Monday, November 5, 2007

The first few pages

I’ve learned, since writing my first manuscript and sending it to agents, that most request a query letter (a letter that tells them who you are and what you’ve written and why others might want to read it) and typically he or she will ask for your first chapter, the first five or ten pages or possibly just a synopsis (a three-page summary of your book, beginning to end).

At first I was offended. If I took the time to write this tome, wouldn’t they be doing me a disservice to just read the first five or ten pages and not at least a few chapters? I entered my manuscript in a competition last spring that asked for the first ten pages, which happened to be my first chapter. It was amazing how much the judge was able to comment on—characters, conflict, hook, plotting, setting—having read just a couple thousand words out of the 70,000+ I had written.

But now I admit that I can read the first few pages of a book to get a sense of how that author writes, whether or not he or she is speaking to me and if I’m eager to read more. That’s all it takes. I know I’ve asked people about a book I’ve read only to hear them say, “Oh, I started it, but I just couldn’t get into it.” And I’ve done the same, picked up a book because of the back cover pitch or on a recommendation of a friend, and just couldn’t get past the first few pages. Rarely do I give that book a second try. It just didn’t grab me.

Rarer still does a book start out with a bang and then die a slow death midway through. But it does happen. Those are the stories that make me wonder if I’m losing my attention span or did the author run short on imagination.

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