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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Request for opinions

   
Author Topic: Request for opinions
rcmann
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I have a question. I keep getting rejections because my openings are not good enough to catch or keep the editor's attention. I don't start off in the middle of action. Or I fail to provide sufficient sense of what the protagonist is facing, or some other issue.

I would like to toss in the first 13 lines of a fairly well known work. Some even call it classic. Then ask for opinions.

----------------
YOU don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece -- all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he
----------------

I don't know for sure, but something tells me that Twain would have difficulty getting that opening past a modern editor. Maybe I am wrong. Opinions?

[ February 09, 2012, 03:29 PM: Message edited by: rcmann ]

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annepin
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Absolutely. In fact, most "classics" would probably have a hard time getting picked up. A few years ago, as an experiment, someone sent the first few lines of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to one of the largest publishing houses in Britain. It was rejected. In fact, it wasn't even recognized.

Also, remember that many of the books that we cherish today had difficulty in their day. Lewis Carroll received 200 rejections from publishers before successfully pitching Alice and Wonderland. Kafka was also unappreciated until much later. Tastes change.

Are editors actually telling you that your stories got rejected because they don't start off in the middle of action or fail to set up the story? If so, i'd say you're actually doing well getting personalized responses from editors! Or maybe you are just assuming this based on feedback you've gotten here?

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rcmann
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I seldom get personalized feedback. The twice, or maybe three times, that i did I was informed that my beginnings needed work.

*sigh*

BTW, I posted the first 13 of a short I am working on. I would deeply appreciate any and all comments. But this is off topic. I was just wondering whether the difference between what is considered classic, and what is considered salable, is a case of public tastes changing or editor's tastes changing.

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redux
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I would recommend reading the book "Hooked" by Les Edgerton. I think it provides valuable insight into the publishing world and why it's so important to hook the editor with the first page of your manuscript.
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Robert Nowall
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I've posted several comments-slash-rants about the notion of the First Thirteen and opening lines---summarized down to "I, a reader, don't buy books for their opening lines, no matter how boffo they may be...so you're using something that doesn't matter to the reader to grab the editor."

That aside...Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens was, at the time, a well-known and popular writer, say, the J. K. Rowling of his day...and the book itself was, as is obvious from the opening, a sequel to another well-received book...the usual "try to grab the editor" standards may not apply...

(Clemens remains a popular writer---the end of 2010, he had yet another brand-new bestseller on the lists---even if it was over a hundred years after his death. I guess he didn't have to concern himself about the opening lines of that...)

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axeminister
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That opening is all over the place.
However, if I were to critique it, I wouldn't really know what to say. There's nothing "wrong" with it other than being completely incoherent.

That said, the "voice" is so strong I would absolutely keep reading.

Plus, I'd have to try to figure out if it was ever going to make sense.

Axe

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rcmann
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I keep thinking of the opening lines of Treasure Island. And Hound of the Baskervilles, where Watson opens by talking about what time Holmes usually gets up. And the opening of Gulliver's Travels. I am trying to think of any classics of English literature that would pass the modern standard for acceptance by an editor.
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redux
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"Classics" only had to compete with other books, and maybe the newspaper. There were no public libraries until the late 19th century. Prior to that it was private libraries and bookstores.

Books weren't as ubiquitous as they are now. Not to mention that the printed word, when it comes to entertainment, now has to compete with the radio, TV, video games, and the internet. When there's so much competition a book has to grab an editor's attention right away. They are in the business of selling books and so cater to the ever changing whims of the reading public.

Edited to add:
Another thing is that often books would be published on commission - meaning, the author assumed the financial risk.

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rcmann
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True. But it does indicate, to me, that the standards in use today might be improved. Would it kill the industry to slow down just a bit and focus on quality over speed? Maybe it would, I don't know. But considering that some self-publishers are making good money off books that traditional publishers wouldn't touch, the idea might not be completely insane.
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Meredith
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You will make yourself crazy fretting over what somebody else got away with. Especially somebody over a hundred years ago.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Yes, in extension of what the lovely Meredith says, I will say what I always say.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to opinion.

Just because a couple of editors have been unhappy with your openings doesn't mean you write bad openings. It means those couple of editors didn't like those particular openings. No more and no less.

Not all publications...not even all the professional ones...even go by the 13 line hook business...some routinely read the entirety of submissions.

Most magazine guidelines and editor interviews will say they want to be grabbed right away, from the first paragraph or sentence...however, they typically conveniently leave out the part where they actually explain, in anything other than broad generalities, what grabs them.

Every story most certainly does NOT need to start in the middle of the action. And to me, worrying about crafting "a hook" is an exercise in frustration and futility, because one person's hook is another person's repellent.
The piece of yours that I read for example...no there isn't a clear "conflict" in the opening, but it is, in my view, largely a humor/slice of life piece with light speculative elements, so why would there be?

Having seen your skill with words I would enjoin you once again not to worry too much.

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axeminister
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quote:
Would it kill the industry to slow down just a bit and focus on quality over speed?
Are you saying speed is a bad thing?

I tend to think writers today start stories with a bang - and maintain.

My track coach said this about running:
Start fast
Pick it up
Kick it in

I think that goes for writing too. Why not?

