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, Melissa Jeglinski’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?
Melissa: I agree that the first line is incredibly important to me as a reader–and that’s how I’m looking at projects on my first review. Would I want to buy this book as a reader? So it has to grab me. But more often than not I will find the perfect first line is sort of buried within the third or fourth page of text and I’ll often point that out.
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?
Melissa: Avoid the journey and just get to the destination. So no car rides, walking into a room, leaving one place to get to the other. Just open in the moment and then set up your location throughout the scene.
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?
Melissa: I would say I’ve fallen in “like” with the quality of their writing. I can tell there is something there and so I want more pages to determine if I can fall in love. Either the voice was unique or just dynamic enough that I can tell they are quite talented. I see tons of amazing ideas only to find I don’t connect with the writing so when I get that good feeling I’ll ask to see more.
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Melissa: Oh, I have a list: Too much time with set up and don’t get to the conflict soon enough. The opening reads more like a synopsis with the first few pages just an information dump I have to weed through in order to get to some characterization and conflict. Not enough balance between narrative and dialogue.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Melissa: It is the voice; if I love the writing I’ll read on. Then I have to feel the concept is interesting enough that it can stand out in the market. So yes, there has got to be a great idea and then the talent to back that idea up.
A graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in English with a writing concentration, Melissa began her career as an editor with Harlequin Enterprises. Looking to work with a variety of authors and genres, she joined The Knight Agency in 2008. With over two decades experience in the publishing industry, Melissa has fostered her clients to National prominence including a recent Newbery Honor. Melissa is currently seeking projects in the following areas: Romance (contemporary, category, historical, inspirational) Young Adult, Middle Grade, Women’s Fiction and Mystery.
If you are interested in submitting to Melissa, please follow The Knight Agency submission guidelines.