Have You Tried The “Page 69 Test”?

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Let’s revisit a little test that was first introduced at this blog by own TKZ alumnus Joe Moore back in 2010: the “Page 69 Test”.

So, what is the Page 69 Test? Quoting Joe:

(It is)…a trick to help everyone in choosing a book to read.
Picture yourself standing at the new release table in your local bookstore. You see a bunch of new arrivals. Some authors you’ve heard of, some names are new. How do you choose? According to John Sutherland, author of How to read a novel, you don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Dust jackets, blurbs, shoutlines, critics’ commendations (“quote whores”, as they are called in the video/DVD business) all jostle for the browser’s attention. But I recommend ignoring the hucksters’ shouts and applying instead the McLuhan test.

 

Marshall McLuhan, the guru of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), recommends that the browser turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book. It works. Rule One, then: browse powerfully and read page 69.

Want to try it? Grab one of your books (or a book you’re reading) and turn to page 69. Does it grab your interest? Would you buy that book, based on what’s written on page 69?

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41 thoughts on “Have You Tried The “Page 69 Test”?

  1. I’m usually a first sentence person. I tried this test. I only had one novel within reach (the rest are research books and I have a sleeping cat keeping my feet warm).

    Page 69 only had 3 miniscule paragraphs, but the last sentence was a grabber.

    I might try this again.

  2. Okay, you got me. I gave the test a try from my library. It works! Reading page 69 of three of the books I own convinced me that my purchase was right. Of course, I’d already read and enjoyed these novels, but after the fact, I would buy them again based on what was on page 69.

    I’ll make sure that in addition to my first page, page 69 in my next novel contains some compelling prose.
    Walter

  3. I remember this test and have tried it with many different books. It’s kind of eerie how often it’s true. If page 69 drags, the story usually bores. If there’s an interesting development at that point, the story is usually intriguing.
    Maybe a better idea would be to write your book as if every page was numbered 69. Include a “grabber” (as Cynthia says) on every page. It can be a provocative question, a significant realization, or a punch in the face.

  4. Kathryn –
    I’m reading “Robicheaux“ by James Lee Burke. I tried the page 69 test – the content was compelling.
    I then randomly checked several other pages and found they are all compelling.
    No surprise…James Lee Burke’s writing is genius on steroids. 🙂

    • I’ve read all of the Robicheaux series since book one, and just acquired “Robicheaux” yesterday. On top of page 69 I read a coroner’s report of a victim of what may be a savagely violent murder. The middle-of-the-page opening paragraph revisits the theme of Dave’s alcoholism, originally featured in the first book in the series. The final third of page sixty-nine links the murder, alcoholism, and the possibility Dave done it while experiencing a blackout event. Hell of an example of passing the Page 69 test, indeed.

  5. Top of pg. 69 of Try Dying:

    “Let me out,” I said.
    “Hey man, you’re hurt. You gotta—”
    “Drop me.”
    “Listen, you don’t want to be dropped. Not out here.”
    I made myself sit up. It was like pushing a laundry bag with a stick. I gripped my head, trying to keep the halves in place. “Where’s my car?”
    “Easy, man. First, how you feeling?”
    I saw him only as a shadow, a dark form behind the wheel. The car itself wasn’t anything to brag about. It had the feel of a lot of miles and fast-food wrappers.
    “Why am I talking to you?” I said.
    “I’m the only one here.”

  6. p69 to top p70 from JANE’S BABY, due out 6/1 from Intrigue Publishing (okay-fine, it’s my own book, an ARC, but I swear it was the closest thing within reach):
    It might as well have been the c-word; the sentiment was the same. Mr. GQ’s manliness got the better of him. The two men were now nose to nose, and they were gonna go.
    From over Judge’s shoulder: “Mister Drury! Please!”
    A silver-haired man in a Kiss-The-Cook bib apron separated them with arms to their chests. The cook’s younger partner, also male, pulled Judge aside. “I’m sorry, Mister Drury, but I can’t have you upsetting our other guests like this. I think it best that you leave. We’ll refund your deposit. I’m sure you understand.”
    It was as much a plea as it was a directive. The fear in the man’s eyes made Judge back off, and he was about to apologize for scaring him when his partner’s nervous glances past Judge’s shoulder said he was less afraid of Judge and more afraid of Mr. GQ. The man’s dress, his confidence, and his need to assert himself. This was a self- righteous conservative who could make trouble for this gay couple trying to make a living in Texas, the straightest state in the Union, or so its residents wanted everyone to believe.
    So be it. GQ got to keep his dignity and his balls because of Judge’s read of the situation. He went upstairs to collect Maeby.
    Saddled up in the van, Judge reached behind Maeby’s ears and gave her a quick scratch. Finding another place to stay that was pet friendly on short notice would be a challenge. Nothing within twenty miles, and he was deathbed tired. Against his better judgment he keyed in a certain phone number. After many rings:
    “…mgglumph…”
    “Owen. Judge Drury.”
    “…orggg.”
    “Wake up, Owen.”
    “Leave me the hell alone, Evans. I filed the story. I accept your edits, whatever the hell they are.”
    “Owen, it’s not your editor. It’s Judge Drury, the bounty hunter. I need a favor.”
    “What.”
    “I need a place to stay for a few days.”
    “Fine. Door’s open. I’m going back to sleep.”
    The answer he expected. God help him.

