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Breaking In: Making Your Story Impossible to Put Down

08/27/2014 06:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014

As they read submissions, agents and editors are desperately hoping that the next manuscript will be fabulous. At the same time, they're so swamped with submissions, they're also looking for reasons to stop reading.

What makes a story impossible to put down? Faculty members of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat offer their best advice to aspiring writers:

Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management:

"For me, an un-put-downable book features characters I really care about who are deeply invested in the story they're working through. When reading, I'll ask myself what's at stake for the characters. Are the characters themselves invested in the story? Do they care enough to take action? If they are so invested, then it's very likely the reader will be, too."

David Ebershoff, #1 international bestselling author; Executive Editor, Random House:

"Write the book you want to read. Find a good story and write it in a way that only you can. Many stories are familiar, but they become original through the writing."

Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency:

"Don't write to trends. Write what you enjoy or it won't feel authentic to the reader. Then educate yourself about the publishing business before submitting to agents and editors. It helps to join a read and critique group. You will get valuable (and free!) feedback on your work and reading and offering critiques for others will help you grow as an author."

Robert Gookrick, #1 New York Times bestselling author:

"Concentrate on telling the story. A novel is like a train on a track; it never deviates or goes off the rails. Novels are about relationships, between people, between things. They are about making seemingly unlikely connections inevitable."

Lorenzo Carcaterra, #1 New York Times bestselling author:

"Before you can learn how to write you need to learn how to read. Read everything you can get your hands on -- novels, short stories, magazines, newspapers, bios. Everything. And learn from what you read."

Erin Harris, Folio Literary Management:

"Develop a strong and unique premise for your book before you start drafting. I'm a huge fan of the outline, even if you diverge from your initial plan down the line. An outline will you keep you focused and will force you to think through narrative problems before they even exist on the page."

Erin Niumata, Folio Literary Management:

"You're not a writer if you don't write. Find the time -- even if it's 500 words, a short story or a paragraph. Novels don't write themselves. Also, quit writing for the day when you're still full of ideas and excited. It will make writing the next day easier."

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The Salt Cay Writers Retreat, held October 20-25 on a private island in the Bahamas, offers novelists, memoirists, and narrative nonfiction authors the opportunity to improve their work through small-group workshops and one-on-one meetings with faculty members in a gorgeous and inspiring setting.

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