A very good place to start

What better place to start a blog than with beginnings?

Writers in the query trenches will know just how often agents and publishers flag how important the opening few pages of a novel are. We’re told we need to grab our readers by the teeth in the first five pages and never let go. Obviously certain genres lend themselves to this more than others, but the general concept is usually applied no matter the category of novel.

Writers know the statistics – agents receive up to 200 queries a week and request partials or fulls usually less than 1% of the time – but it wasn’t till I started following Michelle Richter’s #500queries on twitter that those numbers really hit home to me. Seeing her go through so many queries in such a short time has made it oh-so-painfully clear just how little time we have to make an agent sit up and take notice of our work.

So, as a writer, I get it. Even as a writer of contemporary women’s fiction – not usually known for high-octane adrenaline rides, I understand how important it is to create interest in the early pages.

But, as I reader, I don’t.

I’ve heard people say that if a book hasn’t grabbed them in the first chapter, they stop reading and I have to admit I don’t quite understand that. In my 40 years of reading (well, 35 technically as I didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to read), I can only think of 2 books where I made up my mind after only a few pages.

One bad – a book I put down half way through the first chapter and never picked up again, and that was because the ‘c’ word was used three times in that short space of prose and I knew there was no point me continuing.

One good – THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant, which had me so enthralled within the first page I knew immediately I was going to love the book. Which I did. In fact, it is probably my no.1 book of all time.

But these are exceptions to the rule for me as a reader. It usually takes me around 100 pages before I give up on a book that isn’t working for me, or before I become emotionally invested enough in the characters to care what happens to them and have to know how their story ends.

Some would say 100 pages of a book you may or may not be enjoying is a waste of time, but I don’t see it that way.

In this fast-paced world where we want our information yesterday and stream TV shows from the US directly and watch the latest Dr Who on the internet because we can’t wait 3 more hours till it airs here, isn’t reading the last bastion of true relaxing escape?

Time that we allow ourselves to slow down, breathe, and get lost in another world. After all, that’s the whole reason we read, isn’t it?

What about you? How long do you give a book before you stop reading, or before you know you’re on to a winner? Let me know below.

S 🙂

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8 responses to “A very good place to start

  1. I find readers are a lot less hard on books than agents. I’m reading a book now that is boring me, but I’m only 2 chapters in. It sounds like it’ll get better, according to the blurb. ^_^ I only have about 2 things that will get me to stop reading earlier and that’s basically, excessive use of pop culture references and things blowing up early on for no reason. Outside of that, I give books about 5 chapters at least, but I understand agents are trying to make quick decisions because they’re pretty much putting a lot of work in for no pay.

    • Definitely a difference between agents reading and readers reading. I’ve changed my opening quite dramatically since I started and it I think it’s paying off with 2 partial and 1 full request in the last 2 weeks.
      Hope the book you’re reading lives up to its blurb!!

  2. i myself read at least half a book before deciding if I wish to carry on most of the time. PS Can’t wait to read your book/s

    • Glad you’re one who gives a book a good chance! Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me. I did already name my MC in The Point after you, so hopefully you’ll get to read it 😉

  3. Amanda Van Grootel

    Being of the impatient variety, I give a book the first chapter to grab me, otherwise it’s tossed aside to gather dust!

    Incidentally, I haven’t read a great book in so long, can you recommend one? As for my genre of read, I’m fairly flexible but I do love a good action/thriller or autobiography but are open to your suggestions….

  4. Gail Margaret

    A very emotive response to the world of writers dealing with publishers! I agree Sandie, I have only put down 1 book and that was half way through and I stopped because it was written by a series of letters back and forth through time and I just lost the plot with it really. I vividly remember starting to read Watership Down by Richard Adams and just persevering with the novel until about half way through when the novel gripped me and to this day it is one of the best novels I have ever read! I do not think the first few pages give you a real insight into the novel unless there is something immediately that irks you – usually the language used by the author, as Sandie said.

    • I have a confession – we read Watership Down in year nine…and I never finished it. Shh. Don’t tell. That was before I discovered a love reading (I was a late bloomer).

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