Me: What is the most important characteristic of a first page?
Samuel: Hi Amy! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Doing your WQI was one of the highlights of my pre-publication experience, so I'm delighted to be back. To answer your question, I would say that, far and away, it's the VOICE. Which, to me, is just another word for style, and how you use sentences and metaphors and language. In other words, it's the DNA of the writer, the way she sounds on the page. It is far more important than action, plot, or even character. If the voice captures the agent and/or the editor, that wins over the first gatekeepers you need to get past to get to your readers! In This Burns My Heart, the first page gives you the sense that this novel has a melancholy air, and the language describes longing, loss, and heartbreak--giving you a good sense of what is to come!
Me: Yes! Come back for my full review of This Burns My Heart next Wednesday, but let me tell my blog readers now, this novel definitely has a unique and beautiful voice.
How much did your first page change from querying to the final product?
Samuel: It didn't change a lot, because by then I had already worked on it for a while. The first chapter of the book had changed numerous times before, and it was really tricky to capture the narrator's voice. As it is, it's a third person point of view, mostly describing what the character does and sees. It's very visual, which I happen to like, since I'm a very visual person, but other people like having other senses emphasized. I have poor sense of smell, for instance, so my novel, one may notice, rarely describes what rooms smell like. The prose is also very quick and spare, giving you a sense of the character's thoughts and her environment, without dwelling too much on either.
Me: What was querying like for you? Can you give us a brief timeline?
Samuel: Querying is not fun. Not fun at all. I'm amazed any writer doesn't just jump off a cliff during it. It was certainly the most stressful period in the entire process for me. Part of the reason is this: there's no standard procedure for it. Some agents ask for the first five pages, some ask for a full, some ask for 20 pages. Now, you'd think the agent who asks for a full is more interested than the one who asks for five, but that's not always true. So you essentially have to reinvent the wheel with every single interaction. It's like being in a crazy Indian market in the 1920s with everyone screaming at the same time, and no one can make any sense of it. From the time I finished the book to the time I found my agent Lisa, it took me about six months. Now, some people will say that's not a very long time, but when you're going through the process, it feels like forever.
Me: Ha ha! I love the analogy. Any query letter wisdom you'd like to share with us?
Samuel: I would say to imagine that you're writing the description in the book jacket. But not one of those catchy one-sentence ones, but those that really describe the essential plot of the book. Also, focus on the thing that is unusual or different about your book. That process, by the way, can lead to real discoveries, and you figuring out what is the book that you really wrote, as opposed as to the one you meant to write. The interesting thing, though, is that people obsess so much about query letters, but the truth is that by the time you get to that stage, your book's fate has already been decided. You've already committed to a plot that may or may not be marketable; you've already amassed whatever other writing credits. It's a bit like writing up a CV. By the time you write it, you've already lived the life that shows up on it. So I've always felt that I wish we could write the queries first, and then the book! Finally, I would make sure the agent can get a sense of your voice, and how you put together sentences. A query letter is also a writing sample, and your style is just as important as the contents!
Thanks again for hosting me, Amy!
Thanks again for hosting me, Amy!
Me: Thank you so much for being here and for your wonderful answers, Samuel! If you'd like to be entered in the drawing for a paperback copy of This Burns My Heart (US residents only, please), simply leave a comment in the section below. If you spread the word through your blog, Twitter or Facebook, I'll give you extra entries, so let me know in the comments section.
This contest will run until next Wednesday (April 4) , when I'll review This Burns My Heart and announce the winner of the giveaway. Best of luck!