First Page Feedback – Pentakagon

There’s something mysterious straight from the title! And we know plenty of people who love their coffee in the office…

“Maybe this wasn’t such a bright idea,” Rosie thought, shivering as she built a fire in the rusty woodstove, her sole source of heat and cooking. The Girl Scout skills were still working, the wood was dry, but her hands shook so hard, she could scarcely touch match to paper. They were the good Ohio Blue Tips—-strike anywhere! Maybe she’d splash a little kerosene….no, there! Flames traveled into the cone of tinder, then kindling—ah!

She was Prometheus.

Fire. Check. Enameled coffee pot. Check. Horrible powdered creamer. Ten sharp pencils and a stack of yellow legal pads. Mosquito repellent. She would be Elmore Leonard for a couple weeks, if the erasers held out.

Worst coffee ever! Buzzing insects and cracking twigs outside distracted her. Grabbing her car keys, Rosie checked to see that her laptop was in the back seat, and used the car’s GPS to locate the nearest Starbucks.

It wasn’t that close. Rosie decided she was “flexible” rather than a coward about staying in the cabin. She would, of course, go back. In the tiny town nearest the cabin, Pentakagon, there was no Starbucks, but there was a coffee shop with a wi-fi sticker on the door. She only needed wi-fi for a bit of research on the lumber era. Opening the door, she saw she had the place to herself. Soft jazz played from small speakers. No distracting nature noises.

Pungent waves of roasting coffee filled the small shop. Local art—good watercolors and sketches—-decorated the brick interior. Piles of muffins and bagels teased her from beneath glass domes. And there were scones! Rosie congratulated herself on her decision to leave the cabin this morning.

The barista’s nametag said Mike. He had a lot of lumberjack in him, Rosie could see. His neatly trimmed beard matched dark curly hair. Unlike the polo-clad servers at Starbucks, he wore a plaid shirt, jeans and work boots.

“What’ll it be?” the beard cracked open, revealing decent teeth.

“Do you do skim lattes?”

“Um, no. We only go as low as 2%. Do you have any idea how they make skim milk these days? It’s not nice.”

“Well, then, I’ll have a tall dark roast coffee and an orange-cranberry scone.”

“Hope you like the scone. I made them myself. I’ll have to do a pour-through on the dark roast. And we just do “small, medium and large” here. “

“Pour-through? “

“Or a French press…” Mike’s hands on hips stance didn’t look all that impatient, but Rosie began to feel self-conscious.

“Medium, French-press, then,” she decided.

“Warm the scone?”


The price of her coffee and scone was surprisingly low and there didn’t even seem to be a
tip jar. Mentally shrugging, Rosie carried her laptop to a tiny booth upholstered in pine tree and moose fabric. She plugged in the charger and was pleased to see that the outlet was live, thrilling after the rustic cabin’s candle and lamplight.

First Page Feedback from Patience Bloom

     From the first paragraph, the reader gets a strong sense of the writer’s voice and the heroine. In HRS, characterization is key! Rosie is easy to relate to as she struggles with her rustic surrounds. I especially love, “She was Prometheus.”

     Our stories tend to begin with a pivotal moment, and though I found this opening thoroughly charming, I hope the mystery and romance come through after she orders her coffee and scone. I also want an idea of who the hero will be. Is he the bearded baristo?

     Overall, this entry was a pleasure to read and made me curious about the rest of the story.

Looks like she’s settling in–but probably not for too long… :)


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First Page Feedback – It’s a Love Thing

More Special Edition entries! @LeeKilraine has some good ideas in her opening…

It was the binky’s fault. If Gabriella had been a thumb-sucker Arden would be free and clear by now, instead of facing down her worst nightmare. No. Correction. It was only her second worst nightmare. Her worst nightmare stood over six feet tall and had a history of making her shed her clothes with one hot glance. Standing behind her was her worst nightmare’s mama.

If she was very careful and kept her wits about her, she might just escape town as quietly and quickly as she’d planned. She wrapped her hand around the fallen pacifier and tucked it into her front pocket while she figured out how to tell the biggest lie of her life. No. Correction.

Second biggest lie, if God tallied up lies of omission. Speaking of God, she could use some divine intervention right now.

Arden sucked in a lungful of cool Texas morning air and stood, squaring her shoulders. She turned, glancing at the dark window tint on Grandma Daisy’s Volvo station wagon. It was designed to block the hot summer sun, but could it withstand the cool inquisition she was hoping to avoid? More importantly, could she? Just to be safe, she tried to take up more space, blocking the view into her back seat.

