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Friday, November 19, 2010

Will E-readers Destroy the Novel?

"Amazon's going to ruin the Novel," Dear Boy said yesterday.

I looked up from my laptop, where I had begun to suspect I was ruining my own novel, without any help from Amazon. "How?"
"The Kindle offers free samples," DB said. "So the opening will make or break the sale. This will totally warp the way authors open their novels." 
"But that's how I shop for novels already. Especially with authors I haven't read before. I read the first page. Sometimes only the first paragraph."
Dear Boy looked shocked. As if I'd confessed a new secret vice. (He already knows about my old secret vice: compulsive revising.)
"Well, how do you shop?" I challenged him.
"I guess I read the first page. But after that I riffle through the book."
"You riffle."
"I riffle. I think most people riffle."
"Agents and publishers don't riffle!" I crowed. "At one of the SCBWI conferences, an agent told us that if page 1 doesn't grab her, she doesn't read page 2. She can't afford the time. She always has something like 3,000 submissions in her email in-box."
"They just read the opening?"
"Yep. The agent recommended that kidlit authors put an active scene—in dialogue—on the first page of every novel. So books are already being sold or not sold, based on first pages."
"The Novel of Tomorrow: a smashing opening, followed by a long downhill slide," DB muttered darkly. "Soon people will realize that the only part worth reading is the free sample. We'll only read openings. We won't read anything we have to pay for." And he sat down and opened his Kindle.
"What are you reading now?" I asked.
"How does that open?"
"Doesn't matter. The classics are free on Amazon." 

What think you? Do Novels open differently nowadays? Must they? Is there a book you love whose opening would fail today? What opening recently sold you on a book? And how many of you really, truly riffle? 

Here are three openings (by authors I had not previously read) that recently made me buy the whole novel. (Guess the publication dates. Answers will appear in my next post.) "It wasn't there. Then it was.  Later, that was how Angela DuPre would describe the airplane—over and over, to one investigator after another—until she was told never to speak of it again."
"I was not the first girl she saw, nor the second, and as to why she chose me, I know that now: it was because she did not like me."
"When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news."

And here are three oldies-but-goodies that had me at hello:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."
"The bear had been their undoing, though at the time they had all laughed."
And my all-time favorite: "'Where's Papa going with that ax?'"


  1. Great post, Susan. I've been reading a lot of first pages lately. The first page or even the first paragraph as you said must hold a promise of what's to come. Openings today tend to be more action-packed or fast paced, but our society as a whole moves faster today. But for a reader to continue to read, the beginning promise must deliver a fulfilling ending.

  2. Susan. We should look at the future of novels, and all books for that matter, optimistically. Take a look at what Nathan Bransford has to say on his blog about the future of books.


  3. Well for the record i read the jacket covers. Then, if i decide to read the book i try to read at least 100 pages. I think there are many books that would fail the classic editors test. the most recent that comes to mind is Girl with a dragon Tattoo. It drags for many pages before it gets good. Do Swedish editors have different rules? by the way, Heart of Darkness is quite good. I've heard it compared to Avatar!

  4. Got a smile on my face this morning just thinking about where Papa's going with that axe. That classic is at the top of my all time favorites as well. For the record...I have bought several books from the free samples. I always read all the free stuff before making the purchase. And if I'm looking for an old fashioned, hold-in-your-hand comfort read, I usually read the entire first chapter. I've been fooled by dynamic first pages before. Good food for thought on how we think about that first page nowadays. Thanks, Susan.