Blogger: Rachel Kent
I’ve been asked to serve on a critique panel at a writer’s conference a couple of times. These panels allow for authors to read the first page of a novel out loud to a panel of editors and agents and every panel member responds with whether he or she would read more of the book based on that sample and why. I am not a big fan of these panels because it’s hard for the authors to get up the courage to read the first page to begin with and then many of them are critiqued pretty harshly. For me, it’s hard to think of what to say with so little time to prepare a critique. I always try to be nice, yet truthful. Some editors and agents are just truthful and I’ve even seen an author cry. I hate that!
The point to all of this is that the first pages of your manuscript are crucial! If an editor or agent isn’t drawn into the story quickly, the chance of them continuing to read is very small. The submission pile is always huge and a bad first chapter makes it easy to say no. Don’t make it easy for an editor or agent to say no to your book. Make that first chapter shine.
In the submissions I’ve read recently, I have noticed that many first chapters focus too much on back story and character introductions instead of jumping right in to the plot. It’s great for you to have a thorough understanding of your characters and back story, but you should reveal these details to your audience gradually and naturally as you write. Thankfully, critique partners are great at catching problems like this, so please join a critique group if you aren’t in one already.
Take an honest look at your WIP now. Where does the story actually start? Is your first chapter (or two) necessary to the book?