Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 14, 2011

First Page Tips

On Sunday Susan O’Keefe wrote an article on what it is like on the other side of the fence at a First Page Session.   Today, Eileen Robinson has sent two tips to creating An Engaging First Page.  Then I throw in things I have observed while in First Page Sessions.  

But first here is Eileen:

First pages can sometimes make or break your chances with an editor.  And it is one of those things that challenge authors the most.  Having trouble with your first pages?  Here’s two tips:

1.  Start with the moment the character’s life changes, start with the action.  Although it might not ultimately be where your story begins, it will give you a different perspective. 

2.  Read your first pages till you come to a point where you get excited or your interest peaks.  Be honest.  Listen to your gut.  That’s a clue to where your story might begin and the rest is probably just back-story.

Thank you Eileen.  I look forward to receiving more tips from you.  Here is Eileen’s link: http://f1rstpages.com/

It has become clear to me that an author needs to approach the First Page Session and their first page as though that is the only thing an editor will see.  A first page in a First Page Session differs slightly from what you would submit in that the text starts at the top of the page, instead of halfway down the page as you would if you were sending in your full manuscript. 

Why does this matter?  Well, unless your text is so bad that the editor can’t get through the first few lines on your submission, they are going to turn the page.  In a First Page Session they can’t turn the page and read more, so you better grab them.  Many people I know have gotten contracts because they piqued the interest of the editor.  So here are my tips:

1.  Look at your first page knowing that the second is not there.

2.  Rewrite your first page making sure you have set it up to get attention.

3.  Take out anything that slows the story down.

4.  Make sure the first page is about your main character and not secondary characters.

5.  Think Suzanne Collins and Hunger Games.  End that first page like she ends  her chapters.  She nails chapter endings.  I actually learned to stop reading in the middle of a chapter just so I could go to sleep.  If you read to the end, you have to read the next chapter.  Try to end your first page the same way.  If you are successful doing that, the odds are good that the editor will ask me after the session to let them know who wrote that page. 

6.  Remember less is more.  Many authors try to squeeze in as much as they can on that first page.  That is a mistake.  Make sure you have enough white space.  Sometimes it is hard to sit and listen to someone reading a long first page.  If you are boring the audience, you probably are boring the two editors, too.  When you include too much, this is the result. 

7.  Get in and get out quickly.  Only include the interesting and important points – things that move your story forward.  Read every sentence and ask yourself if you really need that line.  If not delete.  If it is an important point, does it have to be on the first page?  Would it fit in later on in the story.  Are there words in the sentence that are not needed?  If not delete.  You want that first page to be tight and easy to read.

8.  So even though I am telling you to rewrite for the session, what you end up with may benefit your book and you may end up seeing that you really didn’t need all the other stuff you stuck into that original first page.   

Here are some things I have heard from editors during these sessions:

1.  Get in the name of your main character on the first page.

2.  Establish the age of your main character.  It doesn’t have to be the exact number, but include some clue to this and the story setting.

3.  Don’t weigh it down with exposition.

4.  Don’t overuse dialog.

5.  Establish your characters voice.

I think if you start thinking of your first page as a stand alone piece, you will start writing first pages that jump out at the audience and the editors.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Though my workshops didn’t include the ones conducted by Eileen, I did have the pleasure of her company for a while before the faculty dinner began, and she is SUCH a warm, lovely person! It was nice hearing tips from her here 🙂

    This year was the first time I’d ever participated in a First Page Session, and I also facilitated it, which meant I was the one who had the honor of reading aloud each person’s first page. The two editors made WONderful, insightful comments about each one, never being insulting, but being straightforward at the same time.

    My having been the one to read, I wasn’t sure if I would do the pages justice, but most of them were easy enough to read. There were a couple of things that surprised me, and Kathy having made First Pages the subject of the past couple of blogs, I thought it would be good to mention these things here because they are very important points for anyone who is not aware of them:

    One person didn’t follow the “first page” guidelines that were put out there by Kathy, both in an email just prior to the conference, and that had been on the NJ SCBWI website for months. The guidelines are stated VERY clearly: do not include your name (or any personal information), just the title and age group, 1″ margins all around, 1/2″ indents and double-spaced. What this person handed in was the first page of the manuscript as if submitting to an editor or agent, with all personal info and the text started mid-page. Not only was the opposite of guideline stipulation, but only half the text that could’ve been included was there. This also shows the editors the inability to follow guidelines.

    The second page that surprised me was filled with typos and mispelling. It was as if someone rushed a first draft and left it that way without checking for ANY mistakes. Not only did it cause me to stutter and have to repeat the text where the typos were, but it is very unprofessional. If someone’s looking to positively impress an editor or agent, this is the opposite of that. Hope this helps 🙂
    Donna

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  2. I had the pleasure of dining with Eileen at the faculty dinner, and can say that she is truly a delightful, energetic, positive and fun person!

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  3. Ack! the dreaded First Page. I must have over a dozen of them for the same novel. One comment I got was that, because of my MC’s atypical first name, the editor didn’t know the sex of the character. And now Kathy, you’re also saying we need to know the age. That information is revealed in the first chapter. But the First Page? So hard to do naturally.

    During my intensive, first pages of a novels were read as good examples. But one popular novel, which is over 30 years old, sounded like a big info dump to me. It is such a fine line.

    When I first was learning about MG novels, I would type the first pages of each MG book I read into a single file. I should go back to doing that. I like that on Amazon you can read the first page of most novels–it’s a great, free resource.

    Eileen did my 15pp critique and she has great enthusiasm and insight! : )

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    • Wow, Mary, I love the idea of typing the first pages, and I never stopped to think about Amazon that way. Excellent tips 🙂 Thank you!

      And I’m curious as to which novel had a first page “information dump.” Can you please reveal it to us? 😀
      Donna

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      • Donna, I just did a little research and found out the example was not the FIRST page, but a paragraph from somewhere else within the book. It was used as an example of using “detail” in voice. . So ignore my above comment.

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      • Ah, OK…gotcha 🙂 Thanks!
        Donna

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  4. Great post, Kathy! I loved Eileen’s energy and attitude at the conference! I unfortunately had to miss most of part 1 of her workshop — might be a good idea to consider her workshop for an Intensive at next year’s conference!

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  5. All good stuff. The first page can be such a challenge, sometimes. I think all we can hope for is finding the right pair of eyes for our stories. I remember from my cw class last year how often classmates would oppose each other on points in stories and beginnings and endings. Some would like beginnings and be hooked by them, while others would say not for them!!

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  6. came across this blog in old emails. It is really good and I just shared it with my writing students!

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