When you open a new book, what makes you continue reading it?
Where do you make your decision that the book is worth the investment of your time -- first line, first five lines, first page, first chapter? Are you the type of reader who will keep going until you reach the end, no matter what? Or do you stop reading when you become bored, confused, disgusted, etc.?
As you know, the answers to these questions are important to book publishers, literary agents, bookstores and, of course, we authors because we want people to keep reading -- and buying -- our books.
I recently entered a blog contest judged by author Sophie Littlefield on the basis of a manuscript's first five lines. As I was typing in mine, I realized I needed a bit more punch in those first sentences -- something I hadn't been able to see as clearly while I was working on the entire manuscript, but important if my potential agent/publisher/reader makes decisions based as quickly as five lines.
Sophie ("Bad Day for Sorry" and "Bad Day for Pretty") Littlefield received a number of entries for the contest (grand prize -- her agent will read the winner's first 30 pages) and it was fascinating to see how much you could learn about a book -- and what piques your interest -- from just the first five sentences.
Want to see what I mean? Look at the first five sentences of the works below by the Sisters in Crime New England members joining me to discuss "Beach Read" recommendations at a July 29 event at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH --and see if you can match them with these mystery titles:
"Drive Time" (Hank Phillippi Ryan)
"Red Delicious Death" (Sheila Connolly)
"Under the Eye of Kali" (Susan Oleksiw)
"Who Wrote the Book of Death?" (Steve Liskow)
"Murder Most Municipal" (Pat Remick)
Now here are the first five sentences of each author's work:
A."They're all dead."B. I can't wait to tell our secret. And I'll get to do it if we're not all killed first.
"What?" Meg Corey dragged her gaze from the orderly row of apple trees that marched over the hill. Almost all were past bloom now, and some of them had what even a novice farmer like Meg could identify as apples. Small, maybe, but it was a start. She turned her attention to Carl Frederickson, her beekeeper.
We're 10 minutes away from Channel 3 when suddenly the Boston skyline disappears. Murky slush spatters across our windshield, kicked up from the tires of the rattletrap big rig that just swerved in front of us on the now slick highway. Eighteen wheels of obstacle, stubbornly obeying the Massachusetts turnpike speed limit.
C. KC Dunham pointed toward the large erasable white board announcing the Question of the Day in precise black lettering: “Who invented peanut butter? Winner gets a free muffin.”D. No way in Hell her real name is Taliesyn Holroyd.
“The Incas, although most people think it was George Washington Carver,” she said without hesitation. “You can keep the muffin."
The woman holding a steaming pot of coffee behind the cracked Formica counter laughed. “I was beginning to think I'd never find anyone in this town who appreciates the long and glorious history of my favorite food, after chocolate that is, though they're damn fine together too."
Everything else about her strikes Greg Nines as unreal, too, from her energy level—which could eclipse a heavy metal band even if she were unplugged—to her clothes, Sex And The City meets Pirates of The Caribbean.
"I need to do this,” Taliesyn—“call me ‘Tally’”—says. Her stiletto boots make her Nines’s six-one. He’s offered her a chair twice, but she keeps pacing, her strut turning her calf-length leather skirt into a major event.
E. Guests from various foreign countries began filling up the Hotel Delite dining room, taking every seat at the main table--this was a small hotel,only eight rooms, with the owner's, Meena Nayar's, suite on the top floor, and that of her niece, Anita Ray, above a separate garage.
Tired after being woken in the middle of the night by festival drumming from a nearby temple, Anita sat at a small table along the wall and only half-listened to the guests placing their orders and asking the usual questions. "What is this?" "What does it taste like?"To see the answers, click here: Did the first five sentences give you enough information to make the correct choices? Is it important that they reflect the title? Does some word related to death need to be in the first five lines? And most of all, does an exercise like this make you want to go back and review the first five sentences of your latest work?
To learn more about the authors, visit: