Thank You First Five Pages!
Nothing requires more courage than opening yourself up to critique. But doling out criticism also takes guts. And skill. And tact. And above all, good intentions.
As a writer who has opened herself up to critique during the past year, I can say without hesitation that the generous authors behind Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing embody all these qualities and more.
I was a closeted writer for more than three years. Not only did no one read my work, the only person I told I was working on a novel was my husband, and even that took some time. When my adult manuscript was finally ready for outside eyes, kind friends offered to read it. Their time and feedback was much appreciated. But they were readers, not writers. And what I needed was a writer’s eye. I just didn’t know where to find one.
While querying my adult manuscript, Azra, a sixteen-year-old girl descended from the Jinn, a lore of Middle Eastern origin, began tiptoeing around in my brain. Then she started walking, then marching, then stomping her genie feet, and two months later, I had a finished draft of Becoming Jinn. Fortunately, I had also discovered Twitter.
From this Twitter world of writers, especially Young Adult and Middle Grade, sprang opportunity after opportunity for critique, feedback, and support. It is through my Twitter feed that I discovered the First Five Pages Workshop.
Was I nervous to put my writing out there for all to see? Absolutely. Was I sitting there when the clock struck the hour for submitting my work, crossing my fingers that I’d secure one of the five spots for January? You bet I was. Because I had learned the importance of getting critiques, targeted critiques, especially of those critical first five pages.
Full disclosure time: I used to scoff at the repeated mantra of how critical the first line, first paragraph, first page, first five pages are. I’m not that kind of reader. I’m willing to give a book time. And I liked writing with a sense of mystery, letting the reader slowly pick up hints of this world I was creating. Yeah, well, good luck with that.
I wrote Becoming Jinn that way. And then I rewrote it the right way. I say “right” not because I was conforming and following the rules (please, I’ve got a mirror on page 2!), but “right” because it was right for the story.
Through the First Five Pages Workshop, I discovered where my story was supposed to start. And here’s the secret: revision. I had received critiques before, including from published authors whose time was generously donated through charity auctions, but those were based on one read, one version of my story. I would never know if my next draft was better, addressed their concerns, or needed more work.
This is why the First Five Pages Workshop is invaluable. You don’t get one critique, you get three. You get the chance to learn what’s working and what’s not, fix it, and get feedback. Three times. There is no other resource I’ve found (save for my husband, but I think that only extends to me) that will offer you the same deal.
It wasn’t easy. It requires a willingness to take criticism, brainstorm, and try again. It takes time. I finished my second revision in the car, laptop screen illuminating the darkened interior, as my husband drove us back from a weekend away because the pages were due the next morning. All week I had struggled to address the feedback, but it wasn’t until that four-hour car ride that the solution came to me.
If it wasn’t for that deadline, I’m unsure when or if my first five pages would have gotten to the place they ultimately did.
After the workshop, I entered that well-honed first page into many online contests. And I won. Fifty entries and five-hundred entries. My First Five Pages Workshop final revision not only helped me win those contests, it gave my story idea a visibility to readers, to readers who said they loved the concept and couldn’t wait to read it.
Those same five pages, with only minor tweaks here and there, are what caught my now agent Lucy Carson’s eye. And editors seemed to think they were up to snuff, because those pages were tacked onto the start of the manuscript that my publisher, Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s, acquired in May.
Will those exact five pages be in the version that hits bookstores in Spring 2015? I think it’s a pretty safe bet. One I don’t even need Azra’s wish-granting skills to make come true.
About the Author
Lori Goldstein is an author and freelance editor. She can be found on Twitter (@loriagoldstein) and at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com, where you can find more details on drafting her opening pages, including a sneak peek at page one, and her two-book deal with Feiwel and Friends.