This post may induce severe writer hysteria, which could include the consumption of large amounts of coffee, chocolate, and the burning of first chapters. Read at your own risk. When I first became an agent, I remember being stunned when I heard that an editor could read the first page of a writer’s work and know…after one page…whether or not their project had the “it” factor. Boy, that was terrifying. I mean what if the entire book is awesome, but they are not strong with openings? Totally possible. What if they are tedious plotters and the book takes 50 pages to start gaining momentum? Also fair. The “one page”  decision was enough to put my heart in my feet. After all, I’m a writer too. I’ve got bad habits that have to be worked and re-worked. I get it—this writing thing is hard.

But, I’ve been an agent for almost four years now, and I can sometimes tell by the first sentence if your book has the “it” factor. Clearly, we read further than the first sentence, and there are many times that the first sentence does not pop on the page, yet we still sign those writers. Usually though— by the end of the first page for sure—I can tell if the manuscript is worth signing. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what these “it” factors are: they are word choice, they are timing, they are character qualities that hit the page that make editors and agents go…”Ahhh…this is it.”

My theory is that most writers have their hook buried in chapter two or three, so I always try to take that into account. But, the writer that works to get that first sentence right (your first sentence is your first impression), is usually the writer that has worked to get their entire manuscript perfected. Some first sentences that I have enjoyed recently include:

“Why would a man he never knew build him a home on one of the most spectacular beaches on the West Coast?” Rooms by James L. Rubart

The hook for me there? The “man he never knew.”

“At ten o’clock on a moonless September evening, Chris Schneider slipped toward a long abandoned building on the Eastern outskirts of Berlin, his mind whirling with dark images and old vows.” Private Berlin by James Patterson

The hook here? “old vows”

“An ancient mystery that holds the secret of America’s future.” The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn

The hook here? Okay..the whole thing, but particularly these words: mystery, secret, etc..

“I’m going to need a hug before I get started.” Women are Scary by Melanie Dale

The hook here? The author’s personality. I want to be her friend after that statement, and of course—give her a hug.

First sentences matter.

First paragraphs matter.

First pages matter.

First chapters matter. 

Your ability to give me a quality opening, to hook me, tells me a lot about you as a writer. It’s the doorway into your story world, so don’t waste it, or some agents and editors may not make it past the threshold.





This series is part of the #Write31Days challenge. To read all the posts in this series click here.



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(Day 4)

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