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 Latoya Smith’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?
Latoya: I will be honest, I have a short attention span. So the first line or first few paragraphs is very important for me when deciding which projects I’d like to request the full manuscripts on. This is especially true because of our submission guidelines–we request a synopsis and only the first page or two, so the opening to the story is very 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?
Latoya: Honestly, I am all about the writing. There are a lot of things that may not work for some writers, but if you’ve crafted a very strong opening, it doesn’t matter how it starts. For me, as long as it’s compelling and draws me in, that’s all that matters.
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?
Latoya: Definitely the writing, storyline, characters, and voice. I love strong characters, fully-fleshed out plotlines (opening is clear, character goals are nicely established), and, of course, a compelling voice. I also look for marketplace potential. It’s very tough to try and sell in a project that isn’t working well in the marketplace or that the publisher has struggled to sell in the past.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Latoya: They try to create mystery and intrigue, but end of leaving out too many details which makes the opening vague and confusing. Or they start with dialogue that isn’t very compelling because they’ve been told to open their story with dialogue.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those early pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Latoya: All of the above! Like I mentioned earlier, I want to know who I should be paying attention to, what their issues are, and of course, I need to connect to the character’s/author’s voice.
Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing, while pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from Hardcover fiction and non-fiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year. In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long form romance and erotic fiction. Now, Latoya provides editorial and consultation services through her company, LCS Literary Services. She is also an agent with the L. Perkins agency.
If you’re interested in submitting to Latoya, please follow the submission guidelines for the L. Perkins Agency.