The book was fantastic, but no one was going to read it. Not, at least, in its current state. The author had packed his* manuscript with helpful information and practical advice. The content and his message had real potential to help his audience. But only the most dedicated readers would push past the stale opening line.
Most chapters either dove right into the content with no introduction or started with a statement detailing what the chapter contained. “In this chapter we’re going to learn about….” A line like that makes a great note as you’re planning your writing. In fact, I encourage writers to identify what they’re going to include in each chapter when they outline their books. But when it comes to your hook—the words that will draw readers in and keep their noses in your book—“In this chapter,” isn’t effective; it’s boring.
Other common issues muddied what could have been a great reading experience but, since this is a blog post, let’s stick with one topic at a time. Here are three powerful ways you can get your readers’ attention.
- Intrigue them with an interesting tidbit. A powerful and relevant quote, dramatic statistic, contrarian perspective or thought-provoking question can pique your readers’ interests. Relevant is a key word. If you don’t connect the opening statement to your content in a meaningful way, you’ll end up sounding like a sensational tabloid writer.
- Draw them in with a story. Stories connect us in a way that facts, figures and best practices can’t. Your story doesn’t have to be long to make an emotional connection with the reader. In fact, particularly in business books, if your story runs too long, your reader will likely think, “Get to the point, already!” Keep your story short and make sure it ties in well with the point of your chapter or post.
- Don’t bore them! In an Interviewing Authors podcast with book agent Joëlle Delbourgo, Tim Knox asked for tips on writing a compelling query letter. Her response applies to your book as well: “Well, the first thing is to not say something really boring in the first paragraph.” Brilliant and simple. Don’t bore your readers by stating the obvious. “This is a book about….” “In this book….” Perhaps a line like that belongs somewhere in your introduction, but it isn’t the best way to hook your readers.
Bonus tip: Avoid starting your first sentence, or any sentence if you help it, with the word there. You can almost always recraft a sentence that begins with “There are” or “There is” into something far more interesting.
Comment and share! What is the best first sentence you can remember?
*I edit books for a living. This post isn’t about one particular author. I could have as easily said her. In other words: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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