But first, about why we’re doing this
I came across a reminder of the importance of FtQ’s focus on the first page in the Editorial Ass blog. The title is Why the first page of your manuscript is so dang important
The gist of it; this editor at a publishing house says that she wants to buy manuscripts, but . . .
When I read submission after submission after submission
--which, let's face it, is every day --my mind starts to dull. My eyes begin to glaze from all the white on black. My butt begins to hurt from sitting. I'm pretty hungry (because I'm always pretty hungry), and this is making me cranky. As the day wears on, I get irritable. The reading gets faster, and the disappointments stack up more quickly.
There are different reasons they don't fit the bill
--maybe the content doesn't interest me personally; maybe I don't like the writer's style; maybe there's nothing special about the book, it's just adequate.
Or maybe it's a beautiful, perfect, exquisite book, exactly the book I've always dreamed of publishing. But I'll never know, because the first page was CRAP.
Above all things, YOU MUST BE SPECIAL.
Assume whoever is reading your submission is going to be in a terrible mood when they look at page 1.
You just don't have until page 2.
The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.
Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.
What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below.
Some homework. Before sending your novel's opening, you might
want to read these two FtQ posts: Story
as River and Kitty-cats
in Action. That'll tell you where I'm coming from, and might prompt
a little rethinking of your narrative.
Jennifer has sent a prologue and a first chapter. The prologue (all of it):
Now the first chapter opening:
My name is Lily which I always thought that was a total joke. Lillies are pretty and I was just an ugly, scrawny thing. My mother is dead. She died while having me which is really a sucky way to be born. When I was 13 I decided that the only way to save us all was to find out the truth. To make it right. I was going to find out who killed her and then that person would have to pay for what they did. If I killed her, if I really and honestly killed my mother then there was only one thing for me to do:. Forcing my grandparents and my dad to look at me every single day, it just didn’t seem right. So, I went out there to my swamp and I looked right up at the sky and I promised that I would find out who killed her and whoever that person was, I would kill them. Even if it was me.
Growing up, I lived with my father. He was and still is a big huge guy who works a lot and never gets paid “his due.” His ruddy cheeks and red nose would look more at home on a leprechaun. He left for work every morning at 5:30 am and came home every day at 5 pm. He wears a baseball hat every day and he is never, ever not smoking. Like a chimney.
I used to think that if my mother were there, she would say that. She would say a lot of things, but she would definitely say that. “Oh, dear, you smoke like a chimney.” Her voice would be soft and it would sound like she was singing when she said it. My mother would be one of those moms that has long hair and doesn’t wear makeup. She would be all-natural. Sort of like that stupid commercial where the ladies are singing that song? “All natural woman.” Every time he lit up, I would think of her as that song ran through my head.
I guess it doesn’t matter what she would say or what she would sound like. She’s dead and buried. I used to wish I could go visit her grave or something. Truth is, back then, I didn’t know where she was buried or if she was even in the ground. I wasn’t allowed to talk about her. Not to my father, not to her parents. We lived behind my grandparents back then. They have miles and miles of land and we lived right on it in a camper. Which really just convinced me more that I had something to do with her dying. No matter how many times my dad would try to tell me I was wrong, I just didn’t believe him. Something in his eyes was screaming at me, “IT (snip)
I liked the voice, but . . .
The prologue was brief enough to probably actually be read even thought it isn’t a scene. But the first chapter opening with exposition and backstory pretty much stopped me. The rest of the chapter is much the same, lots of backstory and info, and then there’s a scene where the heroine meets a new girl in church. Still no tension. Jennifer, I’d urge you to start the novel where the girl meets the new girl in the country store—and that should lead quickly (on the first page) to some kind of tension. You need to get to what your character wants in this story (in the main narrative) and block it so that she has to struggle.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
- Email your 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter as an attachment (.doc or .rtf preferred, .docx okay) and I'll critique the first page.
- Please format with double spacing, 12-point font Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins.
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
- And, optionally, permission to use it as an example in a book if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait you turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2010 Ray Rhamey