  7. I looked at page 69 in the WIP, which may or may not be page 69 in the finished product. Found a typo, so thanks for this prompt. It’s hard for me to judge, since I know what led up to the moment, and where it’s going. Went to my bookshelf and picked a JD Robb at random. Page 69 was a grabber, but I think any page in her books grabs the reader.

  8. Top of page 69 of Wings of Mayhem

    Now came the big test. Did Levaughn like cats? More importantly, did my cats like him?

    Levaughn draped his muscular arm over the back edge of the sofa. First at bat, Katie McGuire. Nose twitching, she hopped onto the armrest and traced him up and down–her version of a sniff test.

    It was all I could do not to stare in anticipation.

    “Hey, there,” his voice sang up. “Aren’t you a pretty girl.” He laid a gentle palm on Katie’s forehead and swept down her body, scratching directly above her tail. Katie’s feet danced, savoring the attention. She nuzzled her head across his firm chest. Her body went limp, dropped belly-up in his lap.

    We have a winner!

  9. I checked page 69 of my urban fantasy. Yep, got some good stuff here.

    Damn, she was cute. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and kiss that smooth cheek. I struggled to stay on track. “How dark does it need to be?”
    She glanced at the overhead light. “Not pitch black. Dim. Lots of shadows. Turning off the lights would give me room to work.”
    “Could you use it to get away from Guard McBeef?”
    A laugh curled her lips, but she held it in. “I think so. If you kept a pack of doctors around you, I think he’d be confused. But if he gets you alone …” All trace of humor fled her face, leaving her haunted and desperate-looking. “Don’t let him catch you alone. He’s not … properly human anymore.”

    • I think Amazon can be done just not page 69. Whatever the last page or a few pages are. It doesn’t let you know how it’s going to go down the road but at least and let you know if it’s Able to keep your interest in the first part of the book.
      I don’t think the authors in the column most of them anyway, are looking to plug their books. They just want to see if they’re writing works with this trick. Actually I’d like to read a couple of their novels. it serves more than one purpose, whether deliberate or not.

      • I would appreciate it if the owner of this site would put on a way for us to edit our comments. Android no longer is as accurate as it used to be since January 2018. When we post things may change, incorrectly.

  10. From Page 69 of SCORPION STRIKE (6/26/18)

    “Are we going to board that ship?” she asked.
    “Can you think of a better way to gather intel?”
    Gail winced. “Unfortunately, no. Doing nothing really isn’t a viable plan, is it?”
    “Die hiding or win fighting,” Jonathan said.
    Gail knew better than to offer up the obvious third option—die fighting. First, it was head space where Jonathan was famously reticent to go, and second, there was no denying that dying while fighting was demonstrably better than dying while curled up in a ball, begging for your life.
    “Have you ever taken down a ship before?” she asked.
    “I’ve trained for it.”
    “Dare I ask how big the assault force was?”
    “Are you sure you want to know?”
    She waited.
    “Twenty-three,” he said with a chuckle. “But the scenarios were all about a vessel at sea with a full complement of bad guys. This ship is, like, parked.”
    “I believe the term is moored. Or maybe berthed.”
    Jonathan gave her a long look, and then reached out for her hand. “We joke about this, but it’s serious shit. Are you really up for it?”
    “Is there a choice?”
    “Don’t do that,” Jonathan said. “I’m not in charge. I don’t want to push you beyond—”
    “Whoa, cowboy,” Gail said, covering his hand with her own. “I wasn’t being passive aggressive. I really don’t think we have a choice. Win fighting, right?”
    He covered her hand, too. Hands all in. “You know, this is not the trip I planned.”
    “Glad to hear that,” she said. “Otherwise, there’d be some serious counseling in your future.”

      • page 69 of River of Teeth:

        “You know,” Call said in a conversational tone, “if I didn’t need the money to pay off Travers, I’d just as soon kill you.”

        Houndstooth took a pull n his cigar and let the smoke curl out of his nose. “Really?” he asked. “Because I could just as easily not find Adelia for you. I’m sure she’d rather not be found. Especially not by a man she went fugitive to avoid.”

        Cal bit his toothpick in half. He did not respond.

        ***
        Another one who said nothing. 🙂

  11. On page 69 of Where’d you go, Bernadette by Marie Semple, I found an email. (Excellent example of an epistolary novel.)

