Monday, May 27, 2024

Week #22 – Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #22 –  Charlotte’s Web by EB White

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte%27s_Web

First published: October 15, 1952

Here's what the story is about: The story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. Wilbur is being fattened to be slaughtered by the farmer. Charlotte writes messages in her web praising Wilbur – Some Pig, Terrific, Radiant, and Humble – to persuade the farmer to let him live.

First line/paragraph:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. 

"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."

This is another famous first line in literature. We have third person POV, the setting appears to be the kitchen of a farmhouse, and the main character appears to be a young girl who still lives at home and helps with chores [setting the table for breakfast]. We also have the first hint of conflict – Fern's father is going out to the hoghouse with an ax because some pigs were born during the night. Why would he need an ax unless he planned to kill one? And how would a young girl feel about that?

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Has the YA market disappeared?

 Dear O'Abby,

I don't know if I'm right about this, but it seems like it's become more difficult to get interest for YA books from both agents and publishers.  I've been writing YA for a long time, and about 15 years ago I found that I had a much better request rate from queries than I'm getting for my latest book. Has the YA market slowed down?  Or are agents and publishers just looking for different things now?

If you know anything I should be taking into account, I'd love to hear it.  I won't bore you with the whole story, but basically I'm hunting for an agent for the first time in a few years,, and it seems like I'm querying in a whole new landscape.

Sincerely,

Stranger in a strange land

Dear Stranger,

You're right.  The YA landscape has changed in the last 15-20 years, so if you're just jumping back in, you are seeing a difference.

You see, 15 years ago, YA was kind of a new thing.  Not entirely, of course, but as a category, it was still pretty fresh.  When I was growing up, there was  YA section at the library, but it was tiny - a few books by S E Hinton, Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel and Gordon Korman.  I basically moved from the kids' section of the library to Stephen King and Virginia Andrews because YA as we know it today didn't really exist. 

Today the YA section is my local library is a full section with multiple shelves plus a couple of big displays for the librarians' choices and a theme that changes monthly.

And that's why you're seeing a change to acquisitions.  There is a whole lot of amazing YA literature that already exists, a whole back catalogue of those books that were acquired and published over the last 20 years.  15 years ago when you were querying, agents and publishers were hungry for YA because it was proving popular with readers and there wasn't enough out there to satisfy demand.  Writers obviously take longer to write books than it takes for readers to devour them, so there was kind of a frenzy of acquisition at this time.

Now that there is so much YA available, agents and publishers are more focused on filling gaps in the market, especially around broadening representation.  So the kinds of YA book that were getting snapped up in 2010 are not receiving the same level of interest now. 

Hopefully that answers your question.  It's tough out there, I know, but don't give up.  

X O'Abby






Monday, May 20, 2024

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice

First published: January 28, 1813

Here's what the story is about: Pride and Prejudice, original title First Impressions, was initially published anonymously because Jane Austen disliked attention. The book follows the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Darcy must overcome his pride and Elizabeth must overcome her prejudice before they can surrender to their love for each other and marry.

First line/paragraph:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This is one of the most famous first lines in all of literature. It appears to be omniscient POV, and a romance. We are introduced to a wealthy unmarried man who is apparently sought after as a husband by many of the families in his neighborhood. No plot yet, but good voice and a hint that several young ladies are pursuing him.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 16, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Is my book YA or Adult?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've written the first book in what I'm planning on being a series.  In this first book, my main characters are 15-18 years old, but as the series moves on, they will obviously age and as I've outlined it, they will be in their mid-twenties by the end of the series. Hardly YA anymore, but I'm pretty sure you can't change the category midway through a series.

So how do I categorise the first book?  Is it adult or YA?

Any advice you have will be gratefully accepted.

Kind regards,

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Whether your book is YA or adult is about more than the ages of your protagonists.  There are a lot of adult books that are told through the eyes of teens or children.  YA is more about voice and the themes of the work.  

YA tends to be about self-discovery and the separation between children and their parents.  About firsts - first love, first sex, first break up.  About discovering who you are in the world as a n individual with your own thoughts and beliefs.

If your book deals with these things, then it is probably YA. If it doesn't, then maybe you've written an adult book with teen protagonists.  

Neither is a bad thing.  

