Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 31, 2020

Agent of the Month – Alyssa Reuben – First Page Results

Alyssa Reuben at Paradigm Talent Agency is our Agent of the Month for July. This week you will find the four first page critique results from with Alyssa. They up now. Thank you for your patience!

Alyssa Reuben has been a passionate representative and advocate of authors for well over a decade. Her list reflects her multifaceted passions and includes adult, young adult, and the occasional middle grade fiction as well as smart, platform driven, nonfiction ranging from pop-culture, lifestyle, cookbooks, and narrative to memoir.

She gravitates toward voice-driven non-fiction presenting a fresh point of view and particularly loves novels with an edge or a great romance arc. Her favorite kind of project is one that allows her to roll up her sleeves to develop and edit material alongside a collaborative and engaged author and prides herself on discovering new voices and launching successful careers. She runs the book publishing department at Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency, which has been her home since graduating Cornell University.

Alyssa represents a range of both adult and children’s genres. For children’s, she gravitates toward contemporary Middle Grade and YA with a strong voice. But a high concept, or an interesting paranormal twist has been known to catch her eye. For nonfiction, her categories include pop-culture, lifestyle, quirky histories, food, narrative and memoir. On the fiction side, her tastes are extremely wide ranging between literary and commercial. She’s a sucker for a coming-of-age story or a good romance arc.

She’s Looking For:


Fiction: Literary Fiction, Chick Lit, Commercial Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor/Satire, Romance, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Thrillers, Young Adult, Multi-Cultural, LGBTQ, Adventure, Offbeat/Quirky, Middle Grade.

Non-Fiction: History, Celebrity, Biography, Religion, Food & Lifestyle, Drama/Music, Multi-Cultural, Cookbooks, illustrated, LGBTQ, True Crime, Memoirs, Travel, Adventure/True Story, Dating/Relationships, Current Affairs, Women’s Issues, Pop Culture, Film & Entertainment, Cultural/Social Issues, Humor, Journalism, Narrative, Memoir.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to AREUBEN@PARADIGMAGENCY.COM

Please e-mail your query letter along with the first 10 pages of your work in the body of an email to



Paradigm Agency website.


The Joker’s Revenge – Nancy Beaule – Young Adult

Darci bolted upright, her lungs expanding and contracting like an accordion on steroids. A trail of perspiration saturated her faded pillowcase, streaking like endless trails across an open meadow. That dream again. No, not a dream, a bone-chilling, bona fide nightmare! And it was always the same¾a trail meandering through prickly blackberry bushes, across a babbling brook and past a huge maple tree. Footsteps snapping dead branches until the young girl, who bears a striking resemblance to her late mother, trips over a root and finds herself lying on the ground. A sinister figure with dark steely eyes glares down at her, his pasty white face resembling a depraved clown. He’s dressed in bright colors of purple and green, but that part’s a bit hazy. His lopsided grin bursts into malevolent laughter.

Darci pulled a tissue from the box and dragged it across her clammy forehead, glancing at the alarm clock perched upon her aging dresser. 5:00 a.m. A puppy graced the front, and two keys in the back set the time and wound it up. It was a birthday gift from her parents on her tenth birthday, one of the last she would have with her mother. She stared at the framed picture of her mother kneeling in front of her prized lilac bushes, the sweet fragrance of the blooms still fresh in her memory. Now it was just Darci and her dad, doing their best to make ends meet and keep the meager farm going.

“Darci! Time to get up. Breakfast doesn’t make itself, you know. I did you a favor and collected the eggs this morning, but don’t get too spoiled ’cause I’m not gonna do that every day.”

She wrapped her flannel bathrobe over her pajamas, staring at her feet as she pounded down the stairs. “I’ll start the coffee.”

“Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, did ya? If you don’t stop shakin’ you’ll dump more water on the floor than in the pot. What’s the matter?”


We get a lot of heady information in the bottom half of this, which is fantastic! But I do wonder if this should open where it does. Opening with a dream is disorienting for a lot of readers, and I think there are other bits on this first page that could open things up. (If the dream itself is essential the big picture, it can be folded in a few pages deep once the reader is oriented!) I highlighted a sentence above in red that could be a first sentence, I think. It’s kind of non-traditional! But it would be surprising and it indicates that we’re coming into a story that’s been in motion, and that we’re going to get filled in on it. I think the lilac bushes might also be a jumping off point because it pulls us right into the information about the mom, the dad, and the farm. Is her morning routine very different from that of someone else her age? (I’m guessing it is.) So it might also work well to jump right into the nitty gritty of her morning routine—show us what’s unusual about her, why it’s this character and this story. Once we have that, we’ll be much more invested in her nightmares.


NEEDLESS TO SAY by Lou Ann Gurney – Middle Grade Fiction

The black cat wiggled free of Skeeter’s grip and clawed its way up her arm. It balanced on her head for a split second, then sprang to the ground and bolted across the sand.

Skeeter chased it up a short lava mound and into a beach park pavilion where a bunch of kids sat around a cement picnic table. The terrified cat leaped up on the table and skittered across, scattering brightly colored squares of paper. The kids jumped to their feet, hollering and waving their arms as if they’d been struck by a new dance craze.

If only Skeeter had captured the cat-dash on video, she could have sent it to America’s Funniest Moments and won $100,000. Then her problem would be solved.

Instead, she crashed into an older girl dressed in cutoffs and a polo shirt decorated with a volcano logo and the words County of Hawaii, Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Whoa,” the girl said. “That cat’s feral—wild. It’ll scratch you to bits if you catch it.”

Skeeter already knew about cat scratches. She swiped at a trickle of watery blood oozing from a pinprick claw puncture on her arm. Black cat. Definitely bad luck.

“I’m Pua,” the girl said. “We’re folding origami today for our crafts project. You like origami?”

“Why you wanna chase that old cat, anyway?” a boy asked Skeeter as he picked up stray origami papers.

She glanced at his flowered surf shorts, tanned brown face, dark eyes, and dark shaggy hair. He smiled at her, revealing straight white teeth.

“Because it might be worth a thousand dollars and I need a thousand dollars bad,” Skeeter said.


You’ve got a great hook at the end here—I think you could make it even more definitive and dramatic by saying “it’s worth a thousand dollars.” You also do a great job of rooting us into the action right from the get-go. I would suggest just adding a sentence or two at the beginning, and a few details throughout, to preface that action and give us a touch more context. We don’t know Skeeter, and we don’t know the cat, and it’s not clear (until the last sentence) why we’re opening with Skeeter and the cat. A hook-y first sentence to get us onto the ramp of this opening scene would be tremendously helpful. It can be something that sets up stakes or sets up intent without revealing the surprise at the end of the page. Think about the first sentence of Mrs. Dalloway: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” It’s very mundane, but still manages to give us some context while also setting up the mystery. We’re thinking, who is Mrs. Dalloway? What are the flowers for? Why would she not buy the flowers herself? I think you could do something similar here to get us on that ramp! …And presumably, soon after this, we’d find out the full context.



10/27/1908. Dearest Diary, Aunt Ava will dump us at noon today. No matter what. It’s not that she doesn’t love us. Or something. But she hates Papa. Happy Birthday to me!?

“Your father is not here to receive you.” Aunt Ava stomps past us as we sweat – side by side – on a slowly unspooling wicker settee. It’s sweltering, but a gulf breeze ruffles our black taffeta mourning dresses. “Salome, your father…” She turns away, so I can’t read her lips, then storms back. “So typical. No… Classic Dr. Earnest Oldham, MD.” Aunt Ava rolls Papa’s name around like it’s a sourball. “Too busy maiming the locals, I’m sure, and making the blind lame.” She tugs on her monogrammed driving gloves, embroidered in gold. The double A’s wink in the sunshine. Unlike Mama, Ava Althrop, my mother’s older sister, was never beautiful. But even so, the last six months have taken a toll. On her. On all of us. And she blames Papa. For every bit. Me? It hurts not to hear the birthday singing so well this year, but I’ll blow out my 12 candles, forgive Papa like I promised Mama – or try, anyway – and return to Aunt Ava’s pronto!

