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It's Not Nice to Grab
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My mother used to say, "It's not nice to grab." She was correct. As a writer, I'm sick and tired of being told I have to grab, grab, grab. You're done for (or so it's said) If you don't grab the reader in the first paragraph, or better the first sentence. Or why not the first word, or the first letter..."T--" Oh....zzzzzzz..."T's" so common and boring...."X"...that's better...

I have no reason to disbelieve agents and edtors when they say they'll toss a manuscript after a few lines if it doesn't grab them. But are we writing for agents and editors or for readers?

There's a good reason agents and editors want to be able to judge a book by its first lines. They're swamped with manuscripts. They need to weed through them quickly. Snappy beginnings serve their purposes. But as a reader I don't need instant gratification. I select books by reading the jacket copy or a review, opening them up to sample the writer's style. Once I pick a book I figure I'll like (and I never do that by opening one book after the next to find the best hook) I'm quite prepared to give the writer a little time.

A novel is a long and complicated thing. That's part of the the beauty of it. The ability to write a first sentence that grabs a reader reveals little or nothing about the ability to put together the subsequent tens of thousands of words that make up a novel.

A catchy opening is like an advertising slogan. Does it make sense to select writers for publication or representation on the basis of how good they are at writing advertising copy? Well, since we're also told (by some) that our main job as writers is to sell, sell, sell, maybe that makes a sort of warped sense. Not to me, it doesn't, but maybe to someone.

As I'm finishing up the first draft of our seventh novel I am grateful that our editor (and the first reader) for Poisoned Pen Press obviously didn't approach their selection process with such an attitude. We had to rewrite the first chapter of the first book about five times and the first line still doesn't grab. The half a million words that have followed in that book and the others have been pretty well received, though. If the folks at Poisoned Pen had tossed our manuscript after the first line or the first paragraph, all our books would still be sitting on our hard drives and in our brains. And my brain would be getting uncomfortably crowded.

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