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, Heather Alexander’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?
Heather: First lines are actually pretty important to me. Why wait until the second or third or fourth line to draw me in close? Readers shouldn’t have to dig too far to get a handle on the world. A good first line can create stability right away. A wobbly start is a wobbly start.
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?
Heather: I think many writers take “start in the action” way too literally. I don’t like to jump in mid-conversation, or mid-chase scene, or when a character is angry or suffering in some way. I want a chance to understand who this person is, and how they exist in their regular world before being thrown into a situation that is outside their normal existence.
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?
Heather: Gorgeous, thoughtful writing will snag me immediately. But more generally speaking, it’s a great voice and an interesting idea, or a really unique viewpoint. A well-drawn world, a clear idea of who the character is; all of these things will get me to ask for more.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Heather: Something I see quite often is using the opening pages to “tell” a lot of background. If there is a lot of “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” I’ll space out a little. I’d rather the story fill me in on what came before, and why it is important to tell this story now. I don’t want to be caught up to speed with a lot of exposition at the outset.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Heather: For me, it goes a bit like this: beautiful writing first, great or authentic voice, unique, well thought-out characters, and quickly understanding why their story is important. Just like I prefer conversations with friends about their ideas more than what happened that day, I want characters who make me say, “Yeah! I never thought of it that way. Brilliant.”
Heather Alexander, Agent, Pippin Properties, came to Pippin after six years in editorial at Dial. One of her favorite projects has been the hilarious graphic chapter book, Mr. Pants, It’s Go Time! by Scott McCormick and RH Lazzell. She loved working on the recent thriller, Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, and the Batchelder Medal Winner, My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve. Keep your eyes out for The Thing About Yetis by Vin Vogel, an author/illustrator discovered through SCBWI. Heather’s dream projects are about those moments that change a person forever, where the world will never be the same. She’s looking for literary books for all ages, picture books through young adult, including graphic novels. Funny is a fast way to her heart, but beautiful writing will keep it, and she leans toward boy books with girl appeal.
If you’re interested in submitting to Heather, please check the Pippin Properties website for their guidelines.