Monday, December 16, 2013

The Page 69 Test

By Beth Groundwater

Musicians have long held the belief that the true value of an album is found at track seven. Marshall McLuhan (photo below), the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy (a 1962 book that analyzes the effects of mass media on culture and human consciousness), recommends trying the same trick at page 69 for novels. Read that page and if you like that page, buy the book.

So, I'm going to apply the Page 69 Test to my two 2013 releases. I'll post the content for each of them below. Read the page, then tell me honestly what you think. Will you buy the book after reading that page?

First up is Fatal Descent (cover below), the third book of my RM Outdoor Adventures series that was released in June. It takes my whitewater river ranger/rafting guide Mandy Tanner and her love interest and co-business owner Rob to the Colorado River in the remote Canyonlands of Utah.

Here's Page 69:

     She pulled on some warm clothes, stumbled into the willow and tamarisk thicket upstream to relieve herself, then washed her hands and face at the handwashing station after refilling the water can with cold river water. Fully awake after that, she scooped coffee grounds into a metal campfire coffeepot and poured in water from the purified water jug. She turned on the gas stove and put the pot on a burner. While Rob woke Gonzo and Cool in their tent, she went to the rafts to unload breakfast fixings from the coolers.

     When she reached the rafts, she pulled up short. Muddy streaks covered the tops of the coolers, and they were twisted in their lashings as if someone—or something—had been tugging on them. The dry food metal boxes had also been disturbed and moved, but their locks had held. Muddy streaks smeared the sides of the rafts, too. The streaks looked like they had come from the paws of a hungry animal, a large one.

     What happened here? A bear?

     Mandy had never heard of bears getting into anchored rafts, which were the recommended place to store food away from animals and were frankly the safest place to store anything vital to a float trip. She checked the nearby river bank, but saw no prints or damaged vegetation—or a bear hulking in the underbrush.

     Next, she did a quick mental check to see if anything was missing. They had brought ashore all of the clothing dry bags, tents and sleeping bags the night before, and the PFDs were still tied together to the front of each raft. The water jugs were all accounted for, as were the oars, first aid kit and other gear—except for a waterproof metal ammo box containing their permits and the radio. It was gone.


So, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Will you buy the book?

Now, on to my second release of the year, A Basket of Trouble (cover below), the third book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, that was released in November. The mystery starts off with the discovery of a dead wrangler at her brother Charley's trail riding stables.

Here's Page 69:

     “The real culprit is whoever killed Kyle,” Claire said. “I wonder who did it.”

     Everyone in the room looked at each other and shrugged or shook their heads.

     Claire watched their faces carefully. “Any of you know if Kyle had any enemies? If he had any recent arguments with anyone?”

     More shrugging and shaking of heads, except Pedro hesitated and wouldn’t meet Claire’s gaze.

     She stepped toward him. “Pedro?”

     “Nada,” he said quickly, and brought a Coke can to his lips, spilling a few drops on his shirt in his haste. He glanced at Jorge.

     Claire turned to the older man. “Jorge?”

     Jorge’s face was passive, inscrutable. “Kyle was a kind man with many amigos.”

     That really didn’t answer her question. She stared at both men for awhile longer but saw that she wasn’t going to get anything out of them, so she turned to Brittany. “You dated him a few times. Did he mention anyone he was having a problem with?”

     She shook her head. “He was always smiling, didn’t seem to have a care in the world.”

     Jessica sat at the desk with fingers drumming on the large calendar pad in front of her. “Maybe it was a family problem, something totally unrelated to the stable.”

     Charley wheeled and looked at her. “I sure hope so, and I hope the police find out who did it soon. Kyle’s murder, on top of the issues we’re having with Peak View Stables and the neighbors, could deep-six Gardner’s Stables for good.”

What do you think of this excerpt? Would you keep reading? Will you buy the book? And what do you think of the strategy? Is the Page 69 Test a valid way to make your reading choices?


Linda O. Johnston said...

I like the concept, Beth. Page 69 is far enough into the story to hint at both what has happened before and what will happen later, as well as perhaps show who some of the most compelling characters are. I'll have to give it a try with other books!

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

OK, I couldn't resist. I turned to page 69 in the book I'll be releasing after the first of the year and read. It's part of the setup for one of the most exciting pages in the book...unfortunately that's page 71. Rats. LOL

Cindy Sample said...

I have visions of all of these authors racing to page 69 of their books:-) Which of course I did. I'm happy to report that anticipation exists on page 69 of all three in my series and page 70 is a big Wow!

I think the test ties in to that dreaded saggy middle that we all hope to avoid. Your books definitely don't have that problem, Beth. Thanks for the entertaining blog.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Linda, Nancy and Cindy! The whole point of the test, I think, is that by page 69, the novel should be in the thick of the story, past the inciting incident, and no longer in the set-up.

Beth Groundwater said...

Two comments from Google+:


I usually give a book the 50-page test (i.e., reading the first 50 pages and seeing if it grabs me), but this way is a lot faster! ;)


I don't think a single page, out of context, is a fair test for anyone. Nothing wrong with the samples you posted, but they aren't enough for a judgement.

Sally Ember, Ed.D. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cncbooks said...

I just tried it with two books I recently read and it actually worked, kind of. Page 69 in the book I really liked was definitely enough to make me want to read the book if I hadn't already. On the other hand, I detested the other book and page 69 was truly boring but I'm not sure it would have saved me from the torture of the whole thing . It's still a fun exercise.

Lelia Taylor

Catherine Dilts said...

Interesting idea, Beth. Your books both stand up to the test.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Lelia and Catherine, for your comments, and thanks for the compliment, Catherine! I can't wait to read your new release.

Happy New Year to everyone!