Friday, September 24, 2021

Publishing Part I: That Perfect First Sentence

Hello everyone! You thought you were rid of me, but I'm back. For the last few years I've leaned on the excuse that platform building took too much time away from actual writing as justification for abandoning my blog, twitter account, Facebook page, etc, etc. Well, after four years of working on it, my WIP manuscript is to the point where I either have to focus on publishing or move on with life. So as I attempt CPR on my blog (I know some of you have heard this before) I'm going to ruminate in a few blog posts on the topic of publishing.

There are, essentially, three avenues for publishing: 1) the old-fashioned, "big 5"  route, in which you court an agent who represents you in a sales pitch for the big publishing giants. 2) The small press route, where you pursue smaller companies who take direct submissions from writers but still provide editors and art departments, etc. And 3) The self-publishing route, where you do everything yourself.

For now, let's examine the traditional route, though much of what I'll talk about is relevant regardless of the publishing route you choose, as you need many of the same components to court a would-be reader as you would a prospective agent or publisher.

Most literary agents require some variation of the following: a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of your manuscript. I will tackle each, further breaking down the "first ten pages" into a perfect first page and even the perfect first sentence. These opening words are often all you get to impress a busy agent who likely has a slush pile of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of queries.

Let's start gentle... The first sentence. 

The first sentence is supposed to be your hook. It introduces the novel and hopefully draws the reader in so that it's impossible not to keep reading. It may be superficial to judge a book solely by its first sentence, but let's face it, this is how the world works. As "they" say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this is your chance to make yours.

To tackle this topic, let's examine the first sentences from five books on my bookshelf. To minimize pre-conceived bias, I won't identify which books they are from, but I will say that they are all heavy hitters, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, a megaclassic in fantasy, a megaclassic in science fiction, and two contemporary NY Times Bestsellers. Also mixed in is my own first sentence, just to see how it stands up. So dig in and let me know in the comments which you think is best. I'll reveal which book each was from and do a short analysis in a future blog post. random order, let's dive in:

1) First there was nothing. Then there was everything.

    Okay, so that was actually two sentences, but since they were short and intimately connected, I included them both.

2) "Ninety-eight--Ninety-nine--One hundred."

    This one starts with dialogue. Effective? Let me know if the comments...

3) His wife’s scream the day she was taken would haunt him at the moment of his death.

   A bit macabre. Do you want to know more?

4) "Oh dear," Linus Baker said, wiping sweat from his brow. "This is most unusual."

    Again, technically two sentences. But it just didn't have the intended kick without them both.

5) If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.

    The longest of the opening sentences. Effective? Comment below if you think so (or not).

6) The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

    This one gives a little setting. Is it effective in building intrigue? Comment below.

That's it, ladies and gentlemen. If you have thoughts on which of these works best and why (or any other comments) I hope to hear from you below. Look out for analysis and a reveal of which book each is from to come! 

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions