Five Lessons Learned: Colorado Writing Workshop – by Charles Senseman

Writer’s Digest sponsored a writing workshop in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday, November 15th, 2014.  Presentations focused on a series of lectures by writing instructor, freelance editor, and author, Chuck Sambuchino, and an agent panel called Writers’ Got Talent.  During the panel, Mr. Sambuchino read anonymous first pages of work submitted by attendees, and agents provided feedback.

Mr. Sambuchino and the agents provided numerous tools and best practices.  Some of the most valuable insights related to opening pages and query letters.  Here are five lessons learned from the Colorado Writing Workshop:

Regarding opening pages-

1. Eliminate backstory
The reason that most often caused agents to have Mr. Sambuchino stop reading a submission had to do with this bad habit.  Agents challenged us to attempt to get through the first forty pages of our novels with no backstory.  They recognized the difficulty in doing so, but added that telling most often takes the reader out of a story.

2. Make description precise and concise  
Lengthy or vague imagery distracts the reader.  Agents lost interest in a work when description went on too long or when it did not vividly portray characters, settings, and situations.

3. Prologues are a taboo 
If the information in a prologue does not fit into the manuscript chapters, then it is unnecessary.  Some agents were more lenient than others regarding a hard and fast rule.  However, one made a good point.  She said, “Given that many agents won’t consider a piece that includes a prologue, why risk including one?”

Regarding queries-

4. Do not pitch a first novel as a series
Pitch it as a standalone with series potential.  Pitching a series requires a greater investment than an agent might be willing to make on a new author.

5. Do not include rhetorical questions 
This was stated as a rule.

A last bit of advice one agent stressed repeatedly is something most of us have heard before but either fail to do or ignore. She stated resolutely, “read best sellers, in your genre, published within the last two years.”

About Charles Senseman:
By age eight, Charles lived in five different towns. Imagination was a reliable and steady companion. Reading began with Dr. Seuss and together with The Phantom Tollbooth, Treasure Island, and Gulliver’s Travels led him down the road to the fantasy genre. Charles lives in Colorado with his wife and their Australian Shepherd.