First Five Pages Checklist

The first five pages of your book are so important. As aspiring authors, we are well aware of their significance. And we place so much time and emphasis on getting them right. While we probably have a fair idea of what to do and not do in our first five pages, here is a quick recap of things to keep in mind when looking at the start of your novel.

Important questions to ask yourself:

Does the first line engage your reader?

Is your main character properly introduced?

Has the POV and narration style been made clear to the reader?

Does your reader get a good feel for the world – i.e. have you set the status quo?

Have you established your main character’s deepest desire?

Is there an inciting incident?

The most important thing to avoid at the beginning of your novel:

The information dump. 

Your reader is only starting to get to know your main character and within these pages, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with backstory or world building information so early on. Remember, you’ve got a minimum of 80,000 words to work with, you can take your time introducing the important background information. 

Author Interview with E.L. Summers

Dragon Soul Press interviewed E.L. Summers, an author in the Organic Ink: Volume 5 anthology.


1. How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for the last twenty years, but at a young age I only saw my writing as a hobby. I had little confidence in my writing. It wasn’t until college, when I had my first piece of fiction published in the college’s literary magazine, that I contemplated the idea of being a full-time writer. I took more creative writing classes and started a regular writing routine. I wish I had more confidence in my writing at the beginning, but sometimes it takes others taking a chance to make you to help chase away your inner demons.

2. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, but as a child I wanted to write the stories for video games. The story behind the games is what I enjoyed the most aside from the characters featured in them. I first wanted to write middle grade but feared my stores were copying the authors I had read, so I created my own worlds. Here, I felt free to use my creativity as an outlet for my depression and social anxiety.

3. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

Hmm… titles can be hard to come up, as you want them to be unique while at the same time drawing interest for your readers. Sometimes if I’m stuck on a title, I’ll leave it blank or use something as a placeholder until I finish the first draft of the project. I tend to focus on the themes of the piece and brainstorm ideas. If that doesn’t work or if I’m dissatisfied with the idea, I’ll reach out to my critique partner for advice.

4. How do you develop your plot and characters?

Characters are always the easiest to come up with and I have a templet for creating characters. The template is a series of questions or prompts to ensure the character is well-rounded and not one- dimensional. Most of the time, I’ll be struck with an idea and create the character before creating ideas of what the plot will be. Despite writing several novels and a series I tend to resist using an outline. I’ll have a few ideas of where I want the story to go and write freely around those plot points.

5. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I think aside from grammar and sentence syntax, which arises during the editing phase, I think the most difficult part with writing any project can be creating the world building. I have been told that I am talented in creating a vivid, believable world, but I over think its creation. I tend to stress out and spend too much time on research when keeping my world tied to the real world. I think when you’re creating your own universe, you’re given more creative freedom. Things still must make sense to an extent, if you can justify your creative choices for going outside the norms, then it’s not as restrictive.   

6. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

Four to six hours, depending on whether it’s a new story or a project I’ve been working on for a while. I’ll spend some time reading what I’ve already written before writing anything new. In the afternoon I’ll take an hour or two to edit any projects I have finished. O tend not to edit as I go while drafting. I find trying to edit while drafting can distract me and lead to procrastinations.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

What a hard question, I am a mind reader and always looking for new things to read. For poetry it’s a tie between Edgar Allen Poe and Mayla Angelou. They both have different writing styles; Poe’s work can come across as grim and creepy whereas Angelou’s work is flowy and captures emotions and feelings. They both have a way of using words to create vivid imagery. My favorite fiction author is Cassandra Claire and J.K Rowling. They both played a role in getting me into reading and excel at character driven stories focused on a fantasy realm full of diverse characters.

8. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

There’s no surprise that as a writer, I love reading fantasy, poetry, and paranormal romance. I am a child at heart and love going to amusement parks and carnivals. I love attending art museums and musicals. I enjoy sharing my writing journey and connecting with fellow creative people through creating content for YouTube. I love playing video games, coloring, and watching anime, cartoons, comedic sitcoms, and dramas.

9. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I am always working on new ideas; hence I have a notebook full of potential ideas, but to answer your question, I am working with my co-author Luna Nyx Frost to finish our Hunted trilogy and began plotting out a fantasy series inspired by Greek mythology. We wanted to showcase how the gods would overcome adversity if forced to live on Earth with a fraction of their power? There are not many stories in fantasy where the main character is disabled and being blind authors, we wanted to help create more representation for the disabled community.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

On my website, Instagram, and YouTube.

Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!

Why You Should Keep Improving Your Skills #3

In life, everything is constantly changing. This applies to books and their current trending genres. One week, fairies are topping the charts, but the next, Greek goddesses have taken over. Depending what genre those examples delve in, the writing is different. Gone are the days when Tolkien’s style of writing was popular. Now, stories told from a First Person POV and leaning heavily towards romance are selling the best. Those two elements can be applied to any setting and genre, but only if you know how to execute it.

Reading in your genre is the best way to see what readers are looking for. As the saying goes, readers want to read the same exact thing, but with minor changes and some originality. Once they pick up a book by you, they expect the others to be similarly written.

If you’re expecting to sell a lot of books, it’s best to stick with the current writing styles of authors topping the charts. It’s a personal decision to attempt getting a book into all of the current trends. Sliding into even one of them will drastically boost your ratings and get the attention of new readers.

At this point, you may be getting a bit defensive at the fact you should improve your skills. There is a vast difference between style and skill. Style is the art of the storytelling. Your style may always be changing or you may have nailed it down earlier on. The skill is the execution of the writing and should always be improving.

In order to succeed, your writing skills will need to constantly be advanced. There’s not enough room for the famous “show, don’t tell” speech here, but you can find our previous articles for reference: Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling and Show, Don’t Tell.

Continued from
Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books