Hey Fuse Fans! (I’m going to make that a thing.)

A client update before I dive into the meat of the post: the lovely Tracy Clayton (Twitter sensation @brokeymcpoverty) is now one of the hosts of BuzzFeed podcast ANOTHER ROUND, which is getting rave reviews. You can listen to ANOTHER ROUND here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/anotherround

Today I want to talk about the first 10 pages, as they’re a key part of your query letter.  I’ve been catching up on my query inbox over the last week, and even with a great letter often the sample is where writers trip up.

Some quick tips:

1. Skip the prologue. A prologue is unnecessary 90% of the time to begin with, but in a query it’s an especially poor choice. You want to drop me into the world of your novel and hook me immediately. A prologue is a distraction, and often takes up a good portion of the 10 page sample.

2. Open with the character I’m supposed to care about. If your query letter is about a specific protagonist, try to make sure that protagonist is the person the book opens with. If I end up reading a 10 page sample that has no relation to the plot or conflict described in the query letter, I’m going to wind up confused and probably disinterested.

3. Starting with action is great, but don’t confuse me. A lot of writing workshops will advise you to start your story in the middle of something exciting. That’s definitely better than starting with the protagonist waking up from a deep sleep (please don’t do that) or the weather (pleaaase don’t do that), but when you start in media res you have to make sure the reader isn’t totally confused. You know what’s going on because it’s your story.

4. Don’t frontload dialogue. This is similar to point 3. I don’t know the characters yet, so lots of unattributed dialogue is going to throw me off. Give me a moment to get my bearings before diving into any lengthy conversations.

5. Yikes! I’m fine with mature subjects and dark themes. I rep horror, after all! But super graphic sex or violence in the sample sometimes throws me for a loop. Make sure you give the reader a second to breathe before throwing a hardcore sex scene or gruesome massacre at them.