The First 5 Pages

 

I find myself in a very interesting situation.

20160414_104156(0)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.

23 thoughts on “The First 5 Pages

  1. Actually I would. I know how important that start is and I have five gorgeous first pages. Actually my first 50 are near press perfect. It’s the rest I’m still trying to edit into submission. LOL.

  2. Congrats, good luck, and here’s to seeing your book in print! If you can share more, please do so. The inquiry letter? The actual first 5 pages? (I’m confident no one will “steal your idea…” And, of course, how did you actually “choose an agent?”

    • I’ll share as I can along the journey (which will include, I’m sure, people changing their minds.) This is only a first nibble, but if you’ve been reading my work then you know I’m all about teaching.

      So yes, I’ll let everyone know what happens.

  3. I am new to novel writing so your article is very timely. In the past several years, I’ve been studying the craft, taking classes and participating in a writer’s group that I started. What I’ve found in all of my learning endeavors is there is no substitute for actually writing the book (shory story, article or whatever the project).

    Thanks for the post. The information will become part of my writing tool kit.

  4. You’re on your way Wendy – and the first 5/4/3/2/1 pages are crucial for sure. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve revised or reshuffled mine, thousands probably.

  5. Two great stories here, Wendy: the story you’re writing about your Mom in hospice and the story of pitching it. Congratulations! I can hardly wait to use your book in the hospice reading program I’m currently developing with a local agency!

    • Deb,

      Thank you for your kind comments. You know parts of my journey, I only hope I can do it justice.

      And a hospice reading program is a fantastic idea, there was so much I was clueless about.

      Wendy

  6. I don’t have five pages I can share, but I am interested in your idea. My father died six years ago and my family has been busy trying to adjust to my mother unmoored from my father. I’ve written a few short stories (for my family members) as we have waded through another man becoming very interested in my mother right after my father’s funeral and before the death of his wife (it seems she had picked mom out for him as a good choice). She then basically fell in love with a priest, has tried to give her money away to questionable charities, fallen and broken her arm, and become much more mystical about her religious faith. Currently she has my siblings and I warring about whether she should continue living in a house that used to contain the ten of us–since she won’t leave the house, I don’t know what we are warring about
    . I think you have a great audience (younger people might not read your memoir, but I have a feeling a ton of yuppies such as myself are going through different issues with aging parents).

  7. Wow thanks for this post, and how exciting for you! I find this all so interesting as I am writing a book right now about my experiences with my father and his journey into Dementia. It too will be a memoir on my experiences with him both when I was young and in the present. My big fear is the topic would not be one an agent would pick up so this gives me hope. AND I have Big Magic sitting on my desk waiting for me. Guess I need to start reading and doing. 🙂 LOL Congrats!

  8. Thanks for sharing those details — and good luck with your five-page pitch. Since I have not yet begun the novel I intend to write, I’ve merely labored over short pieces for blogs and marketing campaigns. I have a background in journalism, which emphasized the inverted pyramid (most important facts at the top of the story), and I’m learning to use Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook more effectively for work. Actually, following your requirements for a novel’s first five pages but managing it in 140 characters or less — especially voice, theme, and a hook — are great things to aim for in marketing. I hope your agent loves the pitch and gets this book published quickly, I’m hooked already! 🙂

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