But first, let’s celebrate an anniversary or two.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the first post on Writer Unboxed. A thousand congratulations to Therese and the cofounder, Kathleen Bolton (hi, Kath, hope you’re reading this), on such a long-lived and successful blog. WU is a go-to stop in my morning blog reading every day it’s up . I know I’ve gained many valuable insights from its marvelously talented and experienced contributors. And I also learn from the comments folks make. Three cheers for Writer Unboxed!
But wait, there’s more!
This anniversary also marks the 14 1/2 th anniversary of me being a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed. It has been great fun to put thoughts out there and receive enlightened feedback from WU readers, and I hope to do many more. Therese found my first post, dated August 15, 2007. Just for fun, you can read “Toggling from editor to writer and back again” here.
Back to flogging 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 four on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for January 24, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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.
It is the absolute shittiest day for a walk.
Rain has been pouring down all morning, making my drive from Center Point out here to Mountain Brook a nightmare, soaking the hem of my jeans as I get out of the car in the Reeds’ driveway, making my sneakers squelch on the marble floors of the foyer.
But Mrs. Reed is holding her dog Bear’s leash, making a face at me, this frown of exaggerated sympathy that’s supposed to let me know how bad she feels about sending me out in the rain on this Monday morning.
That’s the important thing—that I know that she feels bad.
She still expects me to do it, though.
I’ve been walking dogs in the Thornfield Estates subdivision for almost a month now, and if there’s one thing I’ve definitely figured out, it’s that what matters most is how everything looks.
Mrs. Reed looks sympathetic. She looks like she absolutely hates that I have to walk her collie, Bear, on a cold and stormy day in mid-February.
She looks like she actually gives a fuck about me as a person.
She doesn’t, though, which is fine, really.
It’s not like I give a fuck about her, either.
You can turn the page and read more here. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins compelling?