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, Tricia Lawrence’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?
Tricia: Oh, first lines are definitely a signal to me. I usually can gauge within a line or two if the first line fits. It’s not the first line that’s the problem on its own; often the problem is if the first line fits what’s coming after it. Does that make sense? And as a writer myself, I dither over first sentences entirely too much too. I feel ya, writers!
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?
Tricia: I concur about dreams, but then again I’m not going to dictate a set of rules “Don’t ever . . . .” Sometimes a dream is the right choice, ya know? I think it’s just usually a sign that a writer is starting in the wrong place, but a writer can start anywhere and it be the wrong place. But some that come to mind are waking up, standing at a locker, on the phone with a friend, or texting while driving (the latter is just bad no matter if it starts a book or not!).
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?
Tricia: The voice. A character’s view of the world. Find me a character that’s doing something intriguing, and I’m sold.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Tricia: Overwriting. Jamming too much in. Trying to get everything in. Put it all in on a draft and then practice pulling out different elements until you have the right mix. Quality rather than quantity. Lack of polish (should have had a few more eyeballs on it before me.)
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Tricia: I’m all about voice. If it’s fast or slow, the voice beguiles me. 😉
Tricia Lawrence is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 17 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist hoping to learn from Erin and Joan about agenting.
As associate agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.
Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) at authorblogger.net and her thoughts on being a creative professional at trishlawrence.com.
If you’re interested in submitting to Tricia, please make sure to check the Erin Murphy Literary Agency website for their guidelines.