Flog a Pro: would you turn this bestselling author’s first page?

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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.

The challenge: does this narrative compel you to turn the page?

Storytelling Checklist

While it’s not a requirement that all of these 6 storytelling ingredients be on the first page, I think writers have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing, a given for every page.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Let’s flog the first pages of this bigtime bestselling author’s new novel.

This novel was in first place on the New York Times hardcover bestseller lists for March 16. Let’s see just how strong the opening page is—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Following is what would be the first manuscript page (17 lines) of Chapter 1.

How does the man make checkered shirts and pastels look good? I thought as Trent lined up his drive, head down and feet shifting, looking oddly appealing outside of the suit and tie I usually saw him in. The rest of his team and their caddies were watching him as well, but I doubted they were rating the way his shoulders pulled the soft fabric, or how the sun shone through his almost translucent blond hair drifting about his ears, or how the shadows made his slim waist look even trimmer, unhidden beneath a suit coat for a change. I found myself holding my breath as he coiled up, exhaling as he untwisted and the flat of the club hit the ball with a ping.

“Yeah, the elf looks good in the sun,” Jenks smart-mouthed, the pixy currently sitting on the bottom of my hooped earrings and out of the moderate wind. “When you going to put us all out of your misery and boink him?”

“Don’t start with me.” With a hand held up to shade my eyes, I watched the ball begin to descend.

“All I’m saying is you’ve been dating him for three months. Most guys you date are either dead or running scared by now.”

The ball hit with an audible thump, rolling onto the par-three green. Something in me fluttered at Trent’s pleased smile as he squinted in the sun. Damn it, I’m not doing this. “I’m not dating him, I’m working his security,” I muttered.


My vote and editorial notes after the fold.

The Undead PoolDid you recognize Kim Harrison and her newest, The Undead Pool, a venture into the dark urban fantasy genre?

My vote: Yes.

Strong, likeable voice and the second paragraph that immersed me into an interesting world did the job for me. However, the next page had better get something going other than a golf game and admiring thoughts about an elven hunk if the author wants to keep me turning the page. The writing is nicely clean (though I’d edit out “audible” in the last paragraph—not necessary.)

Your thoughts? If this weren’t the 12th novel in a successful series, The Hollows, would you have turned the page?

If you’d like to help beginning novelists with your constructive criticism, join me on Wednesdays and Fridays for floggings at my site, Flogging the Quill.

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About Ray Rhamey

Ray Rhamey is the author of five novels and one craft book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. He's also an editor who has recently expanded his creative services to include book cover and interior design. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for self-publishers and Indie authors. Learn more about Ray's fiction at rayrhamey.com.

Comments

  1. says

    I had a tough time with the first paragraph. “…blond hair drifting bout his years’ didn’t make sense. What got me interested was the pixie with the smart mouth. The fact that she’s working security for this guy opens up a story question. I’d keep reading.
    Susan Setteducato´s last blog post ..Susan’s Blog

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  2. Debbie says

    The first sentence tripped me up. It’s awkward. Probably because of the info dump about how the guy looks. I would put the book down after the first paragraph.

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  3. says

    The voice is engaging. And once I realized it was a fantasy, it made a little more sense. The fawning description is a bit much. I’d cut that to one sentence and get on with the story. Overall, I’d keep reading.
    Ron Estrada´s last blog post ..Cheap Grace

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  4. says

    I didn’t realize it was a fantasy. The descriptive words might not have been literal as far as I knew. What made me want to turn the page was curiosity to know more about this relationship.
    P.S. Joshi´s last blog post ..The Neighbor

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  5. says

    I found it very confusing. There was too much description of the man hitting off the tee and I was flummoxed as to the significance of who she was dating. Why should I care? There is little to make me care about these characters.
    CG Blake´s last blog post ..Revisions: The First Read-Through

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  6. says

    The snappy first-person voice of paranormal romance/urban fantasy has become so familiar as to make me almost numb. I think what rescued this for me was golf.

