It can definitely hurt you if you make them too different. The people who love book 1 may be quite disappointed in book 2 and therefore not willing to take a chance on the later books. The people who would love book 2 but aren’t interested in book 1 may never find it at all – and then could get turned off again by book 3.
Getting and KEEPING an audience for a series is very difficult. Very. Book 1 sells the best, and then sales drop for each successive book. If you make changes, you can literally kill your series.
Make sure you identify something – tropes, genre, themes, SOMETHING that will go throughout that you can focus your marketing on. I don’t mean something minor either – or that, too, will piss people off.
How important is the first sentence/page/chapter/etc. in a novel? Do they have to be brilliant in order to be picked up(for traditional publishing), if your writing overall is good?
I also find it hard to decide where the story should start. At which point do I know that I’m too far into the story for the reader to grasp what’s going on, and when do I know the story has started too early?
Does it work to start with introducing the sub plot?
How many unanswered questions should there be in the first chapter? And second?
That was a lot of questions. You can answer as many of them as you want to …
The first page truly is everything. I’ll share what I’ve learned from my own experience and from agents from SEVERAL conferences. (BTW, if you ever get the opportunity to have your work evaluated by Jeff Kleinman, DO IT. It will flay the skin off your bones, but it will also be the best line-by-line critique you ever get.)
The first sentence doesn’t have to be the most memorable in the book. But remember – it is literally an agent’s, publisher’s, and reader’s first experience of your work. For the agent and publisher, that first impression is crucial. Rather than the first sentence, think about the first few lines as a whole. THAT is critical.
It’s not about being brilliant. It’s about hooking the reader. Do they want to read more? Does it pull them immediately into the story? Or are they already skimming ahead looking for something to happen.
The first page is not the place for scene-setting descriptions, backstory, setup, or static characters doing nothing of consequence. Something needs to happen on that page, and it needs to hook the reader.
Readers need to know enough to understand what’s happening at the moment, not how that moment fits into the whole of the book or the whole of the character’s life. It can be hard to make that moment clear without falling too deeply into description and setup. It’s a balancing act – and in my experience, it’s a balance that my critique partners (even though they’re published!) couldn’t give me. I had to see first pages evaluated and torn apart by agents before I really started to grok it.
There are a couple of places you can do this. First, join the Print Run Patreon. You can listen to their library of first page critiques. If you can’t afford it, contact Laura or Eric, and they will grant you access for free.
Second – this one isn’t free, but it’s the BEST – join Kauai Writers Conference Online, and listen to the two sessions from July of this year by Jeff Kleinman. KWCO is $50 a month. BUT before you panic – you can join for one month, binge listen to the library, and then unsubscribe. Jeff’s two sessions alone are, in my opinion, worth $50.
Okay, moving on. Where to start. That is a HARD question, and I’m not the best person to answer it. I started the novel I’m querying in the wrong place – and didn’t figure it out until I’d blown through my query list. I attended a 4-day conference with Jeff, and he talked about the difference between where YOU think the story starts and where your PROTAGONIST wants the story to start. I had all kinds of reasons for starting where I started, and he just dismissed them cold. (Ouch.) Didn’t make him wrong, though. Sigh.
Get the story started on page 1.
Can that be with a subplot? I have no idea. I do know that many agents I’ve talked to said they don’t like it when they read a pitch, and then the opening is about different characters, and isn’t obviously the start of the story of the pitch they read.
Unanswered questions don’t have to be major story questions. They have to be questions that keep the reader turning the page. Your character must NEED something (in every scene). That need drives him, and it drives the reader.
Did any of this help? Honestly, the Patreon and Jeff’s recordings are incredibly valuable, and they’ll make more sense because they’re reviewing actual pages, not talking theory.
I always struggle with it, and from endless reading I did on the subject the following seems to be something to think about:
The ball should be in the play. It shouldn’t be a backstory of the ball, or an overview of the ball, a set up for the ball, a history of making balls… it should be the ball itself sitting in the middle of the field and the games begun.
Both emotional and plot hooks have to be present right away.
It should be clear what the heck is going on, it should be specific, the character should be named asap, and avoid any kind of mysteriousness via generic no-name stuff and random suffering.
The problem emerging in chapter 1 should be a tip of the iceberg or ice-cubes chipped off the iceberg that will grow bigger and bigger and it will take the protagonist till the very end of the novel to resolve it. It should also be deeply rooted within their inner Big Problem.
Finally, whatever they are doing in chapter 1 should deeply matter to them and something has to happen by the end of chapter 1. Even if they met That Guy and no more than that.
Basically, it boils down to a chapter that is simple, hooking, immersive and doesn’t start from afar.
Once in a while I see people with a talent for chapter 1 and I basically die of envy. The best chapter 1 I have read on amateur everywhere was on reddit. It had the main character sitting by a bedside and administering a mercy killing as a master poisoner.
It just made me want to read non-stop. That’s the goal…
Hi! Can I ask a question on the non-fiction publishing side? I want to publish a non-fiction book… It will be super easy for me to write (most is written in note form) and I have my book proposal pretty much written. I’ve read many articles on how to do this.
But here’s where I’m stuck. The only books written on this subject (that I can find) seem to be self published, so I’m not sure how to find the right publisher for my book. I know there is a gap in the market, but it’s a topic I’ve historically kept very quiet on, so I don’t have any connections at all.
Any hints on how to find the right publisher given I’ll be starting from scratch? Google? Twitter? Some kind of directory!? And will this elusive publisher expect me to supply at least some of the potential customers given I’m pitching myself as the subject matter expert?
May I ask what type of nonfiction book it is? Memoir, creative nonfiction, how to, self help, etc…
The type of book matters because some nonfiction will require you to have an established readership – a platform, people guaranteed to buy your book based on name recognition alone – before a traditional publisher will pick you up. Generally that means they want you be a recognized expert on the subject. How big your audience has to be varies from subject to subject. Some niche subjects don’t require an audience so much as bona fides that readers will recognize as worthy of an audience.
Anyway, finding an agent is just like finding an agent for fiction. Check out query tracker, and see if you can filter by your book’s genre or subject area.
Some niche subjects won’t require you to have an agent – you would approach the small number of specialty publishers yourself. For example, if you wrote occult-related books that would be published by Llewllyn, you would approach them directly. It’s possible their very high sellers have agents at this point, but 90% of their authors don’t.
Yeah, that’s one you’re going to have to show that you’re an expert that people would listen to. Check out the other books like yours – and look specifically at their authors. DO you recognize their names? If not, what are their qualifications?
And I know those were rhetorical questions, but the answer seems to be, none. Any books I’ve found are self published by people who have some personal experience. Maybe there’s a good reason for that, but I’m determined to get a book out there that is properly researched.
My actual problem is in multiple storylines. I think they intertwine nicely but when I try to explain what the global story is about, I can’t. I need at least three sentences: 1. Story of one MC. 2. Story of the second MC. 3. What one has to do with the other.
I’ve found that the advice “If you can’t describe your story in one sentence, then you don’t know what your story is” rings very true. When I struggle with it, it’s usually because there’s a major underlying issue.
Holy Overthinking, Batman
Now that I said it all, I realized another solution that I haven’t considered before. And I fear it because it would mean I’d have to scrap EVERYTHING.
For context, I finished the first draft, didn’t love it, rethought everything, and started draft two from scratch. I’m close to finishing the first act of draft two and still haven’t used a word from draft one. Everything changed.
And NOW I get this new idea that would simplify it so much???
I’d have to start from the beginning again.