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, Andrea Somberg’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?
Andrea: It’s not so much the first line as the first few paragraphs and pages. In that space of time you can get a pretty good sense of the writer‘s narrative voice and the strength of the prose. Of course, this isn’t a foolproof method! But writing a novel is so incredibly difficult, usually it’s a good bet that if the opening pages aren’t solid, the rest of the manuscript will fall apart at some point. Also, as an agent, the question I am constantly asking myself is: can I sell this? Will an editor take this on? Will readers embrace it? And both editors and readers often decide whether to buy a book based on the opening pages.
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?
Andrea: Yes, all of the above is great advice! Especially dream sequences. Also, I am always a bit wary of prologues…
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?
Andrea: Usually it’s their narrative voice and the strength of their prose. It’s also wonderful if they’re able to introduce the protagonist and give me some insight into why this character might be compelling. Of course, all of this is hard to accomplish in such a small space!
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Andrea: I think that there’s a tendency to try to open with a high stakes situation in an attempt to draw the reader in. But trying to build tension without first creating some type of emotional connection between the reader and the protagonist often falls flat.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Andrea: ‘Voice’ is usually the most important thing for me! No matter what the story is, if the narrative voice resonates with me, I’ll ask to see more. Of course, voice is one of those tricky things, though, where it’s so highly subjective. I could absolutely love the voice, while someone else has reservations – and vice versa!
A literary agent for over ten years, Andrea Somberg represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, including projects aimed at a young adult and middle grade audience. Previously an agent at the Donald Maass Agency and Vigliano Associates, she joined Harvey Klinger Inc. in the spring of 2005. Her client list is quite full, however she is always actively looking to take on new authors who write in the following categories: Fiction; literary, commercial, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, mystery, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, young adult, middle grade. Nonfiction: memoir, narrative, popular science, pop-culture, humor, how-to, parenting, self-help, lifestyle, travel, interior design, crafts, cookbooks, business, sports, health & fitness. Harvey Klinger Inc. began as a one-man, one office literary agency in October, 1977. Over the years, it has grown and expanded, and is widely recognized among the top boutique literary agencies in the publishing industry today. It actively markets film/tv international, and other subsidiary rights, working with a vast network of co-agents in L.A. and around the globe. To learn more about Andrea, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.
If you’re interested in submitting to Andrea, please make sure to check the Harvey Klinger, Inc. website for their guidelines.