Tips for the first thousand words.
That’s four pages, folks. And, if we don’t sell our book in those pages - some say in the first paragraph - some, the first sentence - we likely won’t sell our book at all. So, here are ten tips to making those first one thousand words stick in an editor’s or agent’s mind - to make him keep reading.
1. Make your first sentence ROCK. Next time you’re at your favorite book store, pick a random sampling from the best seller rack and jot down the first sentence of each. Study first sentences. What works? What doesn’t?
2. Cliche alert. Nothing will nix a sale faster than starting off with a cliche. It’s the sign of an amateur. If your story starts with a cliche, make sure your necessary twist comes as close to those first four pages as possible.
3. Adverbs. I know you’ve heard this a million times and, if you’re like me, you have come close to hair pulling as you searched for ways to avoid adverbs altogether. The simple truth: you can’t. But search through your first four pages for “ly” and nix as many as you can.
4. Introduce your hero and, perhaps, his adversary (at least you must hint at this). The first time you mention your hero - generally, he is the first character mentioned - use his first and last name. If you can limit the number of characters you introduce in these crucial four pages, do so. You don’t want to confuse your reader, allowing him to put the manuscript down.
5. Present the novel’s theme/premise. Remember, the theme is the story’s soul, what the story is trying to say. Does the story revolve around love, hate, jealousy, honor, truth, integrity? Premise gives meaning to the events of your story, beyond what is on the surface. Without meaning, a story is lifeless.
6. Showcase your writing by making sure that, within those first one thousand words, there is a bit of everything: great dialogue, great description, narration, action, emotion. I know that’s a lot to ask in four pages, but you may only have those four pages to sell your writing skills.
7. Give your reader a glimpse of the danger to come. A novel is a promise, a promise that you will get your hero into inescapable danger, physically, emotionally, and then, somehow, get him out again. Let your reader see the menace on the horizon.
8. Make him smile. Even in the midst of the action, in the throes of angst, when bullets are flying or the plane is crashing, if you can add a touch of humor, do it. Humor makes your characters more human, makes them ring true in the heart of your reader.
9. No exclamation points allowed. NONE!!!! In fact, do a search of your entire manuscript. There should be no more than two exclamation points in the entire novel!!!!
10. Manuscript formatting. If your pages are not formatted correctly, it won’t matter if you have the next Harry Potter. None of the previous nine points will make any impact, if an editor picks up your baby and tosses it without reading even the first sentence. No purple paper. No fancy font to “set it apart”. Either your words set you apart or they don’t. Don’t mess with the formatting. Eh, eh, eh - no “buts” - trust me on this one.
Hope these suggestions help, Campers.
Until next month, BIC-HOK (Butt in Chair – Hands on Keyboard).
Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.