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Online vs Print Novels


Graeme

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In a recent thread there was talk about the necessity of grabbing a readers attention and interest very quickly. There was a comment that the same applied when submitting a manuscript to a publisher/literary agent, as they will receive a large number of stories from authors wanting to be published.

I have been thinking about this and I believe I have to disagree that this is always needed. I have read enough print novels where the "action" or "interest" doesn't start for many pages. The difference is that a print novel will have a "blurb" on either in the inside cover for a hardback, or on the backcover for a novel, which gives me a taste or synopsis of the story that will help hold my attention for longer. Similarly, I believe when submitting manuscripts it is normal to include a synopsis with that submission which will help the reader decide if they want to persevere, even if the story is slow to start.

Should this be something we should consider for online novels? Effectively a teaser that helps draw the reader in, and makes them want to read that little bit more before they give up.

Using myself as an example, chapter one of New Brother is pretty bad. I made most of the mistakes that a new writer could make. Several people have said that they gave up part way through the first chapter as a consequence. At least two of those people later went back to try again, and once they got to chapter two, they've commented on being hooked. While I'd like to go back at some stage and try to fix chapter one to eliminate those problems, I don't think it'll be any time soon. I'll probably end up saving that for if I try to get it published, as I believe it'll result in a complete renumbering of all chapters as the descriptive detail in chapter one is spread through the other chapters and the effective start of the story (ie. end of chapter one and start of chapter two) is brought forward.

What do people think?

Graeme

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Words like ?always? and ?never? are frequently problematic---I had to substitute the word frequently for always there. ;-)

Your point, Graeme, is a valid one as I?m sure most of us have read stories that started off rather slow or confusing but ended up being great reads. I think, however, that the author of the thread you mentioned was likely referring to manuscripts of unpublished authors, i.e. the difficulty that would arise in finding an editor who would persevere through a story long enough to discover it to be the gem; Especially when they have a mountain of other manuscripts on their desk begging attention.

A far as your story ?New Brother? is concerned, I don?t share your opinion that it doesn?t meet the criteria laid forth in this discussion. Its very first paragraph suggests that the protagonist has been thrown out of the home and even been struck by a blow. While you do not explicitly state that it was because the character was gay, it would seem likely (perhaps even obvious) to readers of this particular genre. Even if your readership isn?t a gay young man who fears, or has feared, that particular outcome in the process of revealing their true selves, you at least provided the tension necessary to grab anyone?s interest in the back-story to Adam?s situation. The fact that most of your readers probably ?know? that Adam?s discomfort arose from a conflict with a parent concerning his gayness doesn?t detract from the enjoyment of the process which leads us to the final paragraph where the truth of the matter is revealed. We (your readers) are appreciative of the types of stories that you and the others so admirably provide: they resonate with us. The fact that your first chapter of ?New Brother? included quite a bit of description wasn?t an issue for this reader, because I know the necessity of description for a long read, which I was anticipating. I agree with you that it might be a good idea to liven up the chapter initially if you plan to have it published. We don?t want those with the power to publish to toss it aside without a fair chance!

(Pardon the denseness of my comments, I am not an editor!)

Be well,

Louis

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In a recent thread there was talk about the necessity of grabbing a readers attention and interest very quickly. I have read enough print novels where the "action" or "interest" doesn't start for many pages.

What do people think?

I think you're wrong :) I think you've added 2 + 2 and got 5. Let me try and be a bit more clear -- I'm always in a hurry and as a result don't always explain myself as well as I should. That's my problem not yours....

Specifically: you don't need action to get a reader's attention. Look at AWMS. Not a damned thing happens really. Getting a reader's interested (as Berkeley said) can be rather simple. New Brother begins with a great premise and it doesn't take much more than that to make a reader want to turn the page.

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There is a considerable distinction between literary and commercial fiction.

Commercial fiction is designed and directed at mass market appeal. Consider King or Clancy: their work tends to be action oriented, fast paced and event driven rather than character driven.

The Stand is about a horiffic plague. Red Storm Rising is about WWIII breaking out in Europe. Characters affect the plot but do not drive the plot. There is a "Big Event" and characters react to it.

For this type of fiction, a fast start and a fast pace are absolutely necessary. In terms of movies think Independence Day or the Hunt for Red October.

In Literary fiction the pace is considerably different. Time is taken to develop characters, description, setting scenes and tone. The inner life, motivations and emotions of characters is explored as well as their actions.

Think about Jane Austin or Faulkner: their novels are completely character-driven: the Sound and the Fury and Pride and Prejudice simply wouldn't exist without their charcters!

