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How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Nantucket Island is known for its cobblestone streets and red-brick sidewalks, cedar-shingled cottages and rose-covered arches, long stretches of golden beach and refreshing Atlantic breezes—and it’s also known for residents who adore a juicy piece of gossip (which hot landscaper has been romancing which local real estate mogul’s wife—that kind of thing). However, none of us are quite prepared for the tornado of rumors that rolls up Main Street, along Orange Street, and around the rotary out to Sconset when we learn that London-based billionaire Xavier Darling is investing thirty million dollars in the crumbling eyesore that is the Hotel Nantucket.

Half of us are intrigued. (We have long wondered if anyone would try to fix it up.)

The other half are skeptical. (The place, quite frankly, seems beyond saving.)

Xavier Darling is no stranger to the hospitality business. He has owned cruise lines, theme parks, racetracks, and even, for a brief time, his own airline. But to our knowledge, he has never owned a hotel—and he has never set foot on Nantucket.

With the help of a local real estate mogul, Eddie Pancik—aka “Fast Eddie” (who, for the record, has been happily reunited with his wife)—Xavier makes the savvy decision to hire Lizbet Keaton as his general manager. Lizbet is an island sweetheart. She moved to Nantucket in the mid-aughts from the Twin Cities, wearing her blond hair in two long braids like the younger (snip)

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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.

The-Nantucket-Hotel.jpg?resize=193%2C300This novel was number one on the New York Times trade hardback fiction bestseller list for July 24, 2022. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand compelling?

My vote: No.

This book received 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It might be more instructive to consider what is missing from this opening page (keeping in mind that this is a subjective view) than what is there. I see no character, no person with whom to identify or to be interested in. There is no problem that an unknown character needs to deal with (one is introduced approximately 900 words later). For me, there are no even vaguely interesting story questions raised. A grammar question—this is an American writer and an American scene, so shouldn’t the third paragraph have been “The other half is skeptical.” You can likely guess my vote. As far as I can see (just this page), there’s no story in sight.

What am I missing? 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.



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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