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 September 18, 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 How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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 first chapter.
Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside.
It was a thin file. Just a few pages. Like all the rest surrounding him on the old wooden floor of his study. And yet, not like all the rest.
He looked at the slender lives lying at his feet. Waiting for his decision on their fate. He’d been at this for a while now. Reviewing the dossiers. Taking note of the tiny dots on the upper-right corner of the tabs. Red for rejected. Green for accepted.
He had not put those dots there. His predecessor had.
Armand placed the file on the floor and leaned forward in his comfortable armchair, his elbows on his knees. His large hands together, fingers intertwined. He felt like a passenger on a transcontinental flight, staring down at fields below him. Some fertile, some fallow and ripe with potential. And some barren. The topsoil masking the rock beneath.
But which was which?
He’d read, and considered, and tried to drill down past the scant information. He wondered about these lives, and he wondered about the decisions of his predecessor.
For years, decades, as head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, his job had been to dig. To collect evidence. To review facts, and question feelings. To pursue and arrest. To use his (snip)
My vote and notes after the fold. [Read more…]