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chatperoneThe beginning of your story is the most important part.  This applies no matter what you are writing; an epic trilogy, a novel, a short story, memoire, fiction or nonfiction.

Now that I said it, I will tell you that this is a statement I personally do not agree with.

Some writers, publishers, and agents will argue that if you don’t hook the reader in the first sentence then you failed.  I’ve heard variations of this same idea multiple times.

But what kind of a first sentence does it take to have that instant hook?  And, is it even possible?

Advice will run between keeping it short and simple to using a complex sentence including multiple ways to draw the reader in with those few first words.

Set stage and tone, time and place, conflict, theme, foreshadow, tell a truth, surprise the reader,  shock them, promise a reward, don’t start with a question, relate to the reader, do not start with dialogue, be funny or absurd, raise a question, start with an action, incite an emotional reaction, connect the reader with the main character, it must be vivid, offer a tease, introduce your main character, get them fascinated with the scene, sum up the novel.

This is only a sampling of the advice you might see on how to write the perfect first sentence.  None of it is either wrong or right.  It’s also probably impossible for you to pack all of that into a single sentence without making it incredibly long and unwieldy.

As with everything about writing and every other form of art what is good, or as seems to be demanded of us the perfect reader trap, is subjective to the individual’s taste.  And each individual’s tastes are determined by too many factors to count, including their personal tastes and preferences, culture, experiences, and so much more.

So who is to say what is the perfect opening sentence?

Best First Lines from Published Novels

Consider this list: “100 Best First Lines from Novels” by American Book Review.  How many of these lines made the list simply because of who the author is or because the book became a classic?  How many of these lines would even be considered for this list if they had been published today by a less famous author?

Given the single first sentence and no other reference, which first sentence from this list would you have been hooked on, driven to read on?  Of course, many of these lines are dated and were probably red hot in their day.  But it is also too easy to look back and say that first line must have been perfect because the book was a classic.  For me, more than a few of these invoke a response of “meh”.  So they are certainly someone’s perfect first line, but not mine.

So ask yourself this: if you take the top 100 current worldwide bestsellers and poll a group on a list of only that first sentence with no reference to the author or what book it was taken from, how many would be voted as perfect first lines?  How many would instantly hook the reader, driving him or her helplessly forward to read the rest of the book?

The publishing world is full of books of every type.  Those whose perfect first line went on to set the tone for a fantastic piece of writing, those that fall flat into abysmal blandness after a great opening line, those whose opening line was only the opening to something that draws you in and hooks you as you continue, those that flop on every level, and everything in between.

Let’s face it; it takes much more than an epic first line to make a story a success.  And there are very few readers who would stop at the first line and make a judgment without reading further.

The internet is full of advice on how to write that perfect first sentence that Snaps, pops, and otherwise grabs your reader’s attention and refuses to let go.  Even WikiHow gets in on the action.  But as you research how to make that first line that promises to make your story and career soar to unimaginable heights, you will also quickly learn that this advice is neither absolute nor universal.

Here are just a few articles on writing the first line:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/writer-wednesday-first-sentences_n_820512.html

http://thewritepractice.com/first-line/

http://www.missliterati.com/blog/tips-on-writing-first-sentence

http://www.fuelyourwriting.com/the-most-important-sentence-how-to-write-a-killer-opening/

http://writeworld.org/post/26731524562/in-the-beginning

While some people tell you that first line is all important, others will argue that it is not the first sentence that is the most important; that the first sentence is not the do or die of your story and writing and publishing career.

Like this writer, Chuck Sambuchino, who says this of the often pushed list of alleged literary first line masterpieces, “So here’s the deal, or my theory of the deal:  These authors didn’t worry about the opening sentence; they just started telling their stories.  There has to be a beginning.  That beginning might indicate time and place, might introduce a character.  Might reveal a thought.  Present a fact.  Drop in on some event or action in the middle.  Whatever starts the telling makes the first sentence.  Just as whatever concludes the story will make the last.”

So, how do you write that perfect first sentence?

The best advice I can give you is to just jump in and write the first sentence.  Don’t even think of it as the first sentence.  Just sit down, think about where your story starts, and start writing.  But don’t stop there.  Keep going and write the next sentence and the next.  Keep the momentum going.  Do not let yourself get bogged down and lose the feeling of the narrative worrying over whether or not that first sentence snaps.  If you feel the flow, just keep going and worry about perfection later.

Now put it aside.   Let your mind take a break before you go back to it.

