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  • Writer's pictureluisaraegan

What I learned from Writer’s Digest ‘First Ten Pages Bootcamp’

I recently participated in Writer’s Digest ‘First Ten Pages Bootcamp’ and it was an amazing experience! The virtual event is a four day workshop where writers can submit the first ten pages of their novel for critique by an actual literary agent.

In addition to the initial critique, there are supplemental webinars on story structure and honing your craft as well as a discussion forum where you can submit questions. You also have the opportunity to submit your revised pages for follow up feedback.

The November cohort I participated in took place from Thursday-Sunday and the feedback I received helped me prepare my first query that I just submitted this week! The other nice thing about it is that it didn’t have a huge time commitment. That’s a bonus for those of us who work Monday-Friday, 9-5.

On Thursday morning, I got access to a special 60-minute online tutorial presented by agent and editor Paula Munier from Talcott Notch Literary Agency. In the pre-recorded webinar, Paula outlined what agents are looking for in your work.

From there, I had two days to prepare my ten pages which had to be submitted by Saturday morning. The max word count you could submit was 2,500 words.

On Sunday I received lovely constructive feedback from Paula via email.

In her greeting she wrote:

“I read these pages with pleasure. This was a fun read. Well done! You’ve given us a sympathetic heroine, a handsome professor, an interesting cast of characters, an exotic setting, all told in a strong and engaging voice. You know your category and it shows.”

I was thrilled to hear this feedback because the hardest thing to tutor a writer on is their voice! Once I heard my voice was clear and engaging I felt a great sense of encouragement and achievement.

In addition to her praise, she also mentioned things I should address to take my work to the next level and boost my odds of selling my work in today’s tough marketplace.

Potential Inappropriate Relationship

Paula mentioned there was a possibility readers may view my teaching assistant/student relationship to be problematic or inappropriate. A valid observation! Though I do know in the romance world, forbidden love is a beloved trope! I just made sure to write my story and the relationship as consensual and not at all an abuse of power by the Teaching Assistant character.


She also suggested limiting cursing to one curse word a book! When I had my beta readers read my work, they said I didn’t swear enough! It’s hard to know what readers will like. It’s a great note nonetheless.

Paula’s feedback on this:

“Cursing is lazy dialogue. It doesn't mean anything. Dialogue needs to 1) reveal character and/or 2) move the story forward, preferably both. Curse words do neither. They're just noise.”

TRUE! But sometimes it fits the character’s persona. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!

Similar Names

Paula also mentioned the names of my characters were too similar and she was absolutely right. They both started with T which is a no no. For some reason those names spoke to me. I totally understand where she’s coming from, and other beta readers mentioned the same thing, so I did change that.

Stick to Said!

She told me to stick to said instead of using other dialogue tags. I keep hearing different opinions on this so I’m curious what other writers think and do on this? My rule of thumb is to use as description as much as possible instead of tags, unless I need to make it clear who is speaking in the story.

Past tense versus Present Tense

The last thing that was a game changer was Paula’s feedback on the tense I used! Lately I have read many romance novels in first person present tense so I follow suit for my book, but it just didn’t read as well as past tense.

After hearing Paula’s feedback, I got to work and sent Paula my revised pages Sunday evening. She got back to me a couple weeks later and said my changes, especially the change to past tense, read a lot better.

Paula cordially signed off with “You've done a good job with the rewrite. Keep at it!”

Thank you Paula!

On Sunday afternoon, Paula hosted a discussion forum where you could aquestions on writing/querying - you name it!

On Sunday afternoon, Paula hosted a discussion forum where you could ask questions on writing/querying - you name it!

It was all done on a written forum, so there was no video or any live chat which I personally preferred.

Many of the participants asked great questions about craft, how to improve their writing, as well as industry topics, trends, markets and advice on working with agents. It was a really engaged group.

- You can request a particular agent to critique your work. Some agents may have experience in your particular genre, so I highly recommend putting in your bid early, as it's not always guaranteed

- Even if you aren't paired with your preferred agent, all agents have the ability to provide feedback in all genres including non-fiction.

- In addition to feedback, attendees will have access to "The 3 Missing Pieces of Stunning Story Structure," an on-demand webinar by K.M. Weiland.

- Cost of the workshop was around $300

I highly recommend this workshop to newbie writers! It not only gave me insight into the craft of writing, but it also helped me prepare a killer query. I also felt way less nervous when I queried my novel after hearing Paula’s feedback on my ten pages.

Another thing to note is that the agents who provide feedback at these sessions will tell you if your story is lacking. They will not sugarcoat or say nice things just to be nice. They really mean what they say. They want you to improve after all! So please take their feedback in stride.

The Next First Ten Pages Bootcamp will be held sometime in March 2022 so please keep an eye out! Writer’s Digest has a recurring newsletter you can sign up for that lists all their upcoming workshops.

What writing workshops have helped you? Please let me know in the comments!

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