If you are serious about getting your work published, you already know the importance of your first sentence, your first paragraph, and your first page. When all you get to send to a prospective literary agent is a query letter and page 1, that first page better be pretty good. Unlike at writers club, you won’t be around to insist, “keep reading, it gets better.”
And rightfully so. We, as readers, quickly judge books we consider purchasing, not by reading page 127 (and certainly not by reading up to page 127), but by reading the opening scene. If it doesn’t grab us, if it doesn’t give us a reason to keep reading (or worse, the writing screams “stop right there, if you know what’s good for you!) we put the book back down. Knowing the stories about the many rejection letters that now-published authors received before getting their big break, I think it’s safe to assume that literary agents and publishers are more critical than the average reader, not more forgiving/curious/patient. As one blogger puts it, “they’re looking for reasons to reject, not reasons to accept.”
If you’re interested in knowing what these reasons are, check out This is Why I Would Read Beyond the Page 1 and This is Why I Would Not Read Farther by author and blogger Anne Mini. There are 76 reasons the interviewed agents listed for rejecting based on a first page, and only 8 for reading further. It’s definitely worth checking out. Both lists are located pretty far down the page, past all the bold type. Don’t lose hope, just keep scrolling.
So to arm ourselves for the fight to get our work noticed by prospective agents and publishers, a writing exercise was distributed at the Tin Pencil meeting last night. If you weren’t able to make it to the meeting, you’ll find it below.
- Pick up a few of your favorite books and a couple not so favorites and read the very first sentence. Does it grab you? Why or why not? How can you incorporate what you liked into your own opening scenes?
- Write five first sentences.
- Choose one of your newly crafted sentences as a prompt and finish the whole first paragraph, page, or chapter. Was that first sentence the best way to start the scene? Can you improve it?
Those who complete this exercise will be given time at the beginning of the next meeting (February 10th) to read their resulting first sentences and opening scene, or feel free to post them in a comment. Write on!