The First Fifteen Pages: Exploring the Essential Elements that Will Get Your Book Noticed

What is the difference between a writer who never finds an agent or sells a manuscript to a publisher and an author who becomes a best seller? The first fifteen pages. The job, the explicit goal, of those critical first fifteen pages, is to hook agents, editors, and ultimately readers. Those first pages need to grab us, if not by the collar, at least by the sleeve, and say, “I’ve got you. Keep reading.” If your first fifteen pages don’t do that, your manuscript won’t make it past an agent’s slush pile, and your book will never land in the hands of a reader or brighten the screen of their Kindles.

During this weekend retreat, we’ll explore the elements that make the first fifteen pages of a novel, memoir, or a work of nonfiction successful. We’ll look at exemplars from each genre to see how successful authors created blockbuster stories. And we’ll talk about your stories along the way.

This retreat is for the novice with an inkling of a book idea, for writers who have a pile of “thanks but no thanks” rejections sitting in their inbox, and for those who’ve heard crickets from all the queries they’ve sent out.

Suggested Reading
During the retreat, we’ll use exemplars from a number of genres to show how successful authors build story. While not required, being familiar with the following books will be helpful. We suggest you find cheap, used copies of the books you won’t mind marking up and bring them with you.
The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Middle Grade)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult)
The Firm by John Grisham (Adult – Thriller)
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Women’s Fiction)
Life Detonated by Kathleen Murray Moran (Memoir)
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (Nonfiction)


Cost: $450.00 per person (includes 2 nights in a private suite, 5 meals, 5 workshops, and plenty of private time for writing)

Date: Friday, November 11 (Check-in: 4:00-6:00 pm) to Sunday, November 13, 2022 (Check-out: 11:00 am)

Place: Rockvale Writers’ Colony, 6994 Giles Hill Road, College Grove, TN


The Schedule

Friday, November 11, 2022:
4:00 to 6:00 p.m. – Check-in and settle in. You’ll be given a short tour and we’ll show you to your assigned room.

6:00 p.m. – Dinner

7:00 p.m. – Welcome and Overview of Retreat

7:15 p.m. – Writing Workshop: “Why 15 Pages?” – We’ll discuss the impact your first 15 pages have on the development of your story, readers, and potential agents and editors. We’ll talk about how to find the why of your story.

9:00 p.m. – Free Time / Bedtime

Saturday, November 12, 2022:
6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready!

7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available. Come anytime you’re ready

8:30 a.m. – Writing Workshop: “Where the Story Begins” – We’ll map the first fifteen pages of a few exemplars to show why writers chose to begin their story where they did and brainstorm potential starting points for the stories you are working on.

9:45 a.m. – Free Time for Writing. Optional exercise: Finding your inciting incident.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

1:00 p.m. – Writing Workshop: “The 15 Pages Party”– In this session, we’ll discuss the characters that get an exclusive invite to the first pages of your story. We’ll learn why the invitation should be limited to an exclusive few.

2:15 p.m. – Free Time for Writing. Optional exercise: Introducing your protagonist, the star of your story.

6:00 p.m. – Dinner
7:00 p.m. – Writing Workshop: “It’s Complicated” – Stories, like life, are driven by a series of complications, dilemmas, indecisions and decisions. In this session we’ll discuss how to use this formula to move your story forward.

8:30 p.m. – Reading / Share your Writing – Sharing is optional; however, we ask that you attend whether you read or not, in order to support other writers.

10:00 p.m. – Free Time / Bedtime

Sunday, November 13, 2022:
6:30 a.m. – Coffee Ready!

7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast is available. Come any time you’re ready

8:30 a.m. – Writing Workshop: “Putting Words in Their Mouth” – Our last session explores dialogue and information, two essential elements to create memorable opening pages.

9:45 a.m. – Free Time for Writing. Optional Exercise: Playing with dialogue.

11:00 a.m. – Checkout and Goodbye


Facilitator: Sandra O’Donnell – author, seasoned book coach, and agent.

As a book coach, Sandra works with writers taking them from draft to polished manuscript.  Knowing she couldn’t work with everyone, she wrote Your First Fifteen Pages: An agent’s guide to writing a book editors will publish, and readers will buy.  The book has inspired workshops, retreats, and a podcast. She is currently working on a memoir tentatively titled A Stacked Deck: A Twice Widow’s Journey
through Grief, Renewal, and the Tarot.


You can listen to an interview with Sandra here: https:// the-creative-writers-toolbelt.castos.com/episodes/episode-124-a-conversation-with-book-coach- and-literary-agent-sandra-odonnell-part-1-of-2