Today the flogee is the opening of a book by a self-published author. Is he a pro? Well, the definition of “professional” is “one that engages in a particular pursuit, study, or science for gain or livelihood.” John Locke most definitely has done that.
He is the first self-published author to hit #1 on the Amazon/Kindle Best Seller’s List. He is a New York Times best-selling author. In the first 5 months of 2011 he sold more than 1,100,000 ebooks.
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.
A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.
Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.
- Story questions
- Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
Below are the first 16 lines of what would be the manuscript for the opening page from one of John Locke's early books, Saving Rachel (a Donovan Creed Crime Novel), formatted the way I do it here at FtQ.
MAYBE IT ISN’T fair, but I blame Karen Vogel for what just happened.
I mean, sure, I’d made the first move, and true, I’d plotted her seduction with all the precision of the Normandy invasion. I baited the hook with romantic candlelit dinners, private dining rooms, and elegant wines. I’m the one who made all the promises, bought the clothes, the mushy cards, and glittering jewelry.
But none of this would have happened if Karen Vogel hadn’t been so … gorgeous.
We’re in Room 413, Brown Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, 10:15 am. My twenty-something-year-old conquest lies on the bed watching me through eyes like aquamarine crystals. I’m scrambling into my pants, tucking in my shirt, but those piercing eyes freeze me in place, and I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.
Karen rolls onto her side, props her chin on her fist, and says, “You meant what you said, right, Same?”
Her toned, athletic body features long legs and a belly so flat I can see two inches down the front of her panties, elevated as they are between two perfect hips. It’s a good view, the kind you never get tired of, and I get that feeling again, like I’m riding a lucky wave. I mean, I just banged Karen Vogel!
While this does well in the characterization and voice parts of storytelling, and the tease of the opening line got me to read further, not much happens after that, and the tease wasn’t enough to take me past the musings of a lusty character. There's little tension, I didn't care that he had banged this woman, nor is there a hint of “crime” as promised in the subhead.
A better opening
A few pages later I found the following. Give it a read and a vote.
I’m in the parking garage, fishing in my pocket for the keyless remote when I hear a crackling sound and—Christ!—something zaps my calf muscle from behind. I turn to see what’s happened, and the next think I know, I’m rubbing the back of my neck where it feels like someone stuck me with a hypodermic needle.
I’m groggy, but I feel movement and realize I’m in the back seat of a stretch limo with two guys. The one on the left is a muscle-head; looks like Mr. Clean on steroids. The other guy’s a well-dressed older man with slicked-back gray hair. He’s wearing a black silk suit with vertical white lines and a white tie. The voice in my head is saying, Oh shit, this is the real deal, and the voice is right. This is a full--fledged gangster sitting across from me, and he’s just asked me something. Unfortunately, my head is in a fog and I’m still reeling, so I can’t quite make out what he said.
Trying to buy time to get my bearings, I say, “I’m sorry. Who are you? What did you just say?”
“Your wife,” he says.
I look around. He’s talking to me? His words seem to be coming from deep in a well. Did he just ask me about my wife?
“What about her?” I ask.
“What’s her bra size?”
While this narrative still dawdles a little more than I feel it should, there were good story questions raised and it delivers on the “crime” nature of the book. The thing about the bra size alone raised a story question: Why? Your thoughts?
For what it’s worth.
"I'm mad at this book. Know why? Because it's one of the best I've read about crafting compelling novels, and it's telling me that I have to revise my own novel yet again. The examples are clear and unusually frequent. For example, you won't read pages of theory before being shown exactly what is meant by creating tension. If you're writing a novel you hope will sell to an agent, then to a publisher, and finally to a great many readers, Rhamey's realistic advice will help you.” Susan
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- 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 for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey