Hooking your reader is, shall we say, important. There. I don’t want to dance around the point, because that is the point–when it comes to getting a potential reader to become an actual reader, or better yet, an actual reader who buys your book, you don’t wan to hedge around the issue. You want to go straight at it, and nail it down with a few well-placed expert strategies.
So how does one hook a reader?
As with actual fishing–the kind involving scales and tails flopping in the bottom of your boat–there are different methodologies and categories of fishing, and within those categories there are umpteen number of hook varieties.
There’s what you do with the text itself.
Don’t worry, I won’t draw out the analogy much farther, and I won’t compare any one strategy to fly fishing vs reel fishing vs net fishing vs spear fishing. I will leave those distinctions to your imagination instead and simply say this: The first line has to count. And the first paragraph. And the first page. In the digital age more than ever before, a book has to sink its teeth into a reader immediately. Gone are the days of Tolstoy, sad as this is to say, when readers were more likely to give a book a couple hundred (or thousand, even) pages before passing judgment. These days, we are all bound by the necessity to impress in an online preview, such as the “Look Inside!” feature provided on Amazon.
It’s not such a bad thing; pithy first lines and impactful first pages are not the worst thing in the world, and neither is a reader’s predilection to choose a sure hit over uncertainty. I like to think of the root cause as something other than simply that tendency towards “instant gratification” which many people tend to levy against younger people as a kind of weaponized term; when it comes to picking books, people of all ages tend to make their choices much the same way. No, I like to think of the “first line fever” as the natural and healthy response to a world simply saturated with possible books to read. People have to narrow the list somehow, and previews are an effective, efficient way to do this. (Ever been overwhelmed just walking into a bookstore or library with how many good books there are out there that you’ll never have a chance to read, simply because of time and quantity? I have.)
Self-published books have long been known for their first lines, as Andy Weir’s The Martian exemplifies. (I won’t repeat it here, since it includes some language.) Indie authors have the freedom to push boundaries and that can result in some pretty wonderful things, so if you’re looking to ramp up your opening pages, take the time to immerse yourself in examples that worked and which you admire. Many people will point you towards Jane Austen and the classics; but remember, they had a different audience.
But there’s also what you do with the book once it’s written.
I’m talking about marketing, as you might have guessed. But I’m also talking about presentation. If first lines are about first impressions, so too is your back cover copy, your cover design, and your online presence. To quickly and effectively hook a reader, you want to present yourself and your book as easy to access. Make sure your social media platform is well-developed and that your website and book page listing on Amazon are as rich with information and as sharply-written as your first page. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t pay to beat around the bush when it comes to presenting your work to the world. And if your book looks beautiful online and in the hand when someone pulls it off of a bookstore shelf, they are so much more likely to pick it up.
I suppose, really, at the base of everything I’ve said here is the assumption that you’ll be self-publishing in a world gone so thoroughly digital that most book purchases are made online. There are a lot of politics and high feelings surrounding this issue, but it is the current state of things, and worth paying attention to no matter where you fall on the matter. And if you still haven’t found your hook (or hooks) and are struggling to figure out the next step, we’re here for you in the comment section below and would love to point you towards even more specific strategies.
You are not alone. ♣︎