Mentoring for Pitch Wars has been AWESOME. And also incredibly difficult. There were so many polished manuscripts and so many concepts that made me sit back and go “wow”. It was really hard to choose, but there were three things about the first few pages of the three manuscripts I chose that caught my attention.
I’m blogging about this because being a Pitch Wars mentor kind of made me feel like I was sitting in an agent’s chair. I was hoping this would be a helpful example of the types of things that make the first few pages in manuscript stand out!
So, here we go.
1. The reason I chose my mentee—Character.
We all know agents love a strong voice and a good hook. But it’s also really important for a manuscript to have amazing characters. I was in love with my mentee’s main character after just two pages, which is an incredible feat.
The tricky thing about character is that you gotta impress an agent in those first few pages for them to keep reading, and it can be hard to establish character in just a few pages. What you don’t want to do is tell your reader what your character is like. You want to show them.
Example: “Melinda was a highly impatient girl” versus “Within a minute, Melinda had sighed, flopped over sideways, and tapped the underside of the desk with her foot thirteen times. This was taking forever.”
Don’t feel panicked. You don’t need to cram every detail or piece of backstory about your character in the first few pages. What you do need is for your character’s personality to shine, right away, through actions and dialogue. You might have awesome things happen in your first few pages, but you don’t want them to happen to a cardboard cutout.
2. The reason I chose my first alternate—Authenticity.
Authenticity is difficult to master and difficult to define. You know those moments when you see yourself in a sentence, and it’s like the book is giving voice to deep, private parts of yourself? Suddenly the book becomes a mirror. That’s what authenticity is to me. It’s honest, and it’s real.
I think self-awareness is one way to try and make your writing more authentic. By self-awareness, I mean recognizing and understanding those deep, private parts that nobody talks about, but everybody has. Your first resource for this is yourself. Try to nail down your inner thoughts, find the ones that are scary, wrong-seeming, or dark, and put them in a book.
3. The reason I chose my second alternate—Originality.
This goes along with “every agent wants a good hook” and it’s kind of a given. But it’s also important to remember. The YA fiction market is a crowded place, especially when it comes to fantasy (which this book is), and you really need something that will set your manuscript apart, even if it’s just one element.
The best way to know whether you’ve got an original element or not is to become well-read in your genre. That way you’ll know if what you’re doing has already been explored a zillion times. If you’re writing that genre, it’s probable that you enjoy reading that genre, so this shouldn’t be unpleasant. And if your husband or wife or kid or roommate is like “uhhh why have you been lying on the couch reading all day” you can be like “IT’S FOR WORK. GOD.”