The Ferry horn blasts the five-minute warning and we all flinch. Even I hear it. In my right ear. Sorta. Aunt Ava sucks on her teeth, scowling. I can tell she’s not happy to leave us – her only nieces. Unaccompanied on the sagging porch of a strange hotel. In an abandoned fishing village. On a weird island. Off the Southwest coast of Florida. And a black snake slithering toward our two pairs of mucked, brown boots. I let out a shriek – hopefully, not too loud, since I don’t know what loud is anymore and whip my knees up to my chin so fast, I bite my tongue. Chubby little Rosalie shoots me a condescending smirk. Nothing like having a kid sister for your eternal arch-enemy. Except when she acts nice. Which is not now. “Hotel de Milagros!” Aunt Ava straightens the inn’s moldy sign and deftly pushes the two-foot snake away with the toe of her thick leather, driving galoshes. “Hotel of Miracles, girls! It’s the ideal location for your father’s new medical clinic. He’ll need all the miracles he can get. And so, will you.”


There’s so much detail and muscularity in here, which is hard to do! My suggestion would be to dial that muscularity down a touch. It’s paced quickly—a lot of info comes fast, including characters, character dynamics, setting, and dialogue. Readers will be patient at the beginning, so don’t be afraid to take your time! Give them time to absorb all the great complexity set up in here. This is a journal entry, so I’d think about what’s the one that urgently needs to be expressed by this character? And that’s the thing that can be emphasized/established first. Is it the fact that the aunt hates dad? Is it the idea of miracles? The unique setting? Figure out what that one first thing is and lean in—the rest will follow.


PIA by Lindsay Jane Sedgwick; target audience 6-9 year-olds

Grabbing her coat in a fist, Pia rushed out of the school looking for her sister. Her blue balaclava wriggled higher with every step, until it was like a woolly pillar balanced on top of her head. It was this that Neeta spotted, weaving in and out of the hordes. She sauntered over and grabbed it off Pia’s head.

“Hey!” Pia grabbed it back but she wasn’t cross. She was tiny and radiant.

“What’s with you?” said Neeta.

“This.” Pia waved her essay in Neeta’s face, just close enough and fast enough to give her sister’s nose the tiniest of paper cuts.


“I got four gold stars!” said Pia. Neeta grunted – she was eleven and very good at meaningful grunts – and led the way across the yard, with Pia tagging on. But Pia was faster and stopped in front of Neeta, raising her essay up in the air so the stars were as close to her sister’s eyes as could be. “Teacher put it on the noticeboard and everyone saw it.”

“I didn’t.”

“Everyone else,” said Pia.

Pia looked so little and hurt that Neeta grabbed the essay, which was what Pia wanted all along. “Four gold stars,” she said, in a monotone. “That’s really cool Mouse. Now can we go home?” Pia nodded, her balaclava riding up again. “You look like a smurf.”

“Oi, wierdo! Neeta Berry!”

Neeta turned and stopped. Bonzo was big and blond, with a nose like a Doberman and his voice snaked across the yard, pushing everything out of its way. “Heard you’re like a kiss,” he said, making slurpy kissing sounds and heading their way.

Here’S Alyssa:

This grounds us in the scene and action right away, which is great, and establishes the dynamic between Pia and Neeta immediately without explaining it. You’ve got visceral descriptors in here too, like “a nose like a Doberman” and “slurpy kissing sounds.” The bottom half is a little confusing in terms of Pia’s essay and Bozo’s taunting. Are the two connected (is his comment something he pulled from her essay)? Can we get a hint about what the essay is? If it’s important to the big picture, you might hint at something that explains why we open with the essay, like: “The essay that would change Pia’s life forever,” except your thing will be much more brilliant! What did she write about? Why is Bonzo taunting her? I believe this is setting up Pia’s position in this world, and we’re almost there. A few more details/hints about the essay and Bonzo’s response can solidify that. What are these two things (the essay and the taunting) meant to indicate about Pia? That she’s a weirdo? Give us just a touch more!


Alyssa, thank you for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. We always learn a lot and it is really appreciated.

Talk tomorrow,


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