Get to the Conflict

Submission Tips, Part II

So you’ve slaved over your plot development, logged hours of research on your stellar setting, written volumes of backstory and culled at least half of your precious time because you know what to do as a writer. You took a class or maybe three. You’re ready to wow the next editor who happens to glance at your opus grande.

Three or six months or two years later, you’ve compiled a stack of rejections double the size of your novel and for the life of you and your protag, you’re clueless. Your focus group, your mom and even your parrot simply love your work. What’s the deal? Sad truth is, most editors don’t have time to eat a sandwich let alone comprehensively respond to you with their reason for dismissing your sprawling masterpiece to the rubbish bin. Sad truth is, unless you grabbed that editor by a chunk of his or her own flesh, your book is destined for Indie Hell.

The hook has to be set, permanently and deep, and you have to yank and reel on the very first page.

Most of us writers don’t want to hear this. We’re world builders, setting creators with vast imaginations and lots of space on our hard drives. Three dimensions take time. Even in science fantasy, we dedicate ourselves to creating real, tactile. Our words are the DNA of our creations. So we use lots of them. We chum the water, rev the engine, toss around a bunch of tackle, and then comes the dangly lure and the line let out. What we forget is that the editor already expects a fish dinner and we aren’t even getting a bite yet.

Your conflict, your protagonist’s very reason for taking up line space must be identified in your first page.

What is your character’s deal, and why would anyone care? If those questions can’t create a savory, steamy bouillabaisse that makes that editor’s mouth instantly water for more, that second page may never be read. It is that simple. Don’t do it in the prologue either. That’s cheating. Slap her in the face, set him running down the road after the missed bus that was supposed to take him across the border to safety, put them plummeting toward ground in the space craft, set the water boiling around their tender toes – give that editor something to chew that tastes better than the delivered deli special and you dear writer may be on your way to the grueling process of publication. In the first page, it won’t matter if her eyes are ocean blue or if five moons orbit the planet of the serpent king – what matters is, your character has issues. Big, scaly, tasty with butter issues and I want another bite. The ocean blue eyes and the slimy serpent kings are important, but don’t waste that precious first page on their intricacies.

You’re a writer. You can do this.


Associate Editor