If it's YA, you will just need to ensure that your characters and their journeys continue along similar paths in the future books as they do in the first one, that their growth into adults is natural and organic.  If you do it well, the teens who started with your first book will age with the characters and see their own growth reflected in them.

Hopefully that helps.

X O'Abby


Monday, May 13, 2024

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm

First published: August 17, 1945

Here's what the story is about: A political satire and allegory of communism, a group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals are equal, free, and happy. The rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon the farm ends up worse than it was before.

First line/paragraph:
Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.


This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. We are introduced to a farmer, married, a bit of a drunkard and actually drunk at this time. He may or may not be the main character, because the next paragraph introduces us to animals who are gathering to hear a story from Old Major, a 12yo pig. The setting is a farm, in the evening. The plot is underway with the farmer drunkenly locking up for the night. This is somewhat amusing to me because we are advised not to start with someone waking up, and here is a story where we are starting with someone going to bed.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this tory, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 9, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I query publishers and agents at the same time?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've been querying agents for a few months with very little in the way of response, so I was thinking about starting to query publishers that don't require an agent too.  Is this okay to do?  I have found a bunch of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts and it feels like I'll save time if I query them at the same time as I keep querying agents.

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.

Regards,

Unagented

Dear Unagented,

Generally speaking it is not a good idea to query both publishers and agents at the same time.  But if you do, make sure you keep really good records of who you've queried and any responses you get so if you do end up signing with an agent, they don't waste their time submitting your book to a publisher who has already rejected it.

Most, but not all,  publishers who accept unagented manuscripts are small presses, so think hard about what you actually want out of your writing career before you start going down this path.  And do your research before blindly submitting to a publisher that offers ebook only publishing when your dream is to see your book on library and bookstore shelves.

And whatever you do, don't go into submitting to publishers because you think it's a shortcut to getting agent interest if you get a bite.  It rarely works that way as agents prefer to submit books to editors they know and who have a track record with a specific type of book.  Also, agents only get paid when you do, so there isn't a lot in it for them if you've already started contract negotiations.

Which brings me to another point -  contracts.  Publishing contract can be tricky and unless you have the expertise, you could end up signing something that isn't in your best interests.  Better to leave that to an agent who has experience both in reading and negotiating publishing contracts.

So while you can submit to both at the same time, I would strongly advise against it.  I know publishing is slow and that waiting to hear back on queries can be agonising, so my best advice is to get on with writing your next book while you're playing the waiting game.  

Best of luck!

X O'Abby

Monday, May 6, 2024

Week 19 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 19 –   A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_Called_Ove_(novel)

First published: August 27, 2012

Here's what the story is about: This is Fredrik Backman’s first novel. Set in Sweden, Ove is a cranky old man who recently lost his wife and believes he has nothing to live for except perhaps enforcing the neighborhood rules. He has strong principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. One November morning, a young couple with two daughters move in next door and accidentally run over Ove's mailbox, which is the beginning of change for the entire neighborhood.

First line/paragraph:  

Ove is fifty-nine.

He drives a Saab. He's the kind of man who points at people he doesn't like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman's flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a mediumsized white box at him.


This story starts in omniscient POV, present tense. We are introduced to the main character, who is 59 years old and male. He's also judgmental and apparently not very nice, a curmudgeon. We are in the middle of a scene where Ove appears to be in an auto parts or electronics shop and buying something that comes in a box.

It's not generally recommended to start with the stats for the main character, especially the first line. But as mentioned in previous weeks, both Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton did this and those books were well-received. Plus this description is only 1-2 sentences long. The plot then begins. I may have started with sentences 4-5, maybe rewritten to be a single sentence, then back to sentences 1-3, so the story starts in a scene.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 2, 2024

O'Abby's writing prompt

As promised last month, I thought we'd kick May off with another writing prompt.

I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

I've been reading an older book that is told entirely through letters written by a soldier during WWI and his fiancĂ© and family back home. The perils of war meant the letters often took weeks or months to get to the reader and therefore, the responses are sometimes disjointed and non-linear.  Reading this made me think about how much we rely on modern communication methods and how instantaneous replies can be.

Prompt:

Write a poem or story using text messages where one person is in an area with limited coverage and keeps losing signal. 

Happy writing!

Monday, April 29, 2024

Week 18 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention. Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel 

Week 18 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities 

First published: November 26, 1859 

Here's what the story is about: A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel published in 1859 by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. 

