First Pages that Shine

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

It’s that time of year again. While I’ve been filling out forms and booking flights for the writers conferences I’ll attend this year, my mind automatically trips to the new writers I’ll have the joy of meeting, the critiques I’ll be privileged to provide, and contest finalists I’ll get to judge. I really do approach it with this enthusiasm. Agents are always on the lookout for those first pages that shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

First pages-1You might be wondering what factors agents and editors look for in a writer’s first pages. Here is a quick checklist to help you evaluate whether your first pages gleam or need some polishing before your pitch meetings or entry in a contest:

  1. Does the book begin in the right place? A novel should begin in the middle of an action scene that introduces the main character’s emotional arc. How does the protagonist feel about what is happening? How does what is happening affect her, and what is her motivation? A nonfiction book should establish the main issues surrounding the topic, the outcome and perspective for which the author is going to try to influence in the rest of the book.
  2. Is the hook strong enough to raise intriguing questions for which readers will want to find out the answers? The bar has been set high because of so many proposals vying for a limited number of slots in most publishing houses. Your book needs to have a unique hook, something fresh and compelling that sets it apart from so many others.
  3. Is there too much detail? Eliminate description and information not essential to the action and development of the main character and her motivation in these first pages.
  4. Are the pages free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? This is an initial indicator of your professionalism and knowledge of craft.
  5. Are the word usage and sentence flow the best they can be? Agents and editors love words. I’ve been known to re-read and savor a perfect word in its context or a sentence that leaps off the page for its impeccable construction. For me, this is a big factor of first pages that shine. If you haven’t been through this refining stage of your manuscript, you aren’t ready to pitch your work or enter a contest.

How do the first pages of your WIP fare? In which area(s) do your first pages need more work? Which of these five factors is the easiest or most challenging for you?

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