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First Page or Last? Which is More Important?

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.

30 comments:

  1. Timely post for me, Jody! I'm nearing the end of my first draft and working through a number of endings. I hadn't really considered the ending being a hook to your next sale - great advice!

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  2. I think you can get away with an okay start if you have a big enough story idea but, I definitely will be less apt to read the next book if I don't like the ending, not necessarily the last page. But really, both are important.

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  3. Yeah, I think the first page of the book you hope to break into publishing with is the first most important page readers read. Then comes the last pages of every book you write. You can really make readers mad by writing poor endings. In my opinion, first pages become less and less important as you develop a large readership. Not unimportant, just not deal-breaking-important.

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  4. Good point about first pages becoming less important as authors develop readerships, Heather. I think that's true. Readers will be more forgiving because they trust your story-telling ability. But I think if we want to continually build up MORE new readers we have to be conscious of those first pages. And, I think that seasoned writers need to try to take care of their readerships and not get lazy! So, I for one, want to try to come up with openings that hook no matter how far into my career I get. :-)

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  5. I'm definately at the stage where the first page is EVERYTHING. I can't overstate the importance of the first page. First pages sell me books all the time. Honestly, when I pick up a book by a popular author, I won't even read the book if the first couple pages don't hook me, and that happens a lot more often than one might think. Last year I remeber pre-ordering a book by one of my favorite authors who always hits the CBA bestseller list. The opening was sorely lacking, and I was very disappointed. Yes, I ended up enjoying the story as it progressed, but if I spend $15 on a book, I don't want to have to work at liking it. I want to like it instantly.

    I hadn't considered the importance of a good ending, but I completely agree that the ending needs to be satisfying and wrap everything up well.

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  6. This is fantastic. I've never quite heard it explained this way. The ending will entice the readers to pick up your next book. Fantastic I say.

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  7. I put more thought into my endings that my openings. I need to improve that, and make my openings stronger, but I love creating a really solid ending. I've sometimes felt really let down by a book or movie I've enjoyed, only to be let down by how it ends.

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  8. I think Katie really wants to declare a thumb war.

    I'll vote first but only by a smidge.

    word verification today is blessed! You betcha!
    ~ Wendy

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  9. "Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book." Mickey Spillane

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  10. Totally agree about the first page. I've read some really good ones recently that I plan to type up for reference. I think the ending is probably different depending on whether or not it is a series. Yours does a great job of giving the story a climax and enough emotional points left open to continue into the next book. Can't wait to read it!

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  11. Great advice - thanks Jody! After wrestling with the beginning of my MS, I've now come to the end. Trying to decide between bittersweet and happily ever after, all ends nicely tied and untangled. I knew the beginning was important to hooking the reader/agent, but this made it clear what the ending was for. So thank you. :)

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  12. Not long ago I stumbled upon (and blogged) this quote:

    "The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book." - Spillane

    I think this is true. Each is important in its own way.

    Nice post, as always!

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  13. Great post, Jody.

    I agree with the quote by Spillane that Karen posted above.

    I think you have to hook 'em, reel them in, and land the second book deal. (first page, middle, and last page)

    Have a great weekend.

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  14. I think both the first and last page are important for the reasons you stated, Jody. But I also agree about writing satisfying endings. Those are truly what makes a book great. I can put up with a so-so beginning if everything else leads up to a successful conclusion, one that ties it up without being too perfect.

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  15. I'm a very patient reader, but I know many aren't, so, yes, the 1st page is crucial. For me, the last chapter is the most important. I haven't picked up a Lois Lowry book since The
    Giver because her ending was so bad. She claims she wants the reader to imagine the ending. Um, no, thanks. I'll write my own books if I want to be the one imagining. I read others' books to enter into their imaginations, their world views.

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  16. Absolutely! The entire book really is important. I don't think a writer should spend more time on one area unless it's a writing weakness for her. But you're certainly right that the first page sells the book and the last sells the next book! That's how I feel as a reader.

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  17. I hate the emphasis on the first page, because a book has to be really, really bad for me to put it down based on just one page. I really don't think most readers read that way, although agents and editors say they judge that way. Of course, there has to be some element, at least one, that keeps you reading. You can't hate everything, but I do believe many readers will give a story at least a few pages to see where it's going.

    I hate endings that are rushed, cliched or otherwise thrown together. They leave a sour taste behind and reduce the chance that I'll look for the next book. So I agree with the last page, or at least the last couple of pages, theory. The worst is when it's really great up until the very last sentence, where you can almost see the author trying to write The Perfect Ending Hook--and falling flat.

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  18. I believe they are both equally important. If the first chapter doesn't hook me, I am less likely to actually finish the bok. If the last chapter leaves me disappointed I am less likely to purchase another from that author. I recently read Nightingale by Susan May Warren and as the end grew closer I felt as if I were going to be left very disappointed, which really upset me because I really like her books. However, right at the end it twisted - leaving me with a smile and praise for Susan.

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  19. I'm still too stuck on the first page to consider the last:)

    No really, I believe the beginning is holds the power to propel the story, plunge the reader into the pages ahead, and prick their hearts for the stories that lay ahead.

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  20. Good insight about the last chapter. I'm always reading about the importance of the hook at the beginning, but you are right, it's really upsetting to invest your time and interest in what seems a great story and then be let down by a poor ending.

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  21. I love how you put this. It's true. I can forgive a lot of things, but I can't be disappointed by a bad ending!

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  22. Good points, Jody. I've revised my beginning so many times, it doesn't resemble my first draft, but my ending has never significantly changed. I think it's time to do another full read-through with this in mind!
    erica

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  23. I agree!

    When I'm "done" writing and editing my book, I re-read the first and last chapter carefully to make sure all's well - especially once you have all that hindsight and foresight from all you've written! and I like to "frame" the story, come full circle or whatever at the end from the beginning.

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  24. Totally right! Both are important, but the ending is what makes me keep reading an author. I'll find an author at a library, read a few books of theirs and then stop because their beginnings keep hooking me but the endings are blah and so I give up.

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  25. I love the thrill of being pulled into a book. It is frustrating when the end doesn't bring satisfaction or raise a question that I MUST grab a sequel to find the answer to.

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  26. I think you really nailed it here, Jody - both are immensely important but for different reasons. For a debut author, the first page is especially critical because, without it, no one will make that initial purchase to find the magic within. But if we do it right, then we hook our readers with our ending and hopefully have them coming back for more.

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  27. Jody, I think you've hit the nail on the head. No pressure for writers, right? :D

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  28. You've said it well, Jody. There obviously isn't one simple answer. For me it depends on what I need from the book, and that usually depends on the genre.

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  29. This is an interesting post. I think I've ended my manuscript with a hook, but I'm not sure it gives the reader the satisfaction they deserve.

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