Author Salon Profile Completion Guide

[Print version]

PROFILE GUIDE - Notes and Process By Category Share/Bookmark

There are no great writers, only great rewriters.

You must take time to carefully read and consider all issues and examples below before you begin the sign-up process. It would be a very good idea to draft profile responses ahead of time, especially with regards to the more complex questions involving plot, conflict, climax, story premise, hook/log line and so forth. Whether you are a novice or veteran writer, you will experience the act of completing your writer and story profile as a learning experience. The mere act of addressing the issues and nuances in the profile serves the purpose of enabling you to understand what it takes to envision, structure, write and edit a manuscript that agents and editors will take seriously.

At such time you critique work written by your peers, or even your own work, we want you to wear the hat of an agent or editor in this business. See it from their standpoint alone, not from the standpoint of the average workshop writer. Will you put your career on the line for that novel? For that memoir or nonfiction? Consider it. The right answer makes a huge difference in the way you choose to approach the development of your project.

But now, back to the profile. You might find that one aspect of it sparks ideas for others. For example, defining the source of major story conflict(s) might require you to revise your story synopsis (and perhaps your story as well) on the first page of the profile. Pay careful attention to the examples we use below, especially the synopses, hook lines, and conflict statements. Seek to emulate them. If you cannot do so, that is a red flag something is lacking in your work. Ignoring them is equivalent to telling us you are unwilling to learn or adapt. Use the profile effectively to reality-test your manuscript in every way, and to go back and improve it as much as possible before beginning the Author Salon critique process.

We don't wish to say this, but we must. Failure to properly complete your bio and project profile and/or marked sloppiness or tangential matter in the profile will be cause for potential disapproval of your membership at Author Salon; and upon acceptance, failure to later edit your profile as necessary will result in being left out of searches conducted by business professionals, Algonkian staff, and other writers, not to mention create an overall impression that you are not taking your work seriously.

Take note also that it is best to use Firefox or Google Chrome at such time you work on your profile since those two browsers are more likely to enable spell check as you type. Also take note that you should not write your profile synopsis with the critical sections of the profile marked off in parens--this is only for the examples below.

Regardless, the following notes address questions that need clarification and elaboration. Don't hesitate to return to update your profile often, as necessary, and certainly whenever you feel you and your project have productively evolved to a more competitive status. Btw, not every question is covered below, only those that need to be. And please note you can PRINT THIS PAGE by clicking the link on the top right of this page. If you don't print before you begin your profile, we advise keeping a separate tab open on your browser so that you can reference this page while you are going through the process.

And one more thing. Continually ask yourself the following questions as you progress into Author Salon and grow as a writer. Be honest at all times, because you owe it to yourself.
  • Do I understand my genre and readership well enough to write competitive work?
  • Do I know all that is necessary to master of my craft on all levels?
  • Do I understand the professional book market well enough to apply that knowledge to my overall decisions?
  • Am I looking at my work, as well as the work of others, through the eyes of a professional agent or acquisition editor in my market?



    What is your purpose at Author Salon? If you have become a member of Author Salon to join our writer workshops and obtain the necessary critique and guidance to become published, you should choose "Work to Publish"; however, if you are uncertain and simply seeking productive feedback, then choose "Just Feedback" and decide whether or not to revise your status as you go forward.

    If you are an author currently represented by a literary agent, you should choose "Seeking Publisher" and if you are a previously published author seeking an agent you should choose "Representation" so that agents can find you more easily. If you are in the latter category and desire to attract a publisher, then choose "Seeking Publisher" and that will draw the necessary attention.


    The following guidelines for nonfiction and first novels are general, not cemented. Just keep in mind the larger the ms, the more it costs to print, and the more publishers must charge for your book. General guidelines as follows for fiction: 40-70,000 for young adult or middle grade (course we know Potter exceeded that); 70-85,000 for detective/cozy/mystery; 70-95,000 for general/upmarket/literary; 80-120,000 for thrillers and historicals; 70-95,000 for women's fiction of all types; 70-110,000 for adult fantasy or sci-fi. General for nonfiction: 50-70,000 for business/how-to; 60-90,000 for memoirs; 70-110,000 for narrative nonfiction.


