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Sunday, February 14, 2021

 

First Impressions by Abby L. Vandiver

 

First impressions count. Maybe you heard that from a parent or teacher when you were growing up, or from a career coach when putting a resume together. Or maybe even from someone giving you dating advice. (Oh, no! Please don’t wear that!) And that’s because first impressions last. They are what people think back to, what they think of you and your endeavors.

In craft classes I teach about writing, one thing I often discuss is about the first impressions people have when picking up your book, and how you can improve on them. It’s important to know what will make a reader take interest in your book. Pick it up. Buy it. And what is that you may ask?

Think about it. When you walk into a library or bookstore or even come across a book at an online retailer, what’s the first thing to catch your eye? Usually, it’s the cover. Then once it’s caught your eye, you flip it over (or scroll down) and read the description. If you like what you’ve read, you will probably flip through the book, checking length and maybe author info, but most of the time what you’ll do is read the first line or maybe even the first paragraph. (It’s why Amazon has put the “Look Inside” feature on books’ description page.) These are our first impressions of a book—cover, blurb and first line—and I believe it is what makes readers decide whether to buy it or not. Whether or not to read your book.

And isn’t that what we want? Someone to read our books.

A side note: I do want people to read my book, but when they tell me that they are, I get nauseous . . .

These three things I feel, is what authors must use to create a good first impression. These are the tools you have, which aren’t time consuming or tedious, that will entice your reader to go further, and persuade them to buy your book. Making a good first impression is also one of your most valuable marketing tools.

The Cover. To a certain extent, we do judge a book by its cover. When packaging your book for publishing (and ultimately marketing) getting the right cover is incredibly important. It can help to provide intrigue and appeal for the story inside and conveys a foretelling of the story inside even before reading anything inside. So, not only do book covers have to be aesthetically pleasing, but they also have to convey the right message. Most readers like certain genres (some even read across many genres), but they read those types of books because it’s what they like. Use your cover to draw your niche of readers in.

The Blurb. Just as the book cover is essential in making a good impression, the description of your book is just as important. The book’s description, noted prominently on the back of the book or on the online retailer’s description page, introduces your protagonist, its goal is to cause readers to wonder what will happen to that character. To pull them in. Blurbs set up your story for the prospective reader and is the pitch to the reader about why they would enjoy your book and why they should buy it. Blurbs should be precise and dynamic and set the stage for the conflict your protagonist faces in the course of your story.

First Line. Readers are drawn in by your first words. In them, when written well, the reader will find conflict, setting and tone in just those few words of  that first sentence. First lines are the last first impression your book may have to win over a reader. They should hold mystery and generate a question in the mind of the reader and make them want to continue. To keep them reading. Unlike a writer’s first two opportunities to make a good first impression, first lines are all on the writer. While the final approval of the cover and blurb belong to the author, the actual idea and execution of the cover design may rest with a graphic artist. And often editors (with traditional publishers) come up with the blurb. But it is all up to the writer to not disappoint with the first line and make that final pitch on capturing your reader. First sentences need to be compelling. Concise. Informative. Exciting. Engaging.

These three firsts impressions become expectations. You’ve hooked readers, and with them you’ve made promises. It is up to you to deliver by giving them a good read the rest of the way through your book.  

Unfortunately, first impressions can also be unreliable, you can do well on the three described above, but not deliver on the remaining story. But that is something for another blog—or even an entire class on craft.

In the end, no matter how great of a story you write, it will be hard to get readers to even pick up your book without making a good first impression.

 


 

 

 

 

8 comments:

Annette said...

Good points. I've found a good test of whether the opening line is intriguing is to read it to someone. If their reaction is an enthusiastic "Ooooooohhhhh" I know I've nailed it.

Jim Jackson said...

My experience is readers who are not authors are a bit more forgiving on their first impression of writing. As long as the first paragraph is short, they'll read beyond the first line before deciding whether to read the second paragraph.

But if you can get an enthusiastic "Ooooooohhhhh" that Annette looks for, so much the better.

Susan said...

Good ideas. You are so right about the very beginning of the story.

Kait said...

Excellent post.

KM Rockwood said...

Great summary of what we need for a first impression.

I was always suspect of the old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." Maybe you shouldn't, but people do.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Abby. Great advice. The advice about the cover is one that so many self-published authors don't pay enough attention to. They want to attract readers but don't invest enough in the cover, or can't afford to. An amateurish cover shouts amateurish content, even when that isn't the case.

Shari Randall said...

Fantastic advice, Abby! I just took your online class with SinC Triangle, and I'm looking forward to taking more.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Good round-up of solid advice.