After months of writing and revising, you’ve finally finished your first novel. You’ve agonized over writing a synopsis and rewritten your query letter a dozen times. Now, your e-mail holds your very first request for a partial manuscript. All that hard work is paying off, and you’re well on your way to publication, right?
Remember, the agent or editor reviewing your submission has a hundred or more queries to review, dozens of partials to peruse, and a handful of full manuscripts to read. And additional work on top of representing their clients or publishing books. To keep them reading beyond the first couple of pages, something needs to stand out and make them want to read more.
Not fair, you say…
But is it any different than a reader who picks your book out from the hundreds of others on the shelves around it? Or what about the on-line customer who clicks on the “look inside” option and has only the first few pages to help them decide whether they want to buy the book. They don’t have time to read through the first few chapters until your book gets exciting. Something has to grab them from the beginning, something strong enough to make them willing to pay to read the rest of the story.
Not so different, is it?
So before you respond to the request for your manuscript, take a final look at your first page. Try to let the reader in you speak. Would you be drawn in by a description of the weather or a person or the setting? Probably not. Do you want to read on those first few pages about someone doing something normal and routine? Doubtful. Do you want to be drawn into the story just to find out in a page or two that it was a dream? Maybe not. If it’s not something that would entice you to continue reading someone else’s book, it’s probably not going to make a reader want to read your book either.
What do you need?
Something must excite your readers. It needs to make them wonder what will happen next. This could mean someone is in danger, a crime has been committed, or invaders have just taken over the protagonist’s city. That’s action and conflict. Or it could mean that a mysterious letter has arrived, the protagonist’s estranged father is standing on her doorstep, or an ultimatum has just been given. These offer a burning question. Either of these beginnings can hook a reader with the desire to know more.
After an honest evaluation, take a little extra time, if necessary, to revise the beginning of your story to include a hook on the first page. It will be worth the effort!