Andrea Somberg and the First Five Pages

I have to dash to catch a plane to Miami — my husband is joining forces with a friend of his, Bill the Hotel Guy, and they are throwing their big birthday blowouts together in South Beach — but before I go I wanted to post this bit from my agent, the sharp and formidable Andrea Somberg, reflecting on her practice of often requesting the first five pages of a project:

Ideally, if I had unlimited time, I would love to read the entire manuscript of all the writers who contact me. Unfortunately, there’s only limited hours in the day and the majority of them is dedicated to my clients and making sure that I’m doing the best job possible by them.

That being said, I am always eager to read new material and to discover new writers whose work I can really get excited about.

I find that it’s very hard to determine whether I’m going to fall in love with an author’s work from a query letter alone, and so I always like to see the first five pages of a manuscript. I know that this might seem arbitrary. What if the story doesn’t get good until the sixth page? Am I really able to make a decision on a book from such a small sample of material?

Over the years I’ve read thousands of manuscripts. And from experience and lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered that if a manuscript doesn’t draw me in within the first five pages, chances are that I’m not going to fall in love with the rest of it.

I’m well aware that this is not an exact science and that I might very well be letting excellent manuscripts slide. But it’s the fairest way I know how to get through hundreds of queries a week while still having enough time to dedicate to my clients.

Later, Andrea will get back to me about what it is she looks for in those First Five Pages.

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