Today I am in mourning. I have killed off my darling of darlings, the one part of my novel I thought I would never change: the first sentence.
I have learnt many things about the publishing industry over recent months. The most surprising, and frankly upsetting, lesson learned was that an agent will read the first sentence of your submission before deciding whether or not to reject it. One sentence. ONE GODDAMN SENTENCE.
Once my heart regained its normal pace and my sense of outrage abated I had to admit that it made sense. Agents are busy people. They have hundreds of manuscripts clogging up their slush pile and a list of bankable clients demanding their attention. If you picked up a book, read the first sentence and didn’t like it, would you then pay good money to take it home with you? No. Same for an agent: if they don’t like that first sentence they are not going to invest the half an hour it would take to read the rest of your submission, let alone the ten or more hours of their valuable time reading the entire manuscript.
Above all, they have to feel immediately passionate about a book in order to sign the author. They are going to spend hours of their life reading your work, editing your sentences and examining every twist and turn of your plot, so they have to love your book as much as you do. Think of it as if you’re a single parent, shopping for a new partner: you have to be sure that they’re going to love your baby as much as you do.
I loved the first sentence of my novel. I still do, despite the fact I have deleted it. I have killed my darling of darlings. The opening of my novel used to read: No sign hung from the wall, no picture of an eagle in flight or a red kite’s wing stretched out like a feathered glove.
I’m trying to think of it less like murder, and more like a sacrifice to the deities of publishing.