Monday, August 20, 2012

More Books on Writing Books

Last week I talked about Save the Cat. This week I have another great book to share.

I recently closed out my first round of queries. It was nerve wracking and awesome. I know there are plenty of folks who hate the process (and I'm not saying I loved it), but it was such an educational experience.

While I didn't get my perfect agent...yet, I did get some advice that I think will only make my writing stronger. One of the agents I spoke with said she really liked my book, but needed more from the first 30 pages. In other words, the writing was good, but it wasn't capturing her yet.

On a side note, for any agents who might be reading this, please know that we writers love this stuff. I realize you get tons of emails letting you know that you've made the biggest mistake of your life passing up on someone's project. Please know that the rest of us are amazingly appreciative when you take the time to read our work and give feedback, even if the answer is no.

I read back through my submission, but I'm just too close to it. I didn't doubt for a minute that the agent feedback was accurate, but I was having trouble seeing it. Enter The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. 

I really liked this book, because it doesn't sugar coat the writing process. The first part of the book is a great review of writing sins that will almost surely result in rejection if they're in your first 50 pages. The second half is a really detailed breakdown of all the elements that need to find their way to your first 50.

Some of this is really basic, like introduce your main characters, but there was plenty of other great advice in there. I especially enjoyed the sections on establishing normal and revealing your characters knot. Gerke does a great job of writing in a way that is both informative and entertaining without talking down to  the reader like they are in their high school freshman English class.

One of my favorite parts was when Gerke broke down the components of a great first line and first page. As writers, we hear all the time that the start of our novel has to be great, but this is the first time I've seen someone breakdown exactly how to do that.

I found this book so informative (and easy to read) that I have now purchased another of Gerke's books Plot versus Character. I've just started, but I'm really enjoying it so far.

The moral of the story: if you don't know how to fix your writing, learn how. I wasn't an English major and I've never taken a writing class. What I know about writing is from writing. While I honestly believe you don't need a formal education to be a writer, there's no shame in getting help when you need it.


  1. Sounds like a terrific recommendation. Sara Zarr talked about the first 30 pages at last year's WriteOnCon: Pacing in Contemporary YA. It's useful beyond Contemp YA, I think.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thanks for the link, Sara. I love hearing what other people learn from books I've read.

  2. I love when agents take the time to give feedback. I was so grateful to the agents who did that for me. They really helped me get my manuscript to the point where it was ready to be offered on.

    I agree that you can teach yourself to be a great writer. I love your dedication to make yourself better, Sarah, and I know it will pay off in the end. :)

    1. Thanks, Kelly. I know lots of people think agents are scary, but they really do want to see you write a good book. And then they want to sell it. :)

  3. It's wonderful that you're reading such great books on craft. I love to read articles and things about how to improve my writing. There's no such thing as knowing too much. :-)

  4. This sounds great. Thanks so much for sharing it. I've never heard of it before.


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