To date, I’ve submitted the first 3 chapters of my first novel, Art and Soul, to 23 literary agents to no avail.
So, before continuing with submissions, I decided it was time to ask a professional editor to look at those first three chapters and give me critical feedback.
I researched my options, selected my editor, sent off my first 3 chapters and synopsis, and waited for their report with a mixture of excitement and dread.
I paid for critical and I got it. However, for the sake of my own self-esteem I must keep repeating an opening comment: “on the whole” I write well. That’s a relief. I shouldn’t chuck it all in just yet then. 🙂
There were bits and bobs I won’t bore you with, because the headline, Dear Reader, was tremendous: cut chapters 1 and 2 and start with chapter 3.
Apparently this piece of advice is often given to new writers. Debut authors often start their book with a few thousand words of prologue before getting to the main event. And, in some cases, that’s fine; particularly if you’re an established author with a loyal readership who will stick with you. But, if you’re an unknown author competing for the limited time of busy readers with many options, you can’t afford not to start with the event which sets the plot in motion.
Now I’ve had a week to mull it over, I think this is a great idea and a very helpful suggestion. Did I feel like this when I first read the editor’s report? Well, no. In fact, I felt slightly ill and not a little stressed. I believe the words I used at the time were, “I’m fine, I’m fine… I just… oh, my head is going to explode.” Not because of the criticism (which was constructive and mostly spot on), but because of the amount of work that would be involved in revising my manuscript yet again. It’s not as if I can simply highlight chapters 1 and 2, hit delete and the job’s done. Things happened in 1 and 2 which resonated throughout the whole book. I need to save some of this information and drip it into the narrative elsewhere. And, once I’ve made changes to the beginning of the story, I’ll have to comb through the whole book again, checking for inconsistencies caused by these amendments.
OK, it’s more work. But overall this is positive development. Hopefully the long term outcome will a better book with a story which immediately grabs the reader.
So if you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere with your submissions/queries, perhaps it’s time to ask a professional editor to take a look at the start of your novel. I know it’s not something everyone can afford but, if you can, I recommend you do.
Writers: have you had feedback which made you fear your head would explode? 😉 Editors: do you often have to tell writers to start their story later? Let me know!
Claire Huston / Art and Soul