Every night when I lift my daughter up into her crib she does a quick head count of all her stuffed animals. There’s about eight or nine of them in there underneath blankets, behind her pillows, pushed between the wall. It takes about two seconds, and somehow, in that brief space of time she always knows when one of them is missing. When this happens, I go on a house search that sometimes takes me a few rounds to find the lost one. I return with it and she can finally go to bed*.
Last night this scenario happened and I thought to myself, this could be compared to a reader opening a new novel for the first time.
He or she is looking for specific criteria.
Consciously or subconsciously there are certain elements they HAVE to find within those first few pages that will compel them to read on.
IF any one of them is missing, they instinctively know it, and instead of drawing them into the book, instead of them doing what you the author wants (which is to read on and ultimately spend their hard earned money on your book) they are unsatisfied. It’s back onto the shelf and most likely never picked up again.
Isn’t it scary how quickly your work-the work that you’ve spent thousands of hours, blood, sweat and tears over-gets judged!? I mean, I read the back cover, read the first few pages, thumb through a few more and that’s enough to know if this is something I want to invest time and money on.
I know there are bibliophiles who don’t give a book even that much of their time.
As a writer, it’s so important to know what those elements readers are looking for. Luckily, most of us are readers! So it really should be quite simple, really. (Right!?! right!?!?)
First, take a stack of books from your own bookshelf and flip through the first pages as though you’re looking at it for the first time. Ask yourself:
What is it about this plot/this world/this character that interests me? What plot device did this author use to hook me? What do I feel about/ for the main character? What is the pace of the story? Was I dropped into the middle of action or is the author warming me up?
Then, go to the library or bookstore and gather a stack of books you’ve never read or maybe, never even heard about and do the same test. Read the back cover, read the first few pages. Are you hooked? Why? Do you want to follow this character through this story? How did the author manipulate your feelings to suck you into what’s going on? How can you transfer this to your own writing?
Am I missing anything here? What turns you on/off to a book? How much time do you take deciding if a book is for you?
A factor I didn’t mention here is if you’ve already heard opinions/read reviews about a certain book. Does it matter, then, if the author didn’t quite hit those certain elements you needed to see in the beginning?
How many pages do you give an author before giving up on his/her book?
*Well, at least pretend to until I shut the door whereupon she continues to play with aforementioned stuffed animals.