First page critiques by literary agents are gold for writers. At the Toronto Writing Workshop, held a week ago, we were fortunate to drop off our first page for critiquing. As we all know, the first page is enormously important. It can make or break your book.
A panel of 11 agents read the first page (they picked random people). My fellow writer, Linda and I were in the front and were chosen to yell out ‘Six’ when six agents held up their hands which meant the first page had bored them and they wouldn’t read any further. (We did our job with aplomb!) About 12-15 first pages were read and almost every one was cut short because 6 agents raised their hands. In every single case, at least 4 agents raised their hands.
Here are some of the comments from the agents:
– Introduce your plot right away
– If your first paragraph has major issues, it introduces red flags for the agent
– Red flags for an agent – Character begins novel by waking up, seeing what he/she looks like and weather
– Make sure every word belongs on the page
– Expository dialogue – stuff you wouldn’t say, but is the author giving info
– You can introduce the reader to something shocking but don’t spoil it by taking the reader out of the action
– Grammatical errors are totally fixable but turn the agent off
– Role of profanity. Use it when it works – not for shock value. Must be authentic
– Swearing in description is really difficult – ex: shitty little apartment (doesn’t work)
– Don’t open with a bored character. Your reader might get bored as well. Don’t make your reader bored along with the character
– Don’t lose your effectiveness by overusing certain words
– Starting with a date might turn off some readers. Only use if really necessary
– Lack of flow is a problem
– Skin doesn’t become hyper aware. Be aware of how you are in your head
– Be careful of looking like you’ve pulled something out of the thesaurus. Don’t be too creative with your words (meaning using high-falutin words) it pulls the reader out
– Don’t start getting technical right away. If the reader doesn’t know who’s talking, you will lose them
– Nix the wordiness. Agents will immediately assume the rest of the manuscript is wordy too
– Description overkill – you have an entire manuscript to build your world. Don’t do everything on the first page. Sensory overkill
– Recognize that telling every detail can be better served by showing it
I wish they had picked one of the five of our first pages. I guarantee there would have been
no raised hands.