Tips on First Pages and Effective Author Readings

Last fall, I attended my second Boston book fest. I took a few notes, so I thought I would share them here.

Tips on effective author readings from Steve Almond, author of Rock 'n Roll Will Save Your Life:

1. Don't pretend the room’s not there. If something unexpected happens, it's okay to stop and react. That's why you're reading for an audience. If people are laughing at your jokes and you’re relieved that they did, say so. If you're nervous, it's okay to say that too. If there’s a lot of cussing in your manuscript and the audience looks uncomfortable, stop and say there's going to be a bit of adult content. Calling out awkwardness can help people relax.

2. Eye contact is overrated. A little bit of eye contact goes a long way. You mostly want everybody to be dreaming the same dream.

3. Check and vary your speed when reading. Slow down for the contours of the language and for important lines.

Tips on effective first pages from the Writer Idol session: For more details on Writer Idol, see my post from last year's session. My excerpt didn't get drawn this year, but my critique buddy Peta’s did, and she made it to the top four!

Tips from Caroline Zimmerman, Kneerim Williams Literary Agency:

1. The first page needs something for the reader to hold on to -- either a strong character, voice, or plot (some kind of conflict or question).

2.: A cliché beginning (waking up, etc.) is okay if you can highlight it with a different lens. Otherwise avoid day-to-day stuff.

3: Memoirs need to be something greater than you are. They have to illuminate something more than your life.

4: There's a difference between flowery language that doesn't serve the prose, versus beautiful writing that has meaning. Beautiful writing often has fewer words, not more.

Tips from Ann Collette, Rees Literary Agency

1. If you’re writing genre fiction, be very careful about overwriting. Commercial fiction readers are more interested in the story and don't want the writing to get in the way of it

2. Be careful if you start your novel off describing something mundane. Some authors like to write about a mundane character who changes and therefore spend a lot of time in the beginning elaborating on how boring the character is. Be aware that dwelling too much on something or someone who's boring can make your writing seem mundane.


  1. Timely post, I'm desperately reworking my opening pages of my work in progress now. The tips are invaluable.

  2. Rusty -- check out the tips from last year too (linked in the post)

  3. Thanks for taking such good notes, Livia! I struggle with first pages, and they're so important for hooking the reader.

  4. I think I fall for the whole writing about mundane things a lot. Though, I think it is important to show the life that will be interrupted before well, interrupting it.
    However, I can see the problem with starting off in a mundane life. So I'll think on that. Maybe the boring parts should be shorter or just less boring.
    As for the other things, I think many of them will be useful to keep in mind for my openings.
    Thank you for taking notes for us.

    By the way, I can't remember, is From Words to Brain available as a physical copy as well? Or just an e-book? I would prefer a hard-copy, but I've found no place with that can currently deliver to my country.

  5. Hi Jake,

    Amazon only has an ebook (you can read it on a computer screen with their kindle app). There are also pdf's (which are printable), available on smashwords , although unfortunately the special price doesn't extend there.