Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

First Five Frenzy with Roseanne Wells of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency October 18, 2013

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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, Roseanne Wells’ 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?


Roseanne: A great first line pulls in readers, but what keeps them there is the story itself. I love a good snappy opening line, and I think a good opening paragraph and first page are critical for getting the reader into the story. But I think some new writers edit the first 5, 10, 25, pages so strongly to make them interesting and flashy that they don’t focus on consistency and narrative control, and the book unravels.



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?


Roseanne: Any type of dream (being in a dream, waking up from a dream, remembering a dream) can be poison for a story. I would also say looking into the mirror or out the window contemplatively (especially for YA), getting ready for school/work, or anything that is trying to say “look at how normal this person is before their conflict starts”–it can be very generic. However, there are exceptions: the opening to DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth starts with her looking in the mirror, but it’s an unusual opening, and it has more meaning than just dreamily staring into her own face.


I personally don’t usually like pages that start in dialogue or in the middle of an action sequence, since it can be hard to convey character in a conversation, or during a fight scene. I want to see the novel start a beat before that, so I can see the status quo, then their reaction to the opening conflict. Charlaine Harris starts DEAD UNTIL DARK with a vampire walking into the bar, not when Bill and Sookie start talking.



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?


Roseanne: I have already pictured myself reading it: I want to sit down with a cup of coffee and read the manuscript in my (imaginary) window seat. I can see myself getting into trouble with the main character, I can travel through this world, I can’t wait to find out what happens. When I can see the elements of a good story coming together, I get excited and want to read more.



Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Roseanne: It breaks my heart when authors start with an unnecessary prologue or backstory. They waste valuable pages setting up part of the story that will be revealed anyway, or is revealed too soon, and it undermines their work. It also means they might not know where the story begins. Ultimately, it tells me they don’t trust themselves, their story, or their reader.



Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Roseanne: Voice stands out for me in the first pages, as it can link so many elements together: use of language, tone, character, conflict, motivation, even plot and world building. In the query, I’ve seen a unique concept or a twist on something familiar, interesting characters, high stakes, a hint of voice, or something a little bit intangible–a sensibility that I’m going to be transported into this story. And then the pages are where the author proves it. If it sounds like every other story about a girl in a prom dress, or sad middle-aged man in the throes of a mid-life crisis, or a lonely housewife, then the story is falling short.



Roseanne Wells joined JDLA as an associate agent in 2012. Previously with the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, she has also worked as a proofreader and a special sales and editorial assistant. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with degrees in Literature and Dance. An avid reader, Roseanne discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W. W. Norton, and she approaches agenting as a writer’s advocate, editor, and partner. She is also an arts reviewer for and a volunteer for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, NYC


If you’re interested in submitting to Roseanne, please make sure to check The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency website for their guidelines.








I can’t believe it, but this is the Lucky 26th post in the First Five Frenzy! To celebrate, Roseanne has been kind enough to offer a query critique as well as provide feedback on, of course, those pesky first five pages!


To qualify for the giveaway, you need to comment below with your contact info and follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog!



38 Responses to “First Five Frenzy with Roseanne Wells of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency”

  1. Fantastic post, Amy! So glad I’m following you on twitter. And, naturally, I want to enter. Who wouldn’t?

    kaylatherivera [at] gmail dot com

    • Hi Mikayla:

      Thank you for your comment and I appreciate you checking out my blog. Unfortunately the giveaway for the crit ended yesterday. I will definitely do this again in the future and hopefully you’ll get to enter then.

  2. Just discovered you through twitter and followed. This is awesome to know! Thanks Amy and Roseanne! (I have a character named Roseanne Wells. O.o I might need to change that now…)

    I’d love to enter. 🙂 Email is and Twitter is @Kodi_Ross

  3. Love, love, love this post! I would love to be entered in the giveaway. My email is summerspence[at]yahoo[dot]com or my twitter handle is [@] summywins

  4. Rae Says:

    Yes, please on the critique! Thanks!!!

  5. Great post!

    My email is martysunshine(at)yahoo(dot)com.

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  6. […] 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, Roseanne Wells’ perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages… READ MORE HERE. […]

  7. I would love a critique of my first five pages!

    @MyIndianFamily on Twitter and mkulkarni01[at]

  8. CONGRATS, Amy! And, as always, another fabulous interview w/ a wonderful agent from a terrific agency. =) pasha [dot] westbrook [at] gmail [dot] com.