    What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully.

    Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. When you are ready, include your title in ALL CAPS in the title field, not lower case, ALL CAPS. Why do we repeat this? Because we have to.

    If you must, include more than one in your profile (only if you're really not sure, but never just because you can), up to three, separated by semi-colons and an extra space (but not if you come up with a single near-perfect title). Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

    Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. I think we make the point.


    Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables?

    When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.

    Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps. There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.

    Most likely you will need to research your comps. We've included some great starter websites for this purpose below. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way. Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!

    By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

    Below are great starter sites to search for good comps, and perfect also for researching your genre and nonfiction. The sites below cover narrative nonfiction/memoir, mystery, thriller, detective, light and serious women's fiction, historical fiction, young adult, fantasy genres and SF, upmarket/literary and general fiction.

    • Devil in The White City - Amazon Best Narrative Non-F
      Basically, narrative nonfiction is fact-based storytelling that makes people want to keep reading. This Amazon list is good one for getting a solid feel for intriguing, high-concept storytelling. Is it all true? Read and judge for yourself.

    • Book Browse Your Way to Great Memoirs
      Lots of fluff on the page, but a good list of suitable, high-concept memoirs to get you started. Look at what makes these tick? Search for more reviews on Amazon. Any of these close to what you are doing?

    • Luxury Reading: Women's Fiction
      Luxury Reading contains good reviews of women's fiction and includes Amazon-like comps in the reviews. Definitely worth gobbling up on a routine basis!

    • Barnes and N's Serious Women's Fiction and More
      Yes, it's a bookstore, but a good place to begin the search for comps if you're writing women's fiction. This one mixes classics with more contemporary work.

    • Candy Covered Light Women's Fiction (known also as "chicklit")
      A good place to begin if you're looking to comp your "light women's fiction" beach (or otherwise) novel. Just keep in mind that using the term "chicklit" with agents is currently out of vogue.

    • Contemporary Lit at A.Com
      Yes, it's A.Com, but not a bad place to begin the search for general fiction and upmarket comps. Make certain to use Amazon also, given the instructions above.

    • Best Fiction For Young Adults
      For the best in contemporary YA, you can't do better than this. More than 90 books! "The books, recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens. The list comprises a wide range of genres and styles, including contemporary realistic fiction, fantasy, horror, science fiction and novels in verse. "

    • Historical Novel Society Reviews
      Take your time and wade through this UK site. Reviewers are divided between US and UK. Reviews are worthy and don't reflect any politics we can see.

    • Fantasy Book Review UK (includes SF, Urban, and Steam Punk)
      Another UK site that lists the top rated of all time and provides great reviews and ratings of new works including even Steam Punk, SF, Urban Fantasy, and more. Comprehensive and easy to navigate. Also, if you click on a particular book review and scroll down to the base of the page, you'll see that FBR has conveniently provided some wonderful comparables!


         NOTE: remove all indents and execute returns as needed to doublespace the paragraphs.

    This is a critical first impression. Read the basics here and carefully examine the examples. Search for more examples in your genre as necessary. Limit this description to 300 words max. 200 words is close to ideal. You don't need more and can do with less if you focus on the specific items below and keep it succinct. The worst thing you can do here is belabor or drone without getting to the point. This section is designed to help you get to the point. Making the best first impression with the fewest words possible is the sign of a professional. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

    The second worst thing you can do is avoid the plot line(s) and focus overmuch or exclusively on back story and exposition, the character's internal turmoil, and theme. Remember, competitive fiction in any genre requires plot! Things must be happening and the action needs to rise as the story progresses.

    If you do not yet have the story elements you need, write down the basics you have and return later to enhance once you've brainstormed this matter sufficiently (and this goes for everything else in this profile).

