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’s requested over and over.
Today I’m proud to share Melissa Edwards’ 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?
Melissa: A great first line is a good sign for things to come, but it needs to be followed by hundreds (thousands!) of good lines. If the first line is great and the second is terrible, that first line isn’t enough. I take each line as an invitation to keep reading.
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?
Melissa: Novels that start with a wake-up are my personal pet peeve. Eyes opening and a protagonist doing morning rituals—not very interesting. I also don’t like bad weather— rain, wind, fog, snow—in a first scene, if it can be avoided.
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?
Melissa: It’s usually a character that gets me—a funny voice, or an unusual background, or a different perspective. I am a quite character- based reader. It’s usually the person who makes me feel something—the right character can do nothing for 50 pages and I’ll still be with you. That being said, they better do something eventually because pacing is so much of the battle.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Melissa: All exposition, all the time. I see authors just dump information into their first few pages. I understand the need to set a scene, to introduce the team, to place the setting, but there’s a way to integrate that information seamlessly into the action. Just throwing background at the reader to get it out of the way isn’t particularly enjoyable, and isn’t that the point of reading?
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Melissa: As I said earlier, I am a character reader. A distinct voice can make a book, and carry the reader from the first page to the last. Think about novels like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES or EMMA. These are books that continue to be relevant, not only because the writing is so strong, but because the voices are so distinct. A character doesn’t need to be likeable to be successful, but he or she needs to be memorable.
Melissa L. Edwards is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt Law School. Melissa began her career as a commercial litigation attorney, but happily transitioned to a career in publishing. At present, Melissa handles foreign rights for Aaron Priest and manages her own list. Melissa’s taste ranges in genre from classic Victorian literature to hard-boiled crime dramas. She is interested in reading sweet and quirky middle grade fiction, contemporary YA, light-hearted women’s fiction, and female-driven suspense. She is also interested in select pop culture nonfiction. Ultimately, Melissa is looking for a book that will keep her glued to the couch all day and night, and continue to occupy her thoughts for weeks later.
If you’re interested in submitting to Melissa, please check The Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency website for their guidelines.