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, Amy Tipton’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?
Amy T.: The first line is kinda important but so is the second and third and every line to the end. The first line can definitely grab your attention. but you need to build a relationship with your reader so all lines are important.
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?
Amy T.: Dreams are a no-no and waking from a dream is usually a no-no … I’m not gonna say, “Don’t ever …!” because there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes a dream or waking from a dream is the best place to start … In YA and MG, the most common ways to start are moving/new house/new school/new friends or going the complete opposite route, starting out with how ordinary everything and everyone is/was so you can flip it to be extraordinary. And that makes sense, but it’s so expected! Make it unexpected! (And, again, there are a ton–A TON!–of red heads in MG … And why is it the love interest in YA is either a blond jock or a sensitive/alt/guitar-playing/poet brunette with shaggy hair? And why is everyone thin? And white?)
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?
Amy T.: Sometimes I only get the query, so I go on the query. And a good idea (concept) is what I respond to. I like a good title–but an even better concept is what hooks me. I like weird/quirky/dangerous/”edgy” things so I reply to some weird/quirky/way out there (in this teetering-on-the-edge-of-possible-inappropriateness-for-some-high-schoolers) ideas.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Amy T.: So, we’ve all heard that Coco Chanel said before a lady leaves the house she should look in the mirror and remove one accessory? Well, writers should re-read and cut at least 5 pages. Don’t be afraid to kill those darlings! A lot of the time, writers start in the wrong spot. I’ve even suggested some writers start with their chapter two.
Also, as in starting in the wrong place, writers assume the reader knows the universe they’ve created and the reader doesn’t; the “rules” are not to be assumed–so, writers, don’t leave ’em out! Same with assuming they care about your character–they don’t, so make them care!
Polish your work before you send it out. Get family or friends or teachers or crit partners or whomever to read before an agent does!
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Amy T.: While I initially respond to a unique concept, voice is what sustains me. The voice, a unique POV, is essential. I’m very character-driven so find me a good character and I’m sold! But voice (to me) is also about the actual writing–and good writing is always key.
Amy Tipton joined Signature Literary Agency in 2009. She graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received her MFA from New College of California in Writing. She comes to the agency after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. Amy has also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. She became an agent with Peter Rubie and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to her agenting experience, Amy also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada. Her work is published in the anthology, Controlled Burn, and pieces of her first and second novel can be found in a variety of literary journals.
Amy is looking for both fiction and nonfiction–edgy or quirky, commercial or literary–in particular, she is interested in YA and middle grade. In nonfiction she is looking for women’s studies/academia, fashion/beauty, and pop culture.
If you’re interested in submitting to Amy, please make sure to check the Signature Literary Agency website for their guidelines.