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 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 Hillary Jacobson’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?
Hillary: A first line is important because I assume the author has paid the most attention to that line and been very purposeful with it. So when I see a first line that’s grammatically incorrect or not very strong, I’m initially a bit suspicious. However, a first line is never a deal breaker. If the writing gets stronger after that, I’ll still want to request the full.
Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?
Hillary: I think anything cliché can be made interesting in the right hands. However, if the first word is a character uttering or thinking a curse word…that feels very overdone and like a lazy way to get the reader into a situation.
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?
Hillary: First pages that can immerse me in a whole new world without confusing me always pique my interest. I struggle a lot, especially with fantasy queries, that want to plop you right into a super complicated new world without giving you the tools to make sense of it. The best openings make you comfortable with what you know and what you don’t know.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Hillary: Telling instead of showing, especially with something more high-concept. I’ve noticed that some writers want to explain everything right away when there isn’t a need to. Like in my last answer, I want to be able to understand what’s going on, but I don’t want the information thrown at me in a clunky way.
Also, this may seem unimportant, but so many writers neglect to perfect their formatting!! If the font and font size are all over the place and your query looks unprofessional, I’m already skeptical.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Hillary: Absolutely the voice and strength of the writing. I really try to keep an open mind in regards to concept, so I rely on the voice to clue me in if I should keep reading more. Ultimately, if I feel disappointed when the pages end, I know that I have to request the full!
Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners is actively building a list consisting of commercial and literary fiction, YA, as well as narrative non-fiction and memoir. She is especially seeking high-concept YA, upmarket fiction, psychological thrillers and memoirs that read like fiction. A lifelong obsessive reader, she got into the literary game as soon as she could. Prior to working at ICM, she interned at Random House, Janklow & Nesbit and Alloy Entertainment. She is a graduate of Brown University.
Interested in subbing to Hillary? Send directly to firstname.lastname@example.org with the query and first ten pages in the body of the email.