    Below are plot basics (regardless nonfiction or fiction), which form the core of your story. Make sure to note these in the description. Afterwards, examine the variations in the examples below, some of which include the climax and others which do not. Use the model that places your story in the best light, and remember for the most part to keep your short synopsis in the viewpoint of your sympathetic, engaged and interesting protagonist, the character who is going to sell your book for you.

      A. Introduction With Exposition and Backstory - setting, characters, main conflicts are introduced to the reader.

      B. Rising Action - the first major plot point occurs (the incident or circumstance that changes the course of action and forms the core plot of the story), conflict(s) increase, and in general, things happen.

      C. Cliffhanger - for descriptions that don't give away the climax.

      D. Climax - the major complications or conflict(s) contained in the storylines erupt in some kind of final showdown.

      E. Denouement - events that immediately follow the climax; a kind of "cleaning up" where everything ends; the reader may have some sense of "closure" or may be asked to think about what might come next.

      F. Theme Statement - if possible the writer can make a "theme statement" if it's a good one and gives a clearer concept of what the story is really about (see "Isaac's Storm" below).

    The examples below include the genres of narrative nonfiction, memoir, women's fiction, cozy mystery, historical fiction, and young adult fantasy. Btw, we are not sending a message by not including upmarket or science fiction (or paranormal erotica or Nascar romance, etc.), we simply assume the below will more than suffice.

    Isaac's Storm - Narrative Non-Fiction

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, Isaac Cline was one of the era's new men, a scientist who believed he knew all there was to know about the motion of clouds and the behavior of storms. The idea that a hurricane could damage the city of Galveston, Texas, where he was based, was to him preposterous, "an absurd delusion." It was 1900, a year when America felt bigger and stronger than ever before. Nothing in nature could hobble the gleaming city of Galveston, then a magical place that seemed destined to become the New York of the Gulf.

    (Rising Action)

    That August, a strange, prolonged heat wave gripped the nation and killed scores of people in New York and Chicago. Odd things seemed to happen everywhere: A plague of crickets engulfed Waco. The Bering Glacier began to shrink. Rain fell on Galveston with greater intensity than anyone could remember. Far away, in Africa, immense thunderstorms blossomed over the city of Dakar, and great currents of wind converged.

    In Galveston, reassured by Cline's belief that no hurricane could seriously damage the city, there was celebration. Children played in the rising water. Hundreds of people gathered at the beach to marvel at the fantastically tall waves and gorgeous pink sky, until the surf began ripping the city's beloved beachfront apart.


    Within the next few hours Galveston would endure a hurricane that to this day remains the nation's deadliest natural disaster. In Galveston alone at least 6,000 people, possibly as many as 10,000, would lose their lives, a number far greater than the combined death toll of the Johnstown Flood and 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.


    And as Galveston attempts to recover from the devastation, Isaac Cline experiences his own unbearable loss.

    (Theme Statement)

    Isaac's Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets nature's last great uncontrollable force.

    Hiss of Death - Cozy Mystery

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    Mary “Harry” Haristeen and her friends are organizing a 5K Run for Breast Cancer Awareness and Harry faces a stage one breast cancer diagnosis. Both are handled with grace, including all the complex emotions Harry, her husband and friends go through when they learn of her diagnosis.

    (Rising Action)

    Mary is very involved with the hospital and its staff because of these two events and is saddened when she finds her friend, a well-respected OR nurse, Paula Benton dead in her barn, apparently from anaphylactic shock from a hornet’s sting. When Harry learns Dr. Cory Schaeffer, with whom Thadia Martin accused Paula of having an affair, fatally electrocuted by his electric car, Harry wonders if these two deaths are connected, and more than just tragic accidents.

    Along with a menagerie of pets, whose conversations readers are privy to, Harry stays aware more than investigates, and gets suspicious when things don’t add up. Harry is also spending some extra time at the gym getting in shape to help her recover from her surgery and any follow up treatment, broadening the pool of suspects.

