We see a lot of manuscripts and sometimes, just sometimes, the opening paragraphs draw you in and immerse in the story almost immediately. When this happens, it is nothing but joy – just as it was in the ancient days of storytelling when the art began with ‘Let me tell you a story,’ or ‘Once upon a time’.

I do not know any editor who would disagree that an easy entry into a story is critical. First and foremost, we are readers, and it is the writers’ job to draw us in. If you do not do this then you have failed.  

Keep the introductory pages free of complicated description. Dense detail in the opening chapter is fine for writers who have a fan base. However, new writers do not have a footprint in the industry, there are no readers desperate to read their work, no one (other than family and friends) are willing to plough through a forest of description to enter your story.

Think of novels you have loved and often it is because you were led into the story with very few obstacles. I’m thinking of Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Within the first 200 words I knew I was in a modern Middle Eastern city on the verge of civil war and that a boy had met a girl – simple, I’m on board for the rest of the journey.

Other things editors like to see:

Think about how you tell the story, don’t try to be too smart. One writer I worked with wanted the reader to follow the thoughts of several characters in one scene. The result was that we, the reader, didn’t know whose point of view we were following. Let the reader focus on one character at a time, they’re getting to know your characters, let them stay with them at least for a short while.

Avoid the use of – was, went, various, variety – vague words that are lazy can be replaced with much more specific terms.

No dream sequences, they’re as dull as listening to a friend tell you their dreams and a lazy attempt at showing a character’s anxieties.

Don’t try and play a game with the reader so that they have to guess who, where and when. Keep this for when you have a serious fan base who are willing to work to read your stories.

These are just a few of the things that I look for. However, what editors want can be as varied as the books on Waterstone’s shelves. The best advice is to think about your hypothetical reader, the one you are writing the book for – what do they want, what will turn them off? And write!