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Writers' Corner

Can’t Get the First Page Right?
By Write Historical
Posted on 8/25/2017 7:32 PM

Don’t Worry. Agent Paula Munier Has Some Advice.


Pity the poor agent. They see hundreds—even thousands— of manuscripts a year.

The bad news for authors? An agent can spot a bad book in just three minutes, says Paula Munier, senior literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services in Milford, Connecticut.

The good news? You can avoid early rejection by following Munier's advice.

At the recent Writer's Digest conference in New York, the agent and author listed the Top 10 reasons she stops reading a submission.

  1. Nothing happens.
  2. She's seen it before.
  3. The book lacks a strong voice. If you have a strong voice, agents and editors are willing to overlook other shortcomings, she says.
  4. She doesn't connect with the protagonist. “Give us some likable characters. We fall in love with Holden Caulfield, Bridget Jones.”
  5. She can't tell what kind of story she's reading. Is it a romance? Literary fiction? Historical novel?
  6. She doesn't care what happens next.
  7. The plot is unbelievable and cliché-ridden.
  8. There are too many characters. Time is short. Who can keep up?
  9. The dialogue doesn't sound real.
  10. The manuscript is full of typos and grammatical errors. “If an editors or agent sees a misspelled word—it stops us cold.”

Good novels, of course, spark a different response. The level of craft is high. There's a strong voice. The story is fresh. “The writer,” Munier says, “has gained my confidence.”

Munier should know. 
She’s been a journalist, editor, acquisitions specialist, content manager, publishing executive and past president of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Her first mystery, A Borrowing of Bones, will be published next year by Minotaur, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. 

If you want to learn more about hooks, check out her highly-recommended The Writer's Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings That Sell.

She cites a handful of authors and books that hit it out of the park. Among them: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Andy Weir’s The Martian, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

“There is something magical about the beginning of a good story,” she writes. And the best story openings “are fierce enough to grab the attention of readers, editors, and agents.”

HWA Board Member Paul Davis features profiles of the presenters from HWA Conferences, as well as other news-worthy subjects. Paul, a 30+ year veteran journalist, attended the HWA Conference and is in the midst of planning for the next one.

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