Flog a Pro: Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?
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 trade paperback fiction bestseller list for March 21, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer?
I don’t like to start with an apology—there’s probably even a rule against it, like never ending a sentence with a preposition —but after reading over the thirty pages I’ve written so far, I feel like I have to. It’s about a certain word I keep using. I learned a lot of four-letter words from my mother and used them from an early age (as you will find out), but this is one with five letters. The word is later, as in “Later on” and “Later I found out” and “It was only later that I realized.” I know it’s repetitive, but I had no choice, because my story starts when I still believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy (although even at six I had my doubts). I’m twenty-two now, which makes this later, right? I suppose when I’m in my forties—always assuming I make it that far—I’ll look back on what I thought I understood at twenty-two and realize there was a lot I didn’t get at all. There’s always a later, I know that now. At least until we die. Then I guess it’s all before that.
My name is Jamie Conklin, and once upon a time I drew a Thanksgiving turkey that I thought was the absolute cat’s ass. Later—and not much later—I found out it was more like the stuff that comes out of the cat’s ass. Sometimes the truth really sucks.
I think this is a horror story. Check it out.
Take Our Poll
You can turn the page and read more here. Were the opening pages of the prologue of Later by Stephen King compelling?
My vote: No.
This book received 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s books, so I was eager to see how this one opened up. On the credit side, there is that amiable King voice of a character. Solid writing, of course. On the debit side, well, nothing’s going on here. The character isn’t really dealing with anything—and how could he, with no problem, no conflict, no nothing. I think Mr. King is indulging his automatic sell-in here with this leisurely, meandering musing for an opening. And it didn’t work for me.
To be fair, I used the Look inside feature to read on, and it looks like a good an interesting story. But, on the other hand, if he were unpublished and unknown, do you think a literary agent would ask for a full with this as the first page? 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, 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 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.
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About Ray Rhamey
Ray Rhamey 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, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for writers and publishers. Learn more about Ray's books at rayrhamey.com.
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