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 Caitie Flum’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?
Caitie: Not as important as I think some writers think! I have seen advice that says if your first line isn’t brilliant, agents will stop reading. I never give up on something after just one line. A great first line will get me excited, but what comes after that first line is more important.
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?
Caitie: Well, all of the ones you mentioned above! Getting ready for the day is another one that should be avoided – it is just boring. I have also seen lately something similar to the dream opening – something is described and is really exciting and it turns out to be from a movie or TV show. And please, stop having your characters look in a mirror and describe themselves.
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?
Caitie: I don’t ask for first pages, so it is just based on the query!
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Caitie: The biggest mistake I see is that it is just info dumping, no story or character. Also, over describing things. Yes, we want a sense of place, but most of the time, having two pages straight of what it looks like is not that compelling. Also, not starting is the right place. which I know is difficult, but makes sure the story has to start where it does.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Caitie: All of the above! It depends on what it is. If it is middle grade, it needs to have that voice from page 1. Any books with action need to nail that pacing. In every genre, I need to get to know the main character.
Caitie Flum joined Liza Dawson Associates in July 2014 as assistant and audio rights manager. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2009 with a BA in English with a concentration in publishing studies.
If you’re interested in submitting to Caitie, please check The Liza Dawson Associates website for their guidelines.