Monthly Archives: August 2016

First Page Critiques by Literary Agents

first52First page critiques by literary agents are gold for writers. At the Toronto Writing Workshop, held a week ago, we were fortunate to drop off our first page for critiquing. As we all know, the first page is enormously important. It can make or break your book.

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

A panel of 11 agents read the first page (they picked random people). My fellow writer, Linda and I were in the front and were chosen to yell out ‘Six’ when six agents held up their hands which meant the first page had bored them and they wouldn’t read any further. (We did our job with aplomb!) About 12-15 first pages were read and almost every one was cut short because 6 agents raised their hands. In every single case, at least 4 agents raised their hands.

Here are some of the comments from the agents:

Opening with dialogue is a red flag

– Introduce your plot right away

– If your first paragraph has major issues, it introduces red flags for the agent

– Red flags for an agent – Character begins novel by waking up, seeing what he/she looks like and weather

– Make sure every word belongs on the page

– Expository dialogue – stuff you wouldn’t say, but is the author giving info

– You can introduce the reader to something shocking but don’t spoil it by taking the reader out of the action

– Grammatical errors are totally fixable but turn the agent off

– Role of profanity. Use it when it works – not for shock value. Must be authentic

– Swearing in description is really difficult – ex: shitty little apartment (doesn’t work)

– Don’t open with a bored character. Your reader might get bored as well. Don’t make your reader bored along with the character

– Don’t lose your effectiveness by overusing certain words

– Starting with a date might turn off some readers. Only use if really necessary

– Lack of flow is a problem

– Skin doesn’t become hyper aware. Be aware of how you are in your head

– Be careful of looking like you’ve pulled something out of the thesaurus. Don’t be too creative with your words (meaning using high-falutin words) it pulls the reader out

– Don’t start getting technical right away. If the reader doesn’t know who’s talking, you will lose them

– Nix the wordiness. Agents will immediately assume the rest of the manuscript is wordy too

– Description overkill – you have an entire manuscript to build your world. Don’t do everything on the first page. Sensory overkill

– Recognize that telling every detail can be better served by showing it

I wish they had picked one of the five of our first pages. I guarantee there would have been
no raised hands.

Pitching to Literary Agents

20160820_092501Five of us Beyond-the-Lamppost writers attended last Saturday’s Toronto Writing Workshop in where we pitched our stories to several literary agents who were attending the conference. There were eleven literary agents there:

Marisa Corvisiero of The Corvisiero Agency
Moe Ferrara of the Bookends Literary Agency
Chris Bucci of The McDermid Agency
Cassandra Rodgers of The Rights Factory
Ali McDonald of The Rights Factory
Olga Filina of The Rights Factory
Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency
Ellie Sipila of_____
Sue Miller of the Donaghy Literary Agency
Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group
Veronica Park of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

We all did 1-2 pitching sessions each. The results were better than we expected:

1 request for a full manuscript
Several requests for partial (50 pages) manuscripts
High interest in the pitched novel with a request to send query and first chapter once it’s been
Edited to required word count
Solid advice on the pitched query
Solid advice on the pitched story and how to make the plot even more exciting

It was worth the fear, the anxiety and the wet armpits. In the end, I think we all figured out that literary agents aren’t the demons we made them out to be in our minds, but were human beings just like us. And if we talked and behaved in our natural way, good things would come.

The excitement has come, the fulls and partials sent out but the work is not done. They could still be rejected and no offer of representation offered. So, as every writer knows – keep plugging away at sending out the queries and Write On.

Beginner Writer Excuses



Many, many people want to write. They want to be novelists. They want to be published – especially when they hear that you are writing/have written/are published or are going to be published. They engage you in conversation, tell you their plans, but invariably end with excuses as to why they can’t actually write.

Beginner Writer Excuses



I don’t have time
I don’t have any ideas or imagination
I’m a terrible writer with no grasp of grammar or spelling
I hate reading

Hmm, this poses a major problem. A chef needs certain tools in order to cook. He needs the ingredients, he needs his utensils and pots and pans and he needs a recipe. Without them, it’s impossible to whip up a dish. He may have all the intentions in the world, but without those key elements, cooking up any dish is impossible.

