If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.
The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first five pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your MS a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.
Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Brandi Bowles’ perspective on what is important in those critical first pages…
Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is that to you as an agent?
Brandi: I don’t think I’ve ever passed on a bad first sentence, but I have passed on a bad first paragraph. Truthfully, I’ve been doing this long enough that I often know if I’m into the writing within one or two pages. If I like the premise, I’ll often operate under the three-strike rule: I’ll let the first two writing errors or stylistic gaffes (like an overwrought adverb) slide, but if I catch a third within one chapter I stop reading. I know this book isn’t yet ready to be published.
Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc…What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?
Brandi: You named the top three, but I’d also add speaking directly to the reader, opening up in an argument, or beginning with a rhetorical question. There are always exceptions, but when the opening’s too chatty or too philosophical, I read the rest with a very skeptical eye.
Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?
Brandi: It could be a variety of things, but excellent writing, strong dialogue, and interesting characters are always a must!
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Brandi: Beginning writers, especially, tend to use a lot of dialogue tags (and too much dialogue in general), and rely too much on the opening pages to convey background information about their characters. Often that background information can be part of the mystery that drives the plot, or at least makes us want to know more about the character, and should be seeded throughout the manuscript rather than taking up valuable space in the first two chapters.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Brandi: Usually concept first, then voice, then pace. I typically won’t read the first page unless I feel intrigued by the concept – that’s why pitch letters are so very important. However it’s true that often I’ve fallen in love with a novel idea and just not with the voice of the writer or main character. Of course, this is entirely subjective. The challenge of pace begins to become apparent in the 3rd chapter, by which point I want to see the novel going somewhere.
Brandi Bowles is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media. Originally from Louisville , KY , she began her publishing career at Random House in 2005. Brandi represents idea and platform-driven nonfiction in all categories, including cookbooks, humor, science, memoir, and current events. She also represents literary fiction, commercial fiction, middle-grade, and YA, particularly high-concept novels that feature strong female bonds and psychological or scientific themes. Rich, fully developed characters and excellent writing are a must. Brandi studied English Literature and Business at the University of Louisville and New York University , graduating with a degree in English. She now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and nearly feral cat.
If you’re interested in submitting to Brandi, please make sure to check the Foundry Literary + Media website for their guidelines.