Loads of book promos from indie authors and small presses come through my social media feeds every day. If something in the ad catches my eye, a cover, title, whatever, I’ll follow the link to the sample pages. More often than not, the author will have lost me before I finish reading the first page, sometimes before the end of the first paragraph, occasionally before the end of the first sentence.
Does everyone remember the scene from Alien where the guy leans over the pod and the alien smashes through his helmet visor and latches onto his face? That’s what a book opening should do, crash through a readers defenses, grab hold of him relentlessly, and not let him go until he’s so consumed that he has no choice but to read the book.
If an author can’t make a reader want to finish the first page, then what hope does he have of keeping that reader engaged for the whole story? I’m always hoping to be blown away by brilliant prose that won’t let me stop reading or at least drawn in by interesting writing, but that’s a rare occurrence these days.
I don’t know if the art of the strong opening has been lost or if, as writers, we get so caught up in our stories that we forget the need to capture a reader’s imagination within the first few words, but I think it’s something that every author who doesn’t have a string of best sellers with his name on the cover needs to work on improving. I’m speaking as much to my author-self as to anyone else.
A killer cover will get me to crack open the book, but if a writer wants me as a reader he’d better be sure that the opening makes the cover pale in comparison.