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, Mary Kole’s perspective on what is important in those critical first pages…
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?
It’s very important. I like to have something in there that raised tension or hooks me–makes me wonder about something that’s been mentioned. Cramming too much information in the first sentence or starting with dialogue (you haven’t put the characters “on stage” yet, don’t make them talk) are two weaker gambits.
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?
Dream openings are a huge cliché and I recommend you avoid them at all costs, even if you think you’re the one writer in the world who has the perfect reason to make it work. Everyone has already ruined it for you, don’t even try. Another big opening no-no is the disorienting beginning, where a character (who we don’t know) is running from something (we don’t know what) and the stakes are…we don’t really know but it sure is frantic! We aren’t connected with the character yet so throwing us into life-or-death drama right away is a waste. More on that here:
When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?
Voice, starting in a specific scene, being grounded in a present moment, and getting some kind of conflict. It doesn’t have to be life-or-death (see above) but it should inject tension. More on what I mean by “grounding the reader” here:
What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
A character sitting in their room and thinking about how much their life sucks. Not only is this telling, but it’s all internal conflict. We need a nice balance of internal and external conflict in fiction. Also, that action should be balanced well with information–too much information at the beginning (whether through telling or flashback) is an info-dump and also stalls pacing.
What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
I have to have a sense of voice, as I said above, and that action or conflict right off the bat that will keep pacing brisk. The concept is more something that I react to after reading the query letter and seeing the larger scope of the story–it doesn’t have to come into play in the first chapter but, if your novel is truly unique, getting a sense of that early on certainly won’t hurt!
Be sure to check out Mary’s new book, WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers from Writer’s Digest Books for more tips on how to make your novel stand out in the slush!
Mary came to literature from a writer’s perspective and started reading at Andrea Brown Literary Agency to see what it was like “on the other side of the desk.” She quickly found her passion there and, after a year of working behind the scenes, officially joined the agency in 2009. In 2012, she became a Senior Literary Manager at Movable Type Management, where she is also heading up the children’s department. In her quest to learn all sides of publishing, she has also worked at Chronicle Books and earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. At this time, Mary is only considering food books, food memoirs, cookbooks, and, for the children’s market, young adult and middle grade fiction and truly exceptional picture books from authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators. She prefers upmarket premises with literary spark and commercial appeal. Her favorite genres within children’s books are character-driven fantasy, thriller, horror, adventure, humor, contemporary/realistic, romance and mystery. She blogs at http://www.kidlit.com, which has been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest Magazine for three years running.
Mary is currently open to queries and represents PB, MG, and YA. If you’re interested in submitting to Mary, please make sure to check the Movable Type Management website for their guidelines