I’ve always been fascinated by perspective; by how something can be viewed wildly and vastly different between two people. I think it’s easy for writers to lose sight of this. What one person enjoyed reading, another may hate. What one person finds acceptable, another finds offensive. Personal growth comes from understanding a wider perspective.
The theme of these interviews revolves around showing how perspectives vary between individuals, based on their wants and needs. Below you will find a single question answered by multiple people, be they agented writers, published authors, or literary agents. So, without further ado, welcome to the start of a potential blog series titled A Matter of Perspective (AMoP).
If you had to narrow it down to a SINGLE element: what key aspect do you look for in the opening pages of a novel (be it your own writing, a book you’re looking to buy, or are looking to represent)?
Andrea Berthot: In the opening pages of a novel, I am immediately sucked in by some kind of action. Too much backstory, too much scene description, and too many characters listed too quickly is extremely off-putting. I need people to immediately be doing something or talking to another person and showing me who they are. I think I do a good job of this in my second book, but probably could have done better in my first.
Something else that will always keep me glued to a book’s first pages is lively and original word choice. Nothing will make me want to put a book down faster than cliches and overused phrases. When the author shows freshness and ingenuity in their word choice, it is likely they will continue to do so with the characters and plot.
Andrea Berthot’s last name has a silent “t,” like the word “merlot” – which fits, since that is her favorite drink to have at the end of the day. She grew up loving singing, acting, reading, and of course writing. By day she teaches high school English, creative writing, and drama, and by night (or rather, by early morning, as her brain is more alive at 5am than 5pm) she writes Young Adult stories involving history, romance, and magic. She lives in Winfield, Kansas with her husband and their two sons, Maximus and Leonardo. Andrea is the author of The Gold & Gaslight Chronicles. She is represented by Jen Linnan of Linnan Literary Management LLC. You can follow her on Twitter at @AndreaBerthot.
Lydia Kang: I have picked up a lot of books lately and put them down. Quickly. Maybe it’s because my brain is adapting to the lightning fast, “get info quick” of the internet and social media. Maybe because my schedule is jam packed. But both have a side effect of raising the bar when it comes to getting me hooked on a new book.
Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children. Lydia is the author of THE NOVEMBER GIRL, CYCLO, QUACKERY, A BEAUTIFUL POISON, and CONTROL & CATALYST. She is represented by Eric Myers of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. You can follow her on Twitter at @LydiaYKang.
Jordy Albert: The important aspect that I look for in opening pages is voice. Does the voice suit the character? For example, if the novel is Middle Grade or Young Adult, does it sound like the narrator is age appropriate in the writing, narrative, and dialogue? It can be distracting and disorienting when you have a twelve year old character that sounds twenty-something.
Do the characters have a distinct enough voice that the reader won’t get confused as to which one is speaking? Is the voice unique and stand out from other novels, or does it seem familiar and filled with clichés? Voice is an element that can really make or break a novel, and it’s one thing I notice helps me get lost in a book and forget I’m reading.
Jordy Albert is a literary agent and co-founder of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a M.A. from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the L. Perkins Agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency.
Jordy is looking for fun, witty Middle Grade; contemporary or action/adventure. She is also looking for YA contemporary romance, sci-fi, and fantasy–though it MUST have romance! She would love a smart, sexy contemporary romance with fantastic chemistry between the characters tha sparks off the pages. She’s also looking for historical romance (she definitely has a soft spot for a fantastic Regency). You can follow her on Twitter at @bluedragonfly81.
