Having recovered from the crushing disappointment of not being showered in rose petals on Valentine’s Day, I want to talk a bit about falling in love with a book.
Every editor, whether they’re working on picture books, young fiction, middle grade, teen or YA, wants to fall in love with the manuscripts they’re sent.
Honestly, when commissioning, I open up every new manuscript with hope in my heart. Like going on a first date, you will it to go well. You want to like it. For that reason, a really brilliant opening line, followed by a brilliant opening paragraph, is crucial. It gets your prospective agent or editor’s attention and makes them more inclined to like the rest of your writing.
I fell in love instantly with Ross Mackenzie’s The Nowhere Emporium, which the wonderful agent Stephanie Thwaites sent me when I was working at Floris Books. I just knew from the very first pages that this was something special, and something I wanted to acquire. The opening line?
‘The shop from nowhere arrived with the dawn on a crisp November morning.’
How could I not read on? (You should read The Nowhere Emporium, if you haven’t already – Ross is a brilliant writer.)
How about Marcus Sedgwick’s Revolver:
‘Even the dead tell stories.’
Isn’t that a powerful start?
I also love C.S. Lewis’s opening for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’
Cat Clarke says her favourite opener is from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle:
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’
Opening lines that inspire curiosity, that unsettle me a little or make me ask questions about what’s coming next, are the opening lines I love best.
Other editors might prefer a different approach. But an opening line is a powerful tool for making an editor sit up and pay attention.
So, when you’re almost ready to submit, be extra hard on that first page. Be really tough with that opening paragraph. It could make the difference between an agent or editor falling in love with your book, or putting it in their recycling pile. The other pages matter too, of course (!) – but it’s no use having a beautiful page two if your reader has given up on page one!
Happy writing… and we’re here if you want help with your opening chapters.