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July 4, 2013

First Page, Take One

If you’ve started to wade into the waters of agents and editors, perhaps you’ve heard of a “First Pages” event. Writers anonymously submit just the first page of their manuscripts to be read and critiqued by editors and/or agents on the spot. It can be a fascinating look into how a professional editorial eye reads fresh work, and can help you to spot flaws in your own writing before anyone else sees it. It can also help give you a sense of what else is out there, competing for agents’ time and attention.

Reading just a page sounds harsh, considering all the work that goes into writing and editing a manuscript, but we all judge work this way. At a bookstore or a library, who hasn’t read a page or so and then put that book down to try on another?

You kind and gracious readers have been reading about my manuscript for months now. Today I’m posting the first of three iterations of my own first page. I hope you’ll use the comments section to remark on what you like, what you didn’t, what would make you want to keep reading, what would make you put this down and move on.

See my own comments below the excerpt.

When she got off the subway at 125th Street, Annalisa Jonas called her sister Jo, even though she knew she wouldn’t pick up. It was nice out, still light since she’d skipped out on the early happy hour everyone else at the office had headed to this afternoon. Genevieve had promised to cover for her if anyone asked where she went. Something vague about a doctor’s appointment or a leaky toilet. No one would remember tomorrow anyway.

“Hello, hello, this is Josephine Miller. If your call is in reference to matters at P.S. 92, please call 212-555-6780 to access my voice mail there. Otherwise, here comes the beep.”

Anna hung up. She knew that once Jo saw her missed call, she’d return it as soon as she could. They both agreed that big news—births, engagements, deaths, break-ups, discontinuing Thin Mints (Heaven forbid!)—shouldn’t be left on voice mail. And this was certainly big news. Voicemail was for the trivial things: “Hey Jo. Saw a pair of shoes you might like today, let’s check them out this weekend.” Or in Jo’s case “How do you substitute for buttermilk again? Why don’t I ever write down things you say?”

Three blocks later, Anna’s phone vibrated, starling her into realizing she’d missed the light to cross the street. Gazing into the eyes of a wrinkly pug puppy in a store window, she hesitated to answer, not wanting to have the conversation she’d just attempted to initiate. But then, she couldn’t not pick up. Jo would call again until she answered, or otherwise start combing the Upper West Side for traces of her sister’s remains.

Here’s what I see, a year and a half and many revisions later:

I know more about Jo than I do about Anna. In this case, that’s sending up a red flag that the author doesn’t know enough about her protagonist yet (and I really didn’t!).

Something mysterious is going on, but I’m being told a lot more than I’m seeing happen. I know Anna is the protagonist, and she’s close to her sister and perhaps also to a coworker named Genevieve. Anna has mixed emotions about something that happened at work, and there is something to do with food here. Not a ton to connect with emotionally, and not enough of the main character coming through.

Could take it another couple pages or leave it all together.

What do you think?

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