Monday, December 14, 2009

Patience, thy name is not Pamela

By Pamela

When I first started on this crazy writing journey, I’ll admit to being a little green. No, probably more like a lot green. Think more avocado than lime.

As I perfected (not even close) my first query letter to my first manuscript (what was I thinking?), I carefully followed the guidelines suggested by agents. I expected each one to want at least the first few chapters, if not all twenty-eight of them. Besides, how could they possibly judge my story until they read all the way to The End? (Which I promise, I didn’t type in, since my fifth grade teacher once told us, when the writing stops, it’s the end. Duh. That was possibly one of only a couple mistakes I didn’t make.)

But getting back to submissions and what agents want to see. Some require only a query letter. Others like to peek at the first few pages. But really, can they get a feel for what a story is about in only a few pages? Absolutely.

To prove my point, let’s take into account how we read. Over lunch the other day, I sat across from Julie and not surprising, the conversation turned to what we were reading/what we’ve read. It astonished me how many books I’ve read but not read. There are many popular books out there (and quite a few on my bookshelves) that I’ve started and not finished. Some by authors whom I’ve loved and read a good many titles from. Others that were breakout novels by writers who achieved great success. But like the book (and movie) title first stated, I’m quick to admit that sometimes: I’m just not that into you.

Julie is not like me. She said that nearly every book she picks up, she reads to the end. It’s her commitment to the author and the story (and probably because she invested the money to buy it) that keeps her reading. Me? Not so much. I have a huge stack on my to-be-read pile and it keeps on growing. If I’m not hooked in by the first few pages, I set it aside. Occasionally, I’ll get coerced into picking it back up again, but that’s rare. And one instance, I didn’t get into the novel, but later saw the movie version and then returned to the book and really enjoyed it.

So, while it seems unfair when an agent asks to see only the first few pages (or chapters) of your manuscript, resist the urge to cry foul. Or if you say, “But the best part doesn’t come until the fifth chapter!” you’d better find a way to bring that in earlier. Because, unless a reader named Julie picks up your book, you’ll likely not find someone so patiently waiting to be hooked.

Make the first few pages grab your reader and suck them in—because that first reader is likely a very busy agent.

Care to weigh-in? Do you read past the first few pages if you’re not hooked? Did any book take a while to pull you in but was worth the commitment?


  1. Though there are certainly books I have put down, I usually give it at least 50 pages. If it's an author I've liked before I will make a concerted effort to finish the book, though I may skim a bit, hoping it gets better. There was a time I finished everything, but that was when I was in grad school and I had to...

  2. I almost gave up on The Poisonwood Bible. Yeah, I know, dopey! It turned out to be one of my favorites, but I confess, the first chapter didn't draw me in right away.

    But I'm like you--many books I've started but not finished.

  3. I'm with took me almost six months to read The Poisonwood Bible. Half way through, I finally was hooked and finished within days. I will finish a book, no matter what, that probably explains why I have a library growing on my nightstand.



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