Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents oftenthe 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.
How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?
NOTE: a query letter would likely have let the agent know that this is fantasy and that dragons are involved.
Conscription Day is always the deadliest. Maybe that’s why the sunrise is especially beautiful this morning—because I know it might be my last.
I tighten the straps of my heavy canvas rucksack and trudge up the wide staircase of the stone fortress I call home. My chest heaves with exertion, my lungs burning by the time I reach the stone corridor leading to General Sorrengail’s office. This is what six months of intense physical training has given me—the ability to barely climb six flights of stairs with a thirty-pound pack.
I’m so fucked.
The thousands of twenty-year-olds waiting outside the gate to enter their chosen quadrant for service are the smartest and strongest in Navarre. Hundreds of them have been preparing for the Riders Quadrant, the chance to become one of the elite, since birth. I’ve had exactly six months.
The expressionless guards lining the wide hallway at the top of the landing avoid my eyes as I pass, but that’s nothing new. Besides, being ignored is the best possible scenario for me.
Basgiath War College isn’t known for being kind to…well, anyone, even those of us whose mothers are in command.
Every Navarrian officer, whether they choose to be schooled as healers, scribes, infantry, (snip)
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You can turn the page and read more here. Kindle users can request a sample sent to their devices, and I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.
This novel was number two on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for May 21, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros compelling?
My vote: Yes.
This book received 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I’m a fan of fantasy, so that wasn’t the barrier for me that it likely is for some of you. The first-person present tense is common among stories for young adults or new adult readers, so try not to let that affect your critique.
Storywise, this opening is okay, but it could have been better. We meet a sympathetic character, an underdog who believes they are facing death but is soldering on. That was enough for me, however . . .
Here’s the part that could have made it stronger. Where I’ve broken the narrative off, there followed exposition about the dangers students face. I would have traded that for this, which came just a few lines later:
“You’re sending her to die!” a familiar voice thunders through the general’s thick wooden door
That would have guaranteed a page turn from me. 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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