4 years of Flog a Pro votes
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing this for this long—49 floggings until today, to be precise. I thought you’d enjoy seeing the results. Below are a few highlights, but the complete list of books and the voting outcomes are on a summary page here. I’ll be updating that in the future.
- Majority No votes: 78%
- Majority Yes votes: 22%
- Ray Yes votes: 31%
- Majority & Ray agreed 74% of the time
See how particular books fared and what made the bestseller lists over those 4 years—the complete list of books and results is here. Care to guess which author made the list the most times? Check it out. And now on to today’s flogging.
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.
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.
This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for March 19, 2017. How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? It has an unusual structure for fiction; it begins with a Foreword and then Chapter 1 follows. Let’s vote on both of them. Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the foreword.
Who wouldn’t be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, in a shack no less? And this was the shack.
I have known Mack for a bit more than twenty years, since the day we both showed up at a neighbor’s house to help him bale a field of hay to put up for his couple of cows. Since then he and I have been, as the kids say these days, hangin’ out, sharing a coffee—or for me a chai tea, extra hot with soy. Our conversations bring a deep sort of pleasure, always sprinkled with lots of laughs and once in a while a tear or two. Frankly, the older we get, the more we hang out, if you know what I mean.
His full name is Mackenzie Allen Phillips, although most people call him Allen. It’s a family tradition: the men all have the same first name but are commonly known by their middle names, presumably to avoid the ostentation of I, II, and III or Junior and Senior. It works well for identifying telemarketers too, especially the ones who call as if they were your best friend. So he and his grandfather, father, and now his oldest son all have the given name of Mackenzie but are commonly referred to by their middle names. Only Nan, his wife, and close friends call him Mack (although I have heard a few total strangers yell, “Hey Mack, where’d you learn to drive?”).
Mack was born somewhere in the Midwest, a farm boy in an Irish-American family (snip)
And now for the first 17 lines of chapter 1.
March unleashed a torrent of rainfall after an abnormally dry winter. A cold front out of Canada then descended and was held in place by a swirling wind that roared down the Gorge from eastern Oregon. Although spring was surely just around the corner, the god of winter was not about to relinquish its hard-won dominion without a tussle. There was a blanket of new snow in the Cascades, and rain was now freezing on impact with the frigid ground outside the house; enough reason for Mack to snuggle up with a book and a hot cider and wrap up in the warmth of a crackling fire.
But instead, he spent the better part of the morning telecommuting into his downtown desktop. Sitting comfortably in his home office wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt, he made his sales calls, mostly to the East Coast. He paused frequently, listening to the sound of crystalline rain tinging off his window and watching the slow but steady accumulation of frozen ice thickening on everything outside. He was becoming inexorably trapped as an ice-prisoner in his own home—much to his delight.
There is something joyful about storms that interrupt routine. Snow or freezing rain suddenly releases you from expectations, performance demands, and the tyranny of appointments and schedules. And unlike illness, it is largely a corporate rather than individual experience. One can almost hear a unified sigh rise from the nearby city and surrounding (snip)
Were these opening pages compelling to you? If they were, you can turn the page here. My votes and notes after the fold.
This is The Shack by William P. Young. This novel received a strong average review rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 on Amazon, so there must be more to please beyond these first pages. The summary/blurb on the Amazon page definitely engaged my interest immediately . . . but there’s little hint of this story in either the opening pages of the foreword or the chapter. Here’s the blurb:
Mackenzie Allen Phillips’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in this midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change his life forever.
My vote on the foreword: no.
The Foreword does open with a great teaser, but then it dives into backstory and what looks like a huge info dump to come (it does, for pages). Other than the opening paragraph, there was zero tension in this page for me. And no clue as to what the story was about.
My vote on the chapter: no.
The first chapter opens with weather—how many times have we been advised to not do that—and that will be okay if it immediately affects the story, but it doesn’t. And then the opening heads off into musing about this and that, which is a big roadblock for this particular reader. Why doesn’t something happen on this page? Once again, no tension and no hint of what the story is about.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!