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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 paperback trade fiction bestseller list for October 24, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

As I sit here with one foot on either side of the ledge, looking down from twelve stories above the streets of Boston, I can’t help but think about suicide.

Not my own. I like my life enough to want to see it through.

I’m more focused on other people, and how they ultimately come to the decision to just end their own lives. Do they ever regret it? In the moment after letting go and the second before they make impact, there has to be a little bit of remorse in that brief free fall. Do they look at the ground as it rushes toward them and think, “Well, crap. This was a bad idea.”

Somehow, I think not.

I think about death a lot. Particularly today, considering I just— twelve hours earlier— gave one of the most epic eulogies the people of Plethora, Maine, have ever witnessed. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most epic. It very well could be considered the most disastrous. I guess that would depend on whether you were asking my mother or me. My mother, who probably won’t speak to me for a solid year after today.

Don’t get me wrong; the eulogy I delivered wasn’t profound enough to make history, like the one Brooke Shields delivered at Michael Jackson’s funeral. Or the one delivered by Steve Jobs’s sister. Or Pat Tillman’s brother. But it was epic in its own way.

I was nervous at first. It was the funeral of the prodigious Andrew Bloom, after all.

You can turn the page and read more here. Did the opening page of the first chapter of It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover earn a page-turn from you?

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

My vote: Yes.

It-Ends-with-Us-1.jpg?resize=200%2C311&sThis book received 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. While I almost always have an objection to including a batch of musing on a first page, the voice here rolled right through that—although, as you will see later, it wasn’t without its shortcomings. But what a delight it was to hear this very likeable voice start to tell me a story.

The opening about suicide is there to catch your mind, and then there’s a charming bit of bait-and-switch that is completely forgivable as it sends us inquiring about what happens next. There’s no real trouble here, but for me there were sufficient story questions about what she has done and its consequences to keep me engaged.

However . . . there was a prime bit of narrative that came soon after the opening page that really roused story questions for me, and I wish there had been less musing on the front page so that this could be included:

And father of Lily Bloom— that strange girl with the erratic red hair who once fell in love with a homeless guy and brought great shame upon her entire family. That would be me. I’m Lily Bloom, and Andrew was my father.

What do you think? Would having this on page 1 have made the opening significantly stronger?

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

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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