    Harry has a loyal group of friends, including her cradle best friend, who stands by her no matter what and they know they can count on each other for things small and large. Harry’s husband Fair is quiet and a good foil for the more outgoing Harry. With his veterinary practice and Harry’s pets, the two share their love for animals along with their love for each other.


    Note with this cozy mystery description that the climax and whatever follows is not included--no one wishes to spoil! Mystery writers are encouraged to include descriptions that leave the reader wondering. Though this doesn't end with a cliffhanger, the thrust of the cozy is accepted and the description concludes with elements involving major characters loved by female readers (animals, strong relationships, and love).

    However, you are advised to include the aforementioned elements and conclude with a cliffhanger, especially because you are writing a breakout novel and need to be as hooky as possible.

    Summer's Sisters - Women's Fiction

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    When Victoria Leonard answers the phone in her Manhattan office, Caitlin's voice catches her by surprise. Vix hasn't talked to her oldest friend in months. Caitlin's news takes her breath away--and Vix is transported back in time, back to the moment she and Caitlin Somers first met, back to the casual betrayals and whispered confessions of their long, complicated friendship, back to the magical island where two friends became summer sisters.

    (Rising Action)

    Caitlin dazzled Vix from the start, sweeping her into the heart of the unruly Somers family, into a world of privilege, adventure, and sexual daring. Vix's bond with her summer family forever reshapes her ties to her own, opening doors to opportunities she had never imagined--until the summer she falls passionately in love. Then, in one shattering moment on a moonswept Vineyard beach, everything changes, exposing a dark undercurrent in her extraordinary friendship with Caitlin that will haunt them through the years.

    As their story carries us from Santa Fe to Martha's Vineyard, from New York to Venice, we come to know the men and women who shape their lives.

    (Climax inferred, sans Denouement)

    And as we follow the two women on the paths they each choose, we wait for the inevitable reckoning to be made in the fine spaces between friendship and betrayal, between love and freedom.

    (Theme Statement)

    Summer Sisters is an exploration of the choices that define our lives, of friendship and love, of the families we are born into, and those we struggle to create.

    The Bartimaeus Trilogy - Young Adult Fantasy

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    Bartimaeus is a wisecracking Djinni (pronounced "Jinnee" we're reliably informed) unlike no other. Summoned from some otherworldly place to do the bidding of a pipsqueak trainee magician called Nathanial, he sets about his given task reluctantly but with aplomb. Nathanial is after revenge and that makes him dangerous. Previously humiliated by a powerful magician called Simon Lovelace in front of his impotent master, Nathanial has spent every waking hour for years cramming knowledge of the highest magic into his head so that he can exact his own special kind of vengeance.

    (Rising Action)

    Bartimaeus is charged to steal a precious and powerful object--the Amulet of Samarkand--from Lovelace's residence, which the Djinni achieves but not without angering a few old mates on the same astral plane and having to spend the night annoyingly disguised as a bird. Bartimaeus, despite being bound to Nathaniel, discovers the boy's real name--a tool he can use to his own advantage. But he is constantly outwitted.


    Then an overriding danger becomes apparent that threatens the whole fabric of society and they must work together to combat it.


    Note how the description above ends with a strong CLIFFHANGER rather than proceed into Climax and Denouement. If you have a potentially great cliffhanger, you should consider this, especially for dynamic genre fiction like we have here.

    The Hand of Fatima - Historical Fiction

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    In 1564, after years of Christian oppression, the Moors of Grenada exact a terrible revenge against their masters: after the ensuing bloodbath, the white houses of the Christians are daubed with their blood.

    Hernando is a Moor torn between two cultures, his blue eyes a constant reminder of the disgrace of his birth after his mother was raped by a Christian priest. Constantly referred to as the ‘Nazarine’ by his stepfather, he is forced to sleep in the stables with the mules.

    (Rising Action)

    When Hernando meets a black-eyed beauty, Fatima, she becomes the love of his life. Driven by hatred and jealousy, his stepfather condemns Hernando to slavery and steals Fatima for himself. When Hernando hears that Fatima is dead he is stricken by grief.