First line/paragraph:  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

This story looks like it starts in omniscient POV but then we come to the word “we” and it looks like first person. Everything is contrasted but then the main character says it was “so far like the present period” so instead of contrast, there is similarity. Further in the chapter we learn it's 1775 and we read comparisons between England and France so the story is probably set in one of those countries, maybe both. Nothing about a plot yet, or even much about the main character. The opening contrasts make me curious but something has to happen in the next page or two to bring me into the story, otherwise I'm putting the book down. 

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments! 

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Do I need to be an illustrator to get a picture book published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've written the text for a couple of children's books and after having tested them with my classes at school - I'm an early childhood teacher - I feel confident that they are hitting the mark with my target audience.  So I'm looking at trying to get them published.  I just have one question.  Do I also need to be an illustrator?  I'm not great at drawing, but I can give it a whirl if that's something that's required.  Or can I find someone else who is a better artist than me to illustrate my books?

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.  I don't want to do something dumb along the way and jeopardize my chances of seeing my books in print.

Much respect,

Unillustrated

Dear Unillustrated,

No, you do not need to be an illustrator to get your picture books published.  In fact, many publishers actually prefer that you don't.  They have illustrators they like to work with and if they like a picture book text, will get an illustrator to come on board once they've decided how the book is going to be laid out and how many illustrations it will need.  If you're not a great artist, sending badly drawn illustrations or sketches to illustrate what you think might go on each page might negatively influence the agent or publisher you're trying to impress.  

Obviously, if you are planning to self publish your book, that's a different story.  You will need to illustrate or find someone to work with to do that.  You can ask an artist you know or do some research in your local area. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and ChildrensIllustrators.com also have illustrators listed with examples from their portfolios.  Just remember, if you work with an illustrator, you will have to share any advance payment and  royalties with them.

Hopefully that helps!

Best of luck with the book.


X O'Abby



Monday, April 22, 2024

Week 17 – The Shining by Stephen King

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 17 –  The Shining by Stephen King

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shining_(novel)

https://stephenking.com/works/novel/shining.html

First published: January 28, 1977

Here's what the story is about: Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, accepts a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His wife and 5yo son accompany him. Danny possesses "the shining", psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel's horrific true nature. A winter storm leaves the family snowbound, and the supernatural forces affect Jack's sanity.

First line/paragraph:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.
Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

This story starts in third person POV and gives us the name of the main character, along with what he's thinking which tells us quite a bit about the type of person he is. Negative, judgmental, definitely not a friendly sort of person. The next paragraph describes the “officious little prick” in a way that not only describes that person, but tells us more about Jack Torrance. Nothing about the plot though, altho because we know it's a Stephen King novel, we're pretty sure the plot will be excellent and terrifying at the same time.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How do authors get paid?

 Dear O'Abby,

This will probably sound like a really dumb question, but how do authors get paid?  And is it different for authors who have published a bunch of books with a single publisher?

It just occurred to me that I have no idea...

Kind regards,

Curious

Dear Curious,

I don't believe any questions are dumb.  If you don't know something, ask.  I learned the hard way that you make really dumb mistakes if you don't!

The way authors get paid varies depending on who is paying them.

An author who sells a book to big publisher will usually receive an advance.  This can be a big amount of money if the publisher believes the book has the potential to sell a lot of copies, but is usually a more modest amount.  Advances tend to be paid in three tranches, the first on signing the contract, the second on delivering the final manuscript and the third on publication.

The thing with advances, is that they are payment in advance for sales that haven't happened yet.  So once the book is published, you don't see any more money for that book until it has earned out - repaid the advance.  And a lot of books don't end up earning out.  Once the advance has been paid off, then an author will start receiving royalties. These are usually paid out every three to six months, depending on the contract.

It is important that when signing a publishing contract you understand how the royalties are paid.  Some contracts specify royalties as a percentage of the gross, while others specify a percentage of the net.  The net price of a book is the cover price less any costs to the publisher, so can end up being a very small amount at the end of the day.  Especially if your royalty is only 5% of that.

Small presses tend not to offer advances, and therefore offer more attractive royalty rates.  Most small presses I've dealt with pay around 40%-55% royalties to their authors.  But once again, it's important to understand if that is gross or net. It's also important to know how often royalties get paid out.  My current publisher pays quarterly, but I have worked with small presses who only pay royalties once a year.

