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 paperback trade fiction bestseller list for January 24, 2016. How strong is the opening page—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
THEY WERE ABANDONING HIM. The wounded man knew it when he looked at the boy, who looked down, then away, unwilling to hold his gaze.
For days, the boy had argued with the man in the wolf-skin hat. Has it really been days? The wounded man had battled his fever and pain, never certain whether conversations he heard were real, or merely by-products of the delirious wanderings in his mind.
He looked up at the soaring rock formation above the clearing. A lone, twisted pine had managed somehow to grow from the sheer face of the stone. He had stared at it many times, yet it had never appeared to him as it did at that moment, when its perpendicular lines seemed clearly to form a cross. He accepted for the first time that he would die there in that clearing by the spring.
The wounded man felt an odd detachment from the scene in which he played the central role. He wondered briefly what he would do in their position. If they stayed and the war party came up the creek, all of them would die. Would I die for them … if they were certain to die anyway?
“You sure they’re coming up the creek?” The boy’s voice cracked as he said it. He could affect a tenor most of the time, but his tone still broke at moments he could not control. The man in the wolf skin stooped hurriedly by the small meat rack near the fire, stuffing strips of partially (snip)
My vote and notes after the fold.
This is The Revenant by Michael Punke. Was this opening page compelling to you?
My vote: yes–but it would have been no for the first chapter’s first page.
Good writing and voice here, and the page does raise story questions—will the wounded man die? Will the others stay and fight or abandon him to sure death? The stakes are high, there’s tension in the narrative. That aspect is good.
I am, however, not a fan of anonymous characters. This narrator’s name is given at the end of the prologue, so why not on the first page? For me, anonymous characters are at a distance and more difficult to connect with. A name helps create a human being, I think. While I did not feel attached to this character, the situation and the story questions were enough to get me to turn the page.
I was disappointed when the first chapter seemed unrelated to the character or the action in the prologue. More than that, and worse, I found blatant head-hopping. The second paragraph is inside the mind of one character and the next paragraph hops into the mind of a second character. If the chapter had been the first page I read rather than the prologue, I would not have turned the page.
Tip: You can actually turn the page for free by utilizing Amazon’s “Look inside” feature, and I recommend doing that if you have the time and interest. The Revenant is here.
Have you checked out the new Monday “Flog a BookBubber” feature on my blog, Flogging the Quill. If you’re familiar with BookBub, it’s a site that offers free or very low cost ebooks. It is heavily used by self-publishers, though established authors are sometimes there.
We often see the meme on the Internet that self-published authors should have had editing done before they published. So the new Flog a BookBubber posts take a look at opening pages to see if that’s true. You can vote on turning the page and then on whether or not they should have sought an editor. Stop by on Mondays and take a look.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!