Wednesday, August 5, 2009

30 Pages an Eternity

I overheard a conversation at work yesterday. I try not to snoop but hey, if you’re going to talk loudly about books, my ears are gonna perk up!
The topic?
Thirty pages.
That’s how many pages these two women friends agreed they give an author to, and I quote, “make me care about the main character and provide an interesting plot.”
Oh my gosh, it was as if I died and went to writer snoop heaven!
What was interesting to me was their observation that new authors' books tend to be “well-crafted” and they were happy that was so, as their tolerance for poor writing and insipid storytelling was “shot.”
Well now. There you go. My blog post today is done here folks, not much I can add to this. Ladies, please continue your loud discussions about books.
I take it back; I do have something to add, an observation:
Some authors are enamored of their story and their craft.
Others are enamored of their readers.
It seems to me, in a hack writer observation, that the good novel is an intertwining of the two, that writing is a holistic exercise of literary gestalt infusion, and this is all a lot harder than it looks! Just as there is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, there is also one between rehashing instead of deriving.
Thirty pages… It seems so much in the first sentence/first paragraph/first chapter obsessed world agents, editors and writers talk about.
But then again, is it really?


  1. Frankly, I'm shocked the readers used words like plot and You don't hear that a lot.

    You do hear "You should read that" and "boooooring" quite often.

  2. 30 pages. All right then. Seems like a generous offer.
    I think there is a lot to be said for first page, though. When I'm browsing I often choose because one author seduced me with the first page and another didn't.

  3. Aimee, believe me I was shocked to the core. The talked like two lit-agents over a martini lunch.

    The two ladies in question are highly educated and very very smart.

    I won't discuss what they said about the books they didn't like. The SHREDDED them. Eeee!

  4. 30 pages! Wow, that's a lot. When I'm in a bookstore, I base my choice on 5-10 pages. The truth is that it really begins with the blurb on the back. If that bit is not up to snuff, it's out of there.

    I completely agree that the intertwining of writer craft and reader desire make for a good read. But carrying that off successfully....whew, not an easy task.

  5. I've got one reader who gives a book 40 pages before he decides to stop. And, once he passes 70 pages, he has to keep going. These ranges are interesting. I wonder what the general consensus is, if there is one at all.

  6. When I first saw the title I thought you were going to say that sometimes it takes an eternity to write 30 pages.

    Then I thought it might take an eternity to read 30 pages of a really bad book.

    In thinking back to the books that I have not finished, I gave them at least 100 pages. But then again, they were "classics" and so I felt like I had to throw them more slack.

    In looking at a new author, I agree with Stephanie, 5-10 pages and I'm out of there.

  7. "Some authors are enamored of their story and their craft.

    Others are enamored of their readers.

    It seems to me, in a hack writer observation, that the good novel is a intertwining of the two"

    Well said, Anthony, and clearly backed up by looking at what hits the bestseller lists.

  8. I judge a book by the first letter.
    Actually what happens is I either can't put the book down...or I put the book down...never to pick it up again. Sometimes the writing is brilliant but I can't stop falling asleep while reading it. Other times the writing is fairly simple but I stay up 'til 4am reading it. The only difference is that in one, "I need to know what happens next." In the other, I don't. And I never do.

  9. Maybe those ladies were Librarians, book editors or Eng lit professors? Curious minds (like mine) would like to know.

    I like the assertion of finding the balance between being enamored of the reader and enamored of the craft. (I'm more enamored of the craft I think at this point.)

    And your thoughts..."that writing is a holistic exercise of literary gestalt infusion." Best literary related blog quote I've read in a long time.

  10. PS: One more thought, you should consider submitting this blog post to
    Nathan Bransford (Literary agent) next time he does a Guest Blog Week contest. Just a thought. Here's Nathan's link:

  11. I give up on a lot of books early on. There are so many more useful and more fun things I could be doing and I don't want to waste time forcing myself through boring books.

  12. Thanks for the post. It's fun to hear what readers think.

    I hate to admit it, but I think that thirty pages is fair, and the whole first paragraph, first chapter thing makes some sense too, although there are obviously problems with that way of reading.

    I typically check out covers and then give the first paragraph or two a read. Also, I skip to the middle of the book and read. I try to avoid the blurbs at the end because I hate figuring everything out in advance, and they give so much away.

    Books that I like usually start out well enough, it's about a hundred pages or so in that they either keep me up late reading or die the quiet death of being put down and forgotten about. If I couldn't make it past thirty pages I wouldn't buy the book, because I often read that much in a bookstore, at least for books that I buy.

    The problem, and this is me speaking more as a writer than a reader, is that a story might get better as you get farther into it. What if some of the best scenes are in the last third of the book? The reader would miss out if they tanked out after thirty or one hundred pages.

    Solution: Leave out the boring parts. Easier said than done.

  13. oh delightful, anthony! and 30 pages? heck, that's fair :P


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