Authors whose work is published in literary journals or anthologies are likely to receive a one-off payment for their work which will either be a set dollar amount or a per-word fee - usually around 2-5 cents per word.  Which is not an excuse to get flowery with the language; an editor will likely cut any excess words pre-publication.

As far as I know, there is no difference for authors who have already published with a company.  They have the advantage (or disadvantage if their book sold badly) of having an relationship with an editor and a team at that publisher, but they will still get paid based on what they sell.

Self-publishing allows authors to take a much larger share of the money from every book sale, but also puts the costs of publishing the book (editing, formatting, cover design, marketing etc) into the atuthor's hands.

I hope that helps to sate your curiousity!


X O'Abby


Monday, April 15, 2024

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

https://www.suegrafton.com/kinsey-millhone.php

https://www.suegrafton.com/book-display.php?ISBN13=9780312938994&title_key=a

First published: April 15, 1982

Here's what the story is about: Kinsey Millhone, 32, former cop turned private detective in Santa Teresa California [fictional Santa Barbara], investigates the death of prominent divorce lawyer Laurence Fife. His murder eight years earlier was blamed on his wife, Nikki. Upon her release from prison, Nikki hires Kinsey to find the real murderer.

First line/paragraph:
My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I'm a nice person and I have a lot of friends. My apartment is small but I like living in a cramped space. I've lived in trailers most of my life, but lately they've been getting too elaborate for my taste, so now I live in one room, a “bachelorette.” I don't have pets. I don't have houseplants. I spend a lot of time on the road and I don't like leaving things behind. Aside from the hazards of my profession, my life has always been ordinary, uneventful and good. Killing someone feels odd to me and I haven't quite sorted it through. I've already given a statement to the police, which I initialed page by page and then signed. I filled out a similar report for the office files. The language in both documents is neutral, the terminology oblique, and neither says quite enough.

This story starts in first person POV with “my name is” and a list of characteristics, not something generally advised but Janet Evanovich also does it with her Stephanie Plum series. The plot is introduced by the fact she's a private investigator and she killed someone, but that's all we know. We do learn a lot about the setting and the main character in her own words and in her own  voice, which gives the reader more information than just the words describe. It also mentions a killing in the fourth sentence although we assume that's not the killing that she was hired to investigate. As a reader, I'm left with a favorable impression of this investigator as no-nonsense, gritty, determined, and interesting to read about for 8 hours.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 11, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Does the order of words really matter?

 Dear O'Abby,

I just got some feedback from my critique partner that some of my sentences don't read right in terms of the word order.  Is this really a thing?  Is it really wrong to say someone is "blonde, lithe and tall" instead of "tall, lithe and blonde"?  I've never come across that rule before and I can't see how it makes a difference.

Is this really a thing?

Best,

Disorderly

Dear Disorderly,

It does matter.  English is weird and has very specific rules, but in most languages you'll find the order words come in does matter.  Where it is more flexible is in languages like Latin where the meaning is indicated by the case or declension, not by the order of words in the sentence.

Most languages, English included, follow the Subject-Verb-Object pattern eg. John ate the cake.  But of course sometimes you need to express things more complex than that.

Given the example you gave, I suspect you're talking mainly about adjectives and the order in which they are used.  And yes, there is a hierarchy, which is probably what your critique partner was referencing when they mentioned your sentences feeling off.  People who speak English natively absorb these rules as they are learning to speak - they probably don't even know they are rules; just that it sounds wrong to have "green, jolly giant" as opposed to a "jolly, green giant".

The hierarchy is as follows:

1. Determiner (words like an, my, your, the)
2. Observations (words that describe a feeling about something - lovely, boring, stupid)
3. Size (self explanatory, I hope! Small, large, tiny)
4. Shape (again, speaks for itself, I think - triangular, heart-shaped, square)
5. Age (any word applying to this, not just the actual age of something - old, new, twelve-year-old)
6. Colour (obvious, I hope - pink, green, blonde)
7. Origin ( where something comes from - Mexican, Chinese, British)
8. Material (what the thing is made of - wood, copper, tweed)
9. Qualifier/modifier (a word that gives context to a noun)

So, to use all of these in a grammatically correct sentence try:

"My gorgeous, long, tapered, ten-year-old, ivory, Chinese, silk, wedding dress tore on my way up the aisle

If your character is not a native English speaker, then having them use words in the wrong order can show their lack of familiarity with the language, but it should be used sparingly.  And probably primarily in dialogue.

