I find myself in a very interesting situation.
I have an idea for a book, it’s a memoir based on the experiences I just went through with my mom in residential hospice. A little bit of magic happened in the 2 months she was there and I want to write it up. Realizing this early on, I took notes, interviewed my mom, and have created an outline and story arc. It’s a middle-aged coming of age story. I’ve already written about half of the book. It wouldn’t take me long to finish. The pitch is still bubbling around, but I was able to capture enough of it to form an informal query which I sent to a literary agent.
The agent is young, she handles new and current books, but I thought I could appeal to her “someday your mother is also going to die fear.” I felt a younger audience would be a difficult sell, which is why I picked her. I wanted to see what would happen.
I wrote the query and emailed it on Friday at 4 p.m. Ahem the Friday RIGHT BEFORE THE MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND – yes, that Friday – one hour before the end of the day on that *Friday.*
Her query guidelines insisted that I include some chapters. My book is non-fiction so I simply pitched the idea (as well as I could) and sent it to her. (I suppose that it didn’t hurt that I’ve recently been reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which is all about “doing” as “opposed to “not doing.”)
I honestly didn’t expect anything, oh sure there was hope, I think I’ve got a great idea and approach, but I wasn’t expecting much. At most, I was hoping for a “this is not for me because…” rejection letter so I could sharpen my query.
Instead what I got was a request for the first 5 pages (luckily I have those ready to go.)
So what is the agent looking for? Let’s take a look about what happens in those critical first 5 pages of a book.
- Characters are introduced and relationships defined.
- If you follow “Save the Cat” there has to be a clear moment when we start to like the hero through her actions.
- Pace needs to be set.
- Voice needs to be solidified.
- A theme has to be either introduced or hinted at.
- The main tension or problem needs to be introduced.
- And there’s got to be a hook. A hook that’s big enough for someone to say “Hey, I want to read more.”
That’s a tall order for 5 pages, but it’s the way it’s done. People are busy, if you can’t get their attention in the first 5 pages, then it’s guaranteed that you won’t in the next 300. Even though I have those pages done, I’ll be editing and revising them until they are lean, mean, and shine with my intention. These are very, very important 5 pages.
If someone asked for the first 5 pages of your work tomorrow, would you be able to deliver?
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.