How Your First Page is Like a Handshake
And while your query needs to shine, so do your first pages. Bestselling author Marcus Sakey advises writers to always paste the first page of your novel into your query email. Why? You want to hook an agent. If they're intrigued (even if your query wasn't perfect), you have a shot at a manuscript request.
So how can you make your first pages the best they can be?
Work on Your Craft.
Read books on writing, attend conferences and workshops, write and rewrite. Try several ways to do your first page, starting in a different place in your story each time. Many agents say the stories they see usually begin in the wrong place. Find out if yours does.
Read Good Fiction.
Spend an hour in a bookstore reading only the first page of a stack of books (don't read the back cover). Make two piles: one containing books where you'd like to turn the page and see what happens, and another stack where you couldn't care less. Reread the great first pages and try to identify why you wanted to keep reading.
Was it a great first line? An intriguing character? A unique voice? Or a heart-pounding situation you have to discover the end of? The possibilities are endless.
Before you send off a query, get as much feedback as possible on your query and your first pages. If you're in a critique group (which I highly recommend), start there. But don't stop there.
Writing conferences and workshops often have agents reading first pages. Try to get yours in, but even if you don't, listen carefully to what the agent(s) like and don't like, and where they stop reading.
I like what literary agent Nat Sobel says, "Like the right handshake, neither too limp nor too hearty, the opening paragraph must extend a warm and encouraging hand to the reader." (You can read Sobel's comments as he reads the first paragraph of writer's stories in his free ebook)
Pimp My Novel has a great post on What Makes a Good First Sentence?
You can also get queries and first pages critiqued on many agent blogs. Here are a few:
The Public Query Slushpile
Tomorrow, I'll have some real life examples of agents reading writer's first pages. Then on Wednesday, I'll review a book that helps writers with these critical paragraphs. See you then!