Which is more important to the success of a book, the first page or the last?
Of course, we all know the ENTIRE book has to hold a reader’s attention. But if we’re going to try to really WOW our readers, where should we put the most energy? At the beginning of the book or the end?
Here’s how I see it: The first page is critical in making the first sale. The last chapter is crucial to making the second.
The first page is critical in making the first sale.
Most of us have heard just how critical the first page is to a book—especially to readers who are picking it up cold, off the shelf in a bookstore. The cover will attract them first, maybe the title. Then they’ll read the back cover blurb and if that perks their interest, they’ll probably flip it open to the first page of the first chapter.
If the beginning line grabs their attention, they’ll read a little further to determine whether the book is indeed worthy of their hard-earned dollar. Most won’t flip to the back chapter and read the ending. Instead they’ll base their initial impressions on what they find in Chapter One. For e-books, this is especially true due to the convenience of downloading free samples.
Same thing with agents and editors. The first chapter or two is critical in “selling” our books to them. Author, Cheryl Wyatt did a poll of agents and editors to find out how far they read before they know if they want the book: Close to 97% of them said they know by page 10. Over 50% of them know by the end of page 1.
Without a doubt, the first page (or pages) have to be our best or we won’t have a flying chance to get a reader or agent or editor to stay with us long enough to wow them with our story.
The last chapter is crucial to making the second sale.
Everything that happens in the middle of the book is important too. After all, if you’re like me, you’ve put down more than one book that began to drag near the middle and then never picked it back up again.
However, I can forgive a bit of middle doldrums every now and then if the story is riveting enough. But I can’t forgive a bad ending. When we invest hours of our time into reading the book, when we grow attached to the characters, and when the plot moves us, there’s nothing more disappointing than a “bad” ending.
I’m not saying every story needs a happily-ever-after (HEA). But every author must have enough skill to weave all of the seemingly impossible internal and external plot threads together in such a way that the reader puts the book down with a satisfied sigh.
Endings that are contrived, rushed, tied up too neatly, or any other number of problems, can cost us. Our readers will be less likely to buy our next book if we don’t give them the satisfying conclusion to the story they’re expecting. Sure, we can surprise our readers with HOW we end the book, but we can’t let them down with WHAT. And that WHAT is satisfaction.
Ultimately, readers want to walk away from a book satisfied. And the climax, resolution, and last scene will stick—for good or bad—long after the book is done.
In summary: The first and last pages are both HOOKS. For debut authors, the first page hook is incredibly critical in getting people interested in reading further. But if we want to develop a loyal readership and sell subsequent books, then our endings need to hook our readers into wanting to go out and buy our next one.
So that’s my opinion! What’s yours? Which do you think is more important, the first or last page? And why?
This post is a revised version of a guest post I did for New Author.