In terms of movies think of The Outsiders or Casablanca. Can you even imagine either one of them without thinking of Pony-boy or Rick?

There is no hard and fast rule that says that you can't have have novels or movies that bring the best of both worlds: The Long Kiss Goonight is a thrilling movie but it still features well developed and complex characters.

The comment I made about grabbing the reader from the very beginning is based on a book for authors called The First Five Pages: or How to Stay Out of the Rejection Pile. This advice is aimed at first time authors trying to get their book published. The point is well taken for any author however it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

Some readers are lazy and want their cookies without having to work for them. This is the MASS MARKET. Other readers are discriminating and will be willing to stick with a story if it looks promising.

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I should explain that I wasn't using my story to get comments (though they are always welcome), but simply to use it as an example. I hope you don't mind, WBMS, but in the feedback thread, you stated you gave up on the story partway through the first chapter, and only came back to it because you trusted that Dude wouldn't put rubbish up on this site (or words to that effect).

What I was trying to do was to indicate that there are stories where the first chapter may not "grab" the reader, and for many online stories, that's enough for the reader to move on (since there are so many to choose from).

With a paperback, the blurb on the back helps get over that issue by giving the reader hints of what's to come in the story, and that helps engage the interest that might otherwise be lacking early on. Even when submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, the synopsis that's submitted with the manuscript again helps the reader move past a slow start.

It's hard to do such a blurb for a serialised novel until several chapters are posted, but is this something we should be considering to help attract readers to the stories? It shouldn't be a crutch for poor writing, but I feel this is an area where online reading and printed books differ in how to get readers to read their stories.

Graeme

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I should explain that I wasn't using my story to get comments (though they are always welcome), but simply to use it as an example. I hope you don't mind, WBMS, but in the feedback thread, you stated you gave up on the story partway through the first chapter, and only came back to it because you trusted that Dude wouldn't put rubbish up on this site (or words to that effect).

That's why friends are good. If my friends recommend something I'll read it even if it's not something I'd normally get at. That's how I ended up reading Ender's Game, for instance. Dude hasn't steered me wrong.

IWhat I was trying to do was to indicate that there are stories where the first chapter may not "grab" the reader, and for many online stories, that's enough for the reader to move on (since there are so many to choose from).

No offfense to anyone, but NOBODY HERE is a Jo Rowling or Michael Crieghton. If you don't capture your reader quickly, you will lose that reader. (Less skilled authors on Nifty general begin the first sentence with a "His long thrusting...." which attracts many readers but makes me run screaming away...)

IWith a paperback, the blurb on the back helps get over that issue by giving the reader hints of what's to come in the story,

Plus if you paid money for it, you're giving it a full and fair shot. But I've read published novels that a horrible. Once I wrote a publisher and demanded my money back. I'm still waiting.

It's hard to do such a blurb for a serialised novel until several chapters are posted, but is this something we should be considering to help attract readers to the stories? It shouldn't be a crutch for poor writing, but I feel this is an area where online reading and printed books differ in how to get readers to read their stories.

I still disagree. Your opening should speak for itself. Your hook must, well, grab something. (Does that make you a hooker???? ::smile::)

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Guest rusticmonk86

I'm with James.

However, I do think it's a good idea to include a synopsis with online stories. Why? Because your stories should be marketed, no matter where they are. Did you write them to collect dust?

Ty's here. . .

Dewey is here. . .

Sequoyah. . . .

These are the internet's 1337 writers.

I've read most of your work. After I got tired of Nifty, I found your websites. But I found most of you through Nifty.

But what about the people I didn't name? What about the newcomers? The people who survived places like Nifty?

I think you're all completly disregarding the fact that the Dude has good taste in authors.

(I'm pointing at everyone here. Because of the conflict of interest: I am deciding not to include myself in this arguement, other than to express my own opinions. Besides, I'll be plugging myself a little later.)

Your story has potential. Your story is good. Everyone here has great stories. That's why they are here.

Maybe you don't know how to market online. The great thing about the internet is it's possibilties. And with the invention of things like "jpeg", "java", "php" and "flash", the possibilities are endless. AH! But only to harness their power!

Some of you have dabbled in things like "hyper text mark-up language", but all that's arised are text-formatted ads. That's a nice look, in print. But this is the internet, baby! Use some color, use photos, make collages. You can use Microsoft Word to create text-based graphics, it's also possible to import images from the web and type over them. (There are many ways to find un-copyrighted images.) You could also invest in something like Adobe's Photoshop, or other image editing software. If you're resourceful, you can get some pretty good deals.

There also a number of websites that have "free image creators". Look for the keyword "banners".

