Monday, June 24, 2013

First Five Pages Workshop Success Story - Tiffany Turpin Johnson

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Before I could even read, I would flip through picture books and make up stories to the images. When I was 11, I wrote my first (albeit terrible) novel, and by high school I’d decided that I wanted to get an agent.

And then nothing happened. Not because I failed, but because I failed to try.

A decade passed. I graduated college, managed apartments in Orlando for a while, got married, had a baby, wrote more books. And still I didn’t try. I think some part of me knew that my work just wasn’t ready, that I wasn’t yet ready to edit it until it was. Life got in the way.

Finally, about a year and a half ago, I wrote the book that I felt in my bones would be The One. I signed up for my first writer’s conference, after which I rewrote the book completely from scratch based on feedback I’d received from agent and author critiques at the conference.

Then I got pregnant again. Which meant round-the-clock sickness for months. I spent those months distancing myself from the manuscript, the way editing books always teach you to. I didn’t read it, didn’t even look at it, all summer long. And it worked. By the time I was ready to do the one-sitting read-through, some scenes were so distant from my memory that I couldn’t even remember writing them.

But I never felt that way about the first pages. Because the opening pages of a manuscript are so important to its success, I’d read through them so many times already that no amount of distance could help me to see them with fresh eyes. So in December, I saw on Twitter that the ladies of Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing were hosting a First Five Pages Workshop. I decided it was finally time to try.

It’s always hard to have your work critiqued, but the workshop participants were all constructive and specific, so it got to where I actually looked forward to reading the comments after posting my edited pages each week. Separating the first few pages from the rest of the manuscript helped me to see them anew and focus just on the book’s opening, and reading the other participants’ work helped me to recognize issues in my own work.

Before the workshop, things had stalled in my query process for The One. I’d had several requests for partials, and then nothing at all for a few weeks. I’d begun to question if I should take a time-out for more editing, or even a permanent hiatus from Maybe-Not-The-One-Afterall. I decided to try one more round with the new opening pages I’d developed during the workshop to see if the edits helped. And then, things began happening quickly. I immediately got several requests, including my first request for a full. I soon had something like five agents with pages, all at the same time.

I got my first offer of representation only a week after the agent had requested the manuscript. The night before, I’d seen a tweet she wrote about a manuscript she loved, and I’d (in vain, I thought) wished it were mine. Turns out, it was! After the offer, I had a couple weeks to contact and consider the other agents with the manuscript, but ultimately I went with my first offer, the lovely Annie Bomke of Annie Bomke Literary Agency. The most important thing to me was a positive relationship with an agent who genuinely loved the manuscript and would have the time and drive to work hard on selling it. I found that in Annie.

Without the workshop, I’m not sure that Annie—or the other agents, for that matter—would’ve requested the manuscript. The first pages are all you have to catch an agent’s attention. If they don’t do their job, it won’t matter how good the rest of the book is, because no one will ever read it. The first pages are the gateway for the rest of the manuscript. So take the time to polish them. Make them as perfect as they can be. And don’t be afraid of feedback. Enter any contest or workshop you can, starting with the First Five Pages Workshop. It’s better to hear negative critiques from other writers than from agents or editors you’d like to work with!

About the Author
Tiffany Turpin Johnson is a young adult novelist represented by Annie Bomke Literary Agency, and operates TJ Writeography, a freelance writing and photography service. She regularly contributes to such blogs as Audiobook Addicts, Writer's Fun Zone, Bookalicious, and 407Apartments, and serves as Senior Editor for Entranced Publishing and Editorial Assistant for Compose Literary Journal. Find her at and on Twitter at @Fictiffous.


  1. Congrats on landing an agent! I'm still blown away by how much better my pages are after I cranked them through the first five pages workshop. I'm waiting on hearing back from a couple of queries, so we'll see what happens. Argh, that waiting game!

    1. Thank you so much! I agree, pulling aside the first five and looking at them totally on their own, with no hefty manuscript to back them up, completely changed my POV on them. I hope you get positive news soon!

  2. Love these success stories! GO YOU!
    It takes a good writer to know when they need more feedback on a certain part of the book--and then to get it, be open to it, and revise accordingly. :) Nice job!