Agent man

Your First Five Pages

A writer pointed out today that when you send a novel to an agent or publisher, they normally ask for the first five or ten pages, just so that they can gauge your writing skill. If those pages don’t grab the reader, it won’t sell. So, he wondered, what do I look for in those first five pages?

As an editor, I read thousands of stories a year, and it would be difficult to tell you all of the ways that you can go wrong, or all of the things that you can do right. But let’s hit some main points:

1) From the very first sentence, I want to see that you’re not just a competent writer, but a skillful one. I want to see that you “have a way with words,” so that I feel as if I’m in the hands of a professional storyteller. That means that I won’t feel confused, and I won’t get tripped up by typos or beginner’s mistakes. Indeed, I want to see that you’re talented right from the first sentence. Half of the editors and agents say that they look for a “great voice” right out the gate, whether it be the voice of the narrating character or of the author.

2) I want to know (or at least have some great hints) where and when the story is taking place. It helps if the setting is intriguing and beautifully drawn. Of course, when you bring that setting to life, you should appeal to most of the senses quickly—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.

3) I want to know who the protagonist is and I want to see you handling the viewpoint properly. This means that the protagonist moves, has an emotional state, and thinks, so that we aren’t seeing the tale from a camera’s point of view, but from a real person’s. More than that, it is often helpful if the character is likable or interesting or even both.

4) In the opening five pages, I must see a hint of an intriguing conflict, one that is already building toward a climax. To get that in quickly, this means that you almost need to start the story in media res.*

5) In my business as a science fiction and fantasy editor, I want to see some novelty—something that tells me that your work is original, that you’re capable of coming up with something new.

Now, that’s my short list. I could go on and suggest that I want to see that you know how to construct a scene, that you can dazzle the reader in subtle ways that most pros know, that you know how to construct a plot, that you tastefully insert the emotional draws your audience is hoping for, that you are a pro at constructing believable dialog—and a dozen other little things.

But as you can see, for the first five pages, I can only hope for so much. All that I really want is to be convinced that you’re one of the greatest discoveries that I’ve ever made. If you think that an agent or editor wants anything less, you’re mistaken. The truth is that every editor and every agent who reads your manuscript is hoping that your tale demands to be published.

*A narrative work beginning in medias res (Classical Latin: [ɪn mɛdiaːs reːs], lit. “into the middle things”) opens in the midst of action. Often, exposition is bypassed and filled in gradually, either through dialogue, flashbacks or description of past events.


David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

3 replies
  1. Sonia de Braco
    Sonia de Braco says:

    Very interesting advice for these first five pages;I tried and followed them ,this is , I think, the way I wrote the first five pages of my story. But of course i Don’t know what’s the result. I just hope that no one of the judges will tell me what I wrote is a mere catastrophe….


    Dear Drs. , I be Vietnamese not richer so can not htoard study with The Great Certificates but I always hard study from the all situations with the operation position or waitress to burn up the fire for the future as THE BILL GATES – Microsoft market BOSS. Although, he be just the IT student so normal but safe and hope becomes The IT BOSS in future. So that, from every day he reseach on the computer to set up the new one, maybe? The hard study consit hard work be THE BEST RULERS control The Universe not except which majoy. Dear Drs. , If The Universe know clearly THE BILL GATES just so the best about IT with His own talent not photo who one, be I hope will become My own style to The Universe registe because I am more talent belongs My own style not photo who one, just so. Dear Drs. !


    ” I was just stupid can, can, dear Drs. ! Who one just talent be the first Me, can? During be timeline can changes, dear Drs. ? From final to The Great can, can, dear Drs. ? If be just Vietnam the land can, can, make proud of The Earth can, can, dear Drs.? Just hope be accept My Own so talent to The Earth can, can, dear Drs. ? “


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.