Do you tend to compare published work (which breaks the rules) with your own submitted work?

I have this nagging question that continues to bug me.


With my own work, that I submit, I am constantly revising the first several pages of the work  to make sure it GRABS the agent (or publisher) so that I have "a chance in hell" (LOL)


But you know....I, like many of you, always read other work to keep up with whats out there and ...

it sure seems strange to me that publishers like to break their own rules when it comes to printing work that breaks the rules that I, the hopeful author, feel compelled to follow.


I was reading one thriller (won't mention who) and it took this writer at LEAST 50 pages to get me really into the book. I sat there thinking, you know, I could have cut 25 pages from this and gotten the reader's interest much sooner.


And yes, I know the ones who are allowed to break the rules are given a bit of elbow room with the rules, because, of course, they have a fan base and people BUY their books. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rules. And i accept that. To a point.


 But I read many genres besides just thriller crime books. I also try to read as many first time authors (and again- of many other genres) and it sure seems there are a large number of books that are allowed a pass on the 'rules' if "grabbing the reader" in the first few pages.


And yet, when many of us submit, we get another rejection letter.

And no, many times there's no explenation--- they can't of course, their very busy.

But one of the first things we, as writers do, is go back in there and tighten the first several pages up.


Over and over and over.

And then we resubmit.


And yet, while we wait for some word on the revision....

we continue to read other books...

and there they are...

several dozen stories that ramble and ramble and ramble in the first 30 to 50 pages before getting your attention.


But then, I might be wrong.

Please feel free to correct me and I'll be properly humbled.


Sorry this sounds so cynical as one of my first postings here on the boards.

But it's so puzzling to me.

Looking forward to your collective thoughts/comments.

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The problem with those starts is that they usually cannot maintain the tension. The rest of the book falls off rapidly. I become instantly suspicious of this sort of hype.

Your comment,"The rule is, you have to compel the agent or editor or customer at a bookstore to keep reading. And none of these folks has a lot of patience," Is as close to on target as I have ever seen on the subject of openings, but your comment on the opening of "Slay Ride": "How can I possibly stop there?" is off target.

Perhaps you couldn't stop, but I could easily stop. I don't like crime stories where a child plays an integral part---too squeamish I suppose. But there are many readers, agents, and editors who are nothing like me, so that may be a perfect beginning for them.

Another thing writers fail to realize is that no matter how good something is, if it is not on the topic, if it does not include the kinds of characters or is not in a style that a reader likes, is not written with a diction he or she can deal with or voice that she or he likes, it will not hit with that reader and that reader will stop reading.

Tens of Millions of people have bought and read Stieg Larsson's "The Girl Who ... " books but certainly there are also hundreds of thousands of people who started them and couldn't get into them, and untold numbers of readers who do not go to best seller lists who have never heard of them yet.

Whenever we are looking for the magic that gets a book read, we have to understand that there are several kinds of magic: the magic of writing a terrific book, the magic of getting the book read by the entry people, the magic of getting it published, and the magic of having it loved by many and talked about.

The other word that replaces "magic" is "luck."

It all starts with writing that excellent book to begin with, after we send it out, it's all luck.
I think perhaps we've trailed off a little.

To answer the question: yes, I see many books that are utterly disappointing to me. Some (a lot) are bestsellers. Some are even award winners.

In my opinion, a good book needs to do a whole lot more than grab attention quickly and deliver thrills throughout.
In my opinion, a good book needs to do a whole lot more than grab attention quickly and deliver thrills throughout.

I agree, I.J., but there's a big difference between an established author and a newbie trying to break in. The newbie better impress in the first few pages, or nobody's ever going to see the kick-ass scene on 162.
Yes. If we assume that agents and editors read for saleability, that is correct. Can a writer be so flexible that he writes an over-the-top page turner first and then returns to the more fully-developed novel? I don't think I could do that. Mind you, I can insert thrills, action, and suspense into the overall narrative, but I cannot do the opposite, that is, insert substance into pure thrills.
Well, I haven't tried. I'd probably not want to go to the trouble.
There's no reason why a book can't be thrilling AND have substance. From Ken Bruen:

Another one of my friends, and you have to wonder what my enemies are like, a respected Irish poet, asked,

“You’re educated, you read, when are you going to write a real book?”

On those terms, never.

I’m not a waiter hoping to be an actor. I’m a mystery writer praying to fuck that I can write a stunning mystery novel.

The entire essay is here.
Oh, Jude, that was priceless. And it sort of takes the wind out of my sails. Ken Bruen is that very rare animal who can write on all sorts of levels. Now see, I think his hardboiled books are clever and funny, but I don't really admire them. The Brandt police procedurals strike me as sloppy. But the Jack Taylor novels aim for something altogether different and higher, and at their best they are superb both as mysteries and as literary novels.
Couldn't agree more re: Jack Taylor--THE GUARDS is one of those novels I wish I could get every single person I know to read.
I think you had it perfectly right, Jude, only one can substitute a lot of different things for the action in your example and apply it to any kind of novel.

“The first principle of aesthetics is either interest or suspense. You can’t expect to communicate with anyone if you’re a bore.” — John Cheever
True, Eric. But if you start off with a long poetic description of a beautiful field of flowers in paragraph one, paragraph two better show us some killing or fornicating in that field. Or both!
Love and death. Maybe it does boil down to those two. All human experiences covered.

Wait. There used to be the hero and his quest. The more complex and personal question of whether we can overcome. That carries considerable interest and suspense.


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