Twenty Minutes with Agent Terry Burns

A photo op with Terry Burns at the Called to Write Conference

I paid $20 for two chapters and twenty minutes with Hartline Literary agent Terry Burns. It was worth every penny. I sent him two chapters of my novel and he returned it with comments about a week before the conference. Most of his comments were about formatting, which I didn’t know was a big deal.  So I made the changes. No sense in risking the slush pile over details like extra spaces after sentences.

Here’s his top three tips from my early review:

  1. Format chapters to start halfway down the page (16 returns, 8 double-spaced).
  2. You only have the first page to hook the reader. Since chapters should start halfway down the page, you have less space than you think. This eye-opener really changed my beginning. You gotta hook the reader to get them to turn the page.
  3. You only have ten pages to convince the reader not to put down the book. Woah! For me that meant adding more action up top to draw readers into the rest of the book.

I’d already learned a lot by the time I met with him face-to-face. It was great talking with him because he expounded on the nuggets of wisdom from the emailed critique. Here’s the highlights:

  1. End each chapter with a cliffhanger. You don’t want the reader to put down the book, right? Since I tend to tie my chapters up in a nice bow at the end, I had to rearrange some scenes. But it’s worth it to keep the tension up and engage readers. Force them to turn the page.
  2. The first three chapters are disposable. That’s right! When Terry writes he considers the first three chapters a warmup to get into the story. Once the novel is done, then he goes back and rewrites the first three chapters, then the first page. What a great idea! And a lot less pressure on how to start working on that next novel.
  3. If you start with a prologue you must have two first pages. Guess what? Most people don’t read prologues. So if you’re writing a prologue you have to write a great first page for the prologue and one for the first chapter. It’s hard enough to get one right. That scrapped my prologue!

So many great lessons from Terry. With my revised pages (which had been a prologue but I’ve since worked into my first chapter) he asked for a proposal. Since the proposal is so in-depth I decided to take my time and get it right. How often do you get to meet with an agent and have him request a proposal? Better make it perfect. I’ve just finished the final draft and am trying to getting a few people to check it over. I’ll be sending it out soon. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

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7 Comments

  1. Hey Barb, it sounds like you are living quite the adventure!! I am so happy for you that you are getting a chance to meet helpful people and especially excited for you that you get to meet with an agent!! I hope all goes well, maybe I will be reading your book soon 🙂

    Like

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