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, Rebecca Strauss’ 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?
Rebecca: The first lines of a manuscript are quite important. As an agent, we are often overwhelmed with submissions; so, if our attention is not immediately grabbed, we move on. That said, to be fair, I definitely give writers more than the first line to hook me. But having strong opening pages is the key to pulling me into a story.
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?
Rebecca: Weather descriptions are often a turnoff for me. Unless that weather is an integral part of the story (set in a hurricane/tornado/tsunami– or, the character has weather-related powers ;)), I don’t need to read descriptions of the sunset in the opening. Also, I typically don’t respond to characters staring in the mirror in opening pages.
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?
Rebecca: If I’ve responded to a submission, I’ve been drawn to the following: a strong voice, a fresh concept, and forward momentum in the story. I also love a sense of humor– be it light and warm– or dark and edgy. I want to feel desperate for more pages!
Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?
Rebecca: A common mistake in opening pages can involve huge information dumps. It takes skill to work in key information about the characters and setting in an organic way. Information dumps can pull you out of the story and bore a reader.
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?
Rebecca: Can I say all of the above? 😉 If I were to hone in on one of the indispensable elements, it would be voice. I can work on the other elements, but voice is key.
Rebecca Strauss joined DeFiore and Co. in early 2013 after seven years at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. where she was an agent and Director of Subsidiary Rights. She represents: non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, women’s fiction, urban fantasy, romance, mystery, and YA. Before joining M&O, Rebecca was a foreign rights associate at Trident Media Group, a book scout and development assistant at Sony Pictures and an Account Associate at Ketchum PR. She’s originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and earned her degree in English Literature from Duke University.
If you’re interested in submitting to Rebecca, please check the DeFiore and Co. website for their guidelines.