ARE YOU FISHING FOR AN EDITOR?
THEN BAIT YOUR HOOK ON THE FIRST PAGE!
by Children’s Author Margot Finke.
Years ago, at an SCBWI Silver Falls Retreat, in Oregon, I learned an amazing truth. This happened when Linda Zuccerman (editor extraordinaire—now retired) explained how vital the first page of a manuscript is. If you hope for an acceptance, that first page must HOOK an editor into reading more. Otherwise, they might just quit reading and move on.
Linda Zuccerman was a children’s book editor for over thirty years. She has been an editor at some of the most prestigious publishing houses in the USA. When Linda spoke, writers listened.
Most editors are swamped by hundreds of manuscripts (MS) a month. They read most of these while going to and from work, or late at night, on their own time. Editors become glazed by the sameness of the writing before them. That first page of your book must jolt their senses, and scrub that glaze from their eyes. It must intrigue and grab their interest, ASAP. Editors today don’t have time to keep reading until your third chapter, “when the good stuff really begins.”
What is a “Hook?” A hook is a hint of trouble, a nibble of guilt, a rustle of fear, an explosion of anger—all of it tacked onto the final paragraph of a page, or a chapter. It must lure your reader onward. It must offer a crumb, with the promise of bigger slices soon to come.
Without that hook, guess what? You will probably receive a generic rejection letter within several days. Editors look for that special “something” on your first page. A ruse or a hint of trickery that will lure them into turning the page.
#1 Offer a sense of time and place.
#2 Allow the “voice” of the main POV (point of view) to shine through.
#3 Give a hint of things to come.
#4 Use powerful and evocative words.
#5 Think out-of-the-box.
#6 If it doesn’t move the plot forward CUT IT.
#7 Make the editor want to continue reading, by injecting a seductive “hook” into the last paragraph of your first page.
If you use the right bait it will catch you an editor. The following is the first page from my book, “Taconi and Claude—Double Trouble”(since published). Linda Zuccerman said my first page would tempt her to read further.
The full moon cast a cold light on Taconi’s naked body as four
wizened elders pinned him on the ground close to a blazing fire.
Sweat rolled off him, and his heart raced the thump, thump, thump
of the feather drums: faster and faster.
The Medicine Man slid out of the shadows, a ceremonial
spear in his hand. Firelight flashed across the wrinkles on his painted
face. His bony old limbs ducked and bobbed to the ancient rhythm
of the drums. Eagle, kingfisher, and cockatoo feathers swayed on his
headdress. The Old Man plunged the tip of his spear into the flames,
holding it there while he mumbled an age-old mantra.
When the tip of the spear glowed red, Taconi’s arms and legs
dissolved into mush. There was no escape. The man ceremony was
about to claim him. His insides threatened betrayal. “N-o-o-o . . .
mustn’t pee, mustn’t pee . . .”
The Medicine Man thrust the glowing tip of the spear under
his nose. Taconi felt the heat: sniffed its acrid smell. The tip sizzled,
hovering over his reluctant flesh, poised, ready to burn him into
The singsong voice of the Medicine Man grew faint. The Old
Man’s eyes stared into his, blazing with the power of timeless ritual.
The stars—a billion sparkling eyes—whirled overhead, cold and uncaring.
Taconi shut his eyes, waiting for his flesh to sear—waiting for the pain.
This advice is relevant for any age or genre you write for.
Your HOOK does not have to be an explosion, or an act of violence. It can be a desperate thought, a deed, or an evocative description. If it grabs the reader’s imagination, and makes them eager to find out more, then you have used the right bait.
I will leave you with a few more clues about how to make an editor read your whole book, and love it.
* Keep the action coming and a good pace.* FOCUS on what is important to the plot.
* Avoid unnecessary sidetracks.
* Make the Thesaurus your best friend.
* Tight writing creates stories that HOOK readers.
Bring the same “first page” attention to detail and excitement into every page of every chapter. This is the kind of writing that hooks editors into reading until THE END.
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