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 January 22, 2017. How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
It was dusk on a warm June day, as the enormous motor yacht Princess Marina lay at anchor off the coast of Antibes in the Mediterranean, not far from the famous Hôtel du Cap. The five-hundred-foot yacht was in plain sight for all to see, as deckhands of the seventy-five-person crew swabbed down her decks, and washed the saltwater off her as they did every evening. At least a dozen of them were hosing her down. Casual observers could get a sense of just how huge she was when they noticed how tiny the deckhands looked from the distance. You could see lights shining brightly within her, and everyone familiar with that part of the coast knew which boat she was and who owned her, although there were several nearly as large at anchor nearby. The giant superyachts were too large to dock in port, except for ports large enough to handle cruise ships. It was no small thing to dock a boat that size, no matter how large the crew, or how adept they were at maneuvering her.
Her owner, Vladimir Stanislas, had three more motor yachts of comparable size positioned around the world, and a three-hundred-foot sailboat he had bought from an American, which he seldom used. But Princess Marina, named for the mother who had died when he was fourteen, was the yacht that he preferred. She was an exquisite floating island of ostentation and luxury that had cost him a fortune to build. He owned one of the most famous villas on the coast as well, in St. Jean Cap-Ferrat. He had bought it from a famous movie star, but he never felt (snip)
Was this opening page compelling to you? If it was, you can turn the page here. My vote and notes after the fold.
This is The Mistress by Danielle Steel. Was this opening page compelling to you?
My vote: no.
It has been almost a year since we flogged a Danielle Steel bestseller (Blue, February, 2016). The last time the vote went this way:
Here’s my 30 cents: 6%
My 30 cents stays with me: 94%
It’ll be interesting to see if this opening page fares better. This info dump goes on for 1500 words, 6 full pages, and then shifts to a similar info dump about his mistress for almost 1000 words, another 4 pages. Then he arrives on the yacht, they are happy to see each other, they make love, they take a shower, they have dinner, they talk about art . . . I didn’t go further. You will not be surprised that this didn’t get a page-turn from this reader. It’s clear, though, that I am not the target audience that her name and reputation attract—she delivers what her readers want. But I wonder, yet again, if it delivers what an agent looks for in the slush pile these days. Would an agent read more than this first page if Jane Wannabe submitted it? My bet is no. Any agents out there care to comment?
Stop by my “Flog a BookBubber” feature (usually on Mondays) 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!