Monday, May 17, 2010

The Importance of a Good Beginning

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a literary agent? What if the next time to walked up to your computer and opened your email, you had 200 new messages staring back at you, all saying "read me".

What if that happened every day of the week? including weekends. How would you go about finding the 1 or 2 gems in the mountain of rocks?

How much time could you afford to spend on each item before you ran out of hours in the day?

OK, now think about the fact that you have to read all these after you have spent a full day at the office? and... it happens every day.

Do you think you might get a little jaded? Do you think you might feel like every message is the same?

Are you understanding why it is so hard to get an agent's attention? The biggest problem is that you have to stand out from the crowd.

I sometimes go to West Coast Hot Rod shows to check out the cool cars. If you like rolling art, these shows have some fantastic examples of what can happen when creativity meets old cars. There are numerous examples of cars that have been modified and customized specifically to stand out from the pack. And when you see one of these cars by themselves on a city street, they definitely do.

However, when you go to a show and see a few hundred of them side by side, they all start looking the same. The same is true of our stories. As the agent reads through literally thousands of queries in a year, they all start sounding the same.

So what do we do? Give up?

Not a chance.

The best strategy is to work on your beginnings.

Work on the first sentence of your query until you absolutely cannot make it any better. As the agent is skimming by your query, you need to grab their attention and not let them loose. That all starts with a great beginning.

Once you have the first sentence, work on the first paragraph. After the first paragraph, work on the second. Spend as much time crafting the beginning so that the agent keeps going.

Now work on the included pages. Whatever the submission guidelines suggested, make sure they are as good as you can possibly make them. Start with your first sentence, then the first paragraph, then the first page. Every one of them has to be as good as you can possibly write them.

If I were the agent, I know that I am going to skim the work. Even though I know that there are a couple of rubies hiding in the pile of shale, I am going to race through them so that I can quit reading them and get onto something a little more fun. Make sure you have spent enough time on your beginnings, that you stop the skimming.

What about you? Are you spending enough time on your beginnings?


  1. Great post.

    Makes you think, and realize that its all true!

    I have a (shit) beginning that I really need to make better.

    However my prologue kicks butt!

  2. Not even remotely. My beginnings are invariably the worst part of the whole thing.

  3. It is important, as you say. But, having a great start and then falling off from that point is also a deal breaker. Really, we need to have the best manuscript we possibly can before querying.

    no small feat.

  4. Good point. I have often wondered how it works for agents now with our lightning-speed times and means. Who weeds through all those queries? Do agents have helpful assistants who pre-read their emails?


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