Sure, the first page is important, I can't tell you how many times I have read or heard that if the first page doesn't past muster, the whole book is rejected. At first that seemed scary, but now it seems more like a challenge. Are you up for it? The correct answer is YES, because you have to be! I have learned that it isn't even the first page, it's the opening line, and the first paragraph that needs to get whomever you have sent it to so in awe of your awesomeness, yes, I said awesome-ness, they snatch up that phone and offer you a deal right then and there. Ahhhh, if only it was that easy, eh ;)
Here are some things I have learned...publishers these days are looking for a unique voice, someone who stands out from everyone else - it's kinda like that Arby's commercial - same, same, same, same, Arby's is different. We all have a unique set of skills and a different way of expressing ourselves on the page. Some of you might find your voice right off and others need more time figuring it all out. It's great to read as much as possible so that you can learn from your craft, just don't try to emulate someone else. Everything you need to bring to the table lies within, you don't need to copy someone else to get where you need to go, so don't even try. I was reading an article the other day about how the publishing industry has been inundated with books similar to Twilight. Guess what? Publishers are not looking for 100 more of the same from someone else. This is not to say that young adult fiction is not completely blowing up right now, it is, but you don't need to ride the coattails of someone else to make it. Famous authors are an inspiration to all of us, and the reason why is they are all unique; they have found their own story, so now it's time to find yours.
Still with me? Great! Moving on...
Starting your story with a big whopping dose of backstory will be just what the doctor ordered if you are trying to put your publisher/agent in a coma. I'm not saying not to include backstory, but it has its place. Besides, readers don't need you, the writer, to place all your cards on the table at the same time. Better to string them along and keep them guessing, revealing little details as you go. It's what keeps them engrossed in the story. Readers these days are not interested in 10 pages of "once upon a time...and then when she was 10-years-old, and then her dad died, and then as a teenager she dropped out of school and ran away from home, and then she got pregnant and, and, and." Asleep yet? I don't know about you, but I want to know what's happening to her right NOW. All that other stuff can be unfold like the layers of a sweet-ass birthday cake as the story goes on. Readers also don't need a page of character description, keep the sentences short and to the point, and show the reader what is going on - namely, the who, what, when, where, how and why of it all.
So here's what you do: get right into the action. Start with action. Start with something happening. Start with a problem. Get into the heart of the story right away. The woman at the bar isn't merely thinking of getting on the bucking bronco and going for a ride, she already on it or maybe she's in the middle of getting bucked off! Let's see, what else...a woman is running for her life, a man turns a corner and hears a gunshot go off, the brakes on a bus suddenly go out and the bus full of passengers (because it's always FULL of passengers, right) hurls towards a cliff. The readers should be thinking - why is the woman running, who got shot, are the people going to be okay...among other things. Good! This is precisely what we want, get them hooked and keep those pages turning. In summary, get right into the action and create interest, then keep it.
As you begin, you should already know what tone you want to express to your readers - happy, sad, scary, comical, evil, etc.
And that, my friends, is what I call a Royal Flush - happy writing!!!