“Hello, Mrs. DeLeon. It’s wonderful to see you.” Not. Mrs. DeLeon had known her since she’d brought her son over to apologize for cutting one of her pigtails off in the fourth grade, aka the year she got a pixie. The woman was a human lie detector. Look her straight in the eyes. Bluff like your life depends on it. Arden had to kink her head back to meet the gaze of Billie “Boom Boom” DeLeon, who at six feet tall was almost the height of her sons.

“Arden Summers, I heard the rumor you were in town, but I didn’t want to believe it on  account of you hadn’t come to pay me a visit.” Billie lifted her oversized sunglasses up to rest on her brassy red Texas-sized hairdo. “Surely that was an oversight.”

“To be honest, Mrs. DeLeon—”

“Arden, baby, you’ve got to call me Billie or I’ll start feelin’ old and take to my bed.”

“B…Billie, I didn’t plan of visiting anyone. I’m a little short on time and only came to town to take care of some legal matters I’ve been putting off since my grandmother passed away  last year.”

Billie shook her head. “She sure is missed. It was a lovely service, by the way. Shame you couldn’t make it, but most everyone in Maverick attended. Everyone loved Daisy Mae.”

It was true. Everyone had loved Daisy Mae. Arden most of all. Her Grandma Daisy had raised her after her mama had died giving birth to her. It had broken Arden’s heart when she couldn’t attend, but it was only one of many things she couldn’t change about her life. Whoa, Arden. Stop. Stay focused and get the heck out of town.

First Page Feedback from Carly Silver

The premise of this book could make a great Special Edition. I love the idea of the heroine returning to her small hometown to settle her grandmother’s estate. When she comes face to face with an old “foe”, there’s excellent tension that bodes well for a good backstory to come.

However, I felt that this excerpt was bogged down by too many extraneous details being lumped in the first page. Within just the first paragraph, the reader learns that the heroine has a daughter, her pacifier is lost, she’s in front of her second-worst nightmare, and her worst nightmare makes her want to take her clothes off. Whew!  

I can see you’re trying to lay the groundwork here–a secret baby? This woman is the child’s grandmother? Arden hasn’t told the father and she doesn’t want to see him again? But it can be exhausting for the reader to keep up with all of this in the first little bit.

I would suggest spreading these details out, rather than overloading the reader with them at first. Let the reader settle in to the town and setting; you can pepper your scenes with some details, but you don’t need all of them at once. Though I am now intrigued by this sexy hero!

And some nice turns of phrase/dialogue that emphasizes the setting without



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First Page Feedback – Dark Souls

A few Nocturnes came in as well! This evocative opening is from @ImogeneNix…


The burning at the back of her neck warned her that she was being watched. A quick glance didn’t clarify it for her. Instead she turned around in time to see her mother’s face pale.

“Mama?” She took a step forward but her grandmother snatched at her wrist.

The grip was painful but Christiana stilled.

“Let them talk.”

She didn’t know what was the topic of conversation, but it couldn’t be good.

The dappled sunlight seemed cooler than before.

Her father crooked his fingers to her grandfather while they stood there. For a moment she wished Vasya had come with them, but he’d had to work. Just the thought of her new husband warmed her.

She only had a few minutes to contemplate the happy situation she now found herself in, when her grandfather pulled at her hand. “Come with me.” He tugged and confused, Christiana allowed herself to be towed away.

A glance at her parents faces stole any feeling of well-being.


“Shh, my love. You must go.”

His grip on her hand was implacable and his face stern, but he shivered. “What are you doing? Where are you taking me, grandfather?”

They moved through the village rapidly and for the first time she felt fear. What was wrong? Was it something to do with Vasya?

“You are in danger. We must send you away.” The words confused her further. Send her away? Danger?

“Where is Vasya?” She stumbled over a stone but he kept hauling her onwards, as if her life depended on it. With a quick glance around he hauled her into an alley, and she gasped, trying to drag air into her starving lungs.

“There’s no time. We must get you away.”

A nondescript cabin lay ahead, and he pushed on the door. It rattled and opened with a loud groan. “Andre? Andre are you here?”

An older man shuffled into the room, bent nearly double, from the weight of the load on his back. “Marat? What do you want?”

“My grand-daughter. They are coming for her and us. Get her away. Take her now, while you can.”

