Pub Rants

Am I Hooked Or Not Hooked?

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STATUS: Today was pretty quiet because of the President’s Day holiday. I like that. I accomplish a lot and it isn’t even Saturday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS by Queen

For 2009, I’m pretty much on conference and contest hiatus. There’s just too much of a time crunch to take on extra tasks or travel but last year, I had promised to participate in a very interesting contest. When January rolled around and it was time to say ‘yes’ to the commitment, I was true to my word.

So over the weekend, I did the Secret Agent contest on the blog misssnarksfirstvictim. Obviously the secret it out but over the weekend, I was reading and commenting on 60 submitted first pages.

The question I had to answer was: “Am I Hooked? Why or why not.”

In other words, it was exactly like reading our slush pile but in this case, the submitters got feedback.

Yeah, I thought that might perk up your ears a bit. And it’s definitely worth popping over there to read the entries and my response to them. I signed each of my comments with the moniker secret agent.

Since I have the wonderful Sara, it’s been a while since I’ve read the slush slush (so to speak) and I’ll tell you right now that two problems rose to the surface on why I said “not hooked, wouldn’t read further” on some of the entries and I’m going to share those two things with my blog readers right now.

The two top problems were:

1. To much telling instead of showing the character in the scene (or too heavy a reliance on back story to jumpstart the story).


2. Not enough mastery of the craft—in other words, the writing needed to be tightened. Too much wordiness, overuse of adverbs, immediately explaining what was just revealed in dialogue, etc.

So if you are wondering how an agent reads and responds to an opening page, you might want to give that blog a look and read through the entries and the comments.

And here’s another interesting thing to note. When I did the contest, most of the the participants had already responded to each entry. I deliberately did not read any of the response comments until I had left my own comment first.

I was amazed at how often the things that tripped me up where spotted and noted by the author writers participating and reading the blog contest.

You want those folks for your critique group. I’m just saying….


15 Responses

  1. Madison said:

    The telling trap is the easiest trap for every writer to fall into. I should know…I slip into it a lot. But I’m getting better with each story that I write. Now if only that could be proven through publication….:D

  2. Anonymous said:

    You know, I’m a small time agent – very limited list and each time I do tell authors this is the weakness that turned me off I am told ‘what would I know?’ I might not boast huge sales or big clients, but I still use the exact same filtering process as the big agents. Too often writers think because I am small that I will accept just about anything – wrong! Remember I still have to sell it to a publisher, one who does get material from the bigger agents.

  3. Jessica Milne said:

    I think I’m absolutely hooked on that blog now! Seriously, though, huge props for finding the time to read and critique all sixty. I’ll be following along to see what else Authoress puts up.

    …I still want to know why Bea dyed her hair purple…

  4. DebraLSchubert said:

    Kristin, I thought of you as I opened my e-mail this morning. There was my usual e-mail from Borders since I’m a Rewards member. They listed 5 Perfect Book Club Picks and do you know which one was #2? Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Now, that is some seriously good marketing! Congrats again to you and Jamie Ford.;-)

  5. Sarah Jensen said:

    Anon 9:23
    There is always some telling in writing. I don’t want a minute by minute account of a character’s day. And you must be able to do that well.
    But often, the story flows better and is stronger when things are shown.
    Balance is key.
    Tell the parts that need to be told, and show everything else.

    and the critiquers at MSFV are great! I’ve improved by leaps and bounds with their help!

  6. ryan field said:

    Telling instead of showing, and too many adverbs makes me stop reading. I don’t mind telling and then showing sometimes, but too many adverbs stop the pace.

  7. Janet C. said:

    I posted my thanks over on MSFV – but wanted to say it again. Your comments on the 60 entries was so educational. And the time you volunteered was very much appreciated. So, thanks, Kristen.

    Janet – re-writing with a much better understanding 🙂

  8. Megs said:

    Same as Janet –

    I posted my thanks over on MSFV, but wanted to say them again<: Thanks again, Kristen! *** Anonymous Agent, just wanted to say that I don’t think that a lot of newbie writers know how messy their mss might be. Even if they belong to critique groups. Some people don’t want to hear it from their critique partners. Others are like me and simply too close to the work itself and need to have the light brutally turned on time and again. :]

  9. Sissy said:

    Ms. Nelson – thank you so very much for your gracious gift of time and your expertise.

    I didn’t enter this month, but I did critique a few. I’m happy to see two of my favorites made your cut! It’s good to realize I’m honing my craft by reading other entries and the comments made.

    Thanks again.

  10. Amy Nathan said:

    I almost submitted to that contest, but the stipulation was “ready to submit to an agent” and I know I’m a bit away from that.

    When I read the submissions and comments I wondered it you were the Secret Agent. Too much Pub Rants perhaps (is there such a thing?). Your feedback was consistent with the lessons learned on this blog and when I was lucky enough to be in one of your workshops.

    That blog does offer a lot of good feedback from its readers.

  11. Cass said:

    I didn’t enter either and my hope has been that you were not the SA until my MS was ready. Oh Well, too late for that. I will have to get your attention with a knock out query pitch.

    Thought your crits on MSFV were spot on.

    Enjoy your site.

  12. Hallie said:

    Thanks for pointing this out; I’ve reading about the role of agent on your blog for a while now (with much interest)! I enjoyed the opportunity to read critically, to figure out what was right (or not-so-right, yet) about each entry, and then to predict whether the samples would get the nod. It was certainly eye opening.

  13. Luc2 said:

    I’m a regular at MSFV, but don’t participate in the Secret Agent contests, because I don’t have anything in query-shape yet.

    What I love about these contests is that you get a great sense of what a slush pile really is, and what an agent goes through when reading all these first pages.

    And then you actually see the reactions of the other readers, and the secret agent, which is insightful.

    It’s a real eye opener, and I hope it will help me produce something that will stand out between hundreds of other good submissions.