For those of you outside the business in which me and my friends are engaged, you may not be aware of current Common Sense, vis-a-vis the publishing industry. According to this contemporary Common Sense, the first page is EVERYTHING to a new book. This is a result of extensive market research, of that I have no doubt. Browsing habits of people in bookstores were examined, and these marketing professionals determined by observation that if a book can't snag a reader by the first page, then the reader puts the book back on the shelf and carries on with her browsing.
I certainly understand the inescapable logic of this. I mean, I've done something similar my whole life. I read the back of the book, the inside flap of the book, study the cover art, then, if all of those conditions tickle my fancy, I dive into the copy.
Now that I'm on the other side of the great divide -- the gulf between writer and reader -- I wonder about the wisdom of this. I know we're an instant-gratification generation of people. We can't be bothered to listen to the whole album to find the songs we like best; we go to iTunes instead and download the few tracks we've heard on the radio. We can do that now. We don't have to read the whole paper anymore. News is delivered in three-paragraph gulps to our internet home pages. We don't have to sit down to a full meal anymore, not with tapas bars and smoothie counters.
We are, here and now, enamored by convenience and speed. We want what we want, and we want it now.
But -- doesn't that run counter to the entire concept of a book? A book isn't about the first page. Most of the masterpieces of classical literature couldn't have made it in today's climate (a notable exception that comes immediately to mind is "Metamorphosis," by Franz Kafka, which had me from the first sentence). A book took years, and in some cases, decades, to write, and it was assumed those of the public who spend their hard-earned duckets to by the book would savor every word, examining sub-plots and character depths that most fiction readers have to be forced to find by their college professors.
I know some of you are arching your dominant eyebrow at me. I have confessed to many that I am very, very weak at the first-page concept. I'm really not here to make excuses for my literary deficiencies, only to find myself puzzled by this over-reaching need for a compelling first page. From the first line of agents to the pocketbooks of readers, it means the world. Writer-development websites have made contests that focus on the first page. Again, I understand the sound marketing judgment behind this focus. However, I can't help wonder if Austen, the Bronte sisters, Poe, or Clemens would have persisted in this environment.
They probably would have. Feel free to chalk this up to sour grapes, and return to your regularly-scheduled day.