Tag Archives: being a better author

First chapters, like first impressions, are important.

What do I look for in a book and why is the first chapter so important?

Well, like most people, a book’s first impression on me is very important. And that first impression consists of three things – the cover, the blurb and the first chapter. Some may say that the author plays a big part, and this can be true… but quite honestly, if the first three give a good result, I don’t need to know who the author is. It often means I’ve just found a new author I like!

Which is the most important out of these three? The first chapter of course! The cover is just to grab your attention. The blurb merely the sales pitch to get you to open the book and read it. But that first chapter is the make it or break it moment. I will freely admit that if my interest is not captured in that first chapter, the book is a failure and gets put on my DNF (did not finish) pile. Admittedly, being the good natured soul I am I tend to give most books the first three chapters before I add to that pile, but that really is only if they pass that first chapter test.

Your first chapter doesn’t have to start with an explosion, big action scene, sex or any of the usual overhyped rubbish. Simply try and capture my mind with it. Sometimes it’s a slow, easy read that twist and tangles itself through my imagination so I don’t even realise I’ve past the first chapter, I’m so engrossed in the story. A good example of this is Mary Janice Davidson’s novel Undead and Unpopular. The opening line of the book is: “There’s a zombie in the attic.” George the Fiend informed me over breakfast.

That one line and how it was casually said got me interested. Then again this is one book in a series I had been reading for some time but it has always stuck with me as a punchy one liner that then goes right into the flow as if you’d been part of the conversation for long before the book started. Your imagination is snatched up and swept along with it and before you know it you’re in the middle of the book – way past the first chapter – and desperate to know how it all ends.

Other times it can even be how the first few lines read. Witty, enigmatic, suspenseful… some kind of emotional punch that makes me want to read on to see the how and why. But I do find if that emotional punch drags on to being a few jabs and a poke, I get bored and wander off.

Saying that, if you’re going to start with a punchy, witty, fantastic first line – keep it going at a good pace. Don’t put all your focus into the opening line and then drone on for the rest of the chapter. This is your make or break moment – show me what you’ve got!

I find one of the best ways an author can do this is to leave the last line of any chapter as a sentence just hanging there seemingly unfinished so that the reader simply must turn the page, start the next chapter and finish what was said.

Katie MacAlister is excellent at this. She always ends her chapters with an enticing sentence that gets that “One more Chapter” mantra going until you’ve found yourself reading until 3am.

I have had similar comments made about my own work and in my first book Bonnie’s Story: A Blonde’s guide to Mathematics it was the ending of my first chapter that got my publisher interested in publishing it.

Would you turn the page when a chapter ends so casually as: It was then that my world came to an end. Nothing too dramatic, just a sucking ‘pop’, and all I can surmise was left in the street was slowly dispersing smoke from his used Maths.

Actually, a first chapter is very much like a blog post. Start with a snappy title, capture the reader’s attention and keep it so they read the whole thing. They might then subscribe to your blog, they might check out what else you do. But you have their attention and they want to know more. Make it interesting, make it relevant to the title and ensure you make it sound like you know what you’re saying.

So grab a book today, be enticed by its cover, interested by its blurb and enthralled by its first chapter. Before you know it you’ll have finished the book. That is what makes a good first chapter.

Why am I talking about the importance of a first chapter? Because I’m lucky enough to have been chosen to be a judge for Freshly Squeezed in their latest C1Blitz. I get to read a lot of amazing and interesting first chapters to new YA works. Yes, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it…. and chocolate taster was taken. 😉

Head on over to Freshly Squeezed and check it all out.

Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Book Review, Writing


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Authors! Respect thy Reviewers no matter what they say.

I had actually wanted to title this blog post “Authors, how not to be an arsehat over bad reviews” but, as I’m trying to be a professional here, I didn’t feel it was the best start. Though it does explain this blog post a little better.

To be more polite about it, this blog post has come about from a recent incident that happened to a new friend and Reviewer I know. They deemed a book they’d been asked to review not that good and so said as much. The response to their bad review was shocking. The author (note the lower case ‘a’ as I don’t feel they deserve the capital) cyberbullied them and tried to crash the Reviewer’s Twitter account by having literally thousands of fake accounts follow them.

Real mature there author person. :-/

Sadly this isn’t the first time a Reviewer friend has been attacked in such a way, so this is my blog about it all. My blog, my opinion. 😉

Now, bad reviews happen to all of us who dare do, say, act, wear or write something in the public eye. It’s a part of being in the public eye. Not everyone is going to like you, what you do, say, wear, write and so on. It’s human nature, live with it.

Heck, bad reviews have happened to me. As the Author and creator of a literary child, we hope for the best when we let them loose in public. But there are going to be some who just won’t get what our story was saying. They’re not wrong in their opinion, it’s their opinion. Yes we’re allowed to have a bit of a tantrum and vent to our friends about how this person is such a so and so and call their review all sorts of things… but we don’t do that in public. We’re not small children having a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket as we’re not allowed some sweeties. Though, when you do respond badly to a review in public… that’s exactly what you look like.

