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?
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)
Let’s flog the first pages of this bestselling author’s new series novel. Although it will attract readers familiar with the series, it still needs to stand alone on a bookstore table—and an editor’s desk. Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre—there are folks who reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason to reject it.
This novel was in first place on the New York Times hardcover bestseller lists for April 12. Let’s see just how strong the opening page is—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
“Long live the King.”
At the sound of the deep, grave voice, Wrath, son of Wrath, had an instinct to look around for his father . . . a spark of hope that the death had not occurred and the great ruler was as yet still with them.
But of course, his beloved sire remained gone unto the Fade.
How long would this sad searching last? he wondered. It was such useless folly, especially as the sacred vestments of the vampire King were upon himself, the bejeweled sashes and silken coat and ceremonial daggers adorning his own body. His mind cared naught for such proof of his recent coronation, however . . . or mayhap it was his heart that remained unswayed by all that now defined him.
Dearest Virgin Scribe, without his father, he was so alone, even as he was surrounded by people who served him.
Composing his visage, he turned around. Standing in the doorway of the royal receiving chambers, his closest adviser was like a column of smoke, long and thin, draped in dark robes.
“My honor to greet you,” the male murmured, bending low. “Are you ready to receive the female?”
My vote and editorial notes after the fold.
Did you recognize J.R. Ward and his newest, The King: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, the twelfth novel in this series? Interestingly, the bestseller we looked at in last month’s Flog a Pro was also the twelfth in a series. Good for the authors.
My vote: No.
I’ll give the story a pass on the sort of stilted language as that style is part of the series and is often seen in this genre. On storytelling merit, however, it didn’t work for me. What actually happens? The character ruminates (set-up) and he’s asked to receive someone. For this reader, there were no story questions sufficient to raise tension, no stakes apparent for the coming encounter with “the female,” so it was a no-go.
Your thoughts? If this weren’t the 12th novel in a successful series , 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.