Over the years, I have had the privilege of working as a writer in a variety of publishing endeavors, including book publishing. Whenever possible, I ask those editors what is the most important thing they look for in a book submission. Across the board, they have told me the storyline is preeminent. Regardless of the genre or writing quality, editors most want to feel and live the story. It has to capture their attention.
So I always ask next, how soon do you want the story to capture your attention?
One editor friend responded, “In the first paragraph.”
Though we laughed together, her next comment stunned me. She said she absolutely expected to feel that hook being set by the end of the first page. She was too busy and had too many manuscripts on her desk to waste time with slow starts. And, if she had not been captured by the end of the first chapter, she usually rejected the manuscript. “Usually,” she emphasized, “not always.”
One editor I know at least tries to read the first 25 pages looking for an intriguing storyline, “although sometimes that can be a very long 25 pages.”
Another editor I worked with told me she understands how much work goes into writing a manuscript so she reads further than most. She commits to reading the first 50 pages of the submission. Then she does something unique. She jumps to the back of the manuscript and reads the last 50 pages.
“If you don’t have a strong start and a strong ending, it doesn’t matter what is in the middle,” she explained. Only then will she decide if she wants to read the rest.
Her reasoning made sense. A writer who is strong on both ends of the manuscript usually won’t let things fall apart in the middle. Furthermore, once that book is on the shelf a strong start will keep a reader reading. A strong finish will leave the reader satisfied and more likely to read work from that author again.
So, there you have it. Start fast, end strong, and keep the bridge strong in the middle.