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 two on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for October 19, 2019. How strong is the opening—would this narrative, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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 of the prologue.
Half an hour after Tim Jamieson’s Delta flight was scheduled to leave Tampa for the bright lights and tall buildings of New York, it was still parked at the gate. When a Delta agent and a blond woman with a security badge hanging around her neck entered the cabin, there were unhappy, premonitory murmurings from the packed residents of economy class.
“May I have your attention, please!” the Delta guy called.
“How long’s the delay gonna be?” someone asked. “Don’t sugarcoat it.”
“The delay should be short, and the captain wants to assure you all that your flight will arrive approximately on time. We have a federal officer who needs to board, however, so we’ll need someone to give up his or her seat.”
A collective groan went up, and Tim saw several people unlimber their cell phones in case of trouble. There had been trouble in these situations before.
“Delta Air Lines is authorized to offer a free ticket to New York on the next outbound flight, which will be tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM—”
Another groan went up. Someone said, “Just shoot me.”
The functionary continued, undeterred. “You’ll be given a hotel voucher for tonight, plus four hundred dollars. It’s a good deal, folks. Who wants it?”
He had no takers. The security blond said nothing, only surveyed the crowded economy-(snip)
You can turn the page and read more here.