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, Katie Shea Boutillier’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?
Katie: I must agree, the first line of the novel is important. It immediately sets a tone. You want to make sure that you give you novel a certain feeling when you open with your first line. This first line shows the reader where, who, what and why. Make it as unique as you can and transport your reader into another perspective.
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?
Katie: I often see women’s fiction writers start with a scene when the main character is about to lose it. Her husband just left her. She just found out she has an illness. I also see many realistic YA writers start in a typical school setting. I would like to see less of these examples. Starting your novel on the right foot means the reader is seeing a major change in the main character’s life – and where might this happen? Think of a place that is either particularly intimate for your reader or maybe a place that would excited your character – with lots of things going around, but focusing on what is most important – your MC. Some good examples of this may be in the streets of a major city, in the subway/train, at a concert, at a party, at a graduation. Go beyond the ordinary and set into a particular setting that reflects what is happening to your MC.
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?
Katie: The first pages have spoken to me. I have made a special connection with myself and to the storyline, the setting, and the characters in the novel.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Katie: Writers don’t go far enough. They are too afraid to let go. To write what they fear. To use emotions that they might not feel they need (or even want) to. I want to feel like the main character is my best friend. And I will follow her anywhere.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Katie: If the writer has taken me out of my current state and immediately has thrown me into the main character’s life, you got me. However, this has to happen fast. Like I’ve said before, I need to connect. If I don’t connect with the main character, then I start skimming. I want to be able to feel the beat of the novel. Action, emotion, voice, and setting. All of those thrown at me, together, at once. And then you got me.
Katie Shea Boutillier joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2011. She is the Rights Associate for the agency’s Subsidiary Rights Department, where she assists in selling the agency’s translation, audio, film, and electronic rights. In addition, Katie focuses on her own client list of women’s fiction/book club; edgy/dark, realistic/contemporary YA; commercial-scale literary fiction; and celebrity memoir. She looks for projects with the perfect balance of plot and emotion. Katie loves novels that seek big truths, touch on important social issues, and explore unique family dynamics and unlikely friendships. She is a cum laude graduate of Marist College. Some of her clients include Carolita Blythe, Kathryn Craft, Judy Huddleston, and Andrea Portes.
If you’re interested in submitting to Katie, please make sure to check The Donald Maass Literary Agency website for their guidelines.