One Great Chapter Doesn’t Mean the Book Is Great

February 10, 2012

Several months ago I won a contest in which the only writing judged was the first chapter of a manuscript. When I won, I basked in the glow of greatness. After all, it was the first contest I’d ever entered…and I won first place (category-length contemporary). How could that not be a sign that I was great? *eye roll*

It was only one chapter.

Before I submitted the manuscript to publishers, I re-read for any last-minute edits. The holes in the plot shocked me. The lackluster chapters bored. Oh, sure, the first chapter was great, but it was only one chapter!

This made me think of a recent Twitter exchange where industry professionals tweeted answers to the question, how high do you rate a book based on the ending? (I totally paraphrased that.) A couple people said bad endings wouldn’t change their ratings, but most said they’d deduct a star or two. The bottom line: To most readers, it won’t matter that the first chapter is strong if the last chapter sucks.

So I edited the crap out of my manuscript—except the first chapter, which was “great.” *grin* I’m not sure what I have now, because the story is percolating while I work through another with my critique partner (CP).  I’m hoping that when I read through in the near future, I’ll find more balance.

One great chapter doesn’t mean the book is great. If it did, I’d be published. 🙂




5 Responses to “One Great Chapter Doesn’t Mean the Book Is Great”

  1. taristhread Says:

    I’d love to read your chapter!! And I’m betting the rest of the book is great as well.

    We do tend to tune up the first chapter or three over and over as we go through our manuscript….well, at least I find that I am. Hopefully the tune-ups of the rest give us something really special when we’re done.

    Looking forward to buying your novel WHEN it’s published.

  2. nicolehelm Says:

    I read an agent talking about first chapter critiques by agents/editors and how they’re not THAT helpful, because most people who’ve gotten to that point have really good first chapters. It’s usually the middle that needs work. I think it’s kind of the nature of the beast. It’s so much easier to get lost after those first chapters of setting everything up, and the plot possibilities are usually endless in the middle, making it much harder to stay on course. Then if the ending doesn’t pull it all together…

    It’s always easier to see that as a reader, though.

    Writing is hard! 🙂

  3. If it’s a really bad first chapter, does that mean the book is bad? Not necessarily, but no one will read it anyway so what’s it matter? A great first chapter is like a ticket to Paris — there’s no guarantee the rest of the trip will be great, but at least you’re on your way.

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