Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Make Your First Page Mind Blowing—Please! by Hilary Wagner

Book Sculpture by Guy Laramee

Agents are busy. Editors are busy. They don't have the time, energy or fortitude to move on to page two if page one of your manuscript is as dull as dishwasher. They don't owe you anything and they will reject you. Agents and editors don't give leeway for 'setting the scene' and they don't give leeway for weak writing. They just don't and they shouldn't have to. 

Think about it. It's 3PM on a cold Wednesday afternoon in January. The agent of your dreams has just read through her 40th middle-grade fiction submission of the day. The space behind her eyes is beginning to ache. Her neck is hurting from bending over her desk. She's thirsty. She wants to get up and grab a glass of water or maybe even a Diet Coke, but she needs to get her reading done because she has a late meeting, so she's pushing through.

Knowing the above, do you think your chances of nabbing her as an agent seem fairly strong with a mediocre first page? 

 Book Sculpture, Artist Unknown
Agents and editors don't sit around dreaming about the many writers and manuscripts they can reject. They dream about the authors they can rep and the manuscripts they can buy. They want you to be awesome! They are betting their time and money on you. So let's be honest, if it were you in their shoes, would you invest your time and your money into a book you weren't totally in love with? Would you settle for mediocre? Would you keep reading?

Here's the kicker to all of the above. The manuscript you wrote may be fantastic, original, and a one of a kind jewel. It may be THE ONE! It may be the manuscript that agent of your dreams has been searching for all year, but she'll NEVER know it because she couldn’t get past the first boring formulaic mundane page of it and you just received a rejection email from her, faster than you could nuke your leftover pizza in the microwave. Happens every day.

Book Sculpture by Robert The

Now I know I titled this post Make Your First Page Mind Blowing, but this doesn't mean you literally have to have an explosion in the first page or a maniacal ninja fight scene. The first page can be absolutely subtle and quiet. It can even be a whisper. It just has to be unique, like the extraordinary book sculptures you see here. It has to be special. It has to go beyond everything that agent has read and is expecting to read that day or even that week or that month. You have to surprise her. You have to make her forget she's got a looming headache behind her eyes and there's a 6PM meeting she can't get out of. You need to make her tilt her head in curiosity or maybe gasp just a little and sit up her chair and then guess what happens? She moves on to page two. 


  1. Food for thought. Loved the visual and word images. I'll keep that tired thirsty agent/editor in mind as I work on that first page.

    1. Right? They are in a perpetual bad mood! Get them out of it, Jenn! :)

  2. Excellent post, Hilary! This is why I offer first page critiques on my blog every month -- trying to help other writers make that all-important First Impression!

    Any writer who is interested, please contact me!

    1. Dianne, that is a super generous thing to do and so vital as well. Any more light you want to shed on the subject in future posts PLEASE DO! :)

  3. The first page is always important, but never more important than when querying. I think most casual and devoted readers are willing to give more time to a book than an agent with thousands of queries each year.

  4. Great post, and great comments. I love reading Dianne's critiques of the brave souls who volunteer on her blog. She is honest and insightful.

    (One of these days I'm going to write an opening with explosions or maniacal fighting ninjas--or maybe even exploding maniacal fighting ninjas--just for the sheer heck of it.)

  5. Quiet, loud, action, introspection. None of it matters as long as it's unique. Love it!

  6. While all the above is true and valid, I just want to remind us all to be kind to ourselves in the beginning, and sometimes the best thing we can do is pleasing ourselves first, and by this I mean since writers are readers with preferences just like any lay reader we LONG to have, sometimes what's enough for us isn't for readers who aren't us, and one scene in my forthcoming novel is in that place right now, it's how I wanted it, but my editor wanted more pathos in that scene and I'm struggling to get it there.

    This is not a "First page" but it's HARD nevertheless...

    Trust me, I'm just like lots of writers who OBSESS over their work, and while many fear getting the ending wrong (and hey, no one wants their ending to suck when they manage to get readers hooked, after all!), I'm more terrified of not getting the beginning right more than any bad review I could ever get for ANY book I'll ever publish!

    The hardest part about the writing process for me (outside the "query letter" phase) is not My forthcoming debut "Gabriel" went through this trauma, TWICE!

    First, I started too late, than too early, and that was on top having to write 5 different versions of this book before it-

    A. Started in the right place.

    And B. Didn't bore/confuse people! (FYI Bonus tip: "Confused" and "Intrigued" are not the same. LOL)

    1. EDIT: The hardest part about the writing process for me (outside the "query letter" phase) is getting the beginning to intrigue but not confuse.

      My forthcoming debut "Gabriel" went through this trauma, TWICE!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!