So I hope that helps.  The rules are somewhat arbitrary, I know, but if you read a sentence aloud and notice there is something slightly off about it, it may be because the order of adjectives in not correct.

Maybe next week I'll look at some other word placement issues I see sometimes.  Where you place words is important, the same way where you place punctuation is.

X O'Abby

Monday, April 8, 2024

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit

First published: September 21, 1937

Here's what the story is about: Bilbo Baggins, a homebody hobbit from Middle Earth, is “volunteered” by the wizard Gandalf to join thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim the dwarves' home and treasure from the dragon Smaug.

First line/paragraph:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 

This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. The main character appears to be the referenced hobbit, who lives in a hole in the ground. And what a hole! We assume it includes at least one chair and food, and is a comfortable home.

The writing is somewhat lyrical. The only plot we know at this time is that this must be a fantasy story. But I'm intrigued enough to read at least the first few pages.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 4, 2024

Writing prompts with O'Abby

 There were no questions for O'Abby today, so I thought I'd try something new.  Please let me know in the comments if this is something you're interested in because I might make it a monthly feature if there is an appetite for it.

I know that when I'm stuck for ideas, using writing prompts is incredibly useful for me.  I even started writing a novel a few years back, using daily prompts to guide each chapter.  It was a really great way to challenge myself and pushed the story in directions I probably would not have taken on my own.  It also meant that each day I wrote around 1,000 words because the prompts I used were part of a daily contest to write flash fiction stories up to 1,000 words in length within 24 hours of the prompt being issued.

The prompts varied from giving five or six words that needed to be used in the chapter to offering specific topics to write about to suggesting genres.  Some days it was easy to fit the next chapter of my story to the prompt, while other days it was a lot more challenging. 

I'm not suggesting that you try to write a novel using prompts - it was simply a way to challenge myself and kickstart a story I was struggling to write - but when you need a starting point for anything, prompts can often be helpful.

So I'm going to offer you a prompt today.  I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

Today's prompt draws inspiration from Dena's post earlier this week about Cormac McCarthy's The Road, one of my favourite books.

Prompt:

Write a story or poem about a time in the future using a common object from the present day to illustrate how the world has changed.

Happy writing!

O'Abby

Monday, April 1, 2024

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

https://www.cormacmccarthy.com/works/the-road/

First published: September 26, 2006

Here's what the story is about: A father and his young son journey on foot across the ash-covered United States toward the sea, several years after a cataclysm destroys all life except for a few humans.

First line/paragraph:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

This story starts in third person POV with the main character waking up, which we are advised is generally not a good idea. However, the tone of the first line is the beginning of the theme and plot of the book, and I think it works here. He's waking up in the woods, it's still dark and cold, and a child is sleeping beside him. This begs the question of why is he in the woods with a child? The tone suggests they are not just camping. The sentences are sometimes run-on, other times fragments. A disjointed recounting of the story, which is vaguely unsettling and makes for a great introduction to the entire theme and plot of the book.

The next few sentences give more clues as to the setting: dark beyond darkness, days increasingly gray. Then kicker phrases that really set the background and plot - “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world” and “raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.” Then it moves to the recollection of a dream, which further sets the tone of the book.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!






Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What are my odds for getting published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm a first-time author trying to get my novel published and it has been tough.  Lots of rejection from both agents and publishers which is disheartening.  So, I'm wondering, do you know what the stats are for first novels getting published?  And is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

Thanks so much,

Unpubbed

Dear Unpubbed,

Unfortunately, the news I have for you is not good.  Only about 2% of authors get commercial publishing contracts.  Stats say that about 95% of manuscripts are not up to the standard a commercial publisher would consider.  And even those that are up to the required standard might get passed on because the publisher already has something similar on their list, the subject matter doesn't align with their current priorities or they feel it may be too hard to sell.

It is a tough road...  In terms of upping your chances of being in that tiny percentage, the best thing you can do is to write an amazing book and make sure you've had several rounds of critique and editing before sending it out anywhere.  With so few books reaching a publishable standard, the best way to get a leg up to to ensure yours is among the 5% that are.

