How To: Captivate Your Reader Before the Second Page

The first page of your book is the moment that will make or break your book for the reader. You typically have three steps that a reader takes to decide whether or not to invest in your work.

  • The cover. I can not express this one enough. As a graphic artist it scares me how many poorly designed book covers exist in the indie market specifically. Yes, it scares me – Terrifying! Ok, enough drama, but drama sells right?The old adage “Never judge a book by its cover” exists for a reason, doesn’t it? Because that is what is natural for human beings. We judge each other by how we look and we judge books by their covers.Yesterday I found myself at my favorite store on the planet, Half Price Books. If you don’t have an HPB by you, I am so sorry! It is what it is called: books at half price. As I was looking through the extensive Science Fiction section, my desire was to find the next book in the series I was reading. However, being a used book store, you don’t always find what you are looking for. But, as Aaron and I have said on many occasions, there’s nothing worse than leaving HPB empty handed. So I began to look for a new book to read.I did exactly what we just discussed. I searched for a book that appeared as if the author cared enough about to design (or have designed for them) a great cover. I ended up buying Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. So far, I am very pleased. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always the best method! There are some great covers to some terrible books and vice versa.But the truth remains the same. Even the best of us judge books by their covers.
  • The second chance you have to grab your reader is the back cover copy. You have about 100-250 words to sell your book. The reader picks up the book and if they like the cover they flip it over to find out what it’s about. If you don’t nail it, you’ve lost them.The back cover to BDTR reads like this:Dastropan was a lush, vibrant world, its native species of insectoids living peacefully underground. That was before the Solovot Empire arrived. They promised prosperity while secretly drilling to the very core of the world, looking to release the energy that lies within. Brother Dust had spent too long watching as lives were crushed under the heavy boot of the Empire. For years he has waged a one man war against their leader, High Father Sid’el, and the body count was steadily rising. Is Brother Dust the world’s savior, or its destroyer?  Are the freedom fighters known only as the Resurgence his ally, or just the same old enemy going by a new name?We had to condense a 138,500 word book into 113 words. That’s not easy. In addition you want to be careful to not give away anything to vital to the plot. That limits you even further! We had a few things that needed to be touched on: Between our front and back covers we needed our potential reader to know that they were picking up a Space Opera. We had to give them the setting (Dastropan), Antagonist (Solovot Empire, High Father Sid’el), Protagonist (Brother Dust) and the mystery or question to be answered (Will Brother Dust do harm or good? Will he continue alone in his pursiuts?)But we still left some things up to the reader to find out. Who is Brother Dust? What is the Resurgence? Why is Solovot drilling this supposedly peaceful planet?

    You want to engage your potential reader and we hope we have too. Comment below to let us know how we did with our back cover copy!

  • The third and last chance for you to secure a purchased copy of your book is the first page. If the potential reader has opened your book, you’ve passed the first two tests. Now they will likely read the first page. Challenges galore! Your first page is the shortest page of the chapter! You have a title on this page, which generally removes more than 100 words from the page. Now instead of 300 words to sell your book, you’re left with only 200 or so. That hardly seems like more than the back cover.What makes a great first page? TENSION! I am talking about gripping your audience from the start. If I pick up a book and read the first page and it’s nothing but descriptions of the place or environment I am out!In possibly one of the greatest Science Fiction books ever written, Orson Scott Card grabs the reader by the ears and makes them listen. Ender’s Game starts off with some great tension and mystery. Read this with me:‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.’

    ‘That’s what you said about the brother.’
    ‘The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability.’ 

    ‘Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.’

    “Not if the other person is his enemy.’

    ‘So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?’

    ‘If we have to.’

    ‘I thought you said you liked this kid.’

    ‘If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like his favorite uncle.’

    ‘All right. We’re saving the world, after all. Take him.’

    Are you tense? I know I was the first time I read it. Who is this kid? He is clearly important. They’re saving the world from what? The buggers? What the heck are the buggers? This kid is going to save the world? His brother and sister couldn’t, but he might. And what does “take him” mean?

    It’s gripping. I didn’t need to know where they were, it didn’t matter at all. They could have been talking while sitting on a park bench in the middle of spring or they could have been in the white house with aliens about to destroy the world and it wouldn’t change the dynamic of the first page one bit.

Are you taking advantage of these three elements in your book? Maybe you are almost done writing. Maybe you are in editorial stages. It doesn’t matter what stage you are in, go back and read your first page. Have 10 people read your first page and ask them for their input. Your friends have read your book and love it, but would they have gotten past page one if they didn’t know you?


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