BWS 09.11.16: Five First-page Mistakes, with Suzanne Sutherland

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Suzanne Sutherland is the Children’s and YA Editor at HarperCollins Publishers, where she has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Emma Donoghue, Dennis Lee and Kit Pearson. She is also the author of three novels for teens, including her most recent,Under the Dusty Moon.

Suzanne gave the talk “Getting Past Page One: How to Make Sure a Publisher Will Read Your Manuscript” at our November 2016 event, and left us with these five tips!

1. Not establishing a distinctive voice
No editor wants to feel as though they’ve already read a manuscript before they’ve even begun. There are always new voices and new perspectives to be explored in fiction, so be sure to consider what makes your story unique from other books like it in the market.

Your character’s voices are also hugely important. Stilted dialogue can be an early tip-off to an editor that an author may have a fine broad sense of their novel but may not have fine-tuned it on a molecular level. Consider reading dialogue out loud, and think about what makes your character’s voice and perspective unique.

2. Introducing too many details or characters
There’s a balance to be struck, of course. You want to bring the reader (or editor) into the world of your story, but you want to do it in a thoughtful way. Remember that every character, like every chapter and even every scene, should be driving your manuscript forward to its eventual destination–each element that exists on the page should be there for a reason.

3. Being too heavy-handed with tone or theme
While you certainly do want to establish these elements early in the story, be on the lookout for scenes, characters or even turns of phrase that, while precious to you, may not ultimately fit within the narrative. These are your darlings, and you will have to be ruthless with them. Sorry.

4. Not starting your story at its most interesting point
Remember that you need to establish and build tension throughout your story to keep readers turning the pages. Think about where this can be found in the manuscript and how you can support that development through your storytelling. Beginning your story at the right moment in your central conflict is crucial to maintaining narrative propulsion.

5. Expecting the reader to have a particular familiarity with the subject, the time, the genre
Certainly there are readers, and editors, who will never read a word of a particular genre or category of book, and it is in no way necessary to please everyone. But a good book really does transcend these arbitrary barriers–just be sure that you’re not counting any readers out before they’ve had a chance to be truly absorbed by your story. Consider a reader who has never read a book like yours. What is it about your story that will pull them in?

Check back after our next event for more tips from our next guest speaker–-and before that, see you at our next event: January 11, 2017, 6:30pm,  at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto!

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