    • If I were going to try to evaluate a book without reading it, I’d look at the first page. I can tell a lot about a writer’s sophistication level by the first page (or even the first sentence). Then I’d turn to the approximate page numbers where I’d expect the major plot points (depending on the length of the book, the exact page numbers would vary). For example, in a romance novel, there’s typically a sex scene at the halfway mark. In movies, the term is known as “Sex at 60” (meaning the 60 minute mark of a two-hour movie.) What should be happening at a certain point depends on the genre.

      • I agree with Joanne. Page 69 lands somewhere near the First Plot Point (20-25% into the novel). If you start reading from that point forward, you’ll discover the main quest. I knew a girl who always skipped the first 60 pages of a novel. She said nothing happened prior to that point. Not sure what authors she read, but wow. What a crazy thing to do!

  12. I tried this page 69 test on a novel I read years ago and did not like, on a novel I read recently and didn’t like, and a novel I’m currently reading and really like.

    I didn’t like Faulkner’s A Light in August years ago, so it surprised me that I enjoyed page 69. I think I have matured over time!

    I didn’t like a contemporary novel I won’t name. Too many F bombs on page 69. I’m not a total prude. It’s just that the language was intrusive. I definitely didn’t like page 69.

    I am currently enjoying Dan Simmons’ A Winter Haunting, and I’m about half way through the book. I looked at page 69, and I was flabbergasted to see several F bombs. The thing is, I didn’t notice them as I read that chapter yesterday. I guess the dialogue in which the language occurs is so organic that I just moved on through without being jerked out of the story by the cussing.

  13. I guess I was wrong, it is a good time to show some of our work. This is from a novella called “The First Murder is the Hardest”. Since this novella is only 40,000 words which is about half the size of novels in my genre. I cut in half 69 pages and got 35 as approximately the same position in the story.

    It took them several minutes to get the boys into the only running elevator and up to the top floor. Claire explained that the owner left it running to make it easier to show the property to potential buyers. She guided the two boys through the old manager’s office on the sixth floor of the building and onto a large balcony. Eve followed.
    On the balcony, Claire said, “Eve, my friend, one of these days about ten years from now, about the time I’m retiring to Hawaii, you’re going to get a call. It will be a murder. Probably some cute creamed coffee colored girl who lost her mind and fell in love with one of these two pukes. You’ve seen girls like that, delicate, an air of sophistication that looks natural. Probably is natural because it can’t be learned in the Yesler pig sty. You see girls like that on the street and wonder why they haven’t left yet. And here’s the reason. Their weakness is bad boys.”
    Claire pushed each of the boys next to the rail. “You’ll get that call and find that girl on the floor with her cotton dress pulled up, drenched in her own blood, raped and beaten with something heavy.” One of these two pukes will be responsible.”
    “Claire, they could just as easily growup to be real citizens, cops even.”
    “Not likely. Looking at the girl while the EMTs try to save her, you’ll remember today and these two. You’ll say to yourself, I shoulda let Claire toss their worthless asses off that balcony. I shoulda watched each of them as they splattered on the rust covered concrete below. I shoulda done that and maybe I’d have saved a pretty young girl.”
    “Claire, really.”
    “Hey, bitch. You can’t do anything like that. You a cop and I got rights.” The boy was about ten years old.

    • Whoa, those are some intense characters, Brian! I like that page. I have no doubt that 10-year old WILL grow up someday to become quite the evil doer. Thanks for coming back to play our game! 😀

  14. [P 69 begins a chapter.]

    The First Part
    Mr. Gotobed is Called Wrong with a Double

    Thou shalt pronounce the hideous thing
    With cross, and candle, and bell-knelling.

    Spring and Easter came late together that year to Fenchurch St. Paul. In its own limited, austere and almost grudging fashion the Fen acknowledged the return of the sun. The floods withdrew from the pastures; the wheat lifted its pale green spears more sturdily from the black soil, the stiff thorns bordering dyke and grass verge budded to a softer outline; on the willows, the yellow catkins danced like little bell-rope sallies, and the silvery pussies plumped themselves for the children to carry to church on Palm Sunday; wherever the grim banks were hedge-sheltered, the shivering dog-violets huddled from the wind.

    [Note the semi-colons.]
    [Gold star to whoever IDs the quote.]

      • I thought maybe this hint would give it away. But then I’m not sure I would be able to ID the source myself, though it’s from one of my favorite series. But I have not read this book very often, maybe not more than once. It just happened to be on the shelf where I was today, so I tried the p. 69 test on it.

        It’s Dorothy Sayers (Peter Wimsey mysteries), _The Nine Tailors_. The book has all kinds of stuff in it about change-ringing, which involves set patterns of playing church bells. I don’t remember enjoying it as much as the other Wimsey stories. I don’t think it’s because Sayers uses lots of semi-colons.

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