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a:Flog a Pro: Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?


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Flog a Pro

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

This novel was number one on the New York Times trade paperback fiction bestseller list for February 21, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?

Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines.

They used to be called the Firefly Lane girls. That was a long time ago—more than three decades—but just now, as she lay in bed listening to a winter storm raging outside, it seemed like yesterday.

In the past week (unquestionably the worst seven days of her life), she’d lost the ability to distance herself from the memories. Too often lately in her dreams it was 1974; she was a teenager again, coming of age in the shadow of a lost war, riding her bike beside her best friend in a darkness so complete it was like being invisible. The place was relevant only as a reference point, but she remembered it in vivid detail: a meandering ribbon of asphalt bordered on either side by gullies of murky water and hillsides of shaggy grass. Before they met, that road seemed to go nowhere at all; it was just a country lane named after an insect no one had ever seen in this rugged blue and green corner of the world.

Then they saw it through each other’s eyes. When they stood together on the rise of the hill, instead of towering trees and muddy potholes and distant snowy mountains, they saw all the places they would someday go. At night, they sneaked out of their neighboring houses and met on that road. On the banks of the Pilchuck River they smoked stolen cigarettes, cried to the lyrics of “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” and told each other everything, stitching their lives together until by summer’s end no one knew where one girl ended and the other began. They became to everyone (snip)

You can turn the page and read more here. Was this opening page of the first chapter compelling?

My vote: No.

Firefly-Lane.jpgThis book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. While the writing is professional, this just isn’t for me, I guess. After reading this, I have no notion of there being a story ahead. For me, going into backstory fails to make me wonder what’s going to happen next . . . other than expecting more reminiscing about things long past. I hope you give a comment that helps me understand the appeal. Your thoughts?

You’re invited to a flogging—your own You see here the insights fresh eyes bring to the performance of bestseller first pages, so why not do the same with the opening of your WIP? Submit your prologue/first chapter to my blog, Flogging the Quill, and I’ll give you my thoughts and even a little line editing if I see a need. And the readers of FtQ are good at offering constructive notes, too. Hope to see you there.

To submit, email your first chapter or prologue (or both) as an attachment to me, and let me know if it’s okay to use your first page and to post the complete chapter.

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About Ray Rhamey

Ray Rhamey is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com.

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