Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

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 hardcover fiction bestseller list for March 21, 2020. How strong are the openings—would either of these narratives, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? There are two polls.

Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the first chapter.

There was a wolf at the gallery door.

Which meant it must be Thursday, which meant Bryce had to be really gods-damned tired if she relied on Danika’s comings and goings to figure out what day it was.

The heavy metal door to Griffin Antiquities thudded with the impact of the wolf’s fist—a fist that Bryce knew ended in metallic-purple painted nails in dire need of a manicure. A heartbeat later, a female voice barked, half-muffled through the steel, “Open the Hel up, B. It’s hot as shit out here!”

Seated at the desk in the modest gallery showroom, Bryce smirked and pulled up the front door’s video feed. Tucking a strand of her wine-red hair behind a pointed ear, she asked into the intercom, “Why are you covered in dirt? You look like you’ve been rootling through the garbage.”

“What the fuck does rootling mean?” Danika hopped from foot to foot, sweat gleaming on her brow. She wiped at it with a filthy hand, smearing the black liquid splattered there.

“You’d know if you ever picked up a book, Danika.” Glad for the break in what had been a morning of tedious research, Bryce smiled as she rose from the desk. With no exterior windows, the gallery’s extensive surveillance equipment served as her only warning of who stood beyond its thick walls. Even with her sharp half-Fae hearing, she couldn’t make out much (snip)

You can turn the page and read more here.

Was the opening page of House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas compelling?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

6 thoughts on “Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?”

  1. In my case the answer is no, but I did put it on my “Price Too High” wishlist. I’m not going to pay £10.31 for a fiction e-book just because it’s traditionally published (though the price has since dropped by 15% and once it comes down some more …)

  2. An F word on the first page means it’s going to be full of them and I have a hard time with fantasy that blatantly used modern swearing. Also, based on the reviews, this book is erotica, not fantasy.

    • Yes, modern swearing does kill the fantasy immersion as well. All possibility for “sensawunda” died when Danika started with the S-word. Andraste’s flaming knickers, at least have the characters swear in creative ways.

      The “Andraste” line comes from “Dragon Age: Origins.” The real-life Boudica worshipped her, but BioWare appropriated the goddess as a mortal Christ-figure in the game. I appreciated the efforts BioWare put into in making the game’s world come alive, and I hate when fantasy authors give short shrift to building wonders into their own worlds.

      ETA — you mention this isn’t a true fantasy, though, so maybe I’m unfairly impugning the author’s skills.

  3. Nah, I won’t turn it for free. I’ve seen this author’s books in stores, and I gather she’s very popular. And the branding suggests this book is part of a series, perhaps Book Two, so she’s probably earned the trust of her readers. For her established fan base, this opening probably works.

    But I’m coming in cold: what *IS* Danika? I was prepared to find out Bryce was working at a nature preserve, with a semi-tamed wolf showing up for its snack. Or that the wolf was sapient, but still a quadruped. Now it has a fist and painted fingernails. Does that mean she’s still a quadruped, but Shou Tucker the life-sowing alchemist was up to no good again? Or, is Danika a wolf-were (or wolf-wif), that suddenly shape-shifted to human form? Because why else characterize her as a wolf if that’s not her primary state? Or is Danika like Holo, the wolf-goddess from “Spice and Wolf” who can take human form, but retains her ears and tail? I’m used to anime animal-gods, so if the narrator had said there was a wolf goddess at the door, I would be prepared for her to have her nails painted — especially Holo! Did Danika retain her tail and ears, or other lupine characteristics?

    I know the story is a fantasy, which means all of these options are on the table. I like to be immersed quickly in a story, and I really don’t want to spend any time trying to figure out if a character has 2 arms or 8. I need to be able to trust the writer, and trust when something is a metaphor or when it’s literal.

    The OP’s full post objects to Bryce taking note of her Fae-hearing, but I disagree. Mostly on the grounds that if you’re driving an SUV in uncertain terrain in a snowstorm, you might think to yourself, “Even my Land Rover might not get through this. Good think I didn’t take the Corolla.”

    If you can normally hear people whispering a mile away, you’d take notice of an environment where the sound is too muted to hear people moving on the other side of the wall. I think the author missed an opportunity to impart some wonder, though. Bryce could have marveled about the Magical Architect’s mad building skillz. Was the building purposely designed to thwart Fae senses? Made of a fantastical substance? Does she feel disquiet over this sort of “kryptonite”?

    I think I prefer more wonder and mystery in an opening. This opening didn’t bring any wonder. The “mystery” was the stuff that shouldn’t be a mystery — what IS Danika? — and not the kind of mystery that could drive a plot. Give me plot-driving questions, not craft questions.

  4. Personally I’d pay NOT to read it…not because of the wordy-durds, but because of the writing style and the fact that it’s very clearly, from the get-go, a fantasy subgenre I am really not into. I’m sure it’s some people’s cup of tea but not mine.

  5. I’ve only ever given up on one book on the first page, the third of Rowlings thriller series. Too ‘ugh’ for me. I’ve given up on Nemsin’s first book after finishing the first chapter. Giving up on a book on the first page is pretty extreme, and I think agents aren’t doing themselves any favors by thinking that is Ok.

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