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Flog a Pro: Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

Flog a Pro

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. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a 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 December 20, 2020. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?

Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines.

After I won Halliday’s contest, I remained offline for nine straight days—a new personal record.

When I finally logged back in to my OASIS account, I was sitting in my new corner office on the top floor of the GSS skyscraper in downtown Columbus, Ohio, preparing to start my gig as one of the company’s new owners. The other three were still scattered across the globe: Shoto had flown back home to Japan to take over operations at GSS’s Hokkaido division. Aech was enjoying an extended vacation in Senegal, a country she’d dreamed of visiting her whole life, because her ancestors had come from there. And Samantha had flown back to Vancouver to pack up her belongings and say goodbye to her grandmother, Evelyn. She wasn’t due to arrive here in Columbus for another four days, which seemed like an eternity. I needed to distract myself until our reunion, so I decided to log back in to the OASIS and try out a few more of the superuser abilities my avatar now possessed.

I climbed into my brand-new top-of-the-line OASIS immersion rig, a Habashaw OIR-9400, then put on my visor and haptic gloves and initiated the login sequence. My avatar reappeared where I’d last logged out, on the planet Chthonia, standing outside the gates of Castle Anorak. As I’d anticipated, there were thousands of other avatars already gathered there, all waiting patiently for me to make an appearance. According to the newsfeed headlines, some of (snip)


You can turn the page and read more here [2]. Was the opening page of Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline compelling?

My vote: No.

This book received 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon. This is a sequel, so I’m assuming the publisher was counting on readers of the first novel to climb aboard equipped with the world and the protagonist. But what about a first-time reader such as me?

Well, if it’s me, who is, by the way, a longtime reader and fan of science fiction, my reaction can best summed up with “who cares?” That applies to both the character and the narrative. I’m more or less neutral on the character, neither liking nor disliking . . . nor connecting. There’s little emotion, save for him (I assume it’s a him, we don’t get a gender or a name from the narrative) missing Samantha.

And then there’s what’s happening and all the tension it fails to evoke. Condensed, what happens is that a person prepares to play some kind of virtual reality video game. Knowing nothing about the game at this point, my response doesn’t include what’s going to happen next. There are no story questions raised, no consequences suggested for what he’s about to do, no . . . not much of anything for this reader. It’s not a case of genre because I’m a reader and writer of SF. It’s the lack of story. Your thoughts?

You’re invited to a flogging—your own You see here the insights fresh eyes bring to the performance of bestseller first pages, so why not do the same with the opening of your WIP? Submit your prologue/first chapter to my blog, Flogging the Quill [3], and I’ll give you my thoughts and even a little line editing if I see a need. And the readers of FtQ are good at offering constructive notes, too. Hope to see you there.

To submit, email [4] your first chapter or prologue (or both) as an attachment to me, and let me know if it’s okay to use your first page and to post the complete chapter.

About Ray Rhamey [5]

Ray Rhamey [6] is the author of four novels and one writing craft book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. He's also an editor of book-length fiction and designs book covers and interiors for Indie authors and small presses. His website, crrreative.com [6], offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com [7].

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