Margo Dill Guest Post - Petite ReviMo March, Day 2

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Revising the First Page or Chapter
By Margo L. Dill (AKA Editor 911)

Post after post has been written on opening lines; award-winning children’s author Richard Peck does an entire workshop on them. Agents and editors preach at writing conferences and on their blogs that it’s important to catch the reader from the first word, and they reveal they often don’t give a manuscript more than a few lines before they make a decision on it. Readers are known to use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to read the first few pages and decide whether or not to buy the book.

So, this means that yes, the first few sentences of your picture book or the first chapter of your novel really are that important.

I have just as much trouble with chapter one, the opening scene, or that first line as anybody. In my first published novel, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (middle-grade), I completely rewrote the opening chapter before submitting it to publishers for the third time. I revised the first chapter from my main character, Anna, receiving a baking lesson from her ma while soldiers walked by on the street to Anna, her siblings, and Ma running for the cave in the back of their yard while Yankee shells flew over them. After the change, I received a book contract.

My next novel coming out on March 18, a YA titled Caught Between Two Curses, went through so many first chapter revisions I lost count—mostly because my critique group and a slush pile read at a conference let me know that something just wasn’t right. Finally, I got the right combination of characterization, action, and plot, and I received a publishing contract from Rocking Horse Publishing.
The first words are important!

So how do you revise the same first words time and again and also know when you have it ready to go? Try these few tips:
  • Ask beta readers or critique group members to read your first part and offer suggestions. What works for them? What doesn’t? Is there any place where they would have stopped reading if they didn’t know you personally? Are they confused or notice any awkward parts?
  • Take the feedback and start a new file. Leave the chapter or beginning they read alone with the rest of your manuscript. Work on the first lines by themselves in a separate file, incorporating their suggestions and your gut feelings.
  • If time permits, do this twice, starting the story two different ways in two different files. Then ask readers to read again and answer those same questions above. Hopefully this time, they won’t have much feedback except, “Great job!”
Why the separate document files? 
This is just a mind game. If you write different versions in separate files, you don’t feel like you’re replacing everything you’ve already done, and you’re just trying something new. If you, your critique group, or beta readers like either of the new beginnings, then you just cut out the old and put in the new.

The crucial thing to remember is that the first lines are worth spending extra time on—it’s the window to the rest of your book. If readers aren’t willing to open that window farther, you’ve lost them, and that’s not something any writer wants to do.

Thank you Margo!

Margo L. Dill is a children’s author, speaker, freelance editor, and writing instructor living in St. Louis, MO. She owns her own editing business, Editor 911, where she works with writers to revise, edit, and proofread their manuscripts. She is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (Oct. 2012, ages 9 to 12) and the soon-to-be released Caught Between Two Curses (March 2014, ages 14 and up). She teaches online novel writing courses through WOW! Women on Writing ( .To find out more about Margo or to contact her, please go to

Caught Between Two Curses by Margo Dill will be out from Rocking Horse Publishing on March 18. This is a young adult novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Julie Nigelson who is caught between two curses--one put on her family years ago by a scorned lover and the other, the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. While Julie tries to figure out her own love life, she's racing against time to save her family from the curse once again. 

Stacy Jensen Guest Post - Petite ReviMo March, Day 1

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Say YES and Write

By Stacy S. Jensen

Recently, I've seen several writers question if it's worth writing a story, when there may be a similar title already published or in the process of being published.

I always vote for write first and think later. Why? Well, publishing is a subjective business. Plus, we get told NO by agents, editors, and our fellow writers enough. We should at least tell ourselves yes and write.

My reality right now —come in close— everything I write may never get published. I don't have an agent. I don't have a manuscript under contract. I write, revise, repeat, and squeeze submit into that process.

By the time, my toddler graduates from high school, I may have a glorified baby book in the form of picture books detailing the antics of bears training to be park rangers and a boy who locks his mother out of the house.

I write a lot of vomit drafts. I work to turn drafts into polished manuscripts with the hopes of publication one day.

A lot of this process is out of my control. So, I focus on what I can control, my story — how I birth it, nurture it, and change it. I can't control a hot-new trend of zombie tooth fairy books, an agent's unspoken wish (or hate) list, or the five books already in the publishing pipeline with a similar storyline.

I wrote about my no rules writing method in 2012. I still do this.

While I'm guilty of mentioning rules, from time to time during critiques, I cling to advice that just tells me to write. Here are a few examples:

•I whip out Romelle Broas' interview with debut author Sherri Dusky Rinker, author of Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site when I need a reminder. Ringer sent a rhyming, bedtime picture book, unagented, and unsolicited to a major publishing house. She became a New York Times bestseller.

•Rob Sanders, author of Cowboy Christmas, wrote about his first book — a cowboy book with three adult main characters and set at Christmas.

•Deborah Underwood, author of The Quiet Book during ReviMo: "If I'd been trying to write only what I thought would be publishable, I might never have developed those ideas." She also offers a great tip at Julie Hedlund's blog: "Write to please yourself, not the market."

•In Darshana's interview with Salina Yoon, author and illustrator of Penguin and Pinecone, Yoon gave this advice to beginning authors and illustrators: "Make it your goal to CREATE, write, and grow, . . . and not to publish. Keep your eye on the ball … and that ball is to write or illustrate, … and publishing will follow!"

I believe there's no reason to kill a story based on this subjective business of market trends, agent preferences, and rules. Maybe there are no new stories, but it's fun trying to write one.

Let others tell you no, but say yes to yourself and write.

Thank you Stacy! 

Stacy S. Jensen is as writer and is accustomed to being told no, especially after becoming a mom. She's trying to control the things she can and say YES to story ideas she loves. Connect with her at