Axe

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Merlion-Emrys
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Speed isn't bad, but it isn't the only way.

A slow action story is a problem, for most.

But a cerebral concept piece isn't likely to be particularly fast paced.

It's all a matter of what your trying to do with a particular story.

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rcmann
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Depends on what you are writing, why you are writing it, and your intended audience I suppose.
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MattLeo
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Getting published involves so much rejection its tempting to grasp at straws, or rail at the injustice of it all (why Stephanie Meyer and not meee?). Railing at injustice does nothing for your manuscript, and I suspect grasping at straws is positively counter-productive. *Practically everyone is grasping at the same straws* and agents are looking for writers who stand out.

*That's* why Twain's MS would be picked up. Eventually. Oh, he'd get his share of rejections -- even Stephanie Meyer got fifteen rejections before she landed her three book deal with Little, Brown. But he'd get there in the end because he wrote brilliantly, and wrote *differently*.

Accepting that rejection is an inevitable part of this should be liberating. You don't have to take rejection personally, and you don't have to do dubious things in a futile attempt to avoid it.

As for the 13 line exercise, it's primarily useful for the remarkable number of stylistic faults it reveals, like a tin-ear for dialog or an unconscious regurgitation of cliches. I'm less enthused by the notion of *punching up* the first thirteen so you can get an agent excited about your MS. It's fine if you can deliver, but if you *can't* you're just wasting the agent's time in a particularly irritating manner.

So you owe it to the author of the next manuscript in the pile to submit a first chapter that is strong start to finish.

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rcmann
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I had no intention of railing at injustice. Actually, I am doing this in order to avoid death by boredom, since I am retired and staring at the walls. If a story makes it through the list of possible markets unsold, I am still going to post it somewhere for free.

My concern is that our breakneck culture is degrading, perhaps crippling, our consensus about what constitutes quality and value. Has anyone watched a modern house being built lately? If anyone has and, like me, is old enough to remember when sub-floors were laid with solid wood planks it might clarify my thoughts. Of course I am a crotchety old geezer ranting about the good old days.

But reading a book should not be a race. And making an assessment about the quality of literature, or a painting, or any type of creative endeavor should not be done in a frantic spasm of adrenaline fueled panic because it's fifteen minutes till quitting time.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Though I am younger, I know exactly what you mean, rcmann and I share some of your concerns. However, having participated to varying degrees in a number of other writing forums and having done a bit...not nearly as much as some but a bit...of reading current short fiction over the last couple of years I feel compelled to say that, a lot of the first 13 obsession is a Hatrack thing. It gets mentioned in other writers groups, and it is a relevant concept to a certain extent, but nowhere is its emphasis nearly as strong as here.

Much the same with the pacing. There are fiction markets that want a very fast pace and heavy duty action right away, sure...and that's fine. There is a place for heavy action and a fast pace. But it isn't the only way, and there are fiction markets that don't focus primarily on that.

I personally read and write both varieties of stories. Also, unusual among Hatrackians, I'm also a fan of horror literature, which usually tends toward a much slower buildup and overall pace than some types of fiction.

If anything, the biggest indicator to me of short attention spanitis seeping into literature is the great vogue for "flash fiction" and "micro fiction" and the seemingly ever-shrinking word-count limits of some markets, but I think it's partially a fad and eventually "flash fiction" will come to be just one more form, once some of the novelty wears off.


I also agree with MattLeo, after a fashion. The story as a whole should be your concern and will, in the end, be the main concern for most editors. Contrary to what some will tell you there is a market...a meaningful market...for darn near everything, so just keep yourself focused on knowing what you want to do, and living up to your own goals and expectations.

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rcmann
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Flash fiction used to be called "short shorts" back in the 1960s and 70s. They fell out of style I guess, until recently. All things old are new again.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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There are other reasons besides electronic rights protection and the "how to get the editor to turn the page" approach for the 13-line rule on this forum.

1--If we allowed people to post more than that, it could lead to filling up the webspace with manuscript text, and our purpose is feedback, not publication.

2--As MattLeo has said
quote:
As for the 13 line exercise, it's primarily useful for the remarkable number of stylistic faults it reveals, like a tin-ear for dialog or an unconscious regurgitation of cliches.
I absolutely agree. It can be surprising how much you can tell about someone's writing by just 13 lines. There is certainly enough there to give helpful and useful feedback that can be applied to the complete manuscript.

The 13-line rule is not intended to cater to short attention spans, no matter how often someone may think it is. Occasionally, we have someone throw up a 13-line beginning that they tossed off the night before "to see if it's worth writing the rest of the story." I haven't seen very many of them actually continue to the end, probably because they are not really serious about writing in the first place, and the feedback they receive helps filter that out.

We want to help with complete, full-length work here, but as a workshop, not as a publisher.

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Robert Nowall
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quote:
If anything, the biggest indicator to me of short attention spanitis seeping into literature is the great vogue for "flash fiction" and "micro fiction" and the seemingly ever-shrinking word-count limits of some markets, but I think it's partially a fad and eventually "flash fiction" will come to be just one more form, once some of the novelty wears off.
Interesting theory, that...
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