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Johne

How to Make a Literary Agent Read your Entire Manuscript

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Following are my notes from a Reedy Live webinar today:

Quote

 

How to Make a Literary Agent Read your ENTIRE Manuscript - 2020.01.22, by Jon Darga

 

How to hook a reader past the first few early steps.
* Query letter
* First line of the manuscript
* Nail first five pages, first ten, first 20. First 50 pages

* Write well. Dialogue, showing not telling. Read dialogue aloud. Should sound natural. No 'Jeff was angry.' Show Jeff's fist's clenching. 

1. Start your book at the last possible moment. Margaret Atwood, Little Red Riding Hood, "It was dark in the belly of the wolf." Even if it means cutting your darlings, cutting exposition.
2. Cut exposition. Instead of showing the land as they go to the Council, show the character bursting into the Council. Add your exposition as they're called on the carpet. 
3. Watch out for inconsistent voices or switching POVs without a section break. Don't switch POVs. Each needs to feel unique and distinct. 
4. Assign a thesis statement, what your book is about. "YA - this book is about Joan proving her parents wrong and getting on the Honor Roll" "Byron proves he's not too young to assume the throne." Every chapter in the book should affirm the thesis. Look at Masterworks similar to yours and see if they achieve this or whether they have flabby chapters.
5. Have clear stakes. What drives the character? What happens if they don't get what they want?
6. Have a clear voice. What makes your character different?
7. Set the plot clearly and it advances forward with every chapter, and every chapter is essential to the end goal.


Q&A
* 9.5x out of 10, prologues should be cut and that information melded into the book. It's a barrier most of the time, the writer has not done as much ruthless editing and cutting as they should.


About this Event:
How can you make sure an agent doesn't reject your manuscript before they read past page ten? Literary agent Jon Darga will show you how.

You've written a killer query. You've workshopped for weeks to get the perfect opening lines. And now agent is interested in your book and reading your pages. Things start off great! The book has promise! But then: their interest starts to wane around page five. By the time they reach page ten, they close the file, and it's back to a form rejection. What happened? Where did you lose them? In this Reedsy Live, you'll learn why agents don't keep reading and how to fix your manuscript to avoid those speed bumps.

Jon Michael Darga is an agent at Aevitas Creative Management, where he represents both fiction and non-fiction. Formerly an editor at Crown, a division of Penguin Random House, he still edits through his freelance work with Reedsy.

 

 

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And I always thought you needed to give them a ransomware virus, and require them read your entire manuscript as a condition of releasing their hard drive contents. ;)

 

But yes, your notes are a welcome alternative.  :D

Edited by Accord64
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1 hour ago, Johne said:

Start your book at the last possible moment. Margaret Atwood, Little Red Riding Hood, "It was dark in the belly of the wolf." Even if it means cutting your darlings, cutting exposition.

 

I'm not sure what is meant by "last possible moment."  I always harken back to a scene in a TV series (by the BBC?) called Arabian Nights.  It is an adaptation of the classic, but the heroine has to keep telling compelling, engrossing stories every night or her husband - who has gone mad from former betrayal - will kill her.  So she goes to an old story teller she likes, looking for advice.  He gives her an example of a story where he is walking down a street one day, and comes across the Angel of Death.

 

The point being: if you're going to tell a story, start with something that will have your audience puzzling as to what your opening salvo means.  It doesn't mean starting late.  It does mean, however, that you need to tickle their curiosity.

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42 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

I'm not sure what is meant by "last possible moment."

He gave an evocative example which you quoted. ;)

"Margaret Atwood, Little Red Riding Hood, "It was dark in the belly of the wolf." 
Instead of starting with the history of the land, the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and her family, and the tales of people going missing in the forest, it starts with her already having been swallowed by the wolf.

In my WIP, THE BLUE GOLEM, the protagonist isn't from this world and has a long backstory of how he came to be here and what happened to wipe his memory, but I don't start there. I start at the scene with the Inciting Incident when he's already in this Fantasy world and his memory has already been wiped. The novel begins when Nel Philby animates the protag into the body of an 8' blue clay golem, mere moments before Philby is murdered, the event which launches our hero into action.

(As a side note, I saw the Arabian Nights BBC show when it first aired. I found that it's available as an Amazon Prime Instant Video: https://www.amazon.com/Part-1/dp/B07B6SWJSH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=arabian+nights&qid=1579737424&s=instant-video&sr=1-1)

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And even in ARABIAN NIGHTS, the story doesn't start with the sultan slipping into madness, it begins when he's already mad with the discussion that explains that he cannot wait to marry any longer lest he lose his throne to his brother. 

All this really means is start as close to the essential action and the inciting incident as possible to jump right into the story. You don't have to start in media res per se, but it doesn't hurt. PACIFIC RIM is an extreme example where they start essentially halfway into the larger story, but it totally works.

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5 hours ago, Johne said:

And even in ARABIAN NIGHTS, the story doesn't start with the sultan slipping into madness, it begins when he's already mad with the discussion that explains that he cannot wait to marry any longer lest he lose his throne to his brother. 

All this really means is start as close to the essential action and the inciting incident as possible to jump right into the story. You don't have to start in media res per se, but it doesn't hurt. PACIFIC RIM is an extreme example where they start essentially halfway into the larger story, but it totally works.

 

Technically speaking - and if I remember correctly - the series started with a story about a Djinn and his bride.

 

And I'm not sure if points should be deducted for even the mere mention of Pacific Rim...  😁

 

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On 1/22/2020 at 6:58 PM, Johne said:

In my WIP, THE BLUE GOLEM, the protagonist isn't from this world and has a long backstory of how he came to be here and what happened to wipe his memory, but I don't start there. I start at the scene with the Inciting Incident when he's already in this Fantasy world and his memory has already been wiped.

Yikes! In my WIP, the protagonist is returning after a long exile to this world from another world and has a long backstory of how he came to be here and what happened to wipe his memory, BUT I START JUST BEFORE HIS MEMORY IS WIPED.

What a small world we live in... I love prologues and exposition, including weeds and darting rabbits and truck weigh stations and the grafiti on the walls...

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