And of course, commercial publishing is not the only option for you.  Small presses often specialise in specific genres and styles that mainstream publishing companies may not be interested in, so if your book is in a more niche genre, you may be better off submitting to a small press. And of course, there is also the option of self-publishing which is a good option if you are someone who likes to be in control of things, or if you write quickly - commercial publishing generally works at glacial speed..

At the end of the day, while there are things you can control - like the quality of your book - a lot of it is luck.  If your book falls into the right hands at the right moment, it could be the thing that gets you published.  But for most of us, that doesn't happen and we need to look at other publishing options.  

I'm sure this isn't the news you were hoping for, but I always feel like it's better to be prepared and have all the facts before you go too far down any path.  

Best of luck with your publishing journey, whichever direction you choose to take.

X O'Abby

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Suzanna's Writing and Reading Goals for 2024: February Update

 

The second month was successful with my reading goals. I made great progress on the publishing course, though I still have quite a bit to go. It has been lovely to think of how I want to reach my writing and publishing goals.

Here are my writing goals for 2024:

  1. Write 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a NaNo project (Camp in April, Camp in July, or NaNo in November).
  2. Write at least one children's book.
  3. Write at least one new short story.
  4. Edit at least one short story from my undergrad days.
  5. Write at least twelve poems.
  6. Put together a poetry collection.
  7. Work on the draft of the graphic novel.
  8. Take a course on publishing. (in progress)


  1. Read 12 literary magazines. (0/12)
  2. Read 12 novels. (24/12)
    1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (read by Andy Serkis)
    2. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
    3. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
    4. Green Rider by Kristen Britain
    5. The Atlas Complex by Olivie Blake
    6. Rival Demons by Sarra Cannon
    7. Demons Forever by Sarra Cannon
    8. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
    9. Emerald Darkness by Sarra Cannon
  3. Read 12 short story collections. (0/12)
  4. Read 12 poetry collections. (0/12)
  5. Read 12 graphic novels. (7/12)
    1. Heartstopper Volume 4 by Alice Oseman
    2. A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll
    3. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge
    4. Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld
    5. Fables: Book Six by Bill Willingham
  6. Read 12 children's books. (6/12)
    1. The Adventures of Chad and the feelings of Glad, Mad and Sad by Dustin Wright
    2. We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates
    3. Mulla Husayn: The Story of the Declaration of the Bab for Young Children by Alhan Rahimi
    4. Naw-Ruz in My Family by Alhan Rahimi
    5. Garden of Ridvan by Alhan Rahimi
  7. Read lots of books (nonfiction, fiber, etc). (9/12)
    1. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky
    2. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher
  8. Participate in every Kindle Reading Challenge this year and get at least 90% of the badges. 
    1. On target to finish all of the badges!
What are some of your writing and reading goals for 2024? How was February for you?

Monday, March 25, 2024

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 13 – The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

https://www.michaelconnelly.com/writing/thelincolnlawyer/

First published: October 3, 2005

Here's what the story is about: Michael “Mickey” Haller is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County who works out of a Lincoln Town Car. Most of his clients are drug dealers and gangsters, but he takes on the case against a wealthy Los Angeles realtor, Louis Roulet, accused of assault and attempted murder.

First line/paragraph:
“There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”
–J. Michael Haller, Criminal Defense Attorney, Los Angeles, 1962
Chapter One
Monday, March 7
The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you’ll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. When it starts blowing in like that I like to keep a window open in my office. There are a few people who know this routine of mine, people like Fernando Valenzuela. The bondsman, not the baseball pitcher. He called me as I was coming into Lancaster for a 9 o’clock calendar call. He must have heard the wind whistling in my cell phone.

This story starts with a quote. I've read other books that begin with a quote, but it's usually an actual quote by an actual famous person, not a fictional quote by a fictional character. But this quote sets up the entire book and does it well. The reader is primed for a story about an attorney who will be defending an innocent man.

The first paragraph gives the setting [Los Angeles County, late winter] but not just a list of facts. We learn the setting through the first-person POV of someone enjoying the morning while on his way to Lancaster, the beginning of plot. The rest of chapter 1 describes the morning of a criminal defense attorney on his way to court.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!