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 June 19, 2016. How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the prologue.
Lieutenant Pierre Delacroix cursed himself for his overconfidence. He had taken a huge risk by sailing into the predawn twilight, hoping to get just a few miles closer to the rocky cliffs on the north side of St. Helena before sunup. A British frigate, one of the eleven guarding the remote island, appeared around the coast and turned in their direction. If his submarine were caught on the surface in broad daylight, the mission to free Napoleon Bonaparte from exile would be over before it began.
Delacroix lowered his spyglass and called down through the hatch. “Prepare to dive the boat!”
Three men quickly lowered the sail in the gusting wind. With the bright sun at his back, Delacroix took one last look at the approaching frigate before ducking below and closing the copper hatch. His nostrils flared at the rank odor of fifteen men packed together inside the cramped quarters.
“Did they spot us?” asked Yves Beaumont, a frown creasing his forehead. Though he kept his voice calm, his eyes flicked incessantly toward the closed portal, betraying his anxiety. The experienced alpinist had nonchalantly stood on ledges at heights that would cause normal men to faint in fear, but the idea of submerging inside the confines of a hollow metal and wooden tube terrified him.
My vote and notes after the fold. [Read more…]