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, Michelle Richter’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?
Michelle: It’s pretty clutch. Sometimes a writer can come up with that one line that grabs me by the throat (which is a good thing). But it has to flow into a narrative that holds my interest and that makes sense with that first line. But if you don’t have a killer first line–and most don’t–that’s OK. Just hook me within the first 1-5 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?
Michelle: All of the ones you mentioned, of course. But also, discussions of the weather (unless this is the about a tsunami or blizzard or tornado), waking up from a dream, someone’s morning routine whether tooth-brushing/blow-drying/going to the bathroom or running around getting kids ready for school.
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?
Michelle: Usually it’s a combination of a great voice, compelling character(s), and a hint of a plot that will either thrill or move me, depending on whether it’s mystery or women’s fiction.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Michelle: Including an epigraph, which never does anything to advance plot and uses a full page. Those first few pages are precious real estate. I’m also very much an opponent of prologues, something a lot of writers use. Unless a prologue takes me by surprise, is extremely short yet consistent with the feeling of the rest of the book–and not a flash-forward or flash-back that will be repeated later–I think it can easily be eliminated.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Michelle: I’m looking for a unique concept in the synopsis, and looking for the first pages to show me the writer can execute that concept, with a strong voice, vivid characters, and most importantly, a plot. As much as I love character-driven fiction–and I do love it, a lot–something has to happen. In The Casual Vacancy, for example, Rowling is fantastic at creating characters. But I felt no momentum or urgency, no plot, because the event that informed the action happened at the beginning and then I kept waiting for something else and eventually stopped reading (I didn’t finish the book).
Michelle Richter is an Associate Agent at Foreword Literary. She was at St. Martin’s Press for eight years, where she edited Melissa Joan Hart’s MELISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL, among others, and worked on a variety of fiction and nonfiction. Michelle is seeking fiction including book club reads, literary fiction, well-crafted women’s commercial fiction, thrillers, and mysteries (amateur sleuth, police procedurals and smart cozies). In nonfiction, she’s seeking fashion, film, television, science, medicine, sociology/social trends, and economics. She has a soft spot for stories set in Boston, Ireland, and Russia. You can find her on Twitter at @michrichter1.
If you’re interested in submitting to Michelle, please check the Foreword Literary website for their guidelines.