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. It’s tricky to get just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.
Today I’m proud to share Literary Agent, Brent Taylor’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.
Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?
Brent: Very important. I am more forgiving for bad query letters than I am for bad writing samples. Because of the amount of queries I receive in a day, I have to move quickly – there are just so many other things going on. When I open a query letter, I skim to see the genre, category, and word count. Then, I jump straight into the writing. If a first line is weak, it’s not a good sign. That being said, I will usually suspend that prejudice and give it about five pages before I give up completely. If I’m really excited about the writing, then I’ll go back and read the query letter before requesting or rejecting.
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?
Brent: All of them. If you can describe something as “common” and “cliché,” then stay away from it. Of course, sometimes it’s not always that black and white, and you really have to stay true to your creative license as a storyteller. My best advice here is to just be really critical of where you start your novel. Ask yourself all of the questions: Does the story have to start here? Why does the story start here? Is there an alternate opening that makes more sense?
I see a lot of openings that are fine, but just not great. A great opening entices the reader with the voice or the writing, and then makes them ask questions about the protagonist and their circumstances.
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?
Brent: It can be many things! Writing is very important to me as a reader and an agent, so a handful of good sentences alongside a fresh premise is usually what seals the deal that I’ll ask for a full manuscript. But sometimes I’m just intrigued to see where a story will go, or if I’m lukewarm about something, I’ll try to give it a chance and see if the writing and story take a turn for the better.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Brent: Starting their stories in stagnant places. Placing the reader in scenes where there is no forward momentum.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Brent: All of the above. I like books that are well-written, but also appeal to a wide, commercial audience. I want stories and voices that I’ve never encountered before. Pacing, however, is one of the biggest reasons I reject novels. If the writing impresses me, though, I’ll usually request a manuscript anyway, just in case everything clicks 25 pages later.
Brent Taylor joined Triada US, Inc. as an assistant to the agency’s founder in 2014. Prior to that, he interned at The Bent Agency. He represents a wide range of upmarket fiction for kids, teens, and adults: middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, women’s fiction, literary fiction, and crime fiction. You can find him on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.
For submission guidelines, please visit his Publishers Marketplace page: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/brenttaylor/.