The man’s face clouded over. “Are you sure?”

“Grandfather, where is Vasya?” Fright had the blood in her veins pounding.

“Hush my precious. Andre will see you well.” He turned. “What ever it takes, Andre. Take her now.” With surprising speed her grandfather whirled and was gone.

The man, Marat, eyed her. “Come this way, child. There is no time to be lost…”

The rapid tattoo of her heart and her cry of terror woke her, as they usually did. Once again she found herself in the lonely bed, wishing for all her heart that Vasya had come with her. But he hadn’t. Instead here she was, exiled without her husband. With a sob, she rolled over and let the tears fall.

First Page Feedback from Shannon Barr

I have mixed feelings about this first page. The flash back is an excellent way to incorporate back story, while at the same leaving the reader wanting more information about why the heroine is/was in danger and the middle of the night escape/exile.

The tone of the flashback though sound like it might be historical, the heroine sounds young in the way she responds to her grandmother and grandfather, and allowing them to send her away, but at the same time she is recently married. This sounds like she was very young when she got married, which could also point to another time period (or it could be that she is a vampire and has lived a long time, so it was a different time period when these events happened.)

I am slightly concerned with the heroine’s voice, mostly because I am usually drawn to strong/independent heroines who can take care of themselves and are equal partners to their hero (this is just my personal preference), and the way she is crying for her husband indicates to me that she is more dependent on him. I might be interested in reading more if I had some indication that she was going to have a good cry about her situation and then pull herself together and find a solution on her own (maybe with the assistance of a sexy hero…). 


It can be so very hard to give the reader just enough to draw her onward in just 500 words, but as we’ve been seeing these past few weeks, voice and style and characterization can come through very clearly right from the start. And flashbacks can be essential in many stories (as we’ve seen in some recent historicals!) but other readers want to dive straight into the story. It all depends on the writer, the reader, and the mood being set…

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First Page Feedback – The Viking’s Promise

The number of Historical entries is making our editors happy! Here’s Charlotte’s opening…
“There’s nothing else to be done.” The healer stepped out of Alf’s room into the main living quarters, her head bowed respectfully.

Frea’s heart leapt into her mouth and her hands tightened on the wool she was spinning. What do you mean? she wanted to yell. You can’t let him die! She shifted in her seat but didn’t speak, pursing her lips to keep the words from spilling out.

To her right, the council of elders rose to their feet, their graze jumping to Gerd’s face. Another slave hurried forward with a cup of mead, but the elderly woman pushed her away. “My son asks that we remain calm. He— ” Her voice halted. “He’ll not be in this world for much longer.”

The spinning whorl slipping from Frea’s fingers, skidding along the floor.

“Frea.” Gerd’s voice snapped across the room and everyones’ eyes turned to her.

She rose and bobbed at the knees. Her hands began to shake and she clutched them behind her back. “Mistress?”

Gerd jerked her head towards the door. Her short, greying hair fluttered a little and she ran hand impatiently over her head. “Hurry up, girl.”

Frowning, Frea crossed the room.

Gerd grabbed her upper arm, pulling her past the curtain covering the door. “He’s asking for you,” she hissed, keeping her voice low so nobody else could hear.

Frea leapt across the room, pulling her arm from Gerd’s grasp. She knelt by Alf’s bed, touching his hand. The sweetness of burnt flesh filled her senses and she clenched her jaw. Tears threatened to cascade down her cheeks but she was determinate not to cry. She didn’t want his last few moments to be one of tears and regret.

“Alf,” she whispered. “It’s Frea, I’m here.”

His eyes fluttered open, slowly focusing on her face. “Are we alone?” he asked, rasps marring his beautiful voice.

She glanced over her shoulder—his mother still stood by the door, her eyes narrowed on Frea.

“Not quite. Gerd’s here.”

“Ar,” he breathed, as if saying ‘I should have guessed. “Mother, leave us.”

“I don’t think—”

“Now,” he ordered, his voice barely more than a croak.

“All right, but only for a moment. You need rest.” And she left.

Alf gripped the front of Frea’s tunic with frail hands and pulled her closer. “You know what I want. You have to promise me!”

“Alf,” She moaned. Even when he was dying, he was thinking of her. She lent further over his deathbed, her forehead almost touching his.

“Promise me,” he repeated, his voice hoarse.