Annie Bomke: What I’m looking for more than anything else is a distinct voice or point of view. By that I mean writing that shows me the way the characters view the world, that taps me into their emotional and mental state. Writing that makes me feel so deeply in tune with the characters that I forget I’m reading a book. For example, take a scene where a mother is pushing her daughter on a swing in a park. A cynical teenager with self-absorbed parents watching the scene might think the mother’s genuine delight is an act, that the mom’s just biding her time until she can get home and pour herself a glass of Chardonnay. The same scene from the perspective of the mother’s older son could be full of jealousy that his mom is ignoring him and perhaps sadness that he’s now too big to fit in the swing (even though he thinks it’s for babies anyways). Who we are colors the way we perceive things, and vice versa, so it’s through the character’s point of view that I get to know him. And when I feel like I understand a character, I can connect to him and become invested in what happens to him.
And the second element of that is the “distinct” part, meaning something fresh that I haven’t seen before. It could mean an unusual turn of phrase, or an unusual image or action. The distinct part further enhances the point of view, because it adds nuance and detail that feel unique to that character. On the flip side, when I read something that’s full of clichés or abstract generalizations, I don’t get to know the character, so it’s hard to become invested in him.
Annie Bomke is a literary agent with the Annie Bomke Literary Agency and has over a decade of experience helping authors succeed. She has worked with internationally bestselling authors such as Ken Blanchard, Spencer Johnson, John Assaraf, John David Mann, and Bob Burg. She has edited a wide range of projects—from hard-nosed business books to otherworldly historical novels. Authors have called her the pH test for good writing, and a bedrock for literary quality control.
Annie is interested in representing a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, including commercial and literary fiction, upmarket fiction, mysteries (from hilarious cozies to gritty police procedurals and everything in between), historical fiction, women’s fiction, psychological thrillers, literary/psychological horror, YA fiction, self-help, business, health/diet, cookbooks, memoir, relationships, current events, psychology, and narrative nonfiction. Especially if the book features diverse characters. You can follow her on Twitter at @ABLiterary.
Brenda Drake: The opening page in a story is a great opportunity for the author to entice me into taking home a book. The voice of the protagonist is what grabs me. The first sentence, or rather, the main character’s first thought, with a fantastic voice can hook a reader from the get go.
Voice is so important because readers want to go on a journey with someone who they connect with and find interesting. A reader can learn a lot about the character by their voice—how old they, where they come from, and what kind of sense of humor he or she has. Of course, that first page has to have all the ingredients that makes an opening great, but having a great voice will capture your reader from the start.
Brenda Drake is a New York Times bestselling author of Thief of Lies (Library Jumpers #1), Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers #2), Touching Fate (Fated Series #1), and Cursing Fate (Fated Series #2). She grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. She hosts workshops and contests for writers such as Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness on her blog, and holds Twitter pitch parties on the hashtag, #PitMad. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment). You can follow her on Twitter at @brendadrake.
Karuna Riazi: I look for the tingling of magic. This is a frustrating answer and I know that as a writer, the slippery, just tantalizingly tangible essence of the perfect opening – and, in turn, how difficult it is for people to describe exactly what they want in so many slippery but tantalizingly tangible words – really grates. But this is the best way I can explain it.
It does not discriminate based on voice or prose or elements. It has happened to me in YA contemporary, and today, on the threshold of an elegant adult literary novel recommended by one of my absolutely favorite authors, Helen Oyeyemi (who herself has that Magic, every story, every word). I feel like it comes when you know the author has devoted themselves to this story and devoted themselves to making us want to be as passionate about it as they are. It comes when the author has given us a peek at their world that won’t make us glance away from the window and it most certainly comes when we’ve seen enough of their main character to want to wear their boots within the next few minutes.
Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. Besides pursuing a BA in English literature from Hofstra University, she is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and publishing intern. Karuna is fond of tea, Korean dramas, writing about tough girls forging their own paths toward their destinies, and baking new delectable treats for friends and family to relish. She has recently published a MG book titled The Gauntlet that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair. You can follow her on Twitter at @KarunaRiazi.
Thank you so much to everyone that participated in this interview. And thank you to everyone that has stopped by. I hope AMoP was as insightful for you as it was me. Feel free to share on here what YOU look for in the opening pages of a novel!