You’ve come up with a great story, and spent months, if not years, editing and rewriting. You’ve had beta readers and critique partners. Your cover is beautiful, your blurb on point. That’s all there is to it. This is it. You’re ready to get published. Everyone is going to love your story. There’s nothing standing in your way of great reviews.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Before readers get to the review stage, they have to read the book. The cover lures them (makes them read the blurb), the blurb entices them (read the first page), but it’s the story that determines what they have to say. Whether or not they will light up all five of those stars and suggest to others to read it.
How many times have you picked up a book, read the first page, and then set the book back on the shelf, or in this digital world of e-books, clicked to search for something new?
That’s because the book didn’t hook you. Although some people will continue to read a book even when they’re not impressed by the first page (this is quite often the case when it’s required reading or the book was suggested by someone whose opinion they value), there are a lot that won’t.
Use the first page to set the tone. Don’t info dump or spend a lot of time on backstory. Start your story where the story starts. Hint at what’s to come and give your readers something to look forward to or figure out. Start with a bit of action. This does not mean car chases, shootouts, or skydiving. It can be something as minute as loading a suitcase in the trunk of a car, or even mental action: describing a character’s anxiety while sitting in a meeting, waiting on a call about a dream job or the results of an audition, or awaiting the results of a home pregnancy test. Give the readers a reason to want to keep reading – they want to know where the person is going in such a hