As a writer, you’re familiar with the method of getting and keeping readers interested in your book by luring them in with a hook. We often think to “hook” a reader requires a snappy, hard-hitting, action-packed opening line, add one and then our work is done. The truth? A great hook propels the reader forward to the next great hook, and the next hook, and again and again, until the reader reaches the end. This can be accomplished five ways.
I welcome you to the second installment in the weekly blog series featuring important writing lessons I learned while writing the latest installment in my post-apocalyptic/dystopian Refuge Inc. series, Darkness Eternal. It officially releases March 1st, but you can claim a copy now at a special preorder discount.
When I create a hook, what I’m really doing is planting a question in the reader’s mind that they will seek the answer to. They want the answer so bad, they have to continue reading until they get it. If you produce this kind of interest early on, you’ve got yourself a hook. But getting a sale, a fulfilling read, and satisfied fans requires more than just a snazzy opening sentence or tagline.
1. Book Cover
Yes, hooking your readers starts with the book cover. No matter the advice, everyone judges books by their covers. You can talk about a book all day and night, but a tantalizing cover is like a picture … worth a thousand words. Instead of just being pretty and grabbing attention, a cover done well triggers something inside the viewer that screams “I gotta read this book.”
To spark that I-gotta-read-this-book feeling in your audience, give them a title, an image, or a tagline that they want to know more about. Your cover’s images and style should make people stop and ask, “What is this book about?” and create enough interest to propel them to find out, which will lead them to your book description.
2. Book Description
This is where the magic happens. After the book cover, the book description is normally what makes or breaks a person’s interest. The back cover description not only helps them determine if they’d be interested in the story, but it’s your chance as the author to show them that they are.
- Hook them with a catchy tagline, a question, a controversial statement, or a thought-provoking claim
- Hook them with the first sentence by sharing what makes your story special or unique, introduce an intriguing character or setting, or trigger an emotion
- Hook them with the conflict, the antagonist, the premise, or what’s at stake
- Leave them with a question (literally or figuratively) that they’d want the answer to
Write your description with the intention of getting readers from one hook to the next until they decide to open the book and read the first line.
3. First line of the book
Everyone talks about the opening line of the book and how important it is for grabbing your readers’ attention. We write, rewrite, and polish the first line more than any other part of our manuscript for this very reason. A first line is so important there are popular fiction writing contests dedicated to judging them. Much like the hooks of your book description, hook readers with the wow factor.
Here’s some examples of opening lines that does the job:
- “I was trying hard to get drunk.” – Dark Space by Lisa Henry
- “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I change to five, abracadabra.” -Room by Emma Donoghue
- “I feel that suicide notes lose their zing when they drag on too long.” – Hushed by Kelley York
Indeed, the first line is a big deal, but only if it does its job of getting readers to read further. Enticing readers to want to read to the end of your book is the point, after all. And to properly execute that requires a hook to be set at the first line of every chapter.
4. First sentence of every chapter
Don’t stop at the first line of your book. Set a hook at the first line of every chapter. Give the reader more incentive to move further into your story. Make them feel the same excitement, intrigue, and curiosity at the opening of every chapter as they felt at the beginning of the book. Use your creativity to come up with some inventive, metaphoric or plan catchy first lines to introduce your chapters.
5. First chapter
Use your first chapter like a long first line. The entire chapter should be full of excitement or intrigue to lead the reader on to the next chapter. It’s like a cycle, really.
Make your first chapter tight, leave out unnecessary exposition or lengthy description, set the mood, introduce a special quirk to make your main character likable or relatable, hint at the main conflict, and conclude on a cliffhanger. This will lead you to the hook of the second chapter, rinse, and repeat.
Not it’s your turn. What do you think about the ways we hook readers? Speak your mind in the comments below. Don’t forget to share this post if you find it helpful!
Posts in the “What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.” series:
[image credit:Derek Gavey]