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


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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.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

I hear the crack of his skull before the spattering of blood reaches me.

I gasp and take a quick step back onto the sidewalk. One of my heels doesn’t clear the curb, so I grip the pole of a No Parking sign to steady myself.

The man was in front of me a matter of seconds ago. We were standing in a crowd of people waiting for the crosswalk light to illuminate when he stepped into the street prematurely, resulting in a run-in with a truck. I lunged forward in an attempt to stop him—grasping at nothing as he went down. I closed my eyes before his head went under the tire, but I heard it pop like the cork of a champagne bottle.

He was in the wrong, looking casually down at his phone, probably a side effect of crossing the same street without incident many times before. Death by routine.

People gasp, but no one screams. The passenger of the offending vehicle jumps out of the truck and is immediately on his knees near the man’s body. I back away from the scene as several people rush forward to help. I don’t have to look at the man under the tire to know he didn’t survive that. I only have to look down at my once-white shirt—at the blood now splattered across it—to know that a hearse would serve him better than an ambulance.

I spin around to move away from the accident—to find a place to take a breath—but the crosswalk sign now says walk and the thick crowd takes heed, making it impossible for me to (snip)

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

You can turn the page and read more here. Kindle users can request a sample sent to their devices, and I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.

Verity.jpg?resize=194%2C300&ssl=1This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for February 27, 2022. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Verity by Colleen Hoover compelling?

My vote: Yes.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I like it when a novel opens with something happening. It seems clear that this tragic accident will impact the narrator’s life, but there’s no hint of what that might be. Which is a good thing, as it raises good “what happens next” story questions. For me, there are signs of overwriting, eg. the stumble and the No Parking sign don’t have anything to do with what’s happening and what happens next. If there’s much more of this, I won’t be turning any more pages. Your thoughts?

(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.

A personal note: today is my 49th wedding anniversary, a happy day for me.

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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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