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, Nicole Resciniti’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?
Nicole: First lines are imperative. They set the tone, establish a mood. They form an immediate impression with the reader. I’m a huge fan of a great opening. And it doesn’t have to be just the first line. Sometimes it’s an opening paragraph or scene. The importance is to make something memorable.
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?
Nicole: I am not a fan of ‘a day in the life of–‘ beginnings. If it feels like something routine, it probably is, and those things aren’t really necessary. The wake up, shower, describe oneself in the mirror–I don’t recommend that approach, either. For paranormal, most openings tend to be in a bar. I also don’t like the in-school walk-through or the bored-in-a-classroom openings when it comes to YA. Try to make the opening unique.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure that each scene advances the plot, and to incorporate action and dialog. A certain amount of backstory is unavoidable, but in most cases, those details can be trickled in.
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?
Nicole: It’s always the voice. It’s a definable, recognizable way that an author has of telling a story that is unlike any other. Sometimes it’s the similes or descriptions. Other times, it’s dialog. But always, there is a signature way of writing that brings the whole story to life.
Amy:What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Nicole: A lot of stories don’t open in the right place. Many of them contain flowery imagery or over-writing. I prefer tight writing. I love seeing a manuscript where I know the author has chosen every word with care. I’m not a fan of prologues (80% of the time, they’re unnecessary). I also don’t like opening scenes where characters sit around and ‘talk’ to fill in the reader on all of the details. I like to jump into the ‘action’ as quickly as possible. For mysteries/thrillers, I want to feel that immediate tension. I want to find the body, lol. For romance, I want to see that first meet between the hero/heroine and to sense the attraction between them. For fantasy/SF, I want to be transported to another world. I want to dissolve into that world. Believe it. With YA, I want the characters and concept to feel like something I haven’t read before.
I think the most common mistake that a writer can make is being impatient. I see a lot of projects that are good, that just need some editing to be outstanding. But by sending them out prematurely, sadly, most of those manuscripts will be rejected. I work with authors whenever I can, especially if I love the voice. But I have to focus on my contracted authors, so I don’t always have the luxury of that kind of time. For agents who have been in the business for a long time, I think it’s even harder for them, since their lists are full.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Nicole: All of the above. With every author I represent, I’ve known within the first five pages that I loved the writing and I wanted to work with them. A first great impression is THAT important.
I’d suggest to any author to go to the bookstore and pick up books at random. Read the first page. Ask yourself, do you want to read more? Look at the techniques and style that those authors employed to make you want to keep you reading.
I’m going to shamelessly pimp some of my authors here, because I think you can see from the first page that they have incredible ‘voices’. Here are some awesome authors to look for:
Ashlyn Chase (humor mixed with paranormal romance)
Marisa Cleveland (fun, flirty contemporary romance)
Julie Cross (dynamic voice for YA, NA, and sci-fi YA)
Jen Danna (thrillers; a very “Bones” vibe)
Kim Falconer (brilliant fantasy author; fantastic world building)
Cole Gibsen (really believable YA)
Amanda Flower (she writes mysteries for three different houses, plus MG–lovely style)
Marianne Harden (her Rylie Keyes mystery series debuts in a few weeks–it’s a must-read!)
Melissa Landers/Macy Beckett (YA, contemporary romance; respectively. Both genres are funny + sexy)
Lorie Langdon/Carey Corp (fantasy YA; awesome female protagonists)
Lauren Layne (NA, contemp romance; If you liked Sex and the City, you’ll love her new series)
Jessica Lemmon (contemp romance; humor with heat and emotion! soooo good)
Kate Meader (contemp romance; sexy, foodie stories–amazing voice)
Cecy Robson (some of the funniest UF you’ll EVER read! I ‘heart’ The Weird Girls)
Jaime Rush (PNR, she keeps the heat balanced with action, really definable characters)
Lynn Rush (angsty, action-packed YA)
Mary Serine (her Transplanted Tales kick ass–you want to see this new version of Little Red Riding Hood)
Laura Simcox (small town contemporary, with humor)
Julie Ann Walker (best romantic suspense on the shelves, hands-down, prepare to be addicted)
Nicole has been listed by Publisher’s Marketplace as a top dealmaker in the country, and named ACFW’s 2012 Agent of the Year. She loves discovering new talent and helping established authors to take their career to the next level. Do you have the next project to feed her book addiction? A smart, tight read she won’t be able to put down? A signature voice she’ll fight to represent? HEA’s are a must for romance. Mainstream suspense, thrillers, mysteries, YA and inspirational novels are welcome. A consummate science geek and card-carrying Mensa member, Nicole would love to find the next great science fiction/fantasy novel or action/adventure masterpiece.
If you’re interested in submitting to Nicole, please make sure to check The Seymour Agency website for their guidelines.