The first ten pages of your book is hard. You have to accomplish a lot. For most of the books I’ve tested through BookHive, I’ve seen responses of indifference or even dislike of most people’s first ten pages from our beta readers. And these could have even been books they liked overall.
I have also seen an increase interest by page fifty for most beta readers, even when the initial interest in the first ten pages was fair-to-middling. It’s like a bad dinner date where you droned on about where you were from and what you do in the first ten minutes, but after a drink and an appetizer, you finally brought your quirky sense of humor and made her laugh.
With a book though, you have to be on your A game from the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page. I went to an agent panel once and someone said they know if they’ll request to see more pages after only reading one page. ONE PAGE! Now, perhaps this is rare. Or, perhaps this is the honest reality.
How do you get some killer first ten pages? Well, get a draft done. I think you have to know, roughly, where the story is going to end before you can go back and make sure the beginning properly sets things up. Some writers have strict outlines and know exactly what each chapter will explore. I’m in the other camp where I have loose ideas/plot points, but new characters can crop up and plot twists too. Therefor, your first ten pages may or may not change drastically based on how your story progressed.
If you’ve been working on your own, I always recommend doing a workshop or joining a writers group so you can get out of your cocoon and get some honest feedback. In particular, it’s good to assess how hooked people really were from the get go.
Another technique I’ve used is to read four or five NYT best selling books in my genre, and read only the first ten pages. I then write down the main points: tone, key plot points, pacing, POV, etc. Every book is different, every writer is different. You’re not looking to copy tone, style, etc. But since I write YA Paranormal Mystery/Romance, I feel I have something to gain from my fellow writers who, in my opinion, are writing well and reaching a broad market.
Some of the books I read the first ten pages of for research.
One of my big takeaways from doing this was: Get to it. Meaning, grab your readers, whether it’s with gorgeous description, a shocking plot twist, a tender moment, a terrifying situation, or whatever your story is screaming to tell. After I read those first ten pages of those well known YA books, I was able to take another look at my own first ten pages and see where it was passive and lackluster. So I beefed it up and took it to my writers group, took their notes in, and beefed it up again. I’ve easily re-written my first ten pages at least ten times and am now feeling in a sweet spot about it.
That is one of the most valuable things I know the BookHive beta readers provide. When we pull together eight to ten beta readers per manuscript project, we ask for their response to the first ten and fifty pages, both quantitatively (on a 1 to 5 scale) and qualitatively (free form responses to what hooked them or didn’t.) While I’m a huge writers group fan, I know for a fact that your friends, family, and even writers groups can’t really tell you if your first ten pages hook them. They either know or love you (hopefully both) and if it’s a writers group, they know your story inside and out, have heard multiple drafts most likely, and can no longer view it with a totally fresh perspective.
The reason this is so important is because, if you want to go the traditional route, agents are often reading only the first few chapters. If your book starts really singing on page fifty, it probably is too late and you’ve already been thrown in the ‘no’ slush pile. If you self-publish and put your book on Amazon, people have a few pages to read of your book as a preview/sample. If you’re not grabbing their interest, well, I can’t imagine they will buy your book. Why would they?
Bottom line: After a full draft or two (or three or four), hone in on the those first ten pages. Do your research. Work them, and work them again, and then one more time to be sure.
BookHive does beta reader editorial research for authors.
Please enjoy the coupon code BUZZ for $100 off. https://www.bookhivecorp.com
Jennifer Bowen, QueenBee (more fun than CEO) of BookHive Corp.