA novel. Or strange narrators like houses or jewelry.
5. prologues or dream sequences - this isn't a deal breaker for her, because they can be cut if needed, but it is a red flag. And if you've got some marks against you in other areas (sloppy grammar, etc) you're probably in for a form rejection.
- it's good to keep momentum moving in the beginning. Shortening chapters is a way to do this, but isn't necessary
- always keep queries short - like back cover
- if the novel's momentum slows in a scene, it's typically due to too much data
- For genre fiction - opening with action is important (though, for fantasy, it's acceptable to start off slower)
- prose and imagery can function as a hook, however this is harder in genre fiction
- if an agency's submission guidelines don't say it's not OK to submit to more than one agent in the agency, then you're probably OK to query more than one agent
- read other books in your genre - especially what's selling well and has good reviews
- if you're looking for critiques of your work from people "in the biz" she recommends the annual Brenda Novak auction (the link she gave is broken. Usually though there's a lot of buzz for it around the time). Yes it will cost money, but it's for a good cause (though in my experience, it's huge leaps above what I could afford).
And that was pretty much everything she talked about!
I would definitely recommend this type of webinar in the future for anyone who's interested.
I hope this helped, and now I'm off to work on my first three pages to submit for her critique.