I will freely admit to replying to reviews, both good and bad. But I try to always start by thanking the Reviewer for taking the time and effort to read and then publically review my work. Even if they’ve just bagged it and hated this and griped about that and put it at the top of their DNF (Did Not Finish) pile… that’s fine. Their reviews are constructive criticisms that help me become a better writer. Yes I will sigh and mutter darkly about their review, but I won’t go on the attack in public, spam them, cyberbully them and, well, be an arsehat.

When replying to Reviewers, I will freely point out bits I think they missed or got wrong… if I feel the need. One Reviewer of my last book actually liked the story but then poked holes in it for things they said weren’t explained… so I pointed out where in the book they were actually explained as I got the feeling they were a skim reader and simply missed them. I was polite, I kept thanking them for their opinion and told them how much I appreciated what they had done. This is how you should approach a review, bad or good.

Other bad reviews, or at least negative comments in an otherwise good review, were that there was too much swearing in my story. I looked closely at this, saw their point and not only toned it down in the final version, but have continued to keep it toned down in the following books of the same series. Constructive criticism makes our work better. It points out flaws we may not have seen. We don’t have to agree with every negative comment, but still try and learn something from them. Me, I’ve been trying a new thing out in life. For every negative situation I find myself in, I try and find the positive (no matter how small) for those situations. It works. For life as well as bad reviews. 🙂

Let’s just take the time to think about what it is a book Reviewer does for a moment. Yes they get sent all these free books and then get to sit around reading them and then write about them online. That’s the nice generalised candy floss look at what they do. Reviewers are people, like everyone else, who generally have lives and jobs and many commitments they must attend to. On top of this they agree to read and review your story, usually for free. Just because they have offered to do this, that doesn’t mean they are or have to like it. They are simply there to give an opinion on the story.

A good Reviewer simply tells it how it is for them. A good Reviewer doesn’t bag the writer as a person, or spam them or try and crash their social media accounts. A good Reviewer can often give a bad review as they just didn’t like the book. A bad Reviewer is someone who just says “I liked it” or “It sucked” without explaining why.

I even tried to be reviewer once. I joined up, got my free books… and did not like what I read. I had a lot of other stressful stuff happening in my life at that time and the thought of giving a bad review on top of it all was just too much. So I gutlessly slipped through the cracks and ran away. Being a Reviewer is a tough job. How would you like to be responsible for approving or condemning someone’s work in public? Could you cope with the haters this creates? I couldn’t. Reviewers have to be a lot braver and thick skinned than I could be. Respect Reviewers!

On the flip side, a good Author writes and publishes (or has published) a story they are willing to share with the world, fully accepting that not everyone is going to like it. A good Author will thank all reviewers for the good and bad reviews politely, take what they can from these reviews and write a better story next time.

A bad Author is someone who won’t take constructive criticism in any shape or form. They think their work is perfect and how dare anyone say otherwise. A bad Author is someone who personally attacks the Reviewer and calls them all sorts of names for giving a review the author doesn’t agree with. A bad Author is someone who cyberbullies a Reviewer and attempts to crash their social media accounts by spamming them, or having thousands of fake followers start to follow them so the administers see it as a breach of policy and suspend their accounts.

Don’t be a bad author, be a good Author… note the ‘A’. 😉

Okay, so I’m pretty sure I’m sounding like a bit of a broken record right now as I keep going over and over the same thing. But I was really shocked at the treatment my friend, and probably other Reviewers, get dealt by simply doing what they’ve been asked to do – give an honest review. If you can’t cope with an honest review, either stop writing, stop publishing or pay someone to lie and love it. Better yet, try reading these reviews to see where you’re going wrong and write a better story because of it.

Take special note of this next bit Authors and Writers hoping to be Authors:

A bad review is like a rejection letter. Yes it’s going to upset you, yes it’s going to make you doubt your worth and reach for the chocolate. But when you look at it, it’s just someone pointing out where they feel you’ve been going wrong and, with a good Reviewer, helping you learn from that to try again and write it better next time. Their review is their opinion, respect it.

As I’m often known to say – simply put on your big girl panties, toughen up and keep going.

Not everyone is going to like your writing… but not everyone is going to hate it either. Be a grown up, take it in your stride and… my favourite mantra of all: Accept and move on. This doesn’t mean accept defeat, it simple means you’re accepting the situation for what it is and you’re keeping on going despite it all.

To all Reviewers out there, even those who haven’t liked my work and who have given me bad review:

Thank you! All your time, dedicated commitment to reading and reviewing is greatly appreciated. Not all Authors are arsehats and I would like to apologise for the behaviour of others… But as it was their behaviour and not mine, it’s not my place to take their crap either. All the same, you’re doing a great job and I’m sorry not everyone sees it that way. Keep on keeping on. 😉

To everyone else:

Take this as a life lesson. Look at the situation from more than just the side you’re on. Bad things happen. It’s how you, as a person, react to them that makes you who you are. Are you a Person with a capital P to show you’re important? Or a lower case person for not being the most mature person in a situation?

Okay, that’s me done for now. Please think of others (and how you look to others) the next time you need to have a tantrum over something negative. Should it really become a very public cyberbullying event? Or should you just slam the door a few times, stomp about the house and then get on with life? Think about it.

Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Writing


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