I worked as an editor at an e-publisher for two years. In that time, I read and accepted submissions and judged writing contests, among other things. Over the next few months I'm going to share with you some of what I think will help you the most in getting noticed by an editor, but today I'm going to get us started with something I think that's vital - hooking your reader. And before you can hook a reader, you have to hook that reader who has the potential to buy your book: your editor.
It's imperative to start in a meaningful place. Right at the point of change or slightly before it is the common advice. One thing I'd recommend you not to start with, unless you have an extremely strong voice or unusual way of handling it, is a dream sequence. In one contest I judged, 4 out of 5 entries had characters dreaming or just waking up from a dream as their opener. Not good. You want to stand out as much as possible, and when you pick a scenario that already has a lot of mileage, you're running the risk of blending into the pack.
Another piece of advice is to limit the infodump. You want to intrigue us to keep reading that exciting opening scene you've crafted, not bog down the pace with lots of info that can be sprinkled in later on. I'm guilty of this too. Sometimes you'll find you need to write a few chapters of "getting to know your characters" but then you discover later on you can chop them off and leave them out of the book entirely.
Introducing too many characters at once is another thing I'd warn you against. As much as you want to set your scene, you also want your reader firmly seated in your heroine and hero's heads. Using deep POV (something I'll talk more about in a later post) and limiting the amount of characters you introduce early on will help your readers bond more easily with your protagonists. Not to mention the importance of not confusing someone trying to lose themselves in your story. Once I start getting confused about who's who, I start losing interest. And that's the last thing you want a prospective editor to do when they are considering your manuscript.
Do you struggle with opening your story? Sometimes I have to rewrite my opening several times until I have it just right. Showing off your voice and making sure your opener has impact can be difficult, but it's so worth it. Think of your opener as the foundation of your book. Once that's solid, you're in excellent shape to keep building.