Read it and ask yourself, “Would I read this?”  Does the first sentence do justice to the rest of that first paragraph?  Does that first paragraph make you want to read the next?  Do you feel compelled to turn the page when you reach the bottom?  Do you yearn to learn what happens next when that chapter ends?  Do you feel bored or confused anywhere?

Your first sentence sets the stage for the paragraph.  And the first paragraph draws the reader into the chapter.  But it takes so much more than one person’s opinion of whether or not your first sentence is perfect.  It takes more than the opinions of your writer’s group, your mentor, or even your publisher.

Why?  Because the truth of it is that there is no such thing a perfect first sentence.  I would compare it to the search for the ever-elusive perfect man or the perfect woman.  Every individual’s needs and ideas for what makes that ‘perfect’ are different and ever changing.

From first sentences that invoke emotion to those that set place, time, and mood, the first sentence is only the beginning of something much deeper.  What makes it right depends on what your story needs it to be.  What makes it right is not obsessing over whether or not that first sentence is perfect enough, but rather how it works as a foundation for that first paragraph and the story as a whole.

What makes it perfect is making it feel perfectly natural.

Research what others recommend, take advice from different sources, and most importantly, know that every story is different and that means that what works for each story is different.  Every piece of advice is exactly that, it is that individual’s personal opinion, their recommendation and offered guidance.

Now go out there and write the first sentence that is perfect for your story.

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booksWhy the Heck Would I Need an ISBN?

Okay, so I have never actually asked myself that question, or asked anyone else.  I have always known what an ISBN is since I was old enough to understand that every book had one.  It is that long number that every printed book has, somewhere on the book cover and on the page inside the front cover listing the copyrights.

Yes, there is more to it than that, but that is all I knew and all I needed to know as a lover of reading books that I had always only picked up off the shelf of a library or used bookstore, at a charity run used book sale, or at a garage sale.  That’s how book lovers feed their reading addiction when they don’t have any money.  I spent years playing at writing before ever becoming seriously involved in actually considering publication as a goal.  There was a lot I did not know, and there is still a lot I need to learn.  Being an author, and a published one, is a never-ending journey of learning.  Just when you think you are getting there, the landscape of publishing changes and you have new things to learn.

For today, the focus is on ISBNs.

All books have them, but why?  What are those ISBN numbers on the copyright page and book jacket of every book for?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.

We should get one thing clear first.  Getting an ISBN is not copyrighting your work.  The ISBN has nothing to do with copyrights and does not guarantee your copyright rights.

The ISBN serves one purpose only – it is a marketing tool.  The ISBN is a catalogue number.

Is an ISBN necessary?  By my research, absolutely not.   At least, not if your publishing intentions are very limited.  You can even epublish on some sites without an ISBN; however it limits your markets.

If you are just going to get a few dozen or a hundred copies of your book printed at a printing company (note I say “printing company”, not “vanity press”.  They are two very different kinds of businesses, and for this purpose I would recommend using a printing service that promises only to create a printed product and nothing else) to give to family and friends, or share them in ebook form through emails or on your blog, then the ISBN is unnecessary.

If you plan to publish through a publishing company or self-publish, in print or ebook, and sell your book in the hope of selling many copies, then you will probably need an ISBN.

If a publisher picks up your book they’ll look after the ISBN.

If you decide to self-publish you’ll need to get one yourself.

Some Ebook sites and self-publishing print services, including Amazon, won’t let you put your book up on their site without an ISBN number.  And that goes whether you are charging $6.99 for your book, $0.99, or offering it for free.

Smashwords will allow you to put your book on their site without an ISBN, but they recommend having one.  Sony and Apple require ISBN’s.  I recommend reading Smashwords’ information on ISBNs before deciding whether to use their free one or get your own.  Note: Smashwords’ free ISBN has Smashwords as the registered publisher and should not be used anywhere else.  In other words, you would need a separate ISBN number for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, rather than to use the free one provided by Smashwords for those sites.  Some of those sites may required their own ISBN number anyway, listing them as the publisher.

Special note:  being listed on the ISBN records as the publisher does NOT make them the publisher.  It just means they are the entity who paid for and registered the ISBN number.

If you are using any kind of a self-publishing printing service or vanity press, they will likely have an option to include the ISBN as part of their services.  But before you go ahead and take their ISBN number you need to answer one question.  Who do you want listed as the publisher?  The printing service or vanity press will most likely be listed as the publisher for the ISBN they provide you.  If you want yourself to be listed as the publisher you have to get the ISBN yourself.
What is an ISBN?
ISBN – International Standard Book Number

This basically is just assigning a catalogue number to a book.

