Last week, I received my literary agent’s feedback on my query letter and on my first five pages. For those of you who don’t remember, I took a Writer’s Digest webinar last month about the querying process; as part of this webinar, my assigned literary agent critiqued my query letter and my sample pages with suggestions on how I can improve.
My agent gave me many comments. I was overwhelmed and shocked by what she said. I needed to take some time to absorb her comments before writing about them and before forming a plan of action. At first I took what she said very personally, but I realize now that this is just an opportunity to improve my writing.
I mentioned before that my novel is written in “frame” style. In other words, there is a large backstory in the middle that is “framed” by a dark romance that occurs in the present time. During the webinar, my agent told me that according to standard protocol, I needed to start my sample pages from the very beginning of the novel. Thus, I had followed her instructions and had done exactly that.
However, as a result of this, the agent became VERY frustrated with my novel. She wanted me to reveal ALL of the important details upfront, instead of “hiding” them from the reader. She had many questions about the motives of my main character; she wanted many of these questions to be answered right away in the very first page.
I did not know how to precede after she gave me this suggestion, because the answers to her questions are very complex and simply cannot be explained in one page (let alone in the very FIRST page). The main character with the extremely complicated past cannot just reveal ALL of her personal details upfront, because the reader needs that understanding of her past events before the answers to the questions will make sense. Plus, not knowing ALL of the details upfront keeps the reader engaged in the mystery and in the surprise of the story as it unfolds.
Therefore, the way that the novel is currently set up is that the questions are slowly answered throughout the novel, once sufficient explanation of past events has occurred. This way, the reader can properly sympathize with the main character before the darkest details are revealed.
In spite of this, without enough explanation up front, the main character comes across completely wrong to the reader. The main character has extremely odd behavior at the beginning of the novel because she is an abuse victim; thus she is working on overcoming that abuse and acts strangely.
However, not knowing any of this, the agent read my sample pages and came to the conclusion that my main character is a nutcase.
Clearly, I need to make some changes so that the main character does not come across as a complete psycho. I’m flirting with the idea of adding a short prologue that contains a flashback to the abuse. I also need to add in more foreshadowing in the first few pages to help the main character seem more frail and fragile to the reader. Hopefully, this will help solve the problem.
Also, I need to more clearly articulate the structure of the novel in my query letter so that the agent will have a better understanding of how the story will unfold after the first five pages. I need to clearly specify that this novel is written in “frame” style and I also need to spoil the mystery for the agent. I had thought before that the book summery that is included in the query letter is the same one that will be written on the back of the book or on the inside jacket, but that is wrong. Unlike the reader, the agent needs the story to be spoiled with more details of what actually happens in the novel, so that he or she can properly understand the structure of the story and think about how it might unfold later.
So, I have lots of things to improve with my novel. Time to get started!