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 pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.
Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Amanda Panitch’s perspective on what’s 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 a first line to you as an agent?
Amanda: A strong first line is important, but so is the second line, and the third line, and et cetera. It’s great to be grabbed right away, but a strong first line means nothing if the strong writing isn’t sustained throughout the pages that follow.
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?
Amanda: I receive a lot of submissions with prologues, and while of course there are always exceptions where the prologue is well-written and central to the story, a lot of times I come away feeling like the prologue is there solely to generate some tension before switching gears and dropping us into the protagonist’s mundane life. I find myself skipping prologues most of the time. If your opening is such that you feel you need a prologue to hook the reader, you might want to consider starting your story at a different point.
Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?
Amanda: It’s usually a combination of a great voice, a great concept, and a sense of propulsion. There’s a common bit of advice that writers should start their manuscripts with action, so I see a lot of chases, murders, car crashes, etc, which can be disorienting, as you don’t yet feel connected to the main character. I feel like a better word for action in this case might be change – so you would want to start your manuscript with something changing or something happening that’s out of the ordinary or unexpected. Those are the types of openings that tend to draw me in – ones where a character is undergoing some sort of upheaval.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Amanda: Things in those first five pages that tend to push me towards a pass are too much telling (over showing) and large info-dumps. We don’t have to know everything right away – as long as I have enough grounding to understand what’s going on, it’s okay if I don’t learn every last thing about your protagonist or their world in the first few pages.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Amanda: All three! If I had to pick one, though, I’d have to say I look for voice above all. I can work with the other two, but I can’t really help an author create voice. That’s why I always check out the pages that come with a query (and why sending that writing sample is so important if you’re querying me) – sometimes I won’t be grabbed by a query or I’ll find the plot description a bit lackluster, but the voice in the pages will be so strong I’ll want to keep reading anyway.
Amanda Panitch is an associate agent at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin (www.lmqlit.com). Before joining LMQ in 2012, she interned at Writers House and attended the George Washington University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. A writer herself, her first novel, Damage Done, will be released in July 2015 from Random House Books for Young Readers. She is actively looking for young adult and middle grade fiction and nonfiction across all genres.
She’d especially love to find a high fantasy set in a non-Western inspired setting, a dark psychological thriller, a quirky mystery, a gorgeous literary contemporary, historical fiction set in a place or time that isn’t often explored in fiction, or anything that features food as a main element. Other things that call to her are generational spaceships, unreliable narrators, magical realism, the pre-Columbian Americas, the Amazon, close sibling relationships, and slow-burning romances. You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaPanitch
If you’re interested in submitting to Amanda, please check the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin website for their guidelines.