by Carmen Ferreiro Esteban
A killer beginning doesn’t guarantee publication but may be your only chance to catch the editor’s attention.
With publishers receiving thousands of manuscripts/queries every month, it is a mathematical impossibility that they read them all. If you are lucky, an overworked editor will pick yours and read your first line. In those precious seconds the future of that novel you worked so hard to create hang in the balance. It is that first line that will determine whether he/she will read more or discard your submission to the reject pile together with your dreams.
The importance of the first page is no secret. First Page readings are a part of most Writers conferences and workshops. In them, editors/publishers read different first pages and explain why or why not they would keep reading.
Over the years, I have collected a list of things editors look for on a first page. Among them: memorable, relatable characters, engaging story telling, and a good sense of place. Editors, tell us, want to be tickled, surprised, transported to another place and time. They want to know by the end of the first page to whom, when, where and why this is happening and they want to care enough about your characters that they cannot stop reading.
Also, I almost forgot, they want the piece to have a voice, that elusive element “they recognize when they see it.”
Not bad, for a mere 250 words.
Never to be discouraged, last year I decided to create a perfect first page following all the advice above and send the resulting creation to a local workshop. It worked. They chose my piece and, apart from some minor tinkering the three editors like it well enough.
But my triumph was short lived. My first page was perfect, thank you very much, but I had no idea where to go from there.
So this year I decided to go the traditional way and write the story first. I sent my first page to the same workshop. This time they didn’t choose it. I didn’t mind. Not too much, anyway. I know I am on the right track. The story is strong in my mind, the characters are speaking to me, and the setting is gorgeous. I have even found my voice.
So, for now, I’ll stick to the writing and worry about creating that perfect beginning when I’m done.
In the meantime, I leave you with several killing beginnings taken from published books I and other readers have added to a thread I started some months ago at Goodreads. You can check them at:
You are welcome to add yours there or here as comments.
And don’t forget to keep writing.