    Not that I’m a golfer. Still, it was just unusual enough to drag me little farther into what, so far, is an all too predicable romance-with-the-dead-or-whatever story.

    What probably would pull me father still is Kim Harrison’s name on the cover, since I know her to be an able storyteller. I trust her to get me to the eighteenth hole under par.
    Donald Maass´s last blog post ..Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

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  7. says

    I assumed “about his years” was a typo for ears and would have chucked the manuscript right there. Well, full disclosure, I’m not into fawning het romance, either. so, two strikes. Wait: golf:boring. Make that three.

    HOWEVER, detailed observation yes, wacky dialog between inner selves (pixie qualifies in my book), and the intrigue about the working relationship turning hot could get me to turn the page.

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  8. says

    No. That she was crushing on him was interesting, but then it got dragged out into a description. And I agree with the poster above me who said that I’ve gotten so used to the tone of urban fantasy that I’m numb to it.

    I would have probably picked up the first book in the series, though, when I found out it was the #12 in the series, just to see if maybe knowing the whole story improved my opinion.

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  9. says

    Golf isn’t my thing, and I don’t find myself going all atwitter over golfers, so the first part didn’t do much for me. However, the writing was strong enough to keep me going a bit deeper. The part that made me perk up was: “Yeah, the elf looks good in the sun,” Jenks smart-mouthed, the pixy currently sitting on the bottom of my hooped earrings and out of the moderate wind. “When you going to put us all out of your misery and boink him?” Because it got a little more interesting at that point, I might read a few pages more, as long as they weren’t about her watching him golf. However, I know this is a book I would not purchase.

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  10. says

    I would definitely turn the page. I didn’t even notice the typos bout and years (about and ears). Have we become too sensitive to typos?

    I found the odd contrasts between golf and pixy (Pixie?) to be engaging enough to pull me along.

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  11. Merriam Saunders says

    I know if I wrote that, my critique partners and my professional editor would call me out for opening with a question, for filtering (“I thought as…”) and for using “smart-mouthed” as a verb & speech tag instead of plain old “said”.
    Also for having nothing more interesting in the first paragraph than physical description. If she was entering the numerous “Pitch + First 250 Word” contests that I enter to get an agent’s attention – she would not likely win.

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  12. says

    Engaged by the voice in this–yeah, how does anyone make checkered shirts and pastels look good?–as well as the introduction of the pixie in her earrings. The dialogue gave me a good sense of both speakers–it actually made me laugh that the pixie claims the narrator’s dating the golfer, which she denies with “working his security.” I expect a lot of joshing and needling between narrator and pixie.

    I tut-tutted about “bout his years.” That is such an appalling typo that it made me wonder if it was done on purpose, and I was meant to think the narrator was either a twit or a terrible punster. But there wasn’t further evidence of this. I think it’s just a terrible typo.

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  13. Andrea van der Wilt says

    I’m not a romance fan, so I gave up after stumbling over the first paragraph. (If I had to read that out loud, I’d be gasping for breath) Any description that tries to convey how attractive one of the characters is puts me off big time, and I can never be interested in characters so obsessed with good looks.

    But then again, that’s probably why I’m not a romance fan.

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  14. says

    I really was not intrigued at all. The typos got me too, but even without them, I was not interested. The golf was boring and I didn’t see it getting to the plot. I voted no. I wouldn’t have even read the whole page, like another poster said earlier, I would have quit reading after the first paragraph.
    Rebecca Vance´s last blog post ..ANNOUNCEMENT: CONTEST #2 ENTRIES

