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TIPS: Make Your First Five More Appealing to Agents and Editors Or You're Sunk!

Hi All,

I'd like to share some tips that will most likely get you over the five-page hurdle that aspiring writers face. It's the BIGGEST obstacle that stands between you and getting an agent and finally, publication. The first five can make or break you within minutes.

In case you aren't sure of what I mean, well the situation is that the agent or editor has to LOVE your first five pages or your manuscript will get rejected before the agent can yawn. Most writers know it's best to hook an agent's interest on the FIRST page especially, some even the first paragraph. Remember, agents are very busy people with clients and a bunch of newbies wanting their shot. Your work HAS to stand out from the pack or you're dead in the water. If you can't get an agent to read past the first five, forget it.

I am a realist so I'm not gonna say to you guys, "Do this and you'll be published!" I see articles like this all the time. That's not reality. The truth is that if you pay close attention to the impact of your first five pages, it will be in your best interest your work would be read and you might get representation. But unlike others, I don't promise someone anything. But, these tips CAN get you closer to your goal and it can help you if you weren't sure of these things before.

1. Don't Start Your Story Off With "the waking up, breakfast and coffee". Start with The Actual Story Conflict and Action.

You don't want to start off with your character doing ordinary, boring everyday things like waking up, having breakfast, getting dressed, etc. Yet a lot of newbies do. This will get your work tossed out before the first page. UNLESS something important to the story or something amazing is about to happen in these instances, DO NOT start your story with them. You'll only bore the reader. Start with the beginning of the story. If it's a mystery, start off with the murder, crime, etc. If you write fantasy, start out with the dilemma right away. If you write romance, start off closest you can to the beginning of the romance.

Example: If your plot is to have Joe Blow get robbed at the airport by foreign spies on his way to Turkey to deliver a top-secret disk with USA military secrets on it,
Start with That! When the book starts, Joe should already be at the airport (or heck to make it more interesting, start off with the robbery taking place!). But don't start with Joe getting up, Joe getting dressed and thinking of his last girlfriend who dumped him, Joe driving to the airport, Joe at the security gate, Joe lounging around the airport...see what I mean? You'd end up with over twenty pages of needless nothing!

Now ask yourself, which type of beginning would keep YOU reading on? A story that started off with a bang or a story that peddled towards the major plot?

I hope you picked the story that started off with the bang because agents and editors will.

2. Backstory & Info Dumps At Beginning of Story

Remember, backstory does NOT belong in the beginning even if that's easier for you.
You should treat backstory like it's a spice, sprinkle it gradually (if needed) as the story goes along. Don't pour in eight pages of backstory at the beginning like most aspiring writers. This is one of the main reasons agents don't get past the five pages. Also, unless it's absolutely necessary, please don't start with someone being a child if the majority of the story's plot focuses on them as an adult. Get to the point. Avoid info dumps as well. There are techniques to backstory and info dumps. They are necessary at times but there are ways you use them. Do research and you'll see how.

3. Too Much Description

Don't start your first few pages with loads of unneeded description. This is a BIG reason agents toss out manuscripts. You must start with something that's happening immediately. You are trying to hook readers but first you must hook agents and editors. If your story doesn't get past them then you won't be published.
Use description as necessary but don't start off describing someone's house, the city they live in or the clothes they wear. It's boring.

4. Bad Dialogue
This hurts if it's in any place in the story. You must have exciting, realistic dialogue throughout but especially in those first five pages.

5. Don't Force Your Character Introductions Starting Off

You don't have to introduce ALL your major characters in the first few chapters. Introduce them as they are needed. Don't just place them in beginning scenes because you feel people should "know" who they are for when they actually do something later. That's messy writing. Unless your character isn't being mentioned or doing something right then, don't introduce them. I don't want to know about Thomas or Stacy until they've done or are DOING something. That's when I know they are important to that story. Also it confuses readers when you introduce a group of characters immediately if for only the reason to present them.

6. Telling and Not Showing

It's the biggest sign of an amatuer (and that's okay), we all did it at the beginning. Just research if you are confused about it. It is confusing to a point. While editing your work, make sure you are showing. It's okay to tell sometimes, but once an agent sees you're telling everything, they won't even flip to the second page. Telling and not showing can kill any book I don't care how good the plot is. We need to "see" what's going on, not have the author point it out to us.

7. Not Introducing Your Main Character Correctly (First Person)

Ever read a book where the author is writing in first person and you get ten pages of story before you even know the main character's name? I hate books like this! Why do first person authors believe they don't have to introduce the main character? If you're writing first person books remember there are different rules for those kinds of books. You should research and learn how to write first person books correctly. Read other first person novels to see how those authors tackled this. Most first person books are a very, very, very hard sale for a new writer. A lot of readers do not read first person books and agents and editors know this. So you have a big challenge getting an agent interested in the first place. You gotta grab her immediately and show her why your first person story is creative, interesting and different from others. Remember not to use "I" a million times. There is an art to writing first person. The best writers of first person narrative know how to write it in a compelling way and where "I" doesn't have to be repeated endlessly.

(Note: If you can write your first person story in third then consider doing that. Make sure if you're writing in first that it has to be done that way). There have been many occassions where authors of first person books got representation only for the agent to request they rewrite the entire thing in third. It is much harder to sell first person novels, especially if you're a new author. So if you choose this method you'd better be darn good at it and you'd better know how to write it. I know of an author who just got an agent's interest in his book but suggested he write it in third person to give it a better chance.

8. False Beginnings

Avoid starting off with dreams. Don't try to trick your readers by starting off with something exciting but it turns out to be a dream. Eliminate dreams altogether at the beginning. This is a ploy for cheap thrills and it hurts rather than help.

Well, you guys might know these tips or you might not. I hope I opened your eyes to some. I know you've read novels where things were done differently, we all have. But remember, you're trying to get IN the door. So you gotta crawl before you can walk. Get your first book published, sold and build a little fanbase THEN maybe you can talk about breaking the "rules". In order to break them, you gotta know what they are.

But I think sticking to general tips like these makes any writer's work more polished, interesting and exciting. It certainly can make a newbie stand out in the crowd. You'd rather stand out in the crowd than be in the slush pile I'm sure.

Best Wishes!

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