Sorry I am a few hours late today. I am fighting a bad cold and took a sick day to sleep in! (which helped immensely)
And over my rounds of querying (3 so far) I went from no nibbles (out of 7) to 1 nibble (out of 14) to 3 nibbles (out of 11)--one of those LAST for 75 pages—so real interest. But no takers. It was time for drastic action.
THAT is when I stumbled upon a question at an author blog: what would you rather win? Query advice, first chapter advice, lunch with an agent, or... not remembering what choice 4 was... might have been something more tangible like a writing book or something... and I signed up for 'first chapter advice.' My query could use some work, but it seems to me it's gotten some peeks. I think my PROBLEM is my opening chapter.
Chimera Critiques contacted me, said she'd seen that was what I was interested in, and let me know they were getting a service going to help authors and were having giveaways about once a month—she encouraged me to submit, so I DID! I think, because they are just getting going, and I was early in submittants..., but I 'WON' and I got the critiques: 3 of them!
The critiques all begin with an intro of some sort, some brief, some longer, and then END with the summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the chapter. WITHIN there are comments... tons of them, things like “This is a good dramatic last line, but I'm not sure who is talking or what they are talking about, so it loses impact.”--
Unanimously, they didn't like the very first 'teaser'--me trying to be clever with set up from behind the scenes—the decision makers who are DOING this rotten stuff to the family. They liked what it hinted at, but wanted it to be more explicit, which in my mind would give away too much of the book... I am thinking I will just dump it.
There is also too much 'set up'--the reader isn't quite sucked in because I am establishing relationships and building character, then just as they start to pull in, I change scene... That was me being too clever by half, I think...I was trying to leave them wanting MORE, but apparently, 'bore, suck in, abandon' is not a clever strategy.
Now this 'too much set up' is something I had already suspected—that as a chapter 1, I just have too much time invested getting to know characters. Some of it can just be cut, some can be woven in later, but I definitely have to work on arrangement.
Another thing I heard: My parents aren't very sympathetic (seems there might be a deeper meaning here *shifty*)...I think PART of this is all the cutting I've had to do—making the book shorter, I cut some 'sweet moments' because they weren't related to the plot... mom has a mini-breakdown at a later point, and I'd REALLY like readers to CARE before that happens... Mac on the other hand, I want to GROW in how sympathetic he is—starting somewhat selfish and career oriented, then REALIZING what his family means to him... And I think this is the first time I've exactly articulated that, so maybe it is progress. I need to leave in reasons Trish would BE with him if he seems unsympathetic... I definitely don't want her to be a 'trampled upon spouse' (at least not of her own free will)... it's tricky, and I am seeing how taking some deliberation here could definitely help me strengthen the interest readers have in following forward.
And then the darned PLOT... with the PoV changes—it seems to be hard to grasp... possibly because I have some strong subplots, that at the beginning, get a fair amount of time because they are part of the set-ups (like Jessie being forced to move with her dad, which then follows through her adjustment)
And then there are my transitions between scenes... rough, disorienting... So what I need to do with those words saved from cutting the 'set up' is smooth these transitions. I will try to avoid the clever, “meanwhile, back at the ranch”... my other books with alternate PoV by chapter, or with Deniability, half a chapter. All the rest have only two, but this one has 4 PoVs. I am SERIOUSLY considering rewriting it from all Jessie (with maybe an occasional Hannah)--I like Trish's breakdown, but I think that can be observed... what CAN'T is the manipulation Mac and Trish are both receiving at the hands of their coworkers and colleagues, but I could probably manage that with some overhearing, some dinner conversations—maybe twist around the rumors Jessie hears at school--or write it more as a mystery Jessie unravels.
Jessie was universally popular. I've known she was my strongest character all along—her voice came most easily. She is the one most disrupted through the move that sets events in motion. I'm not sure yet—it is a BIG rewrite... it is a rewrite that MIGHT even make this a YA book if I make the motivation of the villains less complicated (though then I'd have to shorten yet again—I think 90K would be pushing the limits, and right now I'm at nearly 140K). Then again, cutting 2 PoVs might do just that...
Whatever the case, I have work to do.
I find this process was helpful in several ways—when I see three professionals point out the SAME piece as problematic, I KNOW it is a problem. But at least there is some suggestion of how to address it, and I believe them. They were very clear what was unclear, versus what they just weren't buying: how teens talk, for instance... I happen to HAVE teens, but I've decided how teens talk is regional. I love having feedback that is both broad, and has all these specific points... I can decide which problems to address just by cutting out whole sections (or approaching from a totally different direction) and which I want to deal with one issue at a time to improve (or occasionally, ignore).
Having these from three people, I figure I fall into “only one points out=preference” but if more do... well I need to think about it.
I also loved that they pointed out the strengths—the lines they really liked with why they worked. The character actions that really gave a feel for personality—VERY helpful. (even got a compliment on my lack of adverbs and clean writing, so thanks, Colleen!) And thank you especially to Callie, Erica and Zellie at Chimera Critiques! They have another selection coming up, so if you have a first chapter that you aren't sure how to get right--maybe you've given it a couple goes, and it just isn't GOING--I strongly recommend you give these ladies a chance.
I am mid-process in a critique for a friend of mine, and I DEFINITELY want to keep all this in mind, so I can be as helpful as possible.
So I am back to the drawing board with this (eventually--after POSSIBLY the cozy, then LEGACY) but I feel like I have now thought about it on a much different level, and I think I can streamline the plot, and strengthen the book, so THANK YOU!
And YESTERDAY I had a giveaway with my blog, but comments were low, so if you want to have a chance to win a journal and booklight, go to YESTERDAY's post and see the instructions (easy, just a comment, but on yesterdays, and then a tweet, link or facebook share for this blog or the Virtual Book tour)--be sure to let me know to be in the drawing.