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.