Welcome to Novel Boot Camp & Workshop #1

Dear Boot Campers,

Welcome to Novel Boot Camp! If you joined us last year, welcome back! If this is your first year participating in Boot Camp, we’re glad you found us!

We’ll be discussing a lot of topics this month! Every post is based on the problems I see my clients facing. They’re the sorts of problems that come up over and over again, and they’re problems that can be hard to spot, hard to fix, and sometimes hard to understand intuitively.

The approach will be a bit of a whirlwind, but remember that the posts will remain up and available for your use after Boot Camp comes to a close. So if you miss a post or don’t have time for a homework assignment, don’t sweat it!

Novel Boot Camp is about challenging yourself to not just write your novel, but to analyze your own work. It’s about becoming better, stronger, and more efficient as a writer.

So let’s get rolling!

The Workshops

This year’s boot camp will feature four workshops. Two workshops will be focused on the first page, and two workshops will be focused on the query letter.

My biggest regret about Boot Camp 2014 was that I did not get to provide enough personalized feedback to participants. So the first two workshops (one for the opening page and one for the query letter) will not be peer review workshops. Instead, I will be providing insight and feedback myself.

The second two workshops will be peer reviews in which each writer’s submission will be given its own page with its own comment section for peer critiques.

Because this is a free course, I cannot predict how many writers will participate. This means that unfortunately I cannot guarantee everyone will have a chance to participate in every workshop. I will post submissions in the order they are received until time prohibits me from continuing. So submit early!

Additional rules will be posted at the time of each workshop so stay tuned!

Workshop #1: “I Stopped Reading When…” First Page Edition

The goal of this workshop is to demonstrate how quickly agents and editors (and even readers) make decisions about a novel. It will also demonstrate how writing doesn’t always come across the way the writer intended.

It’s easy to overlook our own mistakes, to believe our descriptions are clear, to think our jokes are funny and our concepts are unique. Seeing how your novel is perceived by others gives you the opportunity to correct misconceptions, mistakes, and confusion.

You’ve worked hard on your novel, now it’s time to take it for a test drive.

The Results

I will reveal my feedback on your submissions in multiple blog posts throughout Novel Boot Camp. This allows me to provide feedback on the largest number of submissions without attempting to post them all at once.

Each blog post will include a list of numbered excerpts from the submitted first pages. Your name and the title of the novel will not be included. Novels will be identified by genre only.

My feedback will include the text up to the point that I stopped reading along with a few brief comments about why I didn’t continue.

It will look something like this:

1. Thriller

The night sky was heavy, and it pressed down on Jacob like a black cloud. The storm was building overhead as Jacob went running down the streets of the town.

Opening with a description of the sky is cliché. No hook. Overuse of “ing” verbs.

2. Middle Grade

Max, Mindy, and Mattie sat in class with smiles on their faces. They were so excited because it was the first day of school.

Names are too similar, which will make the characters difficult to differentiate. No main character is identified. “First day of school” openings are cliché.

A poll will be included at the bottom of each post so you can vote for which opening you would have continued reading. If you can, please leave a comment explaining why in the comment section.

I hope to have the first post up later today!

Submission Form

Please note, the submission form will get rid of most formatting. This is okay. Don’t panic.

You should get a confirmation message right here (where the submission form used to be) if your submission went through correctly.

The first volume of submissions is already posted and can be viewed here!

Connect with Other Boot Campers!

Want to make friends? Need a shoulder to cry on? Got a question?


31 thoughts on “Welcome to Novel Boot Camp & Workshop #1

  1. Manolo Guillen says:

    Hi Ellen, I submitted my work earlier today not realizing that I didn’t meet the 250-word requirement. I hope it’s OK with you that I resubmitted, this time my entire first page. By the way, thank you for Boot Camp 2015. I feel I’ve learned so much from you and I know that now I’ll learn so much more.

  2. rcrosby26 says:

    Quick question did the submission have to be 250 words or could it be a little less? It didn’t make sense for me to stop at 250 so I only included something like 238?

  3. Robert Buchko says:

    (Ellen, I know I already submitted once, but I decided to reboot my novel to give more context up front. I know you’re swamped so if you can’t get to this one, I understand, but I’d love to hear your feedback if you’re able.)

    Erik Thorvald, Junior Class President at Garner High School, met Julius Caesar, Dictator of the Roman Republic, on the 23rd of March in the year 44 BC. It was the most thrilling day of his young life.

    On the 24th of March, Erik killed Caesar.

    Caesar had never done anything to him and Erik didn’t want to kill him. In fact, had Caesar lived, Erik knew that he would have eventually led Rome to the most magnificent era of prosperity in history. A thousand years of greatness that would have made the Pax Romana look like the Great Depression by comparison.

    And Erik had destroyed it all in the split second it took for the blade of the stasis sword, invisible to anyone but a Time Bender of at least the Second Order, to slide into Caesar’s chest. The thought of the slick lack of resistance as he pushed the point in nearly made Erik retch into his ale. He hung his head and sighed.

    “Cheer up, squirt,” came a gruff, vaguely French-accented voice from across the tavern table. “It had to be done and you know it did. So don’t be so down on yourself.” The owner of the voice stretched his legs sideways across the rough wooden bench and raised his hand to summon the serving girl. He glanced back at the younger man, and his easy grin faded. “Erik, listen, I know the first one is hard. There’s nothing fun or exciting about killing a man, even if you know his death is necessary. But trust me, I’ve killed Caesar at least a hundred times now, and each one was easier than the last.”

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