I've received two requests for fulls (woo hoo!) from my first round of querying about 20 agents. Yes, you were in that round and sent me a polite no. Before I started querying, I worked with an editor who has a literary bent. She was fabulous and strongly believed I should start my book with Chapter A, which is something of an "intro" but squarely puts the deeper drama of the story in the reader's hands by the third paragraph.
My main beta reader is a successful commercial thriller writer - and boy, does he know how to start a book. He disagreed with literary editor and suggested I flip the order of my first two chapters, following instead the rule of starting "in scene" in a tense moment, then inserting the "intro" into Chapter 2.
My book is a crime family saga that is more literary than commercial, but it's not exactly literary enough to win prizes. So I followed Thriller Writer's suggestion.
My first requested full came from a query only, no sample pages. The second requested full came today from a kind agent who flat out told me she didn't connect with the first chapter (that was all she requested with the query), but she was intrigued enough by the premise that she wanted to read the rest. Most agents won't give me such benefit of the doubt. I'm wondering, should I now flip the chapters for the next round of queries to see if a different first chapter connects better?
Or does it matter? I'm sure all agents are savvy enough to discern from the query and the writing style when it's possible the writer just hasn't started in the right place, but they don't have time or interest to grant the leeway I was so graciously given today.
If you had any idea about how we chew over stuff like this here, you'd feel right at home. This week I worked on a pitch letter--17 revisions later I think we have the final version. And that's small potatotes compared to a novel.
But what those two things have in common is that in the end, you have to have confidence in that final draft.
So, you'll read it over. You'll get some opinions, and then you'll fret some more.
There is no right or wrong answer to this because every reader comes to a book with different tastes. I love starting in the middle of action, but it drives me bat shit crazy to then LEAVE the action and start filling in the backstory.
Keep a log of which "first chapter" garners the most requests. Use that info to refocus/revise as needed.