It doesn’t matter how good your book is as a whole if your first 25 pages don’t hook a reader effectively. Most agents and editors request the first 10 to 25 pages of a manuscript to see if they want to read the rest of the book. Most readers standing in a bookstore will use the opening pages to decide whether they want to buy your book. And Amazon’s handy Look Inside button shows the reader—you guessed it—your first 10 to 25 pages.
There are several tried and true ways to hook a reader so that he or she has to read the rest of the book:
- In Making Shapely Fiction, for instance, Jerome Stern talks about position changes. An event that alters your character’s internal or external position early on in the story—taking him or her from employed to unemployed, happily married to divorced, etc.—can make readers stick around.
- Effective crumb dropping also helps: create questions that will leave readers needing answers.
- Identifying your inciting incident early on can give your story a powerful kick start.
- Handling backstory deftly—neither providing too much or too little right at the start—is also key.
Literary agent Kristin Nelson recently discussed the vital importance of opening pages in her newsletter, Pub Rants. (Which, by the way, is a great resource for writers, and it’s free.) In a recent post entitled “9 Story Openings To Avoid,” Nelson talked about the pitfalls of opening with The Deadly R’s, which include remembering, reminiscing, reflecting and ruminating. She also identified what she calls White Room Syndrome: ineffective scene work that does not land the reader in the specifics of where the story is taking place.
Even Nelson acknowledges that those first pages are tough, requiring writers to get across the everyday normal of your character before the big event that changes everything … without boring your reader to death. Her advice to writers? “Your best bet for standing out in the slush pile is to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible.”