Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Thank you so much to everyone who entered the Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge!! Time is up, and frankly, not a moment too soon. 645 comments on Blogger, 29 on Myspace.... wow. I'm really blown away both by the quality of the entries and the fact that there are SO MANY OF THEM.

Holly and I definitely have our work cut out for us. I'm honestly have no idea how long it's going to take us to read through the entries and decide upon finalists. BUT. At some point in the near or distant future we will somehow settle upon a list of finalists and you will be able to vote on the ultimate super grand prize deluxe winner. So keep checking back.

And seriously, one big round of applause for Holly for agreeing to judge. She is a champ, and I hope you are all enjoying her awesome blog.

Thank you again to everyone who participated!! This has been a lot of fun, I'm really looking forward to reading all the entries, and in fact...


Sophie W. said...

Awesome! Let's hope you're morale stays high through the judging. :)

Julie Weathers said...

*snickers* Amazing how morale goes up, when you know there is an end in sight.

Good luck, Holly and Nathan.

JaxPop said...

I knew the morale meter would end up there - but I suspect, with you, that's where it stays most of the time anyway. Good luck to you & Holly (her blog is awesome by the way) on sorting it all out. I will continue now with my study of your 'tutorial for wannabes' Thanks for your effort.(Oh, & thanks to the contributors). JP

nerds said...

Thanks Nathan - glad to see the Morale Meter never actually hit "remorse". It hovered near but stayed clear. Good luck to everyone.

Amy said...

Reading the entries (when I should have been working) was quite an education on the working life of an agent. I solemnly swear, I shall never again sulk when I get a response to a query telling me my beginning was too slow. :-)

Hoooee, you and Holly have your work cut out for you! Good luck, and thanks for doing this. To those about to read (and read and read), I salute you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!!!!

Marva said...

I'm glad your morale meter went back up. I was afraid we'd have to send the EMTs for resuscitation.

I only entered for the Scribe's commentary. I know I don't write the deathless prose of the ages, but I'll guarantee I write better than Britney Spears. Of course, she'll get the billion dollar publishing contract, won't she?

Allen B. Ogey said...


I'm thinking that the only reason the Morale Meter is back up is because it first spent a significant amount of time at the "Mainlining Bourbon" level.

Good luck when you're sober, Nathan.

Adaora A. said...

Hey Nathan, looks like the entries are perking you up! That's amazing. I hope Holly's morale is as high as yours (judging by her funny blog it seems to be the case). You guys are tough ones!

YAY HOLLY! You've got us all addicted to her blog.

You watching the Republican Debate Nathan. It's in your state.

Nadine said...

I'm excited to see the winning pages!

Thanks for having the contest, this was fun!

DeadlyAccurate said...

Thank you.

althrasher said...

Wow. Either you just got a massive spurt of optimisim, or a LOT of burbon. :). Happy reading!

Karen Duvall said...

This is so fun! I'm also eager to see the winning pages. I started reading a few but man, there were some that seemed to go on forever! I know 500 was the max, but I posted 250 just because that's the typical wordcount for a page. I figured that, in true form of analyzing a sub, an agent won't read beyond that first page if he/she isn't interested anyway. 8^)

Maripat said...

Thank you both. And I'm awed by you two willing to do this. Or should we start collecting money for lots of bourbon to help you through this?

burgy61 said...

Good luck to the both of you.

Neptoon said...

Aloha Brave One,

I have said it one time...I shall say it once again...

If I could make you a tribal member, we would call you "Runs With Words"...

Since you already have the drinking would fit right in.

Mahalo nui loa Nathan.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Oh no, he's started on the bourbon already...

Tiffany Aller said...

Holy crapoli! I think we should start a pool on how many bottles of bourbon it takes to get you through that many entries... :)

Adaora A. said...


b= bourbon and the number is how many

2b's - feeling slightly daunting

6b's - feeling confident as he stumbles towards the computer

8b's - speech slurs as he read entries, and they all look like a sea of streched out black ink

12bs - heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey loooooookinggg furrrrrrrneeeee

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you Nathan and Holly!

Anonymous said...

that comment about many of the first pages starting too slowly is annoying and depressing.

everyone wants a page turner from page one. plenty of amazing books start slowly. too bad the world doesn't have the attention span to read anything that doesn't grab them by the balls from the first hundred words.

argh argh argh.

Anonymous said...

One thing I can't help but thinking is that a first page contest is somewhat predisposed in favor of thrillers or suspense novels, which are more inclined to start off with a riveting and attention-grabbing opener, as opposing to something like a literary novel or romance.

