In my novel, the inciting incident is a car accident that occurs at the end of chapter 1. A lot happens in that first chapter; it is crucial for setting up/beginning the main plot arc and several subplots. Most importantly, it shows the life this family is struggling to recapture through the rest of the book.
My problem is the protagonist of the novel isn't in that chapter. He comes to town to help after the car accident. There are several reasons why starting the novel with his arrival wouldn't work.
The query focuses on the protagonist, not the pov character in chapter 1. Will agents reject my query because the opening pages don't start with the protagonist?If so, should my sample pages be chapter 2, rather than chapter 1?
This kind of question will get you into all kinds of trouble because the correct answer to all query questions is: Do what works.
Sometimes that means you start your pages before the main character steps on the page.
Sometimes it means you start the query with the setting, not the plot.
I will say this about your worry on insta-rejection: agents aren't reading in a vacuum. We understand that the story doesn't always begin with the main character. Look how long it takes Romeo and Juliet both to get on stage!
The purpose of pages is this: entice me to read more.
What I look for in pages is whether you can tell a story with elan and style, and whether I want to read more.
I don't have a checklist for any of those things you hear me rail about: starting with weather, driving, phone calls, waking up.
That all falls under "elan and style". Boring is not a style I'm looking for. (I'm guessing no other agents are either.)
Don't start with chapter two, no matter what.
If you're in a true crisis about this, get to a writing conference where you can get your query under an agent's eyeballs, and ASK if it's effective.
Alternatively, there are often charity fundraisers that offer query crits in exchange for a donation.
Also backstory doesn't need to always be on the page.
It can sometimes create a lot of tension if the reader doesn't know everything.
Over-explaining is one of the biggest problems I see in pages. It can kill the pacing.