Writing an Attention-Grabbing First Chapter: How to Keep an Agent Reading

Writing an Attention-Grabbing First Chapter: How to Keep an Agent Reading

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  • You're a writer who is getting ready to query agents
  • You're a writer who has received a request from their query, but a rejection from their manuscript
  • You're a writer who is willing and able to revise
  • You're a writer who is still deciding where their story begins
  • You're a writer who is struggling with pacing, back-story, and character development


Congratulations! Your query made it out of the slush pile and an agent requested your manuscript. Now make sure they'll want to keep reading your novel by having an attention-grabbing first chapter. Between queries, clients, and requested manuscripts, an agent only has so much time to devote to reading new material. If an agent isn't engaged from the very beginning, there's a slim chance they'll keep turning the pages.

Literary agent, Sarah LaPolla represents young adult, and adult fiction, and is a big believer in the power of a great opening chapter. She shares insights and tips on creating a first chapter agents will want to keep reading. She also discusses what to avoid, how to balance a novel's tone with the narrator's voice, and how a great first chapter should set up the rest of the novel.


  • What agents look for in a first chapter
  • How to grab - and keep - their attention beyond the first line
  • How to avoid cliche, mundane, or overused beginnings
  • Why "beginning with the action"doesn't have to mean car chases and explosions
  • The appropriate length and tone of a first chapter
  • Introducing your narrator's voice in the most effective way
  • Whether your novel is beginning in the right place
  • How to incorporate back-story and when to delete it


Sarah LaPolla joined Bradford Literary Agency in May 2013. She spent the previous five years in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, Ltd., and became an associate agent there in 2010. She received her MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from The New School in 2008 and has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Ithaca College.

Sarah represents YA and adult fiction. On the adult side, she is looking for literary fiction, science fiction, magical realism, dark/psychological mystery, and upmarket commercial fiction, and upmarket women's fiction. For YA, she is interested in sci-fi, horror, mystery, and magical realism, and contemporary/realistic fiction that doesn't shy away from the darker side of adolescence. No matter what genre, Sarah is drawn to layered/strong characters, engaging narrators, and a story that's impossible to put down.

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