  9. ash Says:

    Thanks for the great insights! I would love to enter the giveaway. My Twitter handle is @willawynne

  10. Hi! I just discovered you through Twitter, and I would love to be entered in the giveaway. My e-mail is beth[dot]woodward[at]yahoo[dot]com.

  11. This is very useful information. Thank you, Amy and Roseanne.

    My Twitter handle is @LilyMarsWrites

  12. Matt Borgard Says:

    Great info, especially regarding voice in the query and first few pages. I’m @MatthewBorgard on Twitter, or

  13. Yay for Lucky post 26! These Five Frenzy posts are so helpful. Great insights from Roseanne. I’m not surprised that a lot of people work so much on their first 25 pages and then neglect the rest.

    yaasylum @

  14. Aurrice Duke Says:

    Ah! Love the insights! areneduke (twitter handle)

  15. billypayne Says:

    Hey Amy, Congratulations and thanks for the opportunity! In the beginning my ms get better after the first 5 pages. Have been in the First Five Workshops a few times and things have gotten dramatically better.

    billypayne @ aol (dot) com

  16. Thanks for providing this opportunity! My contact info is:

    tiffanielynn (at) rocketmail (dot) com

  17. Great post, thanks! Loved Rosanne’s answer about what makes her request a manuscript.

  18. Great post. If Id seen these before, I wouldve followed a loooong time ago. Oh well, guess you’ll find me in the archives now 😉
    Thanks for the opportunity, too! rm_writer @ hotmail (dot) com

  19. Thank you for all the great interviews! Roseanne sounds great, and I’d love a critique. Twitter: @LauraRueckert

  20. laurigirl Says:

    This would be incredibly awesome! It’d be great to get critiqued on my first five pages! Thank you for offering this! (I followed you on Twitter!) lauraghelweg@hotmail.(dot)com

  21. Laura Smith Says:

    Thanks Amy. This entire series has been fantastic.

  22. Happy 26th! I guess one of us will be getting a ‘gift’-you shouldn’t have!
    Thank you for this tremendous opportunity. maysadie53(at)gmail(dot)com
    A new follower also!

  23. ohdustin Says:

    I really admire Rosanne as an agent. Having her critique my first five pages would be a dream 🙂 dustincburns @ gmail (dot) com

  24. So what significant changes happen after those first 25 pages? Is it just grammar and etiquette that dissipate? Thanks for the insightful post!

    KimberlyAKay (at) yahoo (dot) com

  25. Wow! Great interview and giveaway! Thanks so much!

    My twitter is @Ava_Jae 🙂

  26. Hi Amy. I just read your interview you took with Roseanne. It was very resourceful. Coincidentally, my book starts with a prologue and a dialogue, but I think my opening para is a lot more than just a dialogue. I would very much like to have a critique on that and on my first five pages. I have just entered my email to subscribe to your blog to qualify.

  27. Hey Amy! Thank you and Roseanne for doing this interview/giveaway! My contact info is:
    Jen Norwood
    norwoodj87 at yahoo dot com

  28. Am I really the first one commenting? I enjoy reading these, but I’ve never officially followed you before, but I am now. I’m not sure what contact information you’re wanting, but my twitter handle is @lanettekauten

  29. deshipley Says:

    A feedback giveaway? What the hey. I’m a blog subscriber. I’m in! Feel free to reach me via Danielle [dot] E [dot] Shipley [at symbol] comcast [dot] net. (:

  30. Great interview! And a critique opportunity? Even better!

  31. Woo hoo! Lucky 26th! Thanks for hosting the interview, Amy. Very enlightening…as always 🙂

  32. aightball Says:

    I think I already follow you but will double check =)

    Contact info @Aightball (do you want email, too?) (aightball [at] hotmail [dot] com

  33. Marlene Moss Says:

    Happy 26th post Amy! I tweeted about this – love this series.

  34. This is the second blog in two weeks that has commented about the first 25 pages of manuscripts being much more polished than the rest of the book. Is this a new trend? I am wondering if it has anything to do with how conferences and webinars seem to focus on them.

  35. Hi, great post and what a valuable gift to those of us in the query trenches at the moment.

    email: contact (@) carlhackman (dot) com

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