Turn Previewers Into Customers With A Strong Opening

Writers obsess about their opening line.  How much does it really matter, though?

Think about it.  In today’s marketplace, if someone is reading your opening line, the following has happened:

  • Either your marketing or a recommendation has gotten them to your book page
  • Your cover and description intrigued them
  • They accessed the preview feature

If they’ve gone that far, they’re probably willing to give you a little time to develop the story.  You don’t have to hook them with, literally, the first line.

If the first line isn’t that important, what is?

My #1 Tip About Openings – Don’t Screw Up!

Seriously, your potential customer is likely willing to give you to the end of the preview unless you completely suck.  If you don’t do the following in the first several paragraphs, you’re probably good:

  • Typos, spelling, and grammatical errors
  • Info Dump
  • Too much telling
  • Too passive
  • Nothing happens
  • Clunky writing

If you prove in those first paragraphs that you’re a competent writer, you’ll probably get them to continue.  The trick now becomes – How do you convert that potential customer to a paying customer?

My #2 Tip About Openings – The Preview Is All-Important!

The reader has access to the first 10% of your book for free.  In that space, you must make them want to read the rest by:

  • Giving the reader a character they want to read about – Pundits use words like “likeable” and “relatable” to describe your goal here, but I think these labels can get in the way.  The point is to ask yourself this question, “Why should the reader care about this character?”  You need to be able to answer it and have a plan to make the reader care.
  • Creating a significant situation that will provoke a major change in the character’s life – In that first 10% of your book, you must set up the situation that drives the rest of the story.  There’s no time here for backstory.  Get to the point!

Does this advice help you?  What draws you into a book?


2 thoughts on “Turn Previewers Into Customers With A Strong Opening

  1. This is something that interests me, because I buy (and read) around 100 books a year, virtually all of them ebooks, so that sample is crucial to me. It’s the final deciding point – shall I buy this book or not? You’re right that the first line is not a critical factor. I usually know within 2-3 pages whether the book’s going to work for me. Here are some of the positive and negative factors:


    – Typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors. Even one is too many. The first chapter is (or should be) the most rewritten part of the book, it should be perfect. I’ll let the odd typo go later on, but not at the start. Actually, I agree with pretty much all of your list. You’re spot on there (particularly info-dumps – boring).
    – Physical description of a main character. Nothing will put me off quicker than a protagonist rippling his honed muscles or tossing her auburn hair within a paragraph or two. Even basics like height are a distraction at this early stage, unless they’re absolutely essential for some imminent encounter. I want setting, action, mystery, I don’t care what the characters look like.
    – Not giving the protagonist a name. Any book that talks for ten pages about ‘the mage’ or ‘the warrior’ before giving him/her a name has lost me.
    – Age. No need to mention it at all, but if the protagonist is 17 – bye. (Not another coming of age story…)
    – Over writing. Trying too hard to be deep or poetic or portentous.
    – Certain keywords (for me it’s vampires, zombies, elves, dwarves, prophecy…).


    What I look for in the opening chapter is something that intrigues me. It can be setting or situation or character or an event that’s happening, but there has to be something unusual to draw me in, something that raises a question in my mind. I’ll keep reading to find the answer to the question. It’s one of the reasons I find urban fantasy less compelling than secondary world fantasy – there’s nothing intriguing about modern city/town life where the main characters are (mostly) regular folks.

    You’re right that an author doesn’t have to hook the reader with the first line alone. Very few authors can do that, but some can and here’s my favourite example:

    “Kaiku was twenty harvests of age the first time she died.” [Chris Wooding, The Weavers of Saramyr]

    Interesting topic, Brian.

  2. Pauline,

    It’s great to hear from a book blogger about a topic like this, though I’m not sure I completely agree with you. Most people seem to like some indication of the age and appearance of the character. Granted, I try to keep these to a minimum, but I think some is warranted from the beginning. I think having some indication of age and appearance is as crucial as a name.

    I begin to worry that you’re not going to like my book – young characters, I don’t consider it “literary,” and no dragons 😦

    Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed your example.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s