She shook her head and the baby-fine hairs along Alf’s hairline tickled her forehead. How could she promise what he asked when it meant they’d be separated for the rest of eternity? She loved Alf and never wanted to be parted from him. Even if it means dying?

“Frea,” he warned and a hint of his old commanding self touched his words.

First Page Feedback from the Historical Team!

This extract is filled with tension and emotion, which immediately held our attention. There are some really lovely moments here, with great examples of show, don’t tell which all editors love to see when it comes to characters’ emotions. For example, the spool of thread slipping from the heroine’s fingers is such an effective way of getting across the heroine’s shock and dismay.

You’ve created a lovely sense of the atmosphere in the room, hinting that Alf’s death somehow holds importance to a wider community, with the council of elders gathered to hear the news. It makes us wonder what his death will change and how it will impact the fictional world.

Again, the reader is intrigued as to the heroine’s position in this household. We liked the sense that somehow she is the underdog here, a silent observer, a secret lover… These hints make us want to know more about her background.

We were intrigued to know where this scene sits in relation to the bulk of the story’s timeline. For example, is it perhaps a prologue, a flashback to the heroine’s past? She seems so in love with Alf, but we assume he can’t be the hero of her story, because he is dying. In general, we do like to see some time having passed between the death of a previous love and the heroine meeting her hero, because this period of grief might make it hard for the reader to believe a character to be invested whole-heartedly in the fresh relationship. However, the promise Alf demands is very intriguing, and we can see this working well as a motivation or even a potential conflict for the heroine’s actions throughout the novel – as the title suggests.

Overall, a lovely tone, and an intriguing start! We’d be turning the page to find out more!

There were a few grammar things to watch out for, graze instead of gaze, is it spinning whorl or spindle whorl (not entirely sure of terminology), “she ran hand” instead of “her hand”  and so on, but they are easy fixes.

Good job! 



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First Page Feedback – Untaming Delilah

Ooh, a Nocturne! Thanks Ashlynn! (@Ashlynn_Monroe), for sharing…

“Hey there Delilah, what’s it like in New York City…” sang Jonathan Brook, her guardian’s lab assistant.

“I swear if you actually said hello like a normal person I’d think you were body snatched by aliens,” Delilah Jones interrupted his serenade. The song was his usual greeting. His cliché musical rendition of her name had been cute for about twenty seconds, and now she found it completely irritating.

He grinned. Jon was a nice albeit obnoxious senior biology major.

She stood outside the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the UW Madison campus. The breeze brushed her skin. A stronger gust penetrated her cotton t-shirt causing goose bumps to rise on her arms and she shivered. Cold was Wisconsin’s favorite temperature, but this was early September and she was dressed for a warmer day.

Jon held the door for her as she rushed inside the facility. Heat rushed over her and the realization the furnace was already on was a relief and surprise. Delilah’s tense muscles loosened up. Aaron wouldn’t be happy if he saw her.

“You dad is going to be pissed off if you get sick, Delilah,” Jon said, reading her mind.

She shrugged. “Aaron Amun isn’t my father. He’s my guardian and doctor.”

Aaron would freak if she caught pneumonia again. When she was sick, he couldn’t get accurate results from blood tests because her white blood cell count went up. Without the results, He couldn’t give her the right dose 5-23 injection to stave off the seizures.

“Really?” Jon genuinely sounded surprised. He had only been Aaron’s assistant a couple of weeks, long enough for her to know way too much about him, but not long enough for her  to be comfortable spilling the sad tale.

“Yep, he’s a good man, but he’s not my dad,” she gave him as much as he was going to get  from her. If he really wanted to know there were others in the facility willing to gossip  about poor, sickly Delilah and her rare brain tumor that made her see crazy shit.

“What’s going on in your head? You went like a million miles away,” Jon muttered the question with a hint of annoyance in his tone.

“Nothing that would interest you, I promise.”

“I don’t know, you seeming like the kind of girl with deep thoughts and big plans?” Jon said in a flirty way that made her inner voice groan.

“I think I was wondering which Kardashian I want to be when I grow up,” she lied.

He grinned. Not easily fooled are we?

“Aren’t you cute?”

Jon put emphasis on the word cute. As soon as someone discovered she had a terminal illness, interaction always got weird so she didn’t flirt back.

“Oh, that’s right, I was wondering if they ever found the body of Aaron’s last assistant. He liked to bother me too, and then there was that experiment that went horrifically wrong…”  she let her voice trail away absentmindedly and cringed for effect.


