First-Page Critique: A Broken-Down Cowgirl


Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, we’re going to post these first-page critiques every twice a month as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.

The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only one page, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than one page!

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of first-page critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of slush and critique it.

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open at the end of July 2017, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Editorial Director Angela James


* * *

The First Page


I’m flying a little blind on this month’s critique because the author didn’t submit any description or genre. So I can only guess that it’s somewhere in the contemporary romance realm, but other than that, I don’t have any overview of the book. That makes this a wee bit harder! (and for future critiques, we’re going to disallow entries that don’t include this information, so as not to make it quite so hard on the editor.

“God Damn!  I didn’t win any money here in the Portland rodeo. I could’ve used some pocket change. I did receive a broken collarbone and a gash on my arm for all my troubles. I need to learn how to stay upright on the bronc horses not underneath them. I should rethink why I’m a cowgirl, dragging my rodeo gear all around.”
“Not now, Grey-Boy!” My truck stranded me in a rain storm. My broken collarbone was killing me. I could really use a doctor about now.  A little help from upstairs would be greatly appreciated, sitting on my saddle by side of the road.

“Need a ride cowboy?” Fuckin’ A! I tossed my bag in the back of his 350 Chevy. I climbed into the passenger seat. Stripping off my jacket, I winced. When I removed the hat, my chestnut hair came spilling out. “You’re a girl? Daring son of bitch. I saw you. I never imagined that you were anything but a cowboy. What a hell of a surprise having such a beautiful cowgirl in my truck. I noticed you winced. What’s happening.”

“I broke my collarbone and a gash on my arm on the last ride.”

“The name’s Pepper Lewis. I’m the local doctor. Let me take you home; I’ve an office there.” Grey Stetson, pearl snap black shirt, jeans he must have used a shoe horn to get on, six-six and built to satisfy. His salt and pepper hair added to the yumminess. Not any cowboy will do, I like my meat seasoned.

“Get on the examining table. Your eyes, hypnotizing. I would’ve never guessed such a lovely woman hid under red chaps and black hat. The breast tape helps when you’re riding those broncs eh? You’re pretty top heavy.” He begins cutting the tape, “They’re lovely, shame to hide them.”

“Thanks Doc, massaging them with my good hand. “Stop that! I’m a man first, Doctor second, I may take advantage of your weakened condition.” “Please do, I need a distraction before you set my collarbone.” I gave a stroke up the handful growing in his trousers. A scorching kiss I received as Doctor Pepper snapped my clavicle in place. I’m on the road again. Rodeo never sleeps.

I should’ve been in Reno a day ago scouting out my competition.  The cowgirl in me was in a hurry to get there. The cowboy in front of me was signaling to the nearest off ramp. Having a bumper sticker, “Come to the dark side, we have cookies.” Ride hard, play hard.

He wasn’t hard to find, resting against the grill of his Black Duly, Black rancher style hat, blue checkered snap-up, faded jeans you just want to climb into, and suede ropers. His burned charcoal eyes added to the rain inside me. I’m a thigh and eye cowgirl. Little red boots walked on top up his suede ones.  “Come over here. Don’t, leave the ponytail.” I unbuttoned the tiered mini-skirt letting it fall to the gravel road, my head followed. Never met a cowgirl, knowing time is short.” I dabbed the corners of my mouth. I yanked hard unsnapping all. “Sweet screaming Jesus! Running my hands up over his shoulders, the shirt falls. “So seductive a half-dressed man.” I stop, enjoying the sight.

Stepping on the bottom of his jeans attempting to free his bound legs.

* * *

The Critique

I want to start off by giving the author a lot of props for being willing to have her work critiqued publicly. That’s a hard, scary thing to do, and I commend her for it, because it’s a fantastic first step in taking charge of her writing craft and moving along her writing career!

Based on these pages, I would say the author is fairly new to the writing world and possibly hasn’t had the opportunity to work with a critique partner before. These pages start me off in a place of confusion—I was never quite sure whose point of view we were in, from the very first line, who the character was talking to, and if we stayed in one point of view or bounced back and forth. The dialogue is impossible to follow because it seems as though maybe we’re not getting a new line, with each speaker, so I’m really not sure who’s speaking. To be honest, I’m not sure who’s in this scene, it looks like she went from a doctor on the side of the road, to a cowboy somewhere else? That’s a lot happening in just a few paragraphs, and it’s not clear exactly what it is that’s happening. The author has really rushed her writing here, by not anchoring us in one character’s head and establishing the scene and the characters, so we can connect with the POV character, follow the scene and invest ourselves in what’s happening.

Those issues alone are enough to make this opening scene hard to follow, but there’s also the struggle of sentence fragments, jumbled verb/subject order, incorrect verb tenses, missing transitions, and other grammar and punctuation issues. I would also caution the author against use of figurative language creating some unfortunate and/or unsexy imagery and jarring the reader, such as “I like my meat well seasoned.”

At this juncture, I think my best advice to the author is to search out both a critique group and some first-timer writing craft classes. I would also strongly suggest that she listen to her own work, using even the free “computer read” options available on all computers. Just listening to these lines might be enough for her to see how she’s rushing her writing and help her see where some things can be tightened and improved.

I’d also encourage everyone to realize that their first, and often second and third, books are not necessarily work that should be or needs to be published, but are manuscripts used to hone and polish, learn and improve. I suspect that this is one example of that, where the author uses this manuscript to learn her craft!


Would I keep reading? I wouldn’t keep reading these pages. They’re quite rough and still need a lot of polish and craft work, so this would be a pass for me, with hopes that the author would continue to work on her craft, take craft classes, and work with critique partners to keep improving and maybe submit a different book at a later date.


Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email]

Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.


6 thoughts on “First-Page Critique: A Broken-Down Cowgirl”

  1. Anjou Whelan says:

    I was intrigued by the raw dialogue and stream of consciousness flow, but I was unable to discern if it was F/F or F/M at first which was interesting.
    I could hear the author’s passion, but I wanted to hear more of her own voice. I thought there was a lot of potential to play with ideas here.
    Starting with an actual bronc scene instead of straight sex scene might be more subtly sexy. Also giving the Bronc rider a more glamorous wardrobe such as some well grungy Rock n’ Roll Cowgirl Rhinestone Bling Jeans would make the character pop in my mind Like Mae West or Larry McMurty’s strong, feisty but vulnerable female leads.
    My favorite part was when she met the doctor. If that scenario was developed from aid to friendship to love/sex that would be great!

  2. First off, I’d like to comment on the one gem that really stood out to me in the chaos. I loved the description “burned charcoal eyes.” It stood out, was unique, and painted a vivid image. There’s potential, here.

    I would advise investing heavily in writing craft books and classes.

  3. Thank you for your comments, they were very helpful!
    Editor, Angela, there were items I should have added a description would of helped. Thank you for pointing out many things, I forget I’m the only one who knows whats going on! I’m taking your workshop as I write this.
    Sincerely, to all of you encoraging me to work on this project. Rodeo riders live!
    Have a fabulous day! KIm–Lizzy

  4. Kim – I think you have a way with words and just learning the tricks of the trade, so to speak, will make you a wonderful story teller. Yes, it was hard to follow and know who was who, but you have good description details, they just need to be more focused. Point of view is an important thing to learn to make your stories read like life. I wish you the very best of luck!

  5. Pepper Lewis – fell in love with that name from the moment I read it. Not sure why, but I did.

    Grey Stetson…Stetson…seems a little too cliché for a cowboy/girl romance.

    Angela, could you comment on how important character names are in story?

    1. Stephanie Doig says:

      Hi, D.M.,

      Character names are important to the reader, but authors shouldn’t be concerned about them when submitting–we’d never pass on a manuscript based only on the character names, as they can always be changed during revisions. Sometimes we ask for a name change if the names are potentially confusing to readers; if both the hero and heroine had shorter names that started with the same letter–Dana and David, for example–we might ask if the author was open to changing one.

      Stephanie Doig
      Assistant Editor, Carina Press

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