So too is writing a novel. If you don’t have time, ideas, imagination, or the basic skills of grammar and spelling, then – like a chef needs to acquire his dish ingredients – you will have to acquire the tools of the trade. It’s not that difficult.

3 Steps for Beginner Writers

First – learn to like reading. It boggles my mind that someone who wants to write a novel doesn’t actually like reading! Why would you want to be a writer if you don’t like reading? I don’t care if you read Manga or Proust. In juxtaposition with this, learn some grammar and spelling. At the very least, use the spell check on your computer and get a good editor to go over your work.

Second – write a page every day (that’s just 250 words). It can be an observation, it can be a character sketch of someone you met or it can be a few lines of dialogue that you overheard. Do this everyday, and you will learn rapidly.

Third – take a writing class once you have begun writing and enjoying the exercise. Writing instructors will help you by giving you writing prompts, teaching you the basic tools of the trade and most of all – they are (or should be) great motivators. After each class, you should feel pumped and ready to sit down and write. If you don’t feel this way, look for another writing teacher.

Writing a novel is fun if you let your imagination run free. It can also be a great way to keep your mind active and meet a whole group of people with similar interests. Write On

Skilled Writer or Rambling Idiot

writerSkilled writer or rambling idiot? That is the question most writers ask themselves (or wonder) on completion of their first draft. Most writers write reams. They dawdle on parts that are dear to themselves, feast on platters of description that don’t necessarily go anywhere or do anything extra for the subject matter and stuff the first draft with adjectives, adverbs and countless exclamation points.

draftPut your draft aside for a few weeks and return to it and you would well ask yourself – “Skilled writer or rambling idiot?” Those words and phrases that were perfect pearls now appear phony. This is when a good critiquing eye comes in. If you are part of a critiquing group or are taking part in a writing class (especially one like Beyond-the-Lamppost where you present your work every week) your peers will be able to cut the extraneous bits that you find difficult to. If more than one person zones in on an area, have a good look at that paragraph, sentence or character. It is a problem and you need to fix it.

Beyond-the-Lamppost classes are small (never more than 8-10) so everyone gets a load of attention and heavy feedback. Each week, you send in 1,500 words that are critiqued by all members of the group. Lots of hard work, but lots of fun.

FALL 2016 – 12-week Writing Classes

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Sept 27 – Dec. 13 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register and for location details, email

Pitching to a Literary Agent

conferenceIn a couple of weeks, I’m attending a writing conference in Toronto – the 2016 Toronto Writing Workshop where I’ll be pitching my novel A COCONUT MOON to two literary agents: Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency and Sue Miller of Donaghy Literary Group.

 I know my story is good. In my mind, that’s a given. I just need someone who has the ability to get me published in the traditional press to listen to my spiel. But here’s the rub – for a person who can talk to the walls, I’m terrified. To my ears, my pitch sounds canned, my voice sounds phony and I feel like I don’t know what I’m saying or do.

Why? I don’t know. They’re people after all, aren’t they?

 I’ve written out my pitch. I’ve changed it, I’ve overhauled it, I’ve re-written it about five times and I’ve tweaked it a thousand times. Reading it with my eyes, it sounds great. It’s got humour and personality stamped all over it – and that’s exactly what I wanted.

The problem is the human factor. There’s a real live person out there that I have to convey myagent story to and writers – well, we like to write. We feel more comfortable writing our stories, not talking about them.


  • What’s your hook?
  • What makes your story stand out?
  • Pull out the most exciting part of your story and create a logline (one sentence) with it.

Time your pitch to be about three minutes long so you have time to ask the agent a few questions and time to talk to her about yourself and some of your writing accomplishments if you have any.


 You can use the time to pick her brain about your book or any other story you may have. It’s your time. Use it wisely.