First Page Feedback for Shannon Barr

Love the song lyrics in the first line! However, you’d need to get permission to use these lines, and it’s unlikely to be granted unless you want to pay for it. Therefore, I’d suggest rethinking the opening lines, even if it hooks the reader in. (I now have Plain White Ts stuck in my head!)

These two pages do a lot to engage the reader with questions: where are her parents? why is the doctor her guardian? what kind of tumor does she have? and how does it affect her life? We also get a great sense of Delilah’s personality from her interaction with Jon, she seems like she has a tough shell with quick, snarky comebacks, but we also get the sense that she is lonely because she doesn’t let people get close enough to hurt her. I would be concered with this as a submission to Nocturne simply because I cannot get a sense of where the paranormal comes into play with this story, hopefully that would become more evident in the following pages…I also am wondering if this is meant to be Young Adult becuase if Delilah has a guardian then she must not be 18 and legally an adult yet. Overall, I think it is a great start and I would love to see where the story goes, simply from the voice of these first pages. 

Too, keep in mind that pop references (like the Kardashians!) might make the book feel dated or not translate well. Though there are enough of those girls around it might not be an issue… :)


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Inside a Harlequin Copy Editor’s Life!

Shona Sequeira photo

Shona Sequeira, Copy Editor for Harlequin

Authors–and editors–have frequently mentioned the blessing of a good copy editor to make sure those last participles are undangled and infinitives unsplit (or at least pointed out in case we really meant to do that!).

Shona Sequeira is an experienced Harlequin copy editor, and she knows her Chicago and her Webster’s without a doubt! We’ve invited her to do a series of blogs to give us insight into how a copy editor balances the juggling act of author’s voice, house style, good story and great grammar. So in this first blog she’s going to give us some background….


Behind the red pencil…

Every Harlequin novel en route to publication must inevitably spend some quality time in Copyediting, i.e. with a cheerful group of grammar nerds who live to slay pesky dangling modifiers and rogue comma splices and who ensure that the hero’s flirty eyes always retain the same heart-melting hue. (Unless said hero has a penchant for colored contact lenses, in which case we’ll just STET.)

As copy editors, we aim to make your story shine! Ever-committed to the three c’s (clarity, consistency and correctness), we’re on the watch not only for spelling and grammar issues, typos, repetition, and awkward phrasing, but for problematic trademark usage, potentially libelous material, timeline and factual errors, and just about anything that may distract your readers from truly enjoying your book. While many are forgiving of a sloppy text message or hastily written social media snippet, readers today absolutely still care about and notice mistakes in published work, be it digital or print. As an author, you want to be remembered for your amazing story, not for grammatical gaffes. Copyediting is here to help you achieve just that!

By the time your book arrives in Copyediting, it will have already undergone a solid Editorial appraisal—you will have worked closely with your editor in creating a fantastic plot, unforgettable characters, sharp dialogue and sweet (or steamy!) love scenes. Essentially, both Editorial and Copyediting try to answer the same crucial question: How can we make this story—and the telling of it—even better, even stronger, even richer? But our responsibilities play out differently. The editor’s focus is on the novel’s foundations, its shell and its soul; the copy editor sets to work on the mechanics within this vast framework. It’s not an editor’s job to fix typos or verify the flight time between the heroine’s hometown and her suitor’s romantic desert hideaway. And good copy editors don’t overstep their authority in making changes to plot or rewriting whole sections. (We can certainly make suggestions for edits, though!) Copy editors want to modify just enough that the story flows easily, but not too much that those changes meddle with the author’s authentic voice and personal writing style. Our job is to iron out the wrinkles—it’s the author who stitches the fabric of the story together with the help of her editor’s experienced hand!

So there you have it: a tiny glimpse into the world of a red pen–wielding (okay fine, Track Changes is the new red pen), Chicago Manual of Style–worshipping Harlequin copy editor. We adore working with words, debating points of grammar, and indulging our passion for meticulousness and accuracy. All of us are book lovers and many of us may have writing aspirations. We strive to make our authors’ stories as brilliant as possible before they go out into the world, but…we’re not perfect! We’ve been trained to spot mistakes, but sometimes…sometimes…we miss things. As even the most diligent, accomplished, seasoned author needs a copy editor, so could copy editors do with another set of eyes on our work, which is why we have proofreaders and why I had a couple of copy-editor comrades (thanks, Margot and Katie!) vet this post for me!