But that's the way it goes. Write a thriller if you want a kick-ass first page!

Other Lisa said...

I don't know that I see a first page that way - as being something uber-hooky. I look more for the quality of the language and sophistication of the story-telling. There were a couple entries that really stood out for me, not because all that much happened, but because of the way they were written.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was just making a generalization. It doesn't mean that other genres won't produce great first pages. And a "greata" first page is one that serves its purpose for the whole novel.

Polenth said...

By starting too slowly, people don't mean you need a murder or a gun battle to make it faster. An opening conflict doesn't have to be dramatic and life-changing. It could be as simple as a child wanting to go to the cinema, but his mother won't let him. The way it is delivered is what makes is seem too slow or just right.

Anonymous said...

So I guess queries should be out of the question for a week or two, huh?

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

"One thing I can't help but thinking is that a first page contest is somewhat predisposed in favor of thrillers or suspense novels, which are more inclined to start off with a riveting and attention-grabbing opener, as opposing to something like a literary novel or romance."

Agreed. Paladin started out with a scene of Gen drawing water at a well, wondering why her mother has been so strange lately. I have now changed it for the umpteenth time and discuss the murder of the king's personal body guard. I've even changed it from what I posted here and will change it again as I want to add more description of the farm.

I'm not crazy about this, but my writer's group agreed it's more intriguing, so I will leave it. Now, I just need to rewrite 38 chapters to weave the new beginning in.

I wish I had posted all the various beginnings on my blog so I could track the morphing. I think I will on my next one, though it has also changed dramatically already. I do think I'll continue to track opening changes as that might be an interesting exercise in madness.

Anonymous said...

Great... and I was hoping you'd be on your fourth bourbon when you read mine. ;)

cce said...

Just heard about the contest and posted my first-page in your comment section. I know I'm late but since the morale meter is high, I thought I'd try to sneak it in there.

Linda said...

Happy morning, Nathan and Holly. Triple latte with an espresso shot? Double-strength Earl Grey? Some Ritalin? Hope your reading adventures went well... and thanks! (Holly, your blog made me spew coffee on my keyboard, so good, so funny). Peace, Linda

Nathan Bransford said...

anon re: starting slowly vs. flashy-

I'm going to talk about this when I post the finalists. I agree that this contest seems on the surface to be predisposed to thrillers because they have an opportunity to grab, but I'm not really looking to be grabbed by the throat in a first page.

So I think you may be surprised by the list of finalists.

Sunna said...

"By starting too slowly, people don't mean you need a murder or a gun battle to make it faster. An opening conflict doesn't have to be dramatic and life-changing. It could be as simple as a child wanting to go to the cinema, but his mother won't let him. The way it is delivered is what makes is seem too slow or just right."

Precisely. :-)

Kami said...

Like anonymous and other lisa said, an opening doesn't have to have lots of action and suspense. But it can't be slow, either. In order to not read slow, it needs something to intrigue the reader. In fact, starting with lots of action and gore without context is a kind of opening that a lot of agents and editors burn out on because people are trying too hard to open fast and furious. Those can be effective openings, but they need the same elements that any opening does and sometimes the action distracts or even detracts from the elements that make a good opening.

I've been taught that a good opening:

Includes lots of senses--smell, and/or touch, and/or taste and/or sound, not just visuals.
Gives enough clues about the character(s) that we care about them as people.
States or implies that something important is at stake, so that the reader feels tension. (Important things can be subtle, like ego--I personally find it very intense to read about someone who is going to do public speaking without adequate prep.)
Explores something unfamiliar enough that the reader is intrigued and wants to know what happens next--or puts something painfully familiar and stressful on the page that the reader can identify with and become curious about how the character copes with a situation they themselves have been in (or can imagine themselves in.)
Then there are the don'ts I've heard, which of course are rules that are made to be broken but should be broken with caution and purpose:
I've been told that an opening shouldn't be gratuitously shocking, nor should it be introspective and/or lecturing.
The opening should avoid cliche's (it's very common and easy to open with waking up and/or having breakfast, or looking in a mirror, etc.)
Should avoid passive voice.
Surprisingly, shouldn't be presented as a prologue. My friend Mary Rosenblum has been conducting an informal, non-scientific survey of readers when she has panels on writing. She asks for a show of hands of people who read prologues. Less than half the hands in most instances go up. So if you slave over a hook in a prologue, bear in mind people might well skip it!

The best advice I got from my friend Mike Moscoe (Mike Shepherd) on openings was this: take your favorite books off the shelf and read just the opening page on every one. You'll get quite the education on openings, and it can really inspire you.

