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.
Those first pages are critical and that is the purpose of the First Five Frenzy. To get 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 will 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, Kate McKean’s perspective on what is important in those first five 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?
Kate: I think a first line is very important. It’s your first, first impression. If your novel takes 10, 20, 100 lines to get good, why not just start on that 100th line?
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 beginnings you recommend writers stay away from?
Kate: I definitely suggest avoiding openings with dreams, breakfast, etc–but also: waking up, getting dressed, looking in windows/mirrors and describing the character’s physical characteristics, commenting on the weather, alarm clocks, ringing phones, answering phones…I could go on. The point is not that these are bad openings, but that readers—and that includes agents, editors, and people with money in bookstores—have seen them a hundred times. Why start with something old when you can start with something new? Write for the reader, not just yourself.
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?
Kate: It’s a feeling, something in my gut or brain that says “hey, this is different.” Sometimes I’ll find that I’ve kept reading without looking up to check my email, or the time, or the coffee level of my cup and then I know that the writing or the story or both has captured my attention. And then I request more.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Kate: Writers don’t tell the reader the who, what, where, when, why, and how fast enough in their first five pages. Frankly, I want at least 80% of that in the first page, if not the first paragraph. Whether it’s literary fiction or YA or mystery or whatever, it’s never too early to give the reader the GERMANE material facts of the plot and characters. (GERMANE doesn’t mean everyone’s hair color, middle name, and shoe size. It means the facts the reader needs to know to become invested in the story and plot.)
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Kate: All of the Above. It has to be everything for me. The author has to hit it out of the park on all of those things for me to take them on. Writing is hard. Selling is hard. So I need to love practically everything about a book to be its best advocate in this tough market.
Interested in learning more from Kate on how to craft your first five pages? Check out her upcoming webinar, “Awesome First Pages: How to Start Your Story Right.”
Kate earned her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi before starting her career as a literary agent. Her interests lie in literary fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, urban fantasy,young adult and middle grade fiction, sports related books, food writing, pop culture, and craft. She does NOT represent works in the following genres: thrillers, mysteries, crime, politics, true crime, mind/body/spirit, or children’s picture books.
If you are interested in submitting to Kate, please make sure to check the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency website for their guidelines.