The new issue of Writer's Digest (Nov/Dec 2008) has a fiction column by novelist Steve Almond, where he talks about Anton Chekov's theory that new writers need to start their book later in the story so the opening is more interesting.
This goes along somewhat with the "agent pet peeves" we've been talking about recently. Check out what Almond has to say:
"If you're wondering whether you should cut the first three pages of your most recent draft, consider the following questions:
1. Is your protagonist alone for these pages?
2. Is he in bed or in a bathtub?
3. Is he imbued with an indeterminate sense of malaise?
4. Does the 'action' consist of your protagonist thinking while carrying out activities that demonstrate his malaise?"
If you say yes to any of these questions, you have an opening that will likely turn off an agent. Beware.