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, Jessica Watterson’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?
Jessica: It actually is pretty important for me. The opening line of your story is what sets the tone and tells me what to expect. If it shocks me, I know the book isn’t going to be for everyone, but it will have this juicy story in the coming pages (I love those kinds of books though!) if it’s about the weather, it’s going to take me longer to get hooked. The first line of a book is like being introduced to a new person. You can tell a lot from just that first little interaction with them, just like you can tell a lot about a book from its first line.
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?
Jessica: Tree branches blowing in the wind, fog creating an ominous setting over a town/forest, also my least favorite, walking alone down a dark alleyway and a monster jumps out. Or just walking alone in a dark alleyway in general.
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?
Jessica: Strong characters, a plot that while is unique is still something that I can tell will be really successful with publishers, and obviously very engaging writing. I’ve had queries come in that I didn’t think I would click with based on the letter, but once I started reading I just knew that I needed to read more because the writing just captured me.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Jessica: The number one thing for me is too much back story and not letting the story just unfold. There’s plenty of time throughout the rest of your MS to give background, you don’t need to do it all in your first five pages in order to start telling the story that you want to tell. Just tell the reader the story, and give that background on a need to know basis.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Jessica: The number one thing for me is voice and characters. I’m obviously a huge character driven concept supporter, so when I’m introduced to just very vibrant characters, I will most often times need to read more! With that said, voice goes hand in hand with that.
JESSICA WATTERSON is an agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.
She graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in sociocultural anthropology and English. Jessica has made books a serious part of her life for many years. During college, she started an indie review blog that has featured author interviews and has reviewed several self-published books that eventually ended up on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Jessica is currently building her list and is most interested in all genres of romance. She greatly enjoys romance novels with strong characters that jump right off the page and a plot that stays with the reader long after the book has finished. She is also interested in select women’s fiction and young adult fiction. Her most recent sales include Melissa Brown’s two upcoming romance novels to Montlake Romance, Beth Ehemann’s Cranberry Inn series and an additional untitled book to Montlake Romance, as well.
Please note that Jessica is specifically not interested in: children’s books, middle grade, cookbooks, poetry, short stories, screenplays, self-help, or religious/spiritual books. For more on Jessica, follow her on Twitter (@JessWatterson).
If you’re interested in submitting to Jessica, please check the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency website for their guidelines.