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, Taylor Haggerty’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?
Taylor: The first line is important in that it makes me want to read the second, and the second is important in that it makes me want to read the third. It’s not a deal breaker for me, and it doesn’t have to be flashy—just a fitting introduction to the tone and story that makes me want to see more. More often than not, it’s the first paragraph or page, rather than a single line, that draws me in.
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?
Taylor: The first day of school and soul-searching gazes in the mirror (that also happen to reveal the main character’s hair and eye color) come to mind. That’s not to say these openings can’t work, just that they aren’t necessarily the best way into a story. I’m more likely to be pulled in if I have a little more insight into what’s unique about the characters or setting of a particular manuscript than these examples typically provide.
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?
Taylor: It’s usually a combination of things—a great concept, a distinct voice, intriguing characters, and the sense that the author is fully in command of the story they’re telling. That I-must-read-the-rest-of-this-manuscript-now feeling is one of the best parts of the job.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Taylor: I struggle with openings that rely on extensive background information to set the scene, instead of introducing the current stakes, and, on the flip side, with openings that don’t give readers enough context to really become invested in the story.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Taylor: Voice! It’s hard to tell much about the plot or pacing from the opening pages, but an engaging voice will jump out right away. That’s what brings the characters and the story to life, and what establishes an emotional connection with the reader.
Taylor Haggerty is an agent at the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has a master’s degree from Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing program. Prior to joining WLLA, she worked at the Gersh Agency.
If you’re interested in submitting to Taylor, please make sure to check the Waxman Leavell website for their guidelines.