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  15. says

    I’m not going to pick on anyone here because I’ve been guilty of nitpicking in the past. That said, I’ve lately come to notice how enthralled we’ve become with rules even while saying we aren’t a slave to them. No, I wouldn’t have turned the page because I wouldn’t have picked up the book because I’m generally not a paranormal romance fan. Yet, I glossed over the typos and didn’t mind how the story was initiated. It was what it was supposed to be: witty, fun, and intriguing. There’s a lot of great advice out there for writers, and WU is premier among them, but there’s a point when we have to move beyond the classroom, put down Stephen King’s bible of advice, and just go for it. Readers? They put this book on the bestseller list and it’s their opinion I most cherish.
    Christina Hawthorne´s last blog post ..Fixing Broken

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  16. says

    For me it was a yes, but just barely. I re-read the first sentence trying to figure out what “line up his drive,” meant. Perhaps if I was more well versed in golf terms I would have understood it quicker?

    Also, I generally avoid romances with a passion. I don’t dislike romance per say, just when it is the main focus.

    However, the fairy is what made me interested, and I am a sucker for elves. I would have probably read a few more pages, and if it looked too corny/romance like, I would have dropped it.

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  17. Priya Gill says

    I thought it was clunky. Especially the first para. Looked like the author was trying too hard to sound flowery. The result was as a reader I was lost. Before looking at the cover I was a bit confused by the genre. The golf, elves, pixies… what was that all about. But by the end of the page I placed it in a thriller-romance category and might have read on. (Though had I known it was urban fantasy, I might not have. That’s not my cup of tea).

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  18. says

    I was almost asleep by the end of para 1 and woke up with a start at para 2. Don’t know what she was thinking with that meandering boring, over-long sentenced first para.

    If she hadn’t put that 2nd para in where she did I would have voted no.

    Full transparency: golf bores me a tad less than watching paint dry. Love urban fantasy genre and lapped up all the other Rachel Morgan books.

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  19. says

    My vote was no. It took too long to figure out whose head I was in. Golf is not my forte, and casual references to sexual exploits bore me silly. Had this not been a “flog the pro” assignment, I’d not have read this much.

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  20. says

    I confess that the author lost me in the first sentence. I read a lot of romance, and I’m super-picky about it, so the “I thought” told me that I wouldn’t like the writing, and I skimmed a bit after that, but didn’t see anything else that grabbed me back. I prefer my POV closer.
    Natalie Hart´s last blog post ..That’s not how you’re supposed to do it

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  21. says

    Awkward opening sentence gives a bad first impression. Then we have a little too much rambling until we get to the pixie. Finally – on a par 3, green would still be probably 200 yards. Make it hit with a faint thunk.

    My edit –
    How does the man make checkered shirts and pastels look good? Trent lined up his drive, head down and feet shifting, looking oddly appealing outside of the suit and tie I usually saw him in. The rest of his team were watching him as well, but I doubted they were rating the way his shoulders pulled the soft fabric, or how the sun shone through his almost translucent blond hair drifting about his ears, or how the shadows made his slim waist look even trimmer. I found myself holding my breath as he coiled up, exhaling as he untwisted and the flat of the club hit the ball with a ping.
    Mike´s last blog post ..ROW80-1 – check in 03/16 – motoring along

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  22. says

    No. Long winded sentences that went on and on lost me.

    This sentence has strange structure:

    “Yeah, the elf looks good in the sun,” Jenks smart-mouthed, the pixy currently sitting on the bottom of my hooped earrings and out of the moderate wind.

    I’m not sure who is talking here or if this is a typo… either way, I would be too annoyed to move forward.
    Suzanne McKenna Link´s last blog post ..Five Star Hot?

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  23. Brian Hoffman says

    No. Not a page turner for me. Golf or not, it describes an
    everyday event. The prose is good, but I didn’t even get a hint
    that I would care about the characters. Throw in a werewolf or two
    right away, and you might get me. Urban fantasy shouldn’t concern
    itself with the ordinary, but the way ordinary people deal with the
    extraordinary. Kim Harrison usually does that well. Established
    authors tend to get a pass (see Donald Maas’ comment) that rookies
    don’t. That’s why some books in a series are better than their
    predecessors and some are not.

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