Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The First Five Pages

Today I'll share a strange one. This is a query I sent to a prominent New York Agent. As you'll see the query is still pretty bad, but for some reason she still requested the first five pages. I'll admit I was very excited at the time.

In hindsight she may have just wanted the first five pages included in the query as part of her standard submission preference and I just missed it; I'm not going back to check now and besides her guidelines may have changed. It may be that she wants the query in the letter as a standard formality but really makes her decision based on the voice in the pages.

Who knows?

May 8th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult fantasy-adventure novel which has the working title, WARRIOR-MONKS, and is complete at approximately 475,000 words. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am enclosing a synopsis but will not include any sample chapters because the REDACTED website clearly states that you will request a manuscript if you have an interest.

To this day I'm still amazed she requested the pages. With that word count admitted to in the query I have no idea what she was thinking. Maybe she was just curious. At least I left out the "buying books in droves these days" and "the synopsis included here simply does not do it justice" bile. I'm pretty sure that helped.

I love Eastern Cultures and art forms – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, Tea Ceremony etcetera and all the tradition and high level of art that go into them. I also love magic and fantasy and eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young adult fantasy to my knowledge.

Boy am I getting sick of reading that paragraph. I'm pretty sure this one is not why she requested the pages.

Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. After being expelled from boarding school and having experienced several brushes with the law, his adopted parents, who also happen to be his cruel aunt and uncle, decide to ship him off to a strange and distant reform school which is in the remote wilderness in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. He becomes a member of a group of 12 other students who arrived at the school at the same time as him. They are all very afraid and apprehensive about what will be going on at the school but they are soon pleased to discover that it is not nearly as bad as they had feared. After working in the Wood-Corral for several months they begin taking classes like Aikido, Kenjutsu, Calligraphy and Meditation. It is some time before they discover that through meditation they can imbue their calligraphic scrolls with ancient magic. The book consists of many themes such as the beauty of nature, the life-energy that exists in everything and the awkward struggles that teenagers go through as they grow into themselves and become adults. Lee’s coming of age and struggling with the loss of his mother and the breaking of his family form the core of this introspective but also character driven tale.

I guess I have to assume this is the paragraph she liked. I mean it's not TERRIBLE. It's way too long and ends up with a lot of telling but at least it DOES sort of describe what happens. Maybe she's a kung-fu film junkie and thought all the martial arts sounded cool. We'll never know.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. Please feel free to reply to my personal email at, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:


Thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

Matthew M. Rush


Her initial reply:

Thanks for your query. Mind sending along the first five pages of your manuscript in the body of an e-mail? I'd be happy to take a look and let you know whether the style is the best fit for me.


Man was I excited. Sure it's not REALLY a MS request and looking back I honestly think her website may have asked for the pages in the query and I just missed it, but still.

So I replied. I made sure to put "Requested Material" in the subject line. I sent her this:


Thank you very much for your potential interest in my project. I will include the first five pages of the introduction/prologue chapter here so that you may get an idea of my narrative voice. You did not specify any formatting preferences so I will go with what seems to be the industry standard of double spaced in a 12 point font. Please let me know if you have any questions.


If you think that this novel might be appropriate for your representation please feel free to reply to this email or to call me anytime at 206-555-1212. Thank you very much for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you,

I got her reply about ten days later:

Dear Matthew:

Thanks for sending along the opening pages of The Teepee of Perception. Truth be told, though, I'm afraid these pages just didn't draw me in as much as I had hoped. I'm pressed for time these days and, what with my reservations about the project, I suspect I wouldn't be the best fit. Thanks so much for contacting me, though, and for giving me this opportunity. It's much appreciated, and I'm sorry to be passing. I wish you the very best of luck in your search for representation.


I was a little ticked because she referenced "The Teepee of Perception" which had been, at the time, the title of the chapter, not the novel. It's truly a trivial detail but at the time I used it as an excuse to write her off. It still does sting a little and I have to admit that as much as query writing sucks I'd rather be rejected because of my query letter a hundred times than even once for my actual writing.

I think the problem was that I sent her the wrong part of the novel and the opening pages were not colorful or voice-specific enough back then. I've updated them a few times since but would definitely advise anyone wondering about hooking a reader to read Noah Lukeman's THE FIRST FIVE PAGES.

I remember thinking: If I can only get someone to read my ENTIRE novel, I know they'll love it. While I still believe that to be true I have since learned that my MS should be so tight and polished that ANY reader will love every page. If they have to drill through backstory and setting set-up to get to the "good parts" you just might lose them.

I'm still trimming the fat.

P.S. Please mark your calendars and come back this Friday morning. Cole Gibsen, from Hair Dye & Samurai will be doing the guest post and sharing the query that landed her her agent.


Slamdunk said...

Informative post. I had not thought about separating the first 5 pages as a way to grade someone's work. I wonder how famous novels would do with that benchmark?

Emily White said...

Her responses to you seemed pleasant enough. It can get irritating when people make little mistakes like saying the wrong name, but I wouldn't take it too personally.

Your story kind of reminds me of Harry Potter and Holes--teenage kid living with his aunt and uncle, sent off to some school with a bunch of other kids who are new to it too, discovering magical things about themselves, etc. It sounds interesting!

