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How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

“Oh, merde.”

Harriet looked in the mirror, her toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. It was the first of June and she’d forgotten to say, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

She said it now, toothpaste foaming on her lips, but had the sinking feeling it was too late. The magic wouldn’t work. And if there was any day when she needed magic, it was today.


“It’ll bring you good luck, little one,” Auntie Myrna had assured her niece when she’d taught her the incantation. “It’ll protect you.”

That had been years ago, but the rabbit habit hadn’t wholly taken. Most months Harriet remembered, but of course this month, when she needed it most, she’d forgotten. Though she knew it was probably because she had so much else on her mind.


Did she really believe repeating rabbit, rabbit, rabbit made a difference? No. Of course not. How could she? It was a silly superstition. There was nothing actually magical about those words. Where did it even come from anyway? And why “rabbit”?

It was ridiculous.

She was an engineer, she told herself as she prepared for her morning run. A rational (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.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for December 18, 2022. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny compelling?

My vote: Yes.

A-World-of-Curiosities-197x300.jpgThis book received 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. While there’s no perilous, dramatic story question here, there is an engaging voice and good, clear writing. And, even though not much more than thoughts are happening, there is a clear sense of trouble ahead that we can anticipate if there was any day she needed magic—raised story questions for me.

This is the 18th in a series by this author, and I was curious to see whether or not the first page had story on its mind rather than the coasting we often see from bestselling authors carried along by past momentum. It was nice to learn that this author, despite her success, is good at launching a story.

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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