We’re going back to that whole Author of the Month topic from our video two weeks ago, the one titled “3 Typos to Look for Before You Press the Publish Button.”
For those of you who didn’t watch it, I was talking about common editorial mistakes I’ve found in potential Author of the Month book picks, most of which are self-published. And for those of you who don’t know what the Author of the Month program is, it’s the spotlight I shine onto less-known authors whose books I enjoyed or appreciated.
It includes an e-interview, and links to the featured writer’s social media sites, author platform and, of course, books. It’s my way of giving my free e-letter readers some great reading choices they otherwise wouldn’t have heard of, and a way to give writers great platforms to reach otherwise unreached audiences.
Of course, not every Author of the Month hopeful gets chosen. There are a number of reasons I might pass on a book, but the biggest one is simply that the opening doesn’t grab me.
And isn’t that the main reason why most readers opt out of buying a book they check out? If they’re not drawn in by the first few paragraphs, they’re not going to waste their time.
So what makes for a good one?
Alas, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to go off of here. To a large degree, it depends on the genre you’re working within and whether your ideal readers want to be intrigued, thrilled, educated, delighted, freaked out, grossed out, transported or confirmed.
Personally, I’ll say yes to any of that (outside of being grossed out). I’m just as much a multi-genre reader as a multi-genre writer. But even then, there’s a lot that can make me put a book down.
I won’t say that the following list applies to every reader, because every reader has his or her own list of turn-ons and turn-offs. But I will say that most of the reasons I reference in this video and next week’s are pretty common first-page gripes.
Except for perhaps this first one…
1. There’s something crude in it. I’m not entirely anti-swear word or anti-crudeness. I own more than one R-rated movie and have more than one book on my shelf that goes into R-rated detail. And I have them for a reason: because I find them fascinating or funny or engaging.
Clearly then, I’m not as pure as the driven snow when it comes to my entertainment choices. But I’m also not a fan of smut for smut’s sake.
It does nothing for my emotions or intellect. And, really, if I’m going to read a book, I want one or the other – preferably both – to be stimulated.
This doesn’t just apply to language used but also activities described. For instance, I was browsing for a new thriller a few months ago when I picked up a book that instantly introduced me to a character’s urine stream.
To me, that’s just unnecessarily crass. If that’s the opening, I just don’t see myself appreciating whatever’s still to come.
2. There’s too much backstory shoved at me.
I’m not talking about prologues here, though those are often an absolute mess too – to the point where most literary agents will throw a manuscript in the trash the second they see one.
That’s another topic for another day though. Right now, I’m referencing when a book begins by introducing a character, gives a line or two describing him, then spends the next 10 or more paragraphs giving backstory about him when I don’t even know if I care about his current situation.
For me, at least. That’s a problem. If you’re going to give me the backstory so quickly, then give it in a sentence or two. Leave the full-fledged details for later.
3. There’s no real diversity to the sentence structure.
Writing an engaging story requires understanding just how limited the written word really is. When we’re speaking, we can use our tones and volumes and inflections to make ourselves sound more interesting.
When we’re writing though, we’ve got our words and words alone. So we have to work extra hard to make those words count.
It’s not just a matter of having a good grasp on vocabulary either. It’s also how we arrange that vocabulary.
For example, sentences shouldn’t always start out with nouns, pronouns or articles. Nor should they all be short or long or mid-sized. They should vary.
Otherwise, the narrative reads monotonously just like when a speaker never varies his voice.
Speaking of narratives, this one is getting long. So we’ll wait until next week to pick up the list of ways book intros can push reader away instead of draw them in like they’re supposed to.