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 April 24, 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 How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
The first wail of the infant was so penetrating that the two couples outside the birthing room of midwife Cora Banks gasped in unison. James and Jennifer Wright’s eyes lit up with joy. Relief and resignation formed the expression on the faces of Rose and Martin Ryan, whose seventeen-year-old daughter had just given birth.
The couples only knew each other as the Smiths and the Joneses. Neither one had any desire to know the true identity of the other. A full fifteen minutes later they were still waiting anxiously to see the newborn child.
It was a sleepy seven-pound girl with strands of curling black ringlets that contrasted with her fair complexion. When her eyes blinked open they were large and deep brown. As Jennifer Wright reached out to take her, the midwife smiled. “I think we have a little business to complete,” she suggested.
James Wright opened the small valise he was carrying. “Sixty thousand dollars,” he said. “Count it.”
The mother of the baby who had just been born had been described to them as a seventeen-year-old high school senior who had gotten pregnant the night of the senior prom. That fact had been hidden from everyone. Her parents told family and friends that she was too young to go away to college and would be working for her aunt in her dress shop in Milwaukee.
My vote and notes after the fold. [Read more…]