You can follow me on Twitter: @ShonaSequeira

Thanks, Shona! All the editors know how often the copy editors save us from embarrassment before the readers. We’re all looking forward to seeing the rest of the secrets of your trade… :)



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First Page Feedback – Secrets in the Stacks

JMH sent this in for Romantic Suspense. We do love librarian heroines–and maybe a hero, too? Or someone else?

Chapter One
“Ok Y chromosomes, where are you? Come to momma,” Delia said as she adjusted the corset, forcing her chest up to her chin.

“That looks terribly uncomfortable,” her colleague, and best friend, Jane said, while
sliding her glasses back up her nose.

Delia waved her hand in the air. “No actually it isn’t. This one is particularly easy to
move in compared…” Delia shifted a now panicked gaze from the guy canvassing she’d begun to Jane. Luckily Jane seemed oblivious to what Delia had almost let slip out. Jane was a sweet thing and a dear friend but she absolutely did not need to know how Delia spent her spare time.

Scanning Jane’s perfectly combed bob, her neat wire rimmed glasses, her baby blue sweater and pearls, Delia sat back in her chair and sighed.

Yeah, well even Jane had probably had an orgasm this decade. It had been three years
since she’d had one. It had been two years since she broke up with Ted. That information alone summed up their entire relationship. So tonight, Delia was aiming to fix that. Tonight she was hunting.

For a man.

Any man. He didn’t have to be attractive or sexy or hell even have hair, he just had to be
a man. “You know this was a costume party?”

This time Jane did look at her. She nodded.

“A steampunk theme to be exact.”Jane nodded again.

Delia waited but Jane apparently didn’t feel the need either to elaborate her reason for not
dressing up, or her thoughts on steampunk. Delia probably could’ve predicted both pretty
accurately. Jane was no mystery in any way. She was a straightforward, by the book, quiet
reserved librarian with a heart of gold and a terrible tendency to go mute whenever the opposite sex was around or when sex in general was mentioned. On second thought maybe Jane was also lacking in the orgasm department. What Delia did know was that while Jane seemed uncomfortable talking about all things sex, she had no problem reading about them. Delia found that out the day she accidently knocked Jane’s bag off the desk and out popped three books all shelved deep in the erotica collection of the library. Oh well, everyone was entitled to their secrets and Delia definitely had her fair share.

Shaking her head to clear all thoughts about Jane and erotica, she resumed glancing about
the ball room intent on finding a man. They were in Atlantic City, at a librarian’s convention and while she didn’t expect sparks or instant self-combustion, she did expect sex with someone. In her warped, orgasm deprived mind, she was owed. Three years was too damn long.

Her quick glance registered several men in attendance, two that looked very promising
but would require a closer inspection before selecting the winner. She may not have any
prerequisites other than a y chromosome but that didn’t mean she couldn’t choose the best y chromosome of the bunch.

First Page Feed back from Patience Bloom

This entry was entertaining and gave the reader a quick idea of central characters and the plot. My constructive criticism would be to provide a more detailed portrait of where they are at the beginning. I want to see the ballroom in Atlantic City. What does the steampunk themed party look like? Also, watch grammar mistakes (i.e. comma of direct address and capitalization). Through Delia’s eyes, the description of Jane provides nice details about her character; the reader can visualize her easily. This isn’t as true for Delia, the main character. I’d love just a hint more about her beyond her romantic dry spell, though her mission to get a man really shows the purpose of this beginning. She’s there for a purpose and we have the sense that it won’t go as planned. Overall, quite enjoyable to read.

Thanks, Patience & JMH! Could be an interesting hero. What hijinks and mystery could they get into at a librarian convention? In Atlantic City??? :) 


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First Page Feedback – A Measure of Money

Another Special Edition entry! Luckily readers also love these stories…

Jenny stowed her bag in the overhead locker of the plane and squeezed herself into her window seat. Flying on budget airlines was the only time she was glad to be shorter than average. She tucked a wayward tendril of her short chestnut bob back behind her ear, feeling quite excited as she contemplated the six weeks ahead of her.

“I really think you need a proper break,” her boss had insisted. “I can’t reverse what Derek did, but I can at least make up for it a little.” Jenny had tried to protest, but he had firmly sent her home to pack her bags and make arrangements.

She looked up as a tall man slid into the seat beside her. He would have been good-looking, she decided, if he hadn’t had such a scowl on his face. She sneaked another peek. Despite his casual shirt and jeans, he looked like a typical businessman, with a clean-cut hairstyle and a smooth-shaven chin.

Definitely has a girlfriend if he’s shaved on a Saturday morning, she thought.

His long legs were squashed against the seat in front of him, and as he shifted to try and make himself more comfortable, his knee brushed against hers. Startled, she pulled her legs together and inched herself closer to the window. The plane suddenly felt very claustrophobic and she closed her eyes, fighting back the panic. Breathe, she told herself. Slowly. In. Out.

By the time she had recovered her composure the plane was ready to go and she dutifully watched the stewardess go through the safety demonstration. Her neighbour glowered beside her all the way up to cruising altitude, while Jenny tried to ignore the blatant invasion of her personal space.

“Sorry,” she said as soon as the seatbelt signs had been switched off. “Could I just get out to go to the toilet?”

He let out a theatrical sigh, and Jenny decided it was time to do some scowling of her own. She looked him full in the face. “Are you always this uncivil, or is it just when you get on a plane?”

Feedback from Carly Silver

I really liked this introductory page. It established a distinct, relatable, and flawed character in Jenny, and her reaction to the man sitting next to her was one I know I would have had. I’d love to see where this manuscript would go, as I didn’t really get a sense of what line this book was meant for.

One thing to watch out for is that many editors and readers are wary of scenes starting in transportation. This isn’t as strong here because we meet the hero right off (or so we assume!), but sitting back and thinking of the elements that got the hero/heroine to the destination while in car/train/plane can sometimes become a cliche. 

Thanks, for the offering! It’s  a solid opening, but might not have established a strong, enticing story right from the start. Could there be something a bit more compelling?



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First Page Feedback – Potential Wife

One of our first Harlequin Romance entries I believe!

Troy Charles slumped in his chair with one long leg draped over the padded arm, the other thrust out in front. “If you want me to marry, you find me a wife.”

“I might just have to do that.” His father looked up from the Sunday newspaper. “Fulfill your dearest Grandpa’s last wishes, and soon.” Liam Charles sipped the excellent coffee brewed moments before on Troy’s verandah. Adelaide sprawled to the west, then Gulf of St. Vincent beyond, and Australis Island to the south.

“Dearest Grandpa. I’m eternally grateful for the responsibility.” Troy slumped further. His hangover was not letting up.

Liam leaned forward to eye his son. “It is your responsibility.”

Troy met his father’s gaze. “We’ve been over this a hundred times.”

“And a hundred times more until you get it. Abide by the conditions or we both lose.” Liam took up his newspaper. “Unless your nuptials happen within six months, the inheritance will go to some Home for the Bewildered.”

“That’s not funny any more.”

“Neither is your reticence. You wedding by October twenty-eighth this year or I go to the poorhouse.”

Troy squinted. “You could’ve re-married again regardless of Grandpa’s will.”

Liam dropped his chin. “You well know my not re-marrying is because of your grandfather’s will. Carol and I are happy enough as we are.”

Troy closed his eyes. His grandfather Petronius, or Petny to family, had ensured
that Troy’s inheritance would be greatly reduced if Liam remarried.

Naturally the deaths of Troy’s mother Angie and his brother Marc in a traffic accident were devastating. Liam didn’t give a toss for himself and his father-in-law’s millions but for his remaining son Troy, he wanted the best, and Grandpa Petny had bequeathed a lot of money.

“If you don’t marry the share to your cousins is greatly reduced as well.”

“I know all that, but they’re not the ones doing something against their will.” Troy clapped his hands to his head. And man, that was a mistake. His head protested a clanging thump inside. “Why me?”

“You know ‘why me’. Because your brother died, too. Because your mother was Petny’s only child.” Liam slid a look at his son. “I know you want to get married one day. No-one wants to live a solitary life.”

“Then you better get off your butt and find me a wife in a big hurry. God knows you’d be good at it.” Troy thrust on sunglasses, closed his eyes and leaned back in the deck chair.

“That’s my boy.”

“Find me a good woman, that’s all I ask.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Troy lifted the sunglasses with a finger. “I don’t like that look.”

“I might have a plan.”

“I definitely don’t like that look. What is it?”

“Unorthodox. Old fashioned. A business partnership, something which would satisfy the terms of the will.” Liam shrugged.

“You’ve already got someone in mind.”

“Just thinking.”

“You don’t just think. You connive.”

A shake of the newspaper. “You are so right.”

First Page Feedback from Laurie Johnson

This is a great opening! You set up the key hook – a marriage of convenience – straight away and introduce a delicious, alpha hero in Troy. The family dynamic between Troy and Liam adds an element of fun, but is also a clear way to build the initial tension of the emotional conflict ahead. The reader is completely intrigued and left wondering – who is Troy going to marry? What’s going to happen between them? And how is Troy’s ‘convenient’ bride going to become the love of his life? Can’t wait to see where this story goes!

One or two points to think on–does Troy come across as a bit petulant and childish? And at first Liam almost seemed a more heroic type with an interesting potential dynamic. And if Troy’s mother was an only child, how does the share to his cousins get reduced?  But there is some snappy patter, so that is appealing.

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First Page Feedback – Finding Finnegan

This was sent in for Escape, our Australian digital publication! Thanks, Amanda Knight who is @AKnightWriter on Twitter…


He didn’t spit out the sandy dirt caking his teeth or lift his head from its half buried state. He didn’t fixate on the fact that he couldn’t feel his left leg, or that the searing heat in his lower back had him wondering if he was leaning on the side wall of Hades. Dragging his newly conscious senses to order, Captain Nate Calloway drove his mind to block out everything other than the question flashing neon in his temporal lobe:

Where the hell is my dog?

With sweat pouring into his eyes, he tried to ignore the pain, and focus on listening. The dull whistle of sand whipping in the wind and a muffled explosion in the distance ignited his reflexes. He grabbed for his weapon. A fresh spear of agony flooded his body, sucking the breath from his lungs, sending his barely conscious thoughts kicking and screaming back into shut down.
Doctor Beth Harper slid her fingers beneath the soldier’s lifeless hand and squeezed. Watching his eyelids for any flickering, she shifted her gaze and efficiently scanned the length of his body, searching for an indication he’d registered her touch.

‘There’s still no response to stimulation.’ Beth regarded the dayshift nurse charting her findings. ‘We’ll give it another twenty-four hours before starting the necessary consultations.’ But I’ll be damned if we give up on my watch. Beth kept her final thought to herself, as the nurse moved into the next room.

Beth’s determination to save every person she treated in the makeshift clinic was a given, but something about their yet-to-be-identified solider, and the knowledge that she only had two weeks left of her tour, tugged a little harder at her resolve.

He’d arrived with scarcely any of his uniform intact and his identification missing. The levels of artillery and combat activity over the past forty-eight hours had been considerable, so quick identification of his platoon would prove difficult. Trailing her fingertips across his vast palm, down his long fingers and encircling his perfect nails, it was clear that this was the hand of a man who wasn’t afraid of hard work, a man who was meticulous and capable. She became acutely aware of her heart pounding against her ribcage. Snatching her hand from his, with heat flushing her cheeks, she silently chastised herself.

What on earth are you doing?

Inhaling a shaky breath, she struggled to calm her rioting senses. She hadn’t experienced anything other than work-infused adrenaline since… since… the truth she’d been avoiding for three years tumbled into her consciousness.

She hadn’t felt anything in the longest time.

Clumsily gathering up her equipment, Beth shook her head. Obviously the latest round of sleep deprivation had caught up with her… she was a Captain for goodness sake – Hard-
Heart Harper didn’t behave like this.

With the name she’d heard whispered by several of her unit flashing through her chaotic thoughts, Beth dropped her notes, gave into her fatigue and collapsed into the bedside chair.

First Page Feedback from Mary-Theresa Hussey

There is some great imagery here in the opening. Immediately we root for the injured hero and are curious about what happened.

I admit though, when I saw the “flashing neon in his temporal lobe:” I began to wonder if this is a science fiction or futuristic story. And the asking about the dog seemed a real non sequitur so I was left even more confused about what I was supposed to take from it.

Then we switch to Beth’s POV and she comes through as caring, compassionate and very determined. All great traits for a heroine! “Hard-Heart Harper” though, seems to contrast with her caring attitude. But maybe there were other instances where she needed to take a firmer line.

I’m not sure of setting–could be any country or location or war. So perhaps something grounding us a bit more would be useful? And from a grammar POV, don’t think “captain” is capitalized without it being direct address. A lot of military branches and terms are lowercased when we might instinctively cap them.

Overall I think it is effective, but it would be stronger if I wasn’t left puzzled by a few things–and gotten a sense of where/when they were.

But a good start!

Thanks, Amanda, for an intriguing start!


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