Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music.
ASK THE AUTHOR: From James Earls via aarongansky.com: What’s the rule governing opening your work with dialogue? Especially when it sets the course for the rest of the story.
AARON: I believe I may be in the minority here, but my take is this–you should never begin with dialog (chapters, stories, or books). It’s a strong stance, but remember, I wrote the book on first lines. And when doing so, I did a lot of research. There are only three lines in the best 100 first lines of novels that begin with dialog. They’re all fantastic, but my point is that it’s very difficult to do. I think the reason is that, without context, it’s hard for the reader to be invested in anything that’s said. Even a line like, “How could you do this to me?” which indicates betrayal, falls flat because it’s cliche, and we don’t know who has been betrayed (or how) by whom. Usually, if you’re opening with dialog, it needs to be something unexpected and entirely unique. But it’s really hard to find those lines, so I simply avoid it. I like to establish the character before I let them open their mouths.
AL: I don’t have a problem with it, James. I’ve done it a few times (but not often) to no ill effects. I’ve never had an editor challenge dialogue as a first line. The problem is this: many budding writers start with dialogue that either doesn’t engage readers or just confuses them. The key is to raise the reader’s interest. I began one book with, “You may put your shirt back on.” The reader immediately wants to know who is bare chested. Man? Woman? Why? The answers come in the next two lines. I began another book with, “What do you mean, no?” Again, the bit of dialogue raises question. Who told whom no? To find out the reader has to read on for a few more sentences.
It’s important to remember this: Potential buyers first look at the cover, then the title, then the author’s name, then the first paragraph. It’s that last one that compels them to buy or to walk way. Give serious thought to your “firsts” (first line, first paragraph, first page). I’ve been considering starting a book with, “Well, there’s somethin’ you don’t see every day.”
MOLLY: First, I agree, as usual, with Aaron and Al. Kudos to Al for those two opening dialogues, because just hearing them here makes me want to read the books. Second, there obviously isn’t a hard and fast rule for this but I would definitely encourage you to take a look not at the entire dialogue (if it’s a conversation), but just the first sentence. It has to knock the socks off your reader, as Aaron says, without being cliche’. If you can do it, great. But don’t think you have to. The other two cents I’d like to add is, how long is the dialogue you’re suggesting? If it’s one or two lines, I think it could work. As a reader, I would get very frustrated if it continued more than that. I want to get into the meat of the story as soon as possible, and being a fly on the wall while others talk does nothing to bring me into the story.
Firsts in Fiction
WILDCARD: The Reviews Review
It’s no secret that reviews are critical to the success of a novel. In the internet age, people often check reviews before they decide to buy something. Having a good number of reviews for your book is crucial. Tonight, we talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Al: We have become a review driven society. Every time I buy something from Amazon I’m asked to review the product. If it’s something other than a book, then the product provider will also ask for a review. That’s two requested reviews for my order of typewriter ribbon. Everyone wants a positive review.
MJ: Why do you think this is? Of course, we love “word of mouth” advertising, but is part of this just narcissistic, wanting attention? Or is the majority of these requests for reviews legitimately for helping others make informed decisions? Does my one review really matter when there are already twenty, fifty, or a hundred others?
How to Write a Good Review
- There are several elements of a good review. The first is this: read the book, please. The whole thing. That way, you are better informed.
- Al: It’s also good to ask WHY you want to write a review in the first place. What is your motivation?
- Secondly, be sure to list the positive aspects of the book. What did you like?
- Intriguing plot?
- Fascinating characters?
- Great descriptions?
- If you had any complaints, feel free to say so, but do so politely.
- You wanted more at the end.
- You wanted a different ending.
- You wanted more about a particular character, etc.
- Al: My opinion differs here. It’s one thing to note if the telling of the story stumbled, there are inconsistencies, there are unfinished storylines, etc. It is impossible for a writer to pen a book that makes everyone happy.
- Be aware that this book may not be to your taste because it’s not in your genre. Imagine you’ve got a friend who writes a sci-fi, and you hate sci-fi. You may not enjoy the book, but it has to do less with their writing than with your taste.
- Be honest, but remember to be tactful.
- Avoid spoilers.
- I’ve always shied away from giving too much information in reviews. I don’t want to ruin it for other readers. So if I understand you, you’re saying, tell what you like, but don’t tell why you like it. That is, headlines only, no detailed report.
