Over the years, I’ve developed a reading habit you don’t see in normal people. By normal people, I mean non-writing readers. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. We writers read things differently. We nit-pick, we analyze, we bemoan the fact that some other writer beat us to the punch with a wicked-good idea…
The habit. Right.
My weird habit…
I don’t know exactly when this habit started, but when I read a novel, any novel, I stop at the point I know I’m hooked on the story and glance at the page number. Sometimes the number is surprisingly low. For example, The Time Traveler’s Wife took me hostage within the first ten pages. Other times, I may be intrigued by the story’s premise early on, but I’m not committed to stick with it until The End until later. We’ve all read those books, the ones that we describe to friends as, “It starts slow, but gets better fast.” The thing is, without exception, when I know I’m hooked, and glance down, that page number is always lower than 50.
An interesting pattern…
Are there books out there that are worth reading that don’t get their teeth into you until later? I can’t speak for every reader, so maybe. But, here’s the thing. Human beings (a.k.a. readers) are instant gratification junkies. We may be patient up to a point, but in the end we want that pay-off, and sooner rather than later. Guess what my typical page-patience rate (the number of pages I’m willing to slog through to get to the good stuff) is? 50 pages. How many pages do experts recommend telling kids to “stick with” a book before deciding they don’t like it and move on to a different one? 50. Peruse the submission guidelines for any novel publisher or agent and you’ll likely encounter instructions to submit the first 50 pages. See a pattern here?
The power of 50…
The first 50 have the power to make or break your chances of selling your novel. Even if you self-publish, those 50 pages hold the key to converting a book browser into a book buyer. You must make those pages count and that’s where this assignment comes into play.
This weekend, your writing assignment can help you hone your first 50 pages to be the best they can be. Here’s what I want you to do.
♦ Pull out your all-time favorite book and casually read the opening. Read until the story starts to get good, that place where you know you’re hooked. Now, jot down the page number. Is it lower than 50? I’m willing to bet it is.
♦ Next, go back and think about the elements in the pages leading up to that point. What ingredients come together to make you want to keep reading?
♦ Repeat this for multiple books that you love. (You can try this with books you’ve never read before, too.)
♦ Now, compare what you’ve read to the pages you’ve written. What is similar? How are they different? What do you need to add, or take away, to create the strongest hook possible for your potential reader?
♦ Get busy writing/revising!
Until next time, happy writing!