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 April 21, 2019. How strong is the prologue—would this narrative, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?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 first chapter.
I KNOW within thirty-three seconds of entering the front door that my home is empty and my husband and daughter are missing.
As a US Army captain, assigned to the Military Intelligence Command, I have years of training and battlefield experience in Iraq and Afghanistan in evaluating patterns, scraps of information, and bits of communication.
This experience comes in handy when I enter our nice little suburban home in Kingstowne, Virginia, about eight miles from my current duty station at Fort Belvoir. Our light-blue Honda CR-V is parked in the driveway, school has been out for hours, and when I take my first two steps into our house, there’s no television on, no smell of dinner cooking—which my husband, Tom, said would be ready when I got home, since I am late once again—and, most puzzling, no ambient noise or presence from our ten-year-old, Denise, who is usually singing, chatting on her phone, or tap-dancing in the front hallway. Hard to explain, but the moment after I open the door, I know the place is empty and my loved ones are in trouble.
I gently put my black leather purse and soft leather briefcase on the floor. I don’t bother calling out. Instead I go to the near wall, where there’s a framed photo of a Maine lighthouse, and I tug the photo free, revealing a small metal safe built into the wall and a combination keypad next to a handle. I punch in 9999 (in an emergency like this, trying to remember a (snip)
You can turn the page and read more here.