Thriller writers – your first pages: 5 more book openings critiqued by @agentpete @anniesummerlee and me!

I’ve just guested again at Litopia, the online writers’ colony and community. Each week they have a YouTube show, Pop-Up Submissions, where five manuscripts are read and critiqued live on air by literary agent Peter Cox @agentpete and a guest, or sometimes two. This time the other guest was longtime Litopian Annie Summerlee @anniesummerlee , who has published short stories in a range of online publications.

The format is simple. Five manuscripts, each with a short blurb. We hear the opening pages, then discuss how they’re working – exactly as agents and commissioning editors would consider a submission. And there’s now an added goody – each month, the submission with the most votes is fast tracked to the independent publisher Head of Zeus, and several writers have already been picked up after appearing on the show. (So we take our critiquing very seriously… no pressure.)

As you can see, there is masses to learn from the chat room comments alone. The audience might not always know why something doesn’t work, but they know when they’re engaged, or confused, or disappointed, or laughing at things they shouldn’t, or eager to read more. It’s our job as trusty hosts to pinpoint the whys.

We talk about:

  • Blurbs that don’t set up the story’s unique intriguing world, or tell us about the characters, or set up the story’s fascinating central dilemma.
  • Titles that are too general, or set the wrong tone, or not memorable enough, or just right.
  • Where the author’s real interest is – how a sparkling line can help the author play to their true strengths.
  • Openings that dawdle too long in setting and description or characters who clearly won’t be important.
  • Whether it’s too soon to veer into back story and how much to include.
  • Language that inadvertently comes across as comic.
  • Misconceived opening scenes and whether the author would be better starting with a different kind of situation.
  • Whether a novel sounds like a thriller – or something else! And what that ‘something else’ might be.

Find the full show here. And if you’ve got a manuscript you’d like critiqued, apply here.

There’s a lot more about writing in my Nail Your Novel books – find them here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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  1. #1 by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on December 12, 2022 - 9:33 pm

    If the writer hasn’t done SOMETHING especially well in those first five pages, the reader won’t continue. Heck, by the end of the first page so many details have been manifested that the pros have probably already made a decision. I know I usually have. Five pages is more than fair.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 12, 2022 - 10:05 pm

      I think we don’t even get as far as page 5 on the show! But that’s for reasons of space. We wouldn’t have time to discuss that much detail and have a manageable programme!

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