Tag Archives: writing

The Three Flaws on Your First Page – Sex For Money Post #11

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


I was asked to read a romance manuscript that a friend wrote, and, while they used poetic sentences in their first chapter, there were some serious flaws that would hold this writer back from ever obtaining a publishing deal or gaining real success as an indie.  With her permission, I kind of tear it to shreds here for the sake of pointing out the three common flaws I see on first pages (of unpublished, self-published, and traditionally published books).  While it is possible to succeed while doing these things, you will succeed much more if you avoid these three mistakes:

1. Inaccessible Language

Remember how I described the opening scene as having “poetic sentences”?  That actually wasn’t a compliment.  This writer had utilized uncommon words for… well, I don’t know why, I guess, but my assumption is that she was trying to go for a certain feel and felt that using grand language would help achieve that.

That’s a fatal flaw.

If you look at the greatest works of any genre you’ll find very few odd and unusual words.  What you’ll find are common, everyday words, that have been strung together in a beautiful way.  (Your results might vary if you look at older works that are considered great — but writing, publishing, and language itself have evolved since that book was published.  For best results, look at modern bestsellers.)  An occasional poetic word or rarely-used word might be thrown in here and there, but that’s usually to emphasize a point of some sort, not to create a lyrical style.

Ideally, 99% of the words you use should be part of your everyday vocabulary.  No matter what genre you write.  (I guess, the exception being realistic historical fiction, but even then you still need your book to be accessible.)

And that’s the crux of this — inaccessible language makes your book inaccessible.  People will stop reading due to poor choice of language.  Or, if they make it through the book, you will get poorer reviews than you deserve, simply because your language ruined the story.

So, in the case of this romance manuscript I keep referencing — the author needs to rewrite the whole thing and kill all the strange words.

2. Slow Zoom-In

This is one of the biggest flaws I see in self-published works and one of the deadly flaws in this chapter I read.  Movies and novels are entirely different methods of storytelling.  Yet, I’ve found lately that a lot of authors are writing their books the way it might appear on the screen.

To give you an example — this chapter I read opened by following a leaf on the breeze.  By following this leaf, we slowly zoomed out to see the world beneath us, then zoomed back into the leaf as it tumbled through the air and came to gently rest next to the person we assume to be the main character.  (More on that in point three.)  Even then, once we finally met our character — four paragraphs into the thing — the author took even more time describing the setting, the forest, the wind, the stars, and on and on and on.

That opening, however, sounds like a fantastic opening to a movie.  It would help set the tone and mood of the film and allow us to ground ourselves before jumping into the plot.  But, movies are a visual medium.  Novels are not.

If I had picked this book up in the bookstore and checked out the first page, I would have put it back on the shelf before even finishing the page.

Your first page needs to be gripping from the first sentence.  If not the first sentence, then at least by the end of the first paragraph.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, erotica, or romance book — your first sentence has to suck readers in immediately, or else you’ve already lost half your readers.

Very few shoppers in the bookstore will make it to the fourth paragraph to finally meet a character… and then wait another five or six paragraphs to finally read something gripping.

3. Not Rooted in Character

Remember I said we didn’t meet a character until the fourth paragraph, and even then we didn’t return to him until several paragraphs later?  That is a killer for reader engagement and sales.

The way to make your first sentence or first paragraph gripping is to root it in character — and through the character we can then see the surroundings.  Characters allow us a window to see the world that we create — without them, we are removed from the story and we don’t care what happens.

How about some examples?

I pull these examples from my own writing.  I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but strengthening my openings is something I’ve been working on.  If you look at my older stuff, it’ll be weaker, because it’s taken time to really grab hold of this.

Here’s my first paragraph from my short story, Bathhouse Nights:

“I need you, Daniel. I need you to fuck me. I want you to be my first.”

In that one snippet of dialogue, we’re rooted in the situation, in the character, and in the world.  We don’t yet know the speaker’s name, but from what he says, we know immediately that he’s about to have sex (which is often a good opening for erotica).  There’s also the added excitement that the speaker is a virgin.  Do we know the intricate details of the setting?  No, and we don’t need to.  As the dialogue continues, we find out this is a jock and a twink in the bathhouse.  But to explain at the beginning, then get into dialogue, would result in zero tension.

Here’s my first paragraph from Bump and Grind, part one of Go-Go Boys of Club 21:

[This chapter opens with the header “Liam” — so we already know the character’s name.]

We’re the go-go boys of Club 21. We dance, we fuel fantasies, and we give ourselves to the beat. We bump, we grind, and before each shift we have a jerk off competition; the order in which we come determines who gets the most desirable dance platform.

We’ve zoomed in immediately to the scene, we’re rooted in Liam’s thoughts, and the language is all fully-accessible.  Plus, this is enticing, as readers know that a jerk off competition is coming up in the next couple paragraphs.  This opening pulls readers in.  You’ll also notice that this paragraph evokes a mood or tone, but still uses everyday language.  You don’t need obscure language to set your mood and tone — you achieve it by how you construct your sentences and your choice of which (common) words to use.

