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, Kathleen Rushall’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?
Kathleen: I wouldn’t expend all your energy on the first line. The opening pages are very important, but a single line should not make you lose sleep. Focus on your opening chapters to draw readers in, particularly those first five pages. Place us immediately into the story, and show us your main character’s voice. Be careful not to open with a lot of exposition.
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?
Kathleen: Those are pretty good examples. I would avoid opening with a character just waking up, or looking in a mirror (a common scene used to show us what the MC looks like). The idea is to start right away with something intriguing that makes us want to know more. There’s no need to show us that your MC is brushing her teeth or eating a bagel right before killer clowns from outer space kidnap her (unless, of course, the bagel is relevant to the plot!).
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?
Kathleen: Most often it’s a killer voice or a unique hook. Something in those first pages had to grab my interest and make me want to know what happens next. Those first pages need to make me care about your character and want to find out his or her story.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Kathleen: Too much back story or set-up. Sometimes the voice doesn’t come through. Keep in mind what you want to accomplish right away: give readers an immediate sense of who is telling this story (whose story IS this?), where does it take place (give a sense of setting right away), and a hint of the conflict (what’s intriguing here?).
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Kathleen: All of the above!
Kathleen represents a wide range of children’s literature and nonfiction at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She started as an intern at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency, and then spent two years at Waterside Productions agency. She looks forward to garnering fresh voices, strong narratives, and whimsical tales in all areas of young adult literature including thrillers, contemporary romance, mysteries, historical fiction, and science fiction. She is open to all genres of YA, but has a soft spot for thrillers, romance, edgy plots, humorous voices, and would love to find a dark mystery. Kathleen is also looking for unique, quirky picture books and all genres of middle grade fiction as well.
In addition to kidlit, Kathleen also represents select nonfiction and is interested in parenting, cooking, crafts, business, alternative medicine, women’s interest, humor, pop-culture, and some how-to.
Kathleen graduated from Seattle University with her bachelor’s degree in English and minor in fine arts. She moved back to her hometown of San Diego to earn her master’s degree in English, specializing in children’s literature, from San Diego State University. When she is not at her desk, Kathleen enjoys exploring new restaurants, dreaming of Ireland, and walking her Australian Shepherd, Finn.
If you’re interested in submitting to Kathleen, please make sure to check the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency website for their guidelines.