Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give 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 about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!
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This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Associate Editor Stephanie Doig.
Author A described this manuscript as a contemporary romance featuring a hot shot quarterback thrown together with his high school sweetheart by a ruthless television producer looking for drama.
Technically, it wasn’t my fault we lost the Super Bowl, but the boss doesn’t care about technicalities. As the quarterback I get most of the glory for the wins so I’ve learned to take the blame for the losses too. I arrived in Red Parker’s office at 8:50, ready to meet my fate. His trophy case was filled with forty years of Emmys and lesser awards for his television production company. His success entertaining America allowed him to buy the Santa Fe Spirit expansion team ten years ago and I brought him two Super Bowl trophies. Between the awards were gold framed photographs of his most recent trips down the aisle, making them literal trophy wives. I doubt he saw the irony in that decorating decision.
The door opened and a lanky, younger man with close cropped brown hair walked in. One of Parker’s acolytes, judging by the tailored charcoal gray suit. The Woody Woodpecker tattoo peeking above his collar said he hadn’t been totally remade in Parker’s image.
“Red should be here any minute.” I offered.
“Bummer, I avoid him whenever possible. I’m looking for you, Miller. You are exactly what I’m looking for.”
The man offered his hand. “Brandt Reed, executive producer for Top Dog Productions. We can do the interview in there.”
He cocked his head towards Parker’s private conference room, used for signing contracts and auditioning new Mrs. Red Parkers. Reed and I stared at each other longer than should have been necessary for one of us to figure out what was going on.
“And you have no idea what I’m talking about. Parker was supposed to clear this with you. Typical.”
He reached into a green canvas messenger bag and handed me a brochure of thong- clad women playing volleyball beside the bluest water I’d ever seen. I read the hot pink letters across the top.
“The Celebrity Dating Game?”
“It’s a really fun show, Parker and I want you to be the next bachelor.”
“Is this a consolation prize for being traded?”
Reed snorted. “Yeah you had a rough finish to the season, but, traded? Parker thinks the world of you.”
The door opened once more. Red Parker took one step over the threshold and roared. “Great, just great, my least favorite people clogging up my office.” He ran a hand through his shock of white hair and exaggerated the difficulty of threading his way past the two of us.
“You told me to be here at 9:00, sir.”
Parker pulled a newspaper from under his arm and shook it. “See the headline today? Gordy Rosen thinks it’s time to trade you. What do you say to that?”
Parker loved drama, at least I hoped that’s all this was. “All I care about is what you and coach say.”
He tossed the newspaper into a wastepaper basket. “Coach said your mediocre play was not the main cause of our loss, Sunday. I think it’s the offensive line. We should get rid of those losers, get you some real pass protection.”
The mocking tone took me back to high school when my dad blamed any shortcoming of mine on my teammates.
“Sir, it’s not them, it’s me. I have some issues, I’ll handle them.”
Parker turned to look out over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. “Can you imagine an NFL owner with a better view? And I’ve had the best team, two of the last six years.” Parker pointed to the empty spot in the display case, between wives three and four. “I’ve got room for more trophies. Son, if you can’t get them for me, I’ll find someone who can.”
“Yes sir, understood. Next year we’ll win it all.” I wasn’t so sure but I do know how to project confidence.
Parker slapped me on the shoulder. “I wish I could have met your dad; we would have gotten on great.”
The thought of my father and Parker working together to control my life stopped me cold. My dad died a month before I was drafted. Every news story focused on the tragedy of the devoted father who sacrificed so much but didn’t get to see his son’s success. After what I learned at Christmas, if it was true, it now seemed like a just punishment that he didn’t get to learn his schemes worked.
Reed said, “Mr. Parker, I told Miller that we want him to be the next bachelor.”
Parker shook his head. “I told you no yesterday and a month ago and a year ago. I don’t want him to do that show.”
The idea that Parker had spent a year keeping me from cavorting with a brochure full of women was bugging me. Might not be such a bad way to start the off-season. “Hawaii, right?”
I like your premise—a reality dating show has the potential to be full of delicious, over-the-top drama, which is very appealing to me—but I’m not convinced you’re starting in the most compelling place. I understand why football would be important to your story, especially if Miller’s future with the football team is going to be part of his conflict later in the book, but I can see a lot of the machinations here, which isn’t ideal. I can tell you’re trying to get your hero onto the reality show, and the effect is that instead of being hooked by this page and this moment, I’m impatient to get to the place in the book where he’s agreed to go on the show, and we can really get going.
In situations like this, I’d recommend fast-forwarding to get to your hook faster. Maybe we see Miller on his first day on set, for example. It seems like the main setting for your book is the reality show world, rather than the football world, so I think a fish-out-of-water scenario could be an interesting starting point. If it’s important to show Miller in his “before” world, a football-centric opening scene could work, but I’d recommend something that isn’t quite as much set-up as this meeting; maybe something more active, like a post-game press conference, could show us a lot about your main character in a short span of time. It IS important to get Miller to the reality show, but that work should feel organic and natural to his life, rather than something that readers can sense you need to do in order to really “start” the book.
On a more minor note, watch out for things like dialogue tags, punctuation, and tense; I spotted a few errors here that, while they would never be cause for rejection, did make the overall reading experience less smooth.
Would I keep reading? Yes, but I would probably skip ahead to the hero/heroine meeting, to gauge the chemistry there.
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