Are you ready to submit to agents? Or about to hit the self-publish button? I’ve been busy the last few months, getting a new website off the ground. Called TheOpeningLines.com, the site aims to give a quick professional editor’s critique of the first 1000 words of your work in progress. There’s some history behind the idea.
Back in the day (the dim and distant Noughties), a few big-5 publishers decided that they’d launch websites for writers. The idea was that they’d provide the internet infrastructure, writers would join, submit work for peer review, discuss writerly issues, and possibly even buy a few books. The potential cherry on the icing was that this body of work might throw up the odd publishable novel, acting as a kind of self-regulating slush-pile. It worked. Harper Collins founded Authonomy in 2008. One of the most active publisher-sponsored sites, they took 47 titles to print, by authors such as Miranda Dickinson, Steven Dunne and Kat French. But suddenly, in 2015, they announced that they were closing the site down. Staff at Harper Collins said that they had new channels for submissions, HarperImpulse, Voyager and The Borough Press. The writing community on Authonomy, of which I was a member by then, was bereft. Writing is a solitary occupation at the best of times, and a site where writers could ‘meet’, share critiques, swap writing tips, and give each other moral support, had come to be far more than just a channel to submission.
The community fragmented on to half a dozen other sites, Penguin’s equivalent site BookCountry was one, and Amazon’s own Writeon was another. Over the next two years, these sites all closed down too, for much the same reasons as given by Harper Collins. The industry had moved on. The overheads of maintaining the site, and having staff moderating the forums, was not worth the small amount of publishing throughput they generated. There are some writers sites out there, the biggest and brashest being Wattpad. But Wattpad has no literary pretensions. While there’s a tiny minority there that take their writing seriously, many of the titles on the site are Twilight fan-fiction, or stories about minor characters in the Game of Thrones series. Not being sniffy, but these are not books that are ever going to be published.
There are no equivalent free on-line writer communities out there as far as I know, with a dedicated website, forums for discussion, the ability to critique and peer review, and importantly, a semi-serious attitude to making progress in getting a high quality book published (please reply in the comments if there is one! I’m a writer too.)
The G600 thread
One feature that all these sites had, that grew to be the most popular thread on each site, was a discussion forum called the G600 thread. Set up by a few of the more experienced writers and editors, the idea was that the opening 600 words (the “Golden 600”), were vital in giving an agent a first impression of your book. Members would post their first 600 words there, and this panel of “faux agents”, of which I was one, would give a yay or nay. Most often, it was nay, sometimes brutally so. But the honesty and accuracy of the critiques helped many a writer overcome some writing craft issues that were really holding their work back. They became much better writers as a result.
For a while I’ve had a wish to replicate that functionality – give writers a free resource that would look at their opening lines and help them overcome some of the more obvious hurdles that frequently trip up relatively novice writers, getting them rejected by agents and having readers pass on buying their book. I’ve been looking for an online community where that functionality could be created and I haven’t found one. Muscling in on an existing site might not be particularly welcome anyway, at least at first.
So I decided to bite the bullet and build my own site. TheOpeningLines.com was launched on the first of January, 2018. It’s not a forum, but it does offer a free critique of your novel’s opening. At the moment it’s just myself, but if the site is a success, I might expand it to have a panel of editors (I’m in touch with some of the original “Faux Editors” from Authonomy), so that writers can benefit from more than one editorial opinion.
Have a look at the site, and the submissions page here and give it a try. You have nothing to lose.