Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Introducing Your Novel: Why the First Few Pages are the Most Important

What is the most important section of your novel? Many of you would argue that it’s the climax and conclusion that are the most important. While the end of your novel is exceedingly important, it’s not the most important. That place of honor is reserved for the very beginning of your novel.

Why the First Few Pages are Important
The beginning of your novel is hands down the most important section of your book, and this has more to do with marketing than it does literary merit. As a writer, it is your job to catch your audience’s attention instantly. Anything less and they might shrug their shoulders and move on to a book that does manage to do this.

This is especially important because Amazon and similar sites allow potential buyers to read a sample section of your book—the beginning. A smart reader will read this sample before he or she decides to buy, and rightfully so. After all, why should they invest money in a book that they know nothing about? It is essential now, more than ever, that writers treat these first pages with care. Your sales depend on it.

Agents and editors also look for books that begin with a bang. Ever wonder how an agent can reject a writer after only reading the first ten pages? They’re doing the exact same thing readers are doing: looking for a manuscript that will immediately hook them. Anything less and they’ll pass on it.

What Your First Few Pages Should Include
So now that you know the importance of your first few pages, it’s time to turn our attention to what they should include. The answer to this can depend on the genre you’re writing, but generally it should involve either a conflict or a mystery.

For example, maybe in your first pages a man stalks your main character before vanishing into thin air. Maybe your main character is running from the cops after robbing a museum. Maybe Dark and Handsome saves your main character from getting hit by a car. These are the types of entrances that generate momentum quickly and will hook your readers.

A lot of you might have what you consider an okay introduction. It doesn’t start with a bang like these examples, but it’s not boring. . . . Or is it? I’m here to tell you it definitively is, at least for a portion of your audience, and you can’t afford that. I’ve come across countless writers who begin the story with an average day, only for that day to end in chaos. Even this isn’t quick enough. Take out that average day and cut to that chaos. Make the first line exciting if you can. Part of being a great writer has nothing to do with penmanship, but knowing just how to string your readers along.

How Many Pages Does this Apply to?
Your first five pages (approximately 1,250 words) are the most important, since that’s your reader’s first impression. However, your first chapter should be extremely well-written and fast-paced, and the two chapters that follow that should also be considerably exciting. This is the section of your book where you introduce the premise, and plant the seeds for the plot. It should raise questions, quicken the heart rate and intrigue the reader. After your first three chapters, if a reader is still hooked, they’re probably not going to put down or discard your book.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services


  1. Very good advice, Laura, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for this post; it truly helps. I'm almost done with my first draft of my novel, but I know the editing process will be a journey. I know my first few pages could use a lot more work.

    Now following!