The ISBN is broken down into parts.

isbn breakdownEAN – Bookland country code.  Apparently books live in a world of their own separate from ours called “Bookland”.  In the land of books, this identifies what country the book comes from.  Luckily for us non-book beings, the numbers also coincide with the countries of our own world.

Group – identifies the language the book is written in

Publisher – identifies the publisher of the book (aka the person or business who filed the ISBN number for the book)

* oddly enough, it seems that when a publisher exhausts its block of ISBNs, instead of receiving an additional block with the same publisher identifying number, they are given a new identifying number for the new block of ISBNs.  I don’t know why this is.

Title – identifies the book title

Check Digit – this is akin to a spell check for the people assigning ISBNs.  If this number is not what they are looking for, then an error was made.

What the ISBN does is it simplifies a retailer’s search for a particular book.  Making it easier to find your book instead of, say, the same title by another author will make the difference on getting that sale.

You will also need a separate ISBN number for each edition of a book:  one for hardcover, one for paperback, and one for ebook.

If you do minor typographical corrections it is considered a reprint and new ISBNs are not necessary.

If there are major changes, additions, or deletions, then you are publishing a new edition of the book and need a whole new set of ISBNs.

Obtaining the ISBN

Of course, how you obtain your ISBN and what it costs depends entirely on where you are located.

In the United States, ISBN’s are sold by a commercial company.  Naturally, they charge accordingly.  After all, they aren’t doing it simply to be kind.  After getting your ISBN, it is up to you to have it registered with RR Bowker, the database for the ISBN agency.  www.bowkerlink.com

If you plan to publish a lot, it’s much cheaper per ISBN to get a block of them instead of just one.  Once you have them, you can use them as your books are published, registering the book information at that time.

In Canada, the Canadian government offers the ISBN for free.  Isn’t this just a wonderful country to live in?  Okay, it’s a perk that Canadians enjoy, but it doesn’t make the rest of publishing easier.

Typically, publishers will obtain blocks of ISBNs at a time because of the cost.  This includes small presses and indy publishers, self publishing services, and vanity presses.  In most cases, you can get that ISBN included when you have your book published with them.  It may even be a requirement.

Come and Get Your Free ISBNs!

Some organizations may offer “free” ISBNs or an ISBN as part of a printing package.  One source said that even Bowker, the company in the U.S. where publishers get their ISBN numbers from, offers free individual ISBNs.  However, I haven’t found the Bowker link to confirm this.

AUTHOR BE WARNED:  While it might not cost you a dime for that free ISBN, you are in fact giving up having your own name listed as the publisher.

It sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it?  That is exactly the tone I got from some articles I read on ISBNs.  But it is a tone I disagree with.

You will still be listed on the book as the author.  You are the author and nobody can take that away.  If someone listed themselves as the author of your book, that makes you either a paid ghostwriter by choice, or a victim of plagiarism.  But that is a topic for another day.  You just won’t be listed as the publisher in the records for the ISBN number.  This is a distinction that may be completely unimportant to you since very few people will actually look up your ISBN number to find out who the publisher on record is.  It’s much easier to just read the publisher name on the copyright page at the beginning of the book.

Not being listed as the publisher is entirely to be expected when dealing with an actual paying publisher.  After all, they are the publisher while you are the author, and nowhere in the ISBN is there a number specific to the author of the book.

Publishers are buying the publishing rights to your book, paying you royalties, and will list themselves as the publisher of note.

However, if you are self publishing or publishing through a vanity press (best to be avoided), or through a self-publishing service (different from a vanity press), and are trying to brand yourself as such, then you will probably want to be listed as the publisher.  However, when it comes down to it and nobody except the ISBN people ever see that, it probably really doesn’t matter.

When an organization or individual obtains a block of ISBNs, the publisher digits will be assigned to that organization or individual and are non-transferable.  As I said before, however, being listed in the ISBN records as the publisher really just identifies the company or person who has filed the ISBN, regardless whether they are the actual publishing house, self-published individual, or a publishing provider like Amazon filing on behalf of a publisher or self-published author.

That means, even though you are self-publishing, it will forever be noted in the annals of history within the offices of the ISBN people, aka the records likely no one else will ever see, that for that particular ISBN number XYZ Publisher is the publisher of that book and not you.  Chances are you may end up with multiple ISBN numbers listing various companies as the ‘publisher’ if you a publishing on multiple platforms like Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

On the bright side, you can go through the entire process to get a new ISBN for your book any time you want.