I hope that helps folks.

BTW, I posted my opening on my blog page,
I'd love some comments if you can spare the time.


Adaora A. said...

Oh Nathan you tease!

You're keeping us all on pins and needles. Out with it already! How many finalists, etc and so on!

Erik said...

We can't stop you?

But damnitall, we tried our best!


Erik said...

anonymous 10:25 mentioned that a first page contest is predisposed to favor thrillers and work against romance and literary fiction.

I heartily agree, and that's why I chose to work up a romantic thriller with tendencies towards literary fiction. (I really hate genres) I thought, why not challenge myself a bit and see if it helps really stand apart, as the only potential romantic plot that makes the first cut?

The real problem with this contest, IMHO, is that there are no other cues about the plot that someone at a bookstore would have - the blurb on the back, where it was shelved, et cetera. The first page stands alone. While that's interesting, a real book would be judged by how it lives up to the hype that it set for it by the other cues.

It's like presidential primaries that way - much of it is an expectations game.

One of the critiquers already hated my entry, but more curiously hated it for reasons that don't make any sense to me. Oh well. That's the book biz, I guess.

benwah said...

I think the discussion of "fast" vs "slow" starts is an interesting one, but regardless of the pace, I think that first page has to at least promise the readers some kind of payoff if they continue turning the pages. That means some kind of conflict or question that begs resolution. (And even though it's a small sample size, I think a writer's style comes through in those first pages as well.) If a reader needs to cover 100 pages to really "get" a story, that's fine, but it certainly limits the appeal to many readers. Fair or not, that seems to be the reality of the market.

Again, reading these contest entries has been a great education, particularly because it's given me a sense of what must cross Nathan's desk on a given day. Nathan, if you devote this much energy to us internet yahoos, how dedicated must you be to your clients? I somehow picture you hand delivering their galley proofs on ermine-wrapped pillows. Kudos, sir.

C.J. said...

wow, i was predicting about 300 entries. thanks nathan and holly for this pro bono agenting.
regarding thrillers vs. lit fiction or romance:
i think any bias that would be given to a 'fast' beginning (which it doesn't seem like there would be anyway) is nullified by nathan and holly picking multiple entries. i'm guessing we'll end up seeing just one or two entries from several genres, not just 5 suspense openers. i'm looking forward to some interesting conversation when the entries are narrowed down.

Gabriele C. said...

Dangit, I had caught a virus and was without computer for some days and missed all the fun. *sniff*

superwench83 said...

To me, a slow beginning is one that doesn't do anything to advance the story being told. Even an action scene can be a "slow" beginning if it's just there to be flashy and attention-getting.

Nona said...


I think you should publish a book written by Holly -- if you haven't already.

Anonymous said...

You could describe a potted plant in the first page, and if its well written, it'll grab you.

It would be a helluva challenge, but if you were good enough, it would be possible.

I define "grab" simply as an ability to make a reader want to read more.

elfstone810 said...

Nathan? Holly? You two still breathing? Is it time to call the paramedics yet?

Ray Wong said...

Here's what I blogged ( in 2005 about the first 50 pages (many agents ask for first 10-50 pages in a partial if they like your query):

What do agents look for when they ask for the "first 50 pages"?

First of all, usually the partial would include a brief synopsis. That way, the agent already knows how your story begins, unfolds and ends by only spending five minutes reading your synopsis. Some may even have read the customary 3 sample chapters, so they'd already be familiar with your style, interested enough to ask for the 50 pages.

So what is the purpose of the first 50 pages?


I'd say the most important thing an agent look for is how well you pace your story. Granted, some stories start slower than others (thrillers, for example, usually starts and continues with a break-neck pace). 50 manuscript pages is about one-tenth of a full manuscript. So what an agent or editor is looking for is pacing.

A lot of times pacing and "interesting" go hand-in-hand though. A "slow" story means nothing really interesting "happens" for a long while. A bunch of characters sitting around talking about life... etc. It could still be interesting in terms of prose quality or character development... but characters are mostly interesting when they're DOING something, not when they're sitting around contemplating the remains of the day.

I'd say, no matter the genre, within the first 50 pages the following should happen:

- the major characters should be introduced (there are times when a major character appear later in the book -- that's okay)

- the main conflict should be presented (character)

- one or two major revelations should be presented (plot)

- at least one major plot turn, especially near the end of the 50 pages to keep you wanting to read the next 50... (plot)

- the writing style should be consistent (quality of writing)

- we should care about the main characters by now to follow the story (character)

pete osborne said...

This was great. Thanks for the opportunity. And just for kicks ( jamais deux sans troi): GENETICISTS!

