computer keyboard closeup

How Good is Your First Chapter?

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Events and Appearances, Sisters of the Pen


This weekend Ruth Perkinson and I had the pleasure of spending time with Katherine Forrest. In between discussions of dogs and cats, wine, wind and ocean, we discussed the changes in writing, novels and the marketplace.

One of the changes that seems small but has huge ramifications for all novelists is that digital technology is allowing readers to sample books before they buy. In particular, some books in Amazon Kindle format – and perhaps other formats in the future – can be read up to 90 pages before the reader decides to buy.

If you’ve ever heard that the opening of a book is important, think about a reader having one, two, even three chapters to decide if they want to read more or if they “just couldn’t get into it.” Uber Readers Advisory Librarian Nancy Pearl recommends giving a book no more than 50 pages to make its case – and deducting one page for every year the reader is over 50.

Many readers don’t even take that long, and they’ll be able to make that decision sitting at home, not standing in a bookstore where they might pick up a different title for another try. A reader’s entire opinion of your body of work could boil down to a single first page in a single book.

So if you are a writer, think about it. Just how good is the opening of your last published book?

For four hours, in two sessions on Friday, August 1, Katherine Forrest is going to explain the importance of those opening chapters at the Golden Crown Literary Convention. I don’t know any fiction writer, published or unpublished, who cannot benefit from the incomparable experience of Katherine Forrest, who has selected and nurtured hundreds of manuscripts, over decades, into the marketplace. I hope that the conference planners realize it will be Standing Room Only. I plan on having a seat, but if I have to stand the whole time, I certainly will! In my opinion, the entire conference registration fee is worth those four hours. That I will get four DAYS of classes, fun, camaraderie and celebration is all gravy.

As for a casual lunch with Katherine Forrest, well, it’s the kind of thing you don’t imagine will ever happen to you when you’re young and just starting out. I think I can speak for Ruth as well, using our oh-so-refined authorly wordsmithery: Wow.

Copyrighted material.