Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each month, we’re going to post these first-page critiques monthly 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 in early 2018, 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
The author description on this was very short, but we do know it’s intended for The Dirty Bits from Carina Press line (this information was very helpful!) and that it has a bit of a surprise twist at the end.
“Why aren’t you wearing your work clothes?” My mother tapped bright red nails on the counter. She was fifty three, but didn’t look a day over forty.
“I have a bag in the car. I need to stop at the library on the way. I’ll change later.” I avoided eye contact and smoothed down my sundress. When I was a child, my mother always knew when I was lying.
“You need to pull your hair back.”
I swept my thick blond hair back off my shoulder. It hung nearly to my waist. “I will.” I had told her that I was transporting some supplies for our local nursing home to the county recreation center. Volunteer work. It wasn’t a complete lie. I had actually delivered the supplies yesterday. I lived in a new housing addition north of Indianapolis.
“What have you planned for dinner?” Mom’s perfectly highlighted hair was pulled up into a messy bun.
“I haven’t planned anything.” I snapped unintentionally impatient.
“Why not Della?”
“Mom. My husband doesn’t expect me to have a hot gourmet meal on the table every night.” I edged toward the door, wanting to escape her interrogation.
Mom rolled her eyes in exasperation. “You should.” She mumbled under her breath. “You’re home while he works.”
“I heard that!” I shut the door, a little too hard. Mom thought that just because she was the perfect cook, perfect housekeeper, perfect wife that I should be just the same. She had old fashioned ideals of what a wife and mother should be.
I rushed to the car and pushed the key into the ignition. I carefully backed down the long driveway, making sure I avoided my mother’s Mercedes. My heart raced as I thought about the coming afternoon. My naughty little secret. Mom would die if she knew. Her puritan heart would melt in mortification.
Once I was around the corner I placed a call. “I’m on my way.”
A deep sultry voice caressed my ears. “Good…I can’t wait much longer.”
I squirmed in my seat in anticipation. “I think my Mom’s getting suspicious.”
“Can I make you a drink?”
There was a sudden lifting of my heart at the sight of him. His brown eyes roamed over me in a visual caress that made it hard to breathe. He had eyes that commanded attention. I saw that he had a full ice bucket on the table and a bottle of expensive whiskey. I licked my lips. “Just a sample.”
I gazed at his manly excellence, solid back muscles shifting as he grabbed ice with his hands and filled my glass. An intricate Gothic cross was tattooed up and across most of his back. Swirls of black, blue and red colored the giant crucifix. His powerful frame radiated animal magnetism. He poured a generous splash in mine and filled his with more.
He brought my drink, handing it to me with intense eye contact. We clinked the glasses together in a toast. “To the moment.” A soothing, completely sexual voice aroused me.
I flushed, unable to respond as he moved closer, his finger traced around the curve of my ear. He dipped his head, brushing his lips over mine. I opened my mouth to him, needing the taste that I was hopelessly addicted to.
His kiss deepened with eager fierceness, a primal lust bloomed deep within him, the taste and scent of her consumed him. One hand slid up and cupped her breast and she melted in his arms.
I was assigned this particular first page critique because I’m actually the first reader on all of The Dirty Bits from Carina Press submissions. When they’re submitted, they’re automatically assigned to me and the rest of the team only sees the ones that I either want to discuss or am recommending for acquisition, so it makes sense for me to critique this entry!
Because The Dirty Bits stories are so short and have very specific guidelines, I usually decline submissions for three main reasons: the pacing at the beginning is too slow, there’s not enough sexy content (or sexy content that’s not written well/not actually sexy), and there’s no central romance/HEA.
So right off, when I look at this, I’m pleased to see that the author has spent only a page on story set-up and then she’s dropping the readers right into the sexy times. Now, to be clear, more than a page of setup is absolutely fine, but in this case, the author has got initial pacing nailed (no pun intended).
However, that said, I happen to know from this author that she’s struggling with getting her work-in-progress to our 10,000 word minimum and after reading this entry, that makes a lot of sense to me! Because I also think once the heroine gets in the car, the author is actually rushing the pacing a bit because she’s not taking us along with the character in scene setting/scene changes. We go from the car to a…restaurant? Hotel room? with no transition cues. Even if the author had indicated that the call was ended and the heroine arrived at the…hotel? Restaurant? Cottage? that would be a hint of a scene transition to possibly help us keep up with the heroine’s actions. Right now, the author is leaving us all behind in a cloud of confusion because there’s not enough blocking (movement on page) to get us from point x to point z within the scene and help us see what the author sees in her head.
Additionally, when the heroine gets to the mystery location, we don’t get quite enough description of the hero to understand how he’s positioned, what he’s wearing—how is she seeing that gothic cross across his back? Is he naked (if he’s naked, we REALLY want some description, lol!) I did like that description of his back, though. I just want to be able to visualize him both in how he’s placed and as a whole person, so I can get the full effect! Yes, it is possible to provide too much detail, but it’s also very easy to not provide enough detail, and that’s what the author of this piece is missing (and getting these filled in will likely help her up her word count!)
I think this is a case of the author having a picture in her head, from the car to the mystery location to what the hero is doing, but she hasn’t quite gotten those details on the page, so we the reader aren’t brought along with some very important visuals. This is a pretty common thing to see with new authors, so it’s just a matter of learning to include some important details while not bogging down the pacing and the narrative with too many unimportant ones—I believe an early first page critique talked about an alley scene where the author actually described too much and created issues with her narrative pacing. So it’s definitely a delicate balance.
The other thing I would mention in this piece is that I’d like to see the author pull back on the use of descriptors/adjectives/adverbs. Phrases like “manly excellence” “eager fierceness” “primal lust” “animal magnetism” and “hopelessly addicted” might work if they were sprinkled throughout a manuscript, but they seem to be something the author is relying on to convey sexual tension and lust, and because there are so many of them in a very short few paragraphs, it comes across as overwriting. In some cases, I would recommend cutting whole phrases, and in some cases, just dropping an adjective or adverb and letting one word stand alone will help.
I think this sample is a promising start for the author and with some craft work, there could be real potential here, but there is work to be done first!
Would I keep reading? Yes, I would, because story and the ability to write good sex scenes is so important to The Dirty Bits, so I would read to see if the author had a good base for both of those, with the ability to convey sexual tension on page and write sex scenes that are hot without being overwritten or too mechanical. However, I can already tell based on this sample that the author would need to tone down some of the adjective/descriptor use and overwriting before I would consider it for acquisition, because those things detract from the sexiness and sexual tension.
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!
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