Sweet pickle pie, I needed that.

Kacey said...

Thank you for doing this - it was a pleasure reading the other entries and submitting one of my own.


dernjg said...

I wonder if I get style points for scraping in just under the deadline? I swear I didn't want to cut it that close to the deadline, but I was napping and woke up only seven minutes before it was due.

sylvia said...

One thing I can't help but thinking is that a first page contest is somewhat predisposed in favor of thrillers or suspense novels..."

I disagree. Do you really pick up a book at the bookstore and read 50 pages of it before making your decision? Do you really think that's what the majority of readers do?

Personally, I pick a page in the middle and glance over the writing style and I then shift to the start and see what is there. And I suspect that's pretty common.

Did you read all those entries? At which point did you begin to glaze over? Now pick out what stood out from you from there. I doubt it was thriller, but once you stop thinking about your baby and look at hundreds of potential novels, certainly you must see that there is something that hooks you.

It doesn't have to be a murder. It just has to make you really want to turn the page.

Jess said...

sylvia said, "Do you really pick up a book at the bookstore and read 50 pages of it before making your decision? Do you really think that's what the majority of readers do?"

Actually... yes, that IS what I do. I won't buy a book unless I've read at least 30 - or have been significantly drawn into the book I lose track of what page I'm on. I usually emerge around 30-50, and then I buy the book. No, the majority of readers probably don't, but I do, and I had to reply because you were obviously being sarcastic and it's amusing to me.

cat said...

"Do you really pick up a book at the bookstore and read 50 pages of it before making your decision? Do you really think that's what the majority of readers do?"

Nope. I think the majority of readers grab books from the library shelf and check 'em out, take 'em home, THEN read the first several pages of each book... and if a book doesn't grab them right away, they power through a few more pages, you know, HOPING it grabs them because it SEEMED so good, and if/when it doesn't grab them, they throw it to the side and try the next book, until their rooms are littered with sampled books, like a box of chocolates after my kids are through with it-- full of crumpled chocolate wrappers, along with several sad little nibbled chocolates (usually ones with coconut or cream fruity centers, because...ew?)

But if the books DO grab them, the readers devour them (like chocolates with caramel, or NUTS! mmmm!),and THEN they may just go out to the bookstore and spend actual money to buy the books because of their total buy-worthiness and whatnot.

Wait. No. That's what I do. But I'm cheap like that. BUY a book unread? What?! An author needs some serious street cred with me before I will buy a book of his/hers UNREAD. Good lord. That's crazy talk. CRAZY.

IMO, how a reader chooses a book is subjective. We all have our systems. Hey, I will even admit that sometimes? I TOTALLY judge a book by its cover. (I KNOW, right? So not comme il faut.) Readers have all the time in the world to decide on a book. Conversely, how an agent slogs through a gagillion queries is a completely different story. There are so many other things to consider beyond, "Huh. This looks decent. Maybe I should check it out..."

Southern Writer said...

I consider books I've heard about from a friend (actually, I just finished reading Atonement, which I heard about on this blog, and coincidentally, a friend of mine began reading it the very same day. Excellent story). Anyway, then I read the inside jacket, or back cover blurb, followed by the first page, and then a page from somewhere in the middle to see if the writing and voice are consistent. The first 50 pages? As if!

Ray Wong said...

The way I pick a book (without knowing the author or the book): read the blurbs, then the first few pages. If the first pages don't grab me already, I read a few more, probably in the middle of the book. If it still doesn't grab me, I pass. However, I've picked up a few books that didn't have a "grabbing" first chapter but the middle just screamed "read me!" and they were fantastic reads.

I just read Atonement, too, because of the movie (which I liked very much) and it's also something I'm writing, and I must admit I was impressed by the first few pages -- I thought it would be slow, but McEwan's prose just grabbed my attention immediately. There was no dead body. In fact, nothing much happened in the first chapter, but it promised me something profound. That's exactly what the first few pages should do -- a promise!

matera-the-mad said...

I do judge books by their first page first. If it seems slow, I read a random page farther in. If the writing still bores me there, I drop it. But I don't judge a first page by its shock value. It is the overall feel that counts. Either I enter the world or I don't. That is why I take a lot of crits with a pound of rock salt.

quoting Julie Weathers:
"I wish I had posted all the various beginnings on my blog so I could track the morphing."

Don't you ever archive old copies on your hard drive? There are various ways. I have a horrendously embarrassing collection. I might post some of it somewhere, someday. Probably in the secret special members only part of my forum.

BTW, thank you all over the place, Nathan.

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