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 April 23, 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 How strong is the opening page—would this narrative, all on its own, have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
PATTI HARNEY stops her unmarked sedan two blocks shy of her destination, the narrow streets packed with patrol cars, the light bars on top of the units shooting a chaos of color into the night. Must be twenty squad cars at least.
Patti ditches her car, puts the lanyard around her neck, her star dangling over her T-shirt. The air outside is unseasonably cold for early April. Still, Patti feels nothing but heat.
She runs a block before reaching the yellow tape of the outside perimeter, the first officer stepping forward to stop her, then seeing her star and letting her pass. She doesn’t know that perimeter cop, and he doesn’t know her. All the better.
Getting closer now. The sweat stinging her eyes, the T-shirt wet against her chest despite the cold, her nerves jangling.
She knows the condo building even without following the trail of police officers to the place where they’re gathered under the awning outside. One of those cops—a detective, like Patti—recognizes her, and his face immediately softens.
“Oh, Jesus, Patti—”
She rushes past him into the lobby of the building. It’s more like a funeral than a crime scene, officers and plainclothes detectives with their eyes dropped, anguished, their faces tear-streaked, some consoling each other. No time for that.
Were these opening pages compelling to you? If they were, you can turn the page here . My vote and notes after the fold.
This is The Black Book by James Patterson and David Ellis. Was this opening page compelling to you?
My vote: yes.
This novel received an average review rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 on Amazon. In the last year of Flog a Pro, James Patterson and his co-authors have appeared 7 times. The majority of WU readers voted No on his work 6 out of 7 of those times. So here’s the 8th. How will they fare today?
Pretty well for this reader. There’s tension a-building from the get-go, something is happening in an immediate scene. We’re immersed right away in a character, one who feels sympathetic. She’s racing to . . . what? There are hints that what she will be encountering are bad for her because of how the detective reacts to seeing her and the other law officers inside the lobby. Something terrible has happened that they all know, as does she, will affect her deeply. For me, lots of story questions were raised.
I did read on, and was pretty much swept into a strong story. I may even have to buy this one . . . or at least get it from the library. So, for this reader, Patterson’s number 8 in a little over a year scores a page-turn.
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