Agency Lessons: Yes, the first page really is that important

When I first started my internship, I didn't spend a ton of time in the query box. I was busy working on other things, and to be honest, the query box intimidated me. Imagine an inbox where every email contains someone's hopes and dreams. Yeah, like that. So when I did review these emails, I spent a crazy amount of time reading each and every word, hemming and hawing over the merits of each submission.

Then I spent more time in the slush and got more comfortable with what I was looking at. I realized if the sample wasn't good, I didn't need to read the synopsis. I discovered that a convoluted query usually led to convoluted sample pages. You get the idea. The most important discovery I made was that you really can make a decision about a manuscript based on the first page or two.

Before my internship, I thought this was bogus and nothing more than agents looking for a shortcut. Now I realize I was wrong and right. Agents are looking for ways they can move through their submissions faster. When you get hundreds of queries a day, you have to be able to filter through them quickly or you'll never get to the really good ones. But agents aren't the only ones doing this.

I started really paying attention to the way I choose books to read. With everything else going on, my pleasure reading time has been drastically reduced. Because of this, I'm not going to waste my time reading something I don't enjoy. So how do I decide which books to read? By the first page.

When I'm standing in the library stacks or browsing the book store aisles, I'll crack open the front cover and peruse the first page. If I want to turn the page, then it's up for consideration. If I can close the book and not care at all about what happens on the other 300 pages that follow, it's going right back on the shelf.

So what does that mean for us writers? It means, the experts and advice givers are all right when it comes to how important it is to get that first page right. This means it needs to be right for the agent and for your future readers. True, every page needs to be good, but if the first one doesn't shine the rest of them might as well be blank.