And now I present the opening paragraph from my forthcoming, as-yet-untitled erotic novella I’m writing with Sandra Claire:

Jay watched the trees zipping past the car window. He so rarely got out of the city that this camping trip was the highlight of his summer—and the fact that he was going with his best friend, Mike, and Mike’s dad, Mr. Carter, only made it better. “A camping trip to turn you into men,” Mr. Carter had called it, a celebration of the two of them having turned eighteen.

This one is a little rougher since it hasn’t been edited yet — it’s just a first draft.  However, we are rooted in the character of Jay — and through Jay we see the trees zipping past and we immediately learn we are on a camping trip — and it’s all told in accessible language.  Also, with the “A camping trip to turn you into men” line, well, I’m sure that opens up all sorts of dirty scenarios.  This is the hook that pulls readers in.  From there, we immediately learn that Jay is lusting for his friend’s dad.

So, the conclusion?

Make sure you use accessible, everyday language; immediately zoom into the plot and don’t waste time on setting a mood or tone; and root the reader in a character.  And… do all of this in the first paragraph.

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Returning to Normal

After a family emergency in late November, followed by a houseguest, followed by being a houseguest, followed by the holidays… it’s been a little bit busy lately.  As of this week, I’m finally regaining some sense of normalcy in my daily life, so that means I’m writing, reading, and thinking about blogging.

Amongst it all…

  • I’m hard at work on the part three of the Go-Go Boys of Club 21, tentatively titled Boys in Heat, and hope to have that out in late January or early February.
  • I’ve got five or six books waiting to be reviewed here on the blog.  My Star Trek obsession dominates those books, but there are a few things of kinky interest that will pop up, too.
  • I’ve got some ideas to do some minor renovations (more like sprucing up) this blog and my smutty Tumblr.

So I’ll no longer be an abandoned blog!  Things are coming back!

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The Writers Vineyard: The Skill of an Editor

I was over at The Writers Vineyard yesterday to talk about my first experience of being professionally edited!  Go and check it out!  It seems to have generated a few interesting comments, which is always fantastic…

Check it out here.

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The Writers’ Vineyard: Writing What You Know

Today I start my once-montly visit to The Writers’ Vineyard, a blog by Champagne Books authors talking about the craft and business of writing.

I kick off my participation by tackling the age old topic of “Writing What You Know” — follow the link below to check it out!

Writing What You Know

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Ooo! Fish!

You may have noticed the posts have gotten a bit thin, lately.  It’s homework-crunch time!

To make up for my lack of posts lately, here’s a picture of fish!  I took this one at the Toronto Zoo in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (For more travel pics, check out my travel blog — Global Scrapbook.  About half the pics on that blog are from my personal travels; the rest are from my co-blogger.)

So, what’s coming up?

  • Tomorrow, I start my once-monthly post on The Writer’s Vineyard.  I’ll pop online tomorrow to post a link to it for y’all.
  • Next weekend, I’ll be attending the C4 Lit Fest in Winnipeg, but as a regular attendee, not as a presenter or anything.  I’ll post my thoughts and experiences and lessons learned next weekend.
  • In May, I’ll be attending Keycon, also in Winnipeg, and again as a regular attendee, but I’ll again post some after-con mental blather.
  • In August, I’ll be attending When Words Collide in Calgary.  That con takes place a month after my book release, so I’ll be doing two workshops and a very smutty reading.  Over the next few months, in preparation for my workshops (one on writing dirty scenes and another on using social media), I’ll post some thoughts and explorations on here and hopefully get some feedback from y’all.

For now, though, while I work on the final paper for this course I’m in, here are those fish I promised.  🙂

(If the picture is cut off because of the stuff on the sidebar on the right, you can open it in a new tab or click the photo to follow the link to the original post on Tumblr.)

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That “HOLY CRAP!!!” Moment

My favourite part of reading, heck, of any form of entertainment (movies, TV, etc), is when the author completely and totally takes you by surprise and changes the stakes in a major way.

I experienced that in the Star Trek book I’m reading.  For the book-reading-Trekkies among you, I’m reading Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night by David R George III.  For the casual Trekkie fan, the Typhon Pact series takes place after all the TV and movie series and brings in elements of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and various pieces from other shows and book series.  This book, specifically, has a Deep Space Nine focus, carrying forward with the characters from that cast.

I’m only partway through, reading along and enjoying the experience, and then all of a sudden we get a glimpse into the near-future and see a major character die.  I was in the middle of a coffee shop reading this and actually said “Holy crap!” quite loudly.

That’s the power of storytelling — I was so into this story and the characters and care about them so much, that this twist, this sudden death of someone I’ve grown to love, took me completely and totally by surprise.  I was thinking “NOOOO!  You can’t do that!”  On reflection, the death of this character (who was a regular, though not main cast, character on the show) makes sense given all that’s led up to it.  It takes an excellent storyteller to surprise you with something that, ultimately, makes perfect sense.