    In despair, he embarks on a plan to unite the two warring faiths - and the two halves of his identity.

    (Theme Statement)

    The Hand of Fatima is a story of good and evil, love and hate, dreams dashed and hopes regained set against the backdrop of a tumultuous Arab-Christian conflict


    Note above we have a new variation, cliffhanger followed by a strong theme statement. What historical fiction fan wouldn't want to learn more?

    A Piece of Cake - Memoir

    (Note this is an interesting and hooky conversational description, more like an oral pitch--this works for this memoir, but it won't always work for other genres. Be careful!)

    So many memoirs about overcoming the death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug addiction, miscarriage, alcoholism, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution, or homelessness.

    Cupcake Brown survived all these things before she’d even turned twenty.

    And that’s when things got interesting.

    (Intro exposition and backstory)

    A girl orphaned twice over, once by the death of her mother and then again by a child welfare system that separated her from her stepfather and put her into the hands of an epically sadistic foster parent. But there comes a point in her preteen years—maybe it’s the night she first tries to run away and is exposed to drugs, alcohol, and sex all at once—when Cupcake’s story shifts from a tear-jerking tragedy to a dark comic blues opera.

    (Rising Action)

    As Cupcake’s troubles grow, so do her voice and spirit. Her gut-punch sense of humor and eye for the absurd, along with her outsized will, carry her through a fateful series of events that could easily have left her dead.

    Young Cupcake learned to survive by turning tricks, downing hard liquor, partying like a rock star, and ingesting every drug she could find while hitchhiking up and down the California coast. She stumbled into gangbanging, drug dealing, hustling, prostitution, theft, and, eventually, the best scam of all: a series of 9-to-5 jobs.


    But Cupcake’s unlikely tour through the cubicle world was paralleled by a quickening descent into the nightmare of crack cocaine use, till she eventually found herself living behind a Dumpster.

    (Denouement and Resolution)

    Astonishingly, she turned it around. With the help of a cobbled together family of eccentric fellow addicts and “angels”—a series of friends and strangers who came to her aid at pivotal moments—she slowly transformed her life from the inside out.

    (Theme Statement)

    A Piece of Cake is moving and almost transgressive in its frankness, the tale of a resilient spirit who took on the worst of contemporary urban life and survived it with a furious wit and unyielding determination.


    This section is fairly self-explanatory. Take your time to answer the questions faithfully, and intelligently.



    This much shorter description is really your "Hook Line" or "Log Line" as it is known in the film industry. A good and hooky one liner is just as necessary and useful for promoting novels and nonfiction books as it is for film scripts.

    Also, like many other aspects of your Author Salon profile, it forces you to consider your work in a manner that strongly encourages you to realize those primary elements that will help sell it (see below), or at least convince an agent or editor to take it seriously from the onset.

    If you have a good description of your story, you are on your way to developing a good hook line, but one MUST come before the other!

    From Michelle McLean's "HOW TO WRITE A HOOK OR LOG LINE"

      Your hook line, like a log line, takes a story full of complex plot lines and high-concept ideas and breaks it down into a simple sentence that can be quickly and easily conveyed to a wide range of people.

      Your hook line is your first pitch in getting someone interested in your book. It can be used as the first line in your query letter, to help hook the agent into reading the rest of the letter and requesting information. It is especially useful for those pitch sessions at conferences or lunches. When a prospective agent or editor asks you what your book is about, your hook line is your answer.