How to Get Readers to Write Reviews
- DO NOT PAY FOR REVIEWS. Amazon will take those down immediately. This includes offering gift cards. It’s Amazon, and it’s the internet. They have a way of finding things out.
- Offer a book in exchange for an honest review.
- Find book-bloggers.
- Al: if you publish with a traditional publisher then they’ll send copies to reviewers.
- Use social-media to your advantage.
- If your work is traditionally published, then the marketing/public relations department may send out books to professional reviewers.
- Sometimes they send out advance copies.
- The publisher will ask for a list of “influencers.”
- Sometimes they send out advance copies.
How to Deal With Bad Reviews
- Just understand that they will come. Like it or not, they will come.
- Usually, these are from unhappy people.
- Try to “bank” a few positive reviews to post so the bad one gets pushed down the Amazon page.
- Remember, the bad review probably came from someone who is not a writer. It’s easy to criticize what you can’t do (armchair quarterbacks).
- Have friends and family mark the review as “not helpful.” Usually, bad reviews aren’t useful anyway. It’s a bunch of naysayers.
- The best writers get bad reviews. This comes from a review in the Boston Post of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:
- “The Whale” is not worth the money asked for it, either as a literary work or as a mass of printed paper. Few people would read it more than once, and yet it is issued at the usual cost of a standard volume. Published at twenty-five cents, it might do to buy, but at any higher price, we think it a poor speculation.
- I had a very bad review on The Unemployment Cookbook (which I’ll share in a minute), but how I dealt with it was to put a short post on Facebook of how I didn’t think the person was actually reviewing my cookbook, and it upset me that there were people like that out there. Immediately, my friends who had the Cookbook went to Amazon and Goodreads and not only did I receive over ten five-star reviews each site that day, but several friends responded to the bad review and put her in her place. All I’d done was mention the review.
Examples of our bad reviews
- Review of An Affair to Forget (a short story Aaron wrote while at Antioch)
- the guy was not even sorry he cheated. he wanted to leave his wife and go to the mistress. the mistress was a homewrecking b****. it looked like she knew the wife and probably went to steal him. he bough the child without asking the wife first and he acted like it was his house and his wife does not have any say in this. he did not love hi wife and he could not make it more clear. man like this makes me sick. he was not even sorry.
- This reader’s expectations were not aligned for what the book was. The cover looks like a romance novel, and that’s what she wanted. That’s not what the story is about at all. I worried this would happen when we chose the cover we did (which I wasn’t a fan of).
- Did not like this as it was very disjointed and the ending was weird.
- This is a more appropriate negative review in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily “pass judgment” on the quality of the work. The story is non-chronological, and many readers aren’t comfortable with that. It doesn’t spoil anything, and even though she completely missed the importance of the ending, it’s a fair criticism. This is not a “light” read.
- This story pulled me in and was hard to put down. Particularly interesting read in an election year. The intensity of the prologue continued throughout. Kept me guessing about who could be trusted. The reprogramming scenes were hard to read and the ending left several characters’ stories unresolved. Would have liked to see more time spent on wrapping up loose ends. Otherwise, a good read.
- This is a “critical” review that is well done. The criticism is fair.
- The Bargain
- The Bargain is a modern version of the biblical story of Abraham asking God to spare the city of Sodom if ten righteous people can be found. In this case, the destitute town of Hailey, California, will be destroyed by a tornado if newswriter, Connor, does not write ten stories of heroes in the town. Although unusual people, the characters are well written and have surprising stories. I received the Bargain from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas in exchange for an honest review. (This was a two star review for some reason)
- The Unemployment Cookbook
- A complete waste of money; if I could, I would give it a negative star rating: This title is so misleading. I found nothing in the book that addresses creating cost-conscious meals. The author basically dialed in a family cookbook, and if she thinks she put effort into it, I am embarrassed for her… and I am embarrassed for me for supporting this joke of a book. I am sure she is laughing all the way to the bank. I wish I had purchased it in actual book form; at least it would have value as kindling.
- First, this review is no longer on Amazon, but it is still on Goodreads. As for the reviewer “supporting” it, she picked it up during one of my free Kindle giveaways. I don’t mind the negative feedback, not everyone eats the same. It was her personal attack toward me and my family that was unwarranted.
- These recipes are indicative of why America is obese, diabetic, and wrought with hypertension. Being on a tight budget does not mean that you have no healthy options.
- Another reviewer pointed out “That is like saying forks make you fat.”