Page 1. I stand in Waterstones and read the opening sentence and paragraph in their top ten best selling novels. How good are these best selling authors at grabbing me from the start? What can I learn from them? Sometimes not a lot. Other times I wistfully think ‘I wish I could come up with something as snappy as that.’ Someday I will compose a compendium of top performing first sentences as a result of my investigations.
2. I read the inside page that lists all the guff about copyright, printer, ISBN number. I want to see who printed and bound the book in case they are based near me. Who designed the cover so that I can check them out on the internet? They might be cheap enough to commission them. Recently I have started checking out what font and layout design they used. What does a layout designer actually do to make a living? Doesn’t Word do that for me? Self publishing authors have to think about that sort of stuff.
3. In non-fiction books I like the introduction that sets the scene and gives me the context so that I know why I will grow bored if I read it. Having been taught to abhor introductions, forwards and other layers of back stories before starting the novel proper I am willing to learn any lessons non-fiction writers can teach me.
4. How did they find those famous authors to heap praise on the fortunate writer of the book in my hands? Do those writers of praise belong to the same publishing stable as the author? Is there a reciprocal obligation to pen encomiums when it is another authors turn for a boost? What quid pro quo is required to corral a clutch of comments from the Guardian or the Times Literary Supplement? Who should I know on the Scotsman and how widely read is the Glasgow Herald?
5. I studiously read every word on the acknowledgments page(s) and marvel that the author had such a numerous, talented and devoted loyal team of supporters slaving away, covering every aspect of producing the book once the simple task of writing it was over. How do the writers remember all those names? What must their Christmas present list be like? How can I match that team with my sole computer, a vaguely interested friend, a solitary beta reader, next door’s cat and a view of the Malvern Hills in the distance that is more of a distraction than an inspiration.
6. I said five pages authors read, but who is counting? Have you ever wondered at the range of dedications we set on the opening pages of books? The range goes from, my kids who leave me alone, the cat who helps me relax, the growers of coffee beans, right through God and Jesus my saviour. Why do we implicate others in our efforts? The mention of their association might testify to their poor choice of contacts, forever recorded in the bowels of the British Library.
I stop reading when a gentle voice at my shoulder asks, ‘does sir require any help with what he is looking for? Only we are hoping to close the shop in a few minutes.’
Do I require any help, indeed? If only Gentle Voice knew.