On that note: It's also not a bad idea to find someone who's willing to do it for you. ;) Just stay conscious of the power struggle.

I don't know about you, but I am someone who picks books by: (a)its cover, including synopsis; (b)scanning the reviews; and ©flipping through the book,which includes reading the first paragraph.

You can only tell so much by a title.

To harp on "production": AwesomeDude.com gets several thousand unique hits a month. That means hundreds of people who have never seen this site before visit everyday. Many of these people have never heard of Keith Morisette or "New Brother". Our demographics and marketing are for 11 to 16 year olds. Some of them need to print and hide these stories. These are the same kids who nervously scan the titles in the "Gay/Lesbian" section of Barnes&Noble.

Including a synopsis grabs interest and makes people want to read your story.

Banners, posters and title images can only generate more buzz.

But most of all: This is your talent, Gentlemen. Bling it out.

I yield my time.

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In a recent thread there was talk about the necessity of grabbing a readers attention and interest very quickly.

I believe this is absolutely true. I'm hard-pressed to think of a single great novel, by any author, that doesn't grab my attention fairly quickly. If you doubt me, read Noah Lukeman's terrific book The First Five Pages, which provides numerous examples on precisely why it's important to put as much as you can in the opening scene of your novel.

And at the same time, I confess to breaking this rule with both of my novels here on Awesomedude, neither of which grabs the reader that quickly with the first five pages. I've considered going back and rewriting them, but for the moment, I'm trying to concentrate my energies on a new novel. That one starts with a bang, right in the opening paragraph, so no one will be able to say that it wastes any time getting started.

I believe when submitting manuscripts it is normal to include a synopsis with that submission which will help the reader decide if they want to persevere, even if the story is slow to start.

There are good and bad ways to submit manuscripts. Some publishers and agents only want a query letter, where you provide a one paragraph summary of your novel, then offer to send some sample chapters or the complete manuscript if they'd like to read it further. Others will take the entire manuscript immediately. But the synopsis alone is not enough to sell a book.

I'll probably end up saving that for if I try to get it published, as I believe it'll result in a complete renumbering of all chapters as the descriptive detail in chapter one is spread...

It might be less difficult than you think. Try another draft, rewrite the first chapter to give it more emphasis as quickly as possible, and then see what happens. Renumbering chapters is easy; rewriting (and writing) is hard.

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In a recent thread there was talk about the necessity of grabbing a readers attention and interest very quickly.

I believe this is absolutely true. I'm hard-pressed to think of a single great novel, by any author, that doesn't grab my attention fairly quickly.

It's funny you say that. The first time I tried to read Tolkien's The Hobbit, I gave up after 30-40 pages because I didn't find it interesting (I would've been pre-teen or early teen). Many years later, when I tried again, I found it became interesting about one or two pages after I'd originally stopped. It was one of the things I was thinking of when I started this thread.

I would agree that a novel that grabs the attention in the first five pages has the potential to be a lot more successful than one that doesn't, but that doesn't mean there are not many good books out there where the early pages start slow. Please note I've used the word "good", not "great" which is the word The Pecman used.

The other issue is that "grab my attention" is a very subjective thing. Different things will grab the attention of different readers. I'm sure many people will disagree with me on my comment above about The Hobbit, but that was how I felt at that age.

An example of a story (and no, I'm not writing one like this) where the blurb or synopsis allows a slower start would be a story that is described as the search by a man for his loved ones after a nuclear bomb explodes in Melbourne, Australia. I can see a story where the opening is very mundane, as the main protaganist goes through a normal life, introducing the other characters he interacts with. Once the bomb goes off, the reader can see the changes in the characters as law and order break down, and individuals show the nobility and/or villiany they are capable of. Without that initial "ordinary" phase where the characters are introduced, the contrast wouldn't be as strong. Many readers would keep reading through that initial section because of the climatic event they know is coming up.

Overall, though, I will agree that a strong start to a story is definitely preferable.

Graeme

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  • 7 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...

When I'm browsing in a bookshop, I skim read the first couple of pages, and make my decision based on the writing, not on what's going on. That being said I have a few books that I've never 'got into' once I got them home.

Charity shops are great for finding new authors / new work. It's cheap enough that you can buy a lot of books, and if you don't like them you just take them back. It's win win.

Cover art or crits won't make me buy, but it does get me to pick up and browse.

Online I read voraciously and there are some wonderful, awesome unpublished authors out there... True, it's rather a niche market, and I honestly wouldn't be seen dead in a gay bookshop - I'm out, but I'm shy as hell.

Graeme mentioned the Hobbit. I always like this from the off, though the lords of the Rings I have never, ever finished, and lord how I've tried.

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