    Elements of a Hook Line
    • Characters – Who is the protagonist? What is his/her main goal? What major role do they play?
    • Conflict – Who is the antagonist? What obstacle do they create to frustrate the protagonist?
    • Distinction – What makes your book different then all the rest? What is the unique element of your story that makes it stand out? Is your book a romance between a young man and woman? What makes them different?
    • Setting – for a novel, adding a little about the setting, time period, and possibly genre (if it’s not obvious) is a good idea. For example, the hook line for my book, which is an historical romantic suspense, could begin “A young woman in Victorian England…”.
    • Action – Your hook line should radiate verve and energy. Which hook below catches your interest more?
        - A woman has an affair and runs off with her new beau.
        - A neglected wife and mother has a torrid affair with an ex-con and kidnaps her children as she flees across the country with her lover.
    Examine the following sources for examples of hooks/logs:

    Let's go back to the story description examples for hook lines, as follows:

    Isaac's Storm

    In the year 1900, amid ominous and growing portents of violent weather to come, an overconfident man of science and his gleaming city of Galveston scoff at the idea of natural disaster, and following a catastrophe of death and destruction far worse than any could have imagined, this same man and his city must learn to face not only their arrogance, but more importantly, their irretrievable loss.

    The Hand of Fatima

    In 1564 Grenada, a young half-Christian Moor termed "The Nazarine" faces a life of scorn and torment by Moors and Christians alike until the kidnapping and murder of the woman he loves sets him on a dangerous path to reconcile the two faiths by seeking the God they both share.

    Hiss of Death

    At such time a quiet and animal-loving woman learns she has stage one breast cancer and enters the hospital she is galvanized into sleuthing after her good friend, an OR nurse, is found dead from a hornet's sting, and the doctor with whom she had an affair is electrocuted by his own car.

    Now, review your story description you've already included. Take your time. If need be, fill this out with "Working on it" and then return.


    Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page (esp in fiction), at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create (or find them in your nonfiction story) conflict and complications in the plot and narrative.

    Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category.

    And now, onto the PRIMARY CONFLICT.

    If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information from Wikipedia regarding the history of conflict in storytelling:

      Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter") and the antagonist (a more recent term), corresponding to the hero and villain. The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling.

      Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her.

    The above is classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

    For examples let's return to the story descriptions. Note these come close to being genuine hook lines. Note also that conflict is present regardless of genre.

    The Hand of Fatima

    A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.

    Summer's Sisters

    After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.

    The Bartimaeus Trilogy

    As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

    Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Beware!


    Perennial to the art of good fiction. We're not writing a remake of "Finnegan's Wake" here at Author Salon. You need to create a character we're going to care about, one who will triumph over adversity regardless of the nature of it, and regardless of the genre or upmarket/literary nature of the story. So tell us about your main protagonist, or a little about all of them if you have more than one. Some issues to consider for this part:

    • Is the story told in their viewpoint (like Huckleberry Finn) or is someone narrating their story (like The Great Gatsby)?
    • What is the nature and backstory of the protagonist? Basic who, what, where, when, how.
    • What is their strongest passion?
    • What is their greatest fear?
    • What do they want from life?
    • What motivates them to struggle, the process of which creates a major plot line in the story?
    • How are they flawed?
    • How do they evolve in the story?
    • What makes them unique?
    • How does the opening hook of the story, the first 20 pages or so, make them sympathetic, interesting, and/or unique? If not in the opening hook, then when, and how?


    Not willing to create a good antagonist or include one in your nonfiction? Why not? You're making a fundamental mistake, one that assures your story will lack the verve and drama it needs to be successful. Keep in mind that some of the greatest characters in literature are antagonists. A couple of rules to follow.

    • Great antagonists more often than not are stronger in some way than the protagonists they face.
    • Great antagonists are usually relentless in the struggle for their goal.
    • Great antagonists are often times vulnerable and flawed beings, perhaps worthy of sympathy, but certainly not enough to kill the story. After all, the more you dislike and abhor the antagonist and her/his goals the more you cheer for the protagonist.

    In general, flesh out the antagonist like the protagonist, asking yourself the same questions, and make certain to give them solid motivation.

    Here is a worthwhile note from Janice Hardy's blog. You don't need to follow this advice to the letter, but if it makes sense for your story, then do it:

    An antag that's likable is unpredictable. They already defy stereotypes by not being pure bad, so the reader isn't sure what they'll do.