My biggest experience with that was in reading Orphan’s Triumph by Robert Buettner, the final entry in the Jason Wander series.  Throughout the five book series, Jason Wander is fighting against this unstoppable enemy that has slaughtered everyone that Jason has ever loved (and millions more).  We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jason will finally meet the enemy face to face at the end of the book.  It was so clearly foreshadowed halfway through Orphan’s Triumph.  As I’m reading along, I’m thinking, “Okay, yeah, he has to face the enemy.  If he doesn’t, it’s not right.  And he’s gonna blow the f–ker outta space.”

And then… it happens… sort of.  Jason Wander meets the enemy, this massive head of a hive mind alien species (so all of the aliens Jason has been fighting have been extensions of this hive mind) — and what does Jason do?  I hate giving away endings, so I won’t explain it.  What I WILL say, though, is that the ending to Orphan’s Triumph left be utterly stunned.  I walked around in a daze for days because of what Buettner had so expertly performed in his writing.  It was not at all what I was expecting — I was, like I said, utterly stunned — but in hindsight, it is the most perfect ending that could have possibly been written.

That is what I love about reading.

I’m curious — what are some “Holy crap!!!” moments you’ve experienced in reading?

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Reader-Focussed VS Writer-Focussed

I’m having some internal conflict.

I’ve realized that, as an author, a lot of the promotional and platform opportunities I come across or attempt are writer-focussed.  This means that a lot of the self-promotion I’m doing as an upcoming author is aimed at other authors.  This is the wrong demographic.  As an author, I want to reach readers, not writers.  Theoretically, all writers are readers, so I do want to reach them — but by limiting my efforts to writers, I am totally ignoring the MUCH larger audience who consider themselves to be just readers, with no interest in writing.

So, I find I’m at the beginning of a journey.

I need to transition myself into a reader-focussed person, and not so much a writer-focussed person.  In truth, I’m partway there already.  Though I do network with some writers on WordPress, Twitter, and (to some extent) Tumblr, I do not go out of my way to network with every writer who I can possibly find.  I see examples here and there of writers who (I believe) are taking the wrong approach — so I learn what to do by examining what not to do.

A large part of what led to this realisation is my experience on Twitter.  Any time I use hashtags that have to do with reading or writing, I’m automatically followed by at least three new people who are writers.  Every person who follows me has a fair chance for me to follow them back.  I skim through that person’s tweets, check out their profile, and decide if it’s someone I want to be following.  Most of the time, I will click follow.  But these hashtag-searching authors… well… I tend not to follow them.  When I skim through the tweets from these certain people, I often find that 98% of their tweets are about hawking their books.  This is the wrong way to use social media.  Becoming a one-person infomercial for your book makes you repetitive and annoying.

Aside from unending self-promotion that really comes off as unprofessional, these authors, by targeting writers, are completely ignoring the vast numbers of readers who are not writers themselves.  This is the much larger audience and the ones much more likely to read your book.

While I take comfort know I’m not taking that annoying approach, I am, however, at a loss as to how to become more reader-focussed.  I want to reach people who would love to read my book — but I don’t want to throw it in their faces like some Twitter users do.  Nor do I want to aggressively target authors.  For that matter, I don’t want to aggressively target readers, either, because promotion and platforming should be attractive, not pursuant.  (I should be attracting people to my blog/Tumblr/Twitter, not chasing them through the internet.)

So just how does one reach the reading audience?

One excellent method is via GoodReads.  Once an author has an author account, then s/he instantly reaches the vast readership on GoodReads.  So when I have cover art for Autumn Fire and can put it up on GoodReads, that journey will begin.

But not everyone uses GoodReads.  So how do I reach those readers and make it worth their while to, say, check out this blog?

The current format of my blog is a mix of book reviews and my thoughts on writing.  This will not change.  The book reviews are attractive to readers and it helps readers form a connection with me if they enjoy the same books I do.  The writing thoughts also meet a certain audience — while not all readers are writers, some certainly are.  From personal experience, I enjoy reading an author’s take on the writing, editing, and publishing process — so I hope some readers gain something from my thoughts.

But, still, this isn’t the greatest way to attract potential readers.  So what do I do?

That’s a discovery in progress.  There will be certain changes on the way for this WordPress blog — features will not be removed, but certain ones might be added, things that readers will enjoy.  I may have some guest bloggers over the next few months and see how those go — I’m friends with a few other local Champagne authors and I’m in a writing group that includes, among other things, a magazine editor and the creator of an online graphic novel project.

My hope is that by the time Autumn Fire is released this July, I’ll have a good handle on this stuff.

If you have any comments on this, I’m certainly interested.  When you go to an author’s blog or website, what do you like to find?  What do you find annoying or off-putting?

And be sure to answer my poll — I’m trying to find out who my WordPress visitors are!

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