I’ve got a new novel acquisition rule: I must be able to read the first few pages.
Think about it. Where will an author put their best effort, their greatest focus, their highest level of refinement?
For all books I consider reading, I expect to be able to read the first 500-1000 words (2-4 pages). If I can’t read the first few words — off my list it drops. Plop, ‘the shuffling murmur of book covers sliding together as they cascade down the head-high pile fills my tiny cell.’
For unknown authors, most of them these days, I’ll skip any attempt of a prologue — straight to “Chapter One” I go. For known authors I may give their prologue a glance. Ten seconds, maybe.
If the first few pages of a story, which should be the author’s best effort, suck. What chance does the rest of the writing have of getting better, maturing or teasing at my sensibilities? None. None at all.
When it comes to novels, first impressions are EVERYTHING.