Shannon said...

Thanks for sharing this one, Matt!

I also wanted to comment that I love the new look of the blog. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Slamdunk. I had never thought about that kind of benchmark either, until I started querying. Apparently is is hugely important.

Thanks Emily, my story is actually admittedly a bit like Harry Potter (not on purpose) but I suppose that's not entirely bad. I'm not familiar with Holes, unless it's the same story as the Disney Shia Lebouf movie. If so I still haven't seen it, just the ads.

Thanks Shannon, me too!

Thank you all for stopping by.

JustineDell said...

Slamdunk - I read several best sellers that I don't think would pass the first 5 page mark. But, we've been over that before - they are published, we aren't, they are followers, we don't.'s frusterating.

Thanks for the post Matt! It's great to see one that good a positive reply! You'll get there. If you did it once, you can do it again. ;-)


Ariel Swan said...

Hey - thanks for suggesting I post my Query on the bransford forum BTW. Great post. I feel lucky to have been warned by numerous sources about those first pages - and man have I reworked. I ended up dumping two whole chapters of background and setting to get to the good stuff. Your line about wishing someone could read the whole thing and then would like it - made me laugh out loud - because that's me. But I am working on it. And to slamdunk - I think MANY famous novels would not even get looked at today.

~Sheri Larsen~ said...

Matt, great post. I'd like to second slamdunk's unwritten challenge--1st five pages of some of the leading novels. I've actually taken the time to study a few and they really don't follow the *rules* we tend to find written in some agents/editors' post on blogs. I haven't figured it all out yet. Hmmm...Any insight, anyone?

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Justine, there will eventually be more but I had intended to wade through all the pain and angst first ... leaving it up to you and other guest bloggers to share positive experiences, then this came up in chronological order so ...

Ariel, that's great. I'll go try to find it now.

Sheri, I think one difference is that many of those "great" novels are not debuts for that author. Obviously there are exceptions to that though.

Michelle McLean said...

Love the new look :) And wow! That word count was huge! :D

Yep, getting that query and the first 5 pages right is harder than writing the whole novel, I think LOL I swear, I spend more time rewriting my first chapter than the entire book put together :)

Looking forward to Cole's post! She's one of my favorite people in the world and is insanely talented :D

Candyland said...

You really are brave for posting this! It's funny how different each agent is no matter how good or (in our mind) bad the query is.

Some opening pages in today's books aren't AWESOME but generally there's a hook or something in there that makes me want to keep reading.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Yes you are very brave. I admire you for this!
If you're interested I've got an audio critique of the first two pages of my ms on my blog. Don't want to toot my own horn, but thought you might want to take a little squizz? I got a full ms request from it, which I'm still waiting to hear about! Got my fingers crossed!!!!! I know I shouldn't get my hopes up too high though ...

Shelley Sly said...

Oh, I've been there. I'm ashamed at how many agents have read the pitiful first five pages of my first draft, before my many rewrites. But we learn from it and we craft a better novel. Thanks for sharing!

angfla said...

Matthew, here's something funny and kind of sad. Even though you redacted all of her information from her reply I know exactly which agent this is. Gotta love those forms.

Tracy said...

Cool new layout!

I agree completely when you talked about rather being rejected 100 times over for your query letter than the pages you include. IMO, that's the worst part about form rejections when you've included a synopsis & sample pages. You don't know WHICH part they didn't like.

Crimey said...

I think buried in your query, there's certainly enough information to suggest that you have an exciting premise and as an agent, she had to see that to request you to send those five pages. Some of us (pointing finger at self) haven't gotten beyond the query stage yet. :)

Ian said...

Cheers man, I'm new to your blog, but loved the honesty in posting up this query tale, if you don't mind I'll stick around.

This was really interesting for me as I know I still have to face the dreaded beast known only as The Query.

I'm still in revisions for my first novel and although I've written the query letter, I haven't yet sent it anywhere. I've done my research on who to target first, but to be honest, I'm dreading the whole experience.

Oh, and the novel sounds cool - I love martial arts.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I guess a personal rejection is better than a form rejection, but it still would have been nice if she'd verified she'd gotten the name of your MS correct before clicking send!

Thanks for sharing this. Love the new blog background!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Love the new look blog:) I agree that a lot of published authors break the first five pages rules. I guess we just have to stick with the rules till we get published. Then re-write them. lol.

Slushpile Slut said...

Congrats on the's an important step and I loved the paragraph summing up Lee's predicament. Also LOVE, LOVE The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, it's the one writing book I won't lend or sell...Matter of fact he has a new plotting book out I want to get my hands on...

Amanda Borenstadt said...

That's great that you got a request. Too bad it didn't pan out. Good reminder that those first few pages have to be super. I have rewritten my beginning so many times. I'm just about to toss it into the fire now that I've started my new novel.

Terry Towery said...

Ha. I think I know who the agent was, since I received almost the exact same rejection letter (although said agent, if it's the same one, neglectedt to even mention my title. Now I'm really hurt!).

I've rewritten my first five pages so many times I've honestly lost count. And I still tinker with them sometimes.

I think your story idea is superb. Good luck!