So, while some may argue that you should never to let your self-published book be listed as published by anyone but you on the ISBN records, it really doesn’t matter beyond a personal preference.  All your readers will see is an ISBN number like this, and will never see the information on the paperwork filed away in some dusty filing cabinet:

ISBN 978-1-63066-051-2

(This particular ISBN happens to be for

Where the Bodies Are print edition

published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

But you would never know that from just the number)

 ISSN – International Standard Serial Number

This is the same thing as the ISBN, but is for periodical publications (ongoing series), such as magazines or a book series.

Sources for this article include:

http://amydeardon.blogspot.ca/2009/02/ownership-isbn-digital-rights-and-self.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Standard_Book_Number

http://isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/international/html/usmfaq.htm

http://publishingcentral.com/articles/20030119-21-3060.html

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/isn/041011-1000-e.html

http://www.ebookcrossroads.com/isbn.html

http://www.isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/us/isbnqa.asp

http://www.thebookconsultant.com/LPMArticle.asp?ID=151

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/isbn-for-self-publishers-answers-to-20-of-your-questions/

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/11/isbn-101-for-self-publishers/

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thLOBMMAGPWhat can be harder than being a writer? Being a Canadian Writer.

Of course, there are other countries that similarly have their own challenges when it comes to writing.

As Canadians, much of our experiences are influenced by our neighbors to the South. Most of our online feeds are filled with U.S. content. Our world news feeds tend to be dominated by their news events. Our own Canadian made movies and television content even seems to be lacking in comparison to what is available on U.S. television, with the notable exception of Vikings, which is a Canadian/Ireland co-production filmed in Ireland and written by Michael Hirst, and Englishman.

If you search publishers, both large and small independent publishers, literary agents, book printers catering to the relatively newly accepted (and still growing out of the slop-heap of disdain by non-self published writers into acceptability) self-publishing writers, you get long lists of possibilities.

The problem is that almost all of them will be South of that border that is not only a barrier to free movement of people back and forth (you have to line up and make offerings by way of showing your passport and answer questions that make you feel like you are interviewing to join some special and secret club to pass in either direction to visit your neighboring country), but also is a barrier to the simple and free movement of joining the ranks of going from some guy or chick who wrote a book to being some guy or chick who has a published book.

That’s great if you are a U.S. citizen, not so great if you are Canadian.

The Canadian publishing market in all ways seems almost non-existent compared to our neighbors to the South.

We have a handful of just a few literary agents, compared to the much larger population of them over the border. Although, in recent years it seems that most of the U.S. agents I followed online have moved on to other forms of employment. (Could the literary agent be a slowly dying breed?)

Odds are, any attempts to contact and court one of these very few Canadian agents in the hope they will consider you as a client will be met with … nothing. They won’t even bother to take the time to respond because they are very few.

Similarly, getting a response from a publisher if you are a U.S. citizen sending query letters to a U.S. publisher are about a thousand times more likely to receive no response at all than a polite rejection. And a thousand times more than that likely to not receive an invitation to send your manuscript.

The Canadian market for authors seeking publishers is the size of one of those little nubby things on a new car tire compared to the number U.S. publishers of various sizes (the whole tire being all the U.S. publishers).

Canadians are notoriously charged more for most things than our U.S. neighbors are too. Everything from clothing to food to raw materials to services like book printing cost more North of the border. If it is shipped to Canada, you can pretty safely assume the price was hiked because they can get away with charging more. That makes the both the cost of living and the cost of doing business higher than it would be otherwise. Books and other printed material are one of the products where this is obvious. In Canada, books must list the Canadian price too, which is always considerably higher.

That means you can expect to pay more for any services associated with publishing and being published, and having to charge more for your books to recover your expenses.

So, what is a Canadian writer to do?

With the added challenges of trying to be a Canadian published writer, your odds of success are likely none to something North of there. If you have not made a name for yourself to attract the attention of Canadian publishers and agents, it’s going to be like finding intelligent life on another planet, seemingly forever out of your reach.

Your best chance is to open yourself to markets outside of Canada. But that too has its own set of challenges. You can be published anywhere in the world, as long as you are not actually being paid for it.

Being a Canadian writer published outside of Canada and being paid for it is a whole new challenge, especially if you prefer to not be taxed by both countries on that income.

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