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

Today’s flogging is the 100th Flog a Pro post.

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 June 20, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

She receives a message from the front office: a new soul is about to join them, and this soul has been assigned to Martha.

Martha puts on her reading glasses and finds her clipboard. The soul is arriving from…Nantucket Island.

Martha is both surprised and delighted. Surprised because Nantucket Harbor is where Martha met her own fateful end two summers ago and she’d thought the front office was intentionally keeping her away from coastal areas so she didn’t become (as Gen Z said) “triggered.”

And Martha is delighted because…well, who doesn’t love Nantucket?

Martha swoops down from the northeast so that her first glimpse of the island is the lighthouse that stands sentry at the end of the slender golden arm of Great Point. Martha spies seals frolicking just off the coast (and sharks stalking them a little farther out). She continues over Polpis Harbor, where the twelve-year-old class of Nantucket Community Sailing are taking their lessons in Optimists. One boat keels way over and comes dangerously close to capsizing. Martha blows a little puff of air—and the boat rights itself.

Martha dips over the moors, dotted with ponds and crisscrossed with sandy roads. She (snip)

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You can turn the page and read more here. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand compelling?

My vote: yes.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I gave this a weak “yes” because, due to the supernatural aspects of the opening, I was curious enough to want to sample more. It appears that this is an angel named Martha—by the way, the name “Martha” was used 9 times in 11 sentences? It became too repetitive for me—the author needs to invest in a few more pronouns.

What I come to novels for is story, and this narrative, while not loaded with tension, does suggest a story is ahead. After all, what do we know about angels coming to collect a soul? Good story questions raised. However, it needs to get to the story soon or I’m gone. Probably not to Nantucket, but still outta here. 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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