The Trade Tuesday: The All Important First Page

Many people will tell you that the first page of your book has to be a good one. They talk about agents not reading past a lame first page. They talk about publishers saying no without reading a second page if your first page has errors. Those statements have a lot of merit. As a literary agent and someone who helps to make “yes or no calls” on submissions here at Snow Leopard Publishing, I’d like to explain why.

As a literary agent, I have to believe in your book in order to pitch it to a publisher successfully. If I don’t believe in the book from the first page to the last page, I’m not going to be able to do a good job of pitching it to publishers no matter how much I try. It’s a simple fact of life. If you don’t believe in something or care about it deeply, you’re not going to do nearly as well as if you did. A lame first page immediately causes me to not believe in a book. As soon as I stop believing in a book, there’s no reason for me to continue. As soon as I stop believing in a book, pretty much any chance of successfully pitching it to a publisher has disappeared.

As an employee of a publishing company tasked with assisting in making “yes or no calls”, I have to be convinced that a book’s marketability is worth the investment in the book for the company. Publishing is a business. No tech magnate is going to agree to produce a phone that will only be marginally successful and that needs a thousand design tweaks to its touch screen capabilities, costs tons and tons of money. Why would a publishing company agree to publish a book that will be reasonably successful but not make millions and that requires hours and hours and hours of editing, all of which cost a good amount of money? For publishers, taking on a book or not is all about profitability. The more editing a book requires, the less profitable it will be to publish it. If a book has three mistakes on the first page, I can easily assume that it will have at least one or two mistakes on every subsequent page in addition to a variety of other issues. I’m going to pass on a book like that because after all of the edits, the profitability is quite low.

I hope that this post has helped to explain why agents and publishers find the first page and every subsequent page to be so important. So often people think that agents are on a mission to send as many rejection letters as possible. Most, including me, are not. I hate sending them, but I know that they must be sent if I don’t completely believe in a book. In a perfect world, publishers would publish every submission that they receive, but they can’t because only a select few are profitable enough. Publishing is a business. Always remember that.