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 How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
My vote and notes after the fold.
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.
This is The Emperor’s Revenge by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison. Was this opening page compelling to you?
My vote: yes.
Ah, a good, strong action narrative in an immediate scene that immerses us (pun intended) in the NOW of the story. The writing is clean and strong, the voice confident, and there’s a strong story question. I think the opening could be even stronger if the information in the following sentence from a later page were part of the second sentence here, when he calls for diving the boat:
They’d soon know if the sub would be able to withstand submerging in the open ocean.
For me, that would raise the stakes and add more jeopardy.
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 Emperor’s Revenge is here.
Stop by my Monday “Flog a BookBubber” feature Flogging the Quill. BookBub is a website 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. Visit on Mondays and take a look.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!