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 May 13, 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 How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
Alison Muller wasn’t classically beautiful, but she was striking, with swinging blonde hair and peekaboo bangs brushing the frames of her wraparound shades. Her black leather coat flared above the knees of her skinny jeans, and her purposeful stride was punctuated by the staccato clacking of her high-heeled boots.
That afternoon, as she cut through the golden-hued lobby of San Francisco’s Four Seasons Hotel, Ali checked out every man, woman, and child crossing the floor, on the queue at reception, slouched in chairs in front of the fireplace. She noted and labeled the tourists and businesspeople, deflecting the stares of the men who couldn’t look away, while on the phone with her husband and their younger daughter, Mitzi.
“I didn’t actually forget, Mitz,” Ali said to her five-year-old. “More like I lost track.”
“You did forget,” her daughter insisted.
“Not completely. I thought your big day was tomorrow.”
“Everyone wanted to know where you were,” her daughter complained.
“I’ll make it up to you, sweetheart,” Ali said.
“When? With what?”
Ali’s thoughts ran ahead to the man waiting for her in a room on the fourteenth floor.
“Let me speak to Daddy,” Ali said.
My vote and notes after the fold. [Read more…]