My lifelong habit, when choosing a book to buy, is to pick it up and read the first few pages first. I value this more than the back-cover blurb or the book description on Amazon. That quick look inside (whether it’s in a physical book store or on a platform like Amazon or Kobo) tells me a lot about both the story and the author’s style. I’m either drawn immediately into the story, or I’m not. If the answer is ‘not’, then the author had better do something quickly, or they’ve lost the sale.
YOU NEED TO GIVE ME A REASON TO KEEP READING.
After I’ve read the first page or two, if I like what I’ve seen, I’ll have a quick look at the reviews and the book description. Sometimes the reviews will reflect my feeling that the book will be a good read; sometimes they might complain that the book slows down or that the ending disappoints. If the overwhelming feeling is that the book is a good read, though, I’ll usually buy it.
What can you do to ensure that your book (a) hooks readers upfront and then (b) keeps them turning pages?
- Show that things have changed or are about to change. If there’s something life-shattering that will happen on page 20, don’t waste all of the previous 19 pages in bland scene-setting. Give us a hint of what is to come, even if it’s just showing that the main character is feeling unsettled or scared.
- As quickly as you can, give the reader something to wonder about; some sort of question that they must have answered.
- Give yourself half an hour to write the opening of your story, and then go back and rewrite it so that the reader can’t put the book down without finding out a bit more.
- When you finish the book (knowing what happens at every turning point throughout, and knowing the ending) go back and take a final look at the first page/scene/chapter. Can you rewrite it again to make it even more gripping?
Here’s an example for you: Rachel Abbott’s KILL ME AGAIN. The very first sentence grabs the reader’s attention, and the author builds on that until we simply have to keep reading.
It was raining when they came for me. I was staring out of my window watching fat raindrops flow down the glass, streaking across the reflection of my pale face. I was regretting the impetuous decisions I had made — even though at the time they seemed right — and wondering what was going to happen next in my life.
When the knock came at the door, I didn’t even check who it was. I thought I knew. I thought I had been forgiven. I hurried to the door, pulling it wide, smiling to show my visitor how pleased I was to see him.
I knew instantly it wasn’t the person I had been expecting.
That opening hooked me enough to buy the book!
FINAL TIP: Copy and paste the first 250 words of your story into a new document. Now focus just on those 250 words. Make every sentence earn its keep. Ask: “Would this hook the reader’s interest upfront? Does the opening suit the genre and tone of the story? Does it leave the reader wondering?”