    Making them real people with real goals also makes it a lot easier to write from their perspective, because it isn't about what they're doing to the protag. It's about what goal they're trying to achieve and what obstacles are in their way -- just like your protag. So make them the protag of their story. The hero in their mind. Treat them the same way you would your protag. Except they don't get to win in the end.

    Make them more than a plot device that forces your protag to do what you need them to do. Make them a character who happens to cause trouble by trying to get what they want.


    Interesting, unique, and/or quirky supporting characters are always a bonus. If you have some of these, talk about them in 200 words or less. Sum them up. What makes them worthy of note? Steer away from stereotypes and overdone tropes.


    Is there anything about your setting or characters that will transport the reader into a world they've never seen? Will the reader potentially learn something new from your work? This is pretty much taken for granted in fantasy, SF, historical fiction, and quite often in narrative non-fiction, but it is also true in other genres. If a mystery or upmarket story, for example, transports the reader to a unique and exotic locale and/or into the world of a unique profession held by the protagonist (or antagonist), then you've got a bonus working for you when it comes to making your project more marketable to agents and editors.

    Also, keep in mind you will do even better if you possess platform. In nonfiction, you must have platform to tell your story, but you will be on stronger ground with fiction if you possess the credentials to reveal the unique elements noted above. In other words, if you are in that unique profession or you have played that sport or hiked that forbidden Himalaya path, you and your story are more marketable. Fact.


    Going back to your previous work on your story description, hook line, and conflict, you must now provide the story climax and denouement.

    How do your major plot lines resolve?

    What takes place in the climactic scene? Who wins or loses?

    What happens afterwards? Loose ends to resolve? Any final surprises? Epiphany? Relationships mended, begun, ended? A life lesson? Hope and redemption?

    Tell the agents and editors in 100 words or less.

    With a little help from Wikipedia:

      "In many non-fictional narrative genres, even though the author lacks the same freedom to control the action and "plot", selection of subject matter, degree of detail, and emphasis permit an author to create similar structures.

      The climax of the Greek plot line is when everything comes out. All the conflicts are at their worst and usually the battle is near or happening. There is a climax in almost every story.

      Although it is not necessarily true, a climax is known in most modern culture for being the final fight between the hero and villain. While this is true in most cases, the climax may be more of an epiphany the conflicted main character experiences, especially if the story does not have a villain in the first place (e.g. A Beautiful Mind)."


    Note: keep in mind to reformat your work in your profile as necessary after you cut and paste into the submission form. If you have a PC, best to paste your work first into your Notepad program (which will automatically delete Microsoft word .doc coding), then copy it from there and re-paste into the profile form. As needed, use your spacebar, not tab, to create five-space indents for narrative paragraphs and dialogue. Make it look neat. Nothing will turn everyone off faster than a sloppy glop of prose on the page.


    Include here the first 500 words, or what would most likely be two double-spaced pages. We want to see how you begin this story? Do you have a great first line? If not, why not? Do you engage our interest immediately? And if fiction, do you phase into a cinematic scene that depicts the main character(s) or are you boring us with too much back story?

    For first impression purposes, this is undoubtedly the most important part of your novel or nonfiction. Choose carefully, update and edit as often as you need. Best to get it right!


    Include here at least a page or at least 20 lines of your best dialogue from one of your best scenes. It can be more than 20 lines, but make sure it crackles off the page. Best to keep it tense and interesting. Set the scene for us in the beginning.

    When choosing your dialogue selection, try to find one that highlights a crucial aspect of story or character, so the selection enhances and illustrates the story presented in the profile.


    At least two samples of your best narrative from anywhere in your fiction or nonfiction manuscript. Keep the total volume you include here to 500 words or less. Consider carefully. In your mind, what makes them best? Would you mail them to an editor as examples of your best work? If not, why not?

    When choosing the narrative samples consider a turning-point scene or one that not only demonstrates your skill, but also reveals something of plot and/or character.


    [Print version]