I have finally updated the excerpt on my website. Once upon a time, that excerpt was part of chapter one. Not the actual beginning of the book – that was a prologue. Not the beginning of chapter one – that was two pages of infodump. No, the excerpt began a solid two pages into chapter one.

This should have been a warning sign. Now GOTH has no prologue and a much better chapter one, and I think the excerpt is much stronger for it. (The book is stronger for it, too.)

But this has been an important lesson. I think all writers should ask themselves, when selecting excerpts – which scene in my book is the most intriguing? Which scene does the best job of introducing the characters, foreshadowing the coming conflict, and raising questions that will compel people to read on?

And if the answer to that question isn’t “the first scene of the book” – you should rethink the first scene of your book.

Have a gander at the new excerpt if you wish…
And if you want to compare with the old one, it can still be found here.

14 comments to “Begin at the beginning…”

  1. Christina
    · August 29th, 2007 at 9:49 pm · Link

    Love the excerpt. I was totally enthralled and totally disappointed when I found myself at the end with no more words to read.

    So, how much longer before we see this on the shelves?:)

  2. Tessa Dare
    · August 29th, 2007 at 11:21 pm · Link

    Christina, your check is in the mail.

    Thanks. 🙂

  3. Christina
    · August 30th, 2007 at 7:33 am · Link

    I’d only be happy if it was in the form of a 400 or so page book, personally written and signed. 🙂

    Anyway, I only told the truth.

  4. CM
    · August 30th, 2007 at 7:42 am · Link

    In many ways, if you’re a horrible pantser like me, I feel like you can’t really know what the first scene of the book is until you’ve written enough of the book that you know what the first scene is.

    In my first book, the original first scene is . . . totally not a good first scene. It’s not a scene, and it’s not a good first even if I were to make it into a scene.

    In the second book, by sheer accident I ended up starting in the right place, but I have found that as time goes on and the book shapes up more and more, I consistently have to go back into that first scene and layer in little details I didn’t know, so that I am foreshadowing things to come.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t begin at the beginning; you should end at the beginning. Begin with whatever works, and then once you’re done with the whole thing, go back and fix the beginning. 😉

  5. Tessa Dare
    · August 30th, 2007 at 8:03 am · Link

    Oh, absolutely, CM. You and I both know there’s no way I could have revised chapter one the way I did without having completed chapters two through twenty-eight first.

    What you’re saying is exactly what I mean – when you’ve finished the draft and go back to it, you’ve got to take a close look at where the book starts and where the story starts and make sure those two match up.

  6. terrio
    · August 30th, 2007 at 9:19 am · Link

    I absolutely love that excerpt. And I’ll take one of those ARCs in place of a check as well. Gosh, I can’t wait to read this.

    I think I like where my WIP starts but I won’t be surprised if I get to the end and it gets cut considerably. My h/h don’t actually meet until chapter 2 but for a single title contemp my understanding is that is not the end of the world.

    But I’m sure both of you are right, once the ending is told, the beginning will become much more clear. At least I hope so.

  7. Jacqueline Barbour
    · August 30th, 2007 at 9:59 am · Link

    Definitely an excellent piece of advice as far as “where the story starts.” If it doesn’t get good and compelling until chapter four, that’s probably where the story begins :).

    OTOH, I have heard advice against posting an excerpt from the first chapter based solely on the premise that if someone reads it on your site and then picks up the book in the store to thumb through it, the familiarity of the first few pages could lead the reader to believe she’s read the book already and thus not buy it. Which is why none of my excerpts are from my first chapter.

    OTOH, I see so many authors (both pubbed and not) posting first chapter excerpts that I’m starting to reconsider :)!

  8. CM
    · August 30th, 2007 at 11:58 am · Link

    You know, I’ve heard that bit about the first chapter, too.

    And I just don’t buy it. You know why? Because all those authors that post excerpts from somewhere in the middle of the story–I’ve never read a single one of those and said, “I have to buy this book.” I think it’s because they didn’t ease me into the characters. They just plopped me into the action, and I never got the chance to care.

    Sure, there’s a tradeoff between losing people because they think they’ve read your book and losing people because they’re not interested. But I’d rather have someone think, “I won’t buy this book because I’ve read it, and I vaguely remember that it was pretty good” then think “oh, I read the excerpt and it didn’t grab me.”

    You can always get Person #1 to read your second book. Person #2 is lost forever.

    I don’t understand why you would ever lead with anything except your best shot.

    I have never seen any empirical proof that obfuscation along those lines has any benefit. And there is some powerful (anecdotal) empirical proof to the contrary: Posting excerpts that are long enough to draw the reader into the story exactly as if they read the book is more effective than attempting to dribble it in.

  9. Maggie Robinson
    · August 30th, 2007 at 12:08 pm · Link

    You know I love your writing so much I think both excerpts are excellent, but the kiss really puts them both on the map, doesn’t it?

  10. Tessa Dare
    · August 30th, 2007 at 1:25 pm · Link

    Jacqueline, I’ve heard that, too –

    I don’t know whether I buy it or not. Most romance readers I know who read that widely and are savvy enough to be surfing author websites are also very organized readers. They have TBR lists and TBB lists and little notebooks of what they’ve read, etc.

    That said, if at some point in the future an editor or agent or publicist advised me differently, I’d consider changing my excerpt. But until I’m published, my target audience has to be people who can get me published – agents and editors. And they usually want to see the first pages, I think, to gauge how well a writer can draw a reader into the story. I’ve never heard of an agent or editor asking for your 3 best chapters, or your 10 best pages. They want the beginning.

    I also know for a fact that at least one agent I queried did read the excerpt on my website and requested the whole manuscript on that basis alone. And fortunately, by that time, the scene of my original excerpt was the first scene in the book, if slightly rearranged.

  11. elyssany
    · August 30th, 2007 at 3:38 pm · Link

    CM, I think you and I are writing soul sisters! 🙂

    Tessa pinpointed where my mss needed to start which did happen in the original first chapter but to page 8 or so. So kudos to Tessa!

    As you know, I am a big fan of GOTH. This opening chapter (as well as the rest) has the reader hooked, turning from one page to the next to see what happens next.

  12. lacey kaye
    · August 30th, 2007 at 7:23 pm · Link

    **beams with pride**

    Not that I had anything to do with it, mind. I just love that you rock so hard core!

  13. doglady
    · September 1st, 2007 at 6:36 am · Link

    I will have to go back and read the two excerpt versions, Tessa. I loved the one you had posted, so I don’t know how you could improve on that! I am stopping by a bit late to congratulate you on making the finals in the Golden Gate!! You, CM and India(aka Amy) trifectaed the heck out of it, didn’t you? (Don’t know if that is a word, but it should be!)Keep us posted on the results and I have all appendages crossed for you!

  14. Lady Leigh
    · September 1st, 2007 at 10:12 am · Link

    You have to promise me that I can read this entire book sometime, no matter what. All this teasing is getting under my skin 😉

    I loved the first chapter excerpt of GOTH. Personally, this motivates me to buy the book. I read first chapters online all the time to see if I want to read the book, or to get excited about a soon-to-be-released novel. If GOTH were for sale, I would buy it right now on barnesandnobles.com (free shipping). That’s how I am- impatient and always looking for a new good book to read.

    I recently bought a EJ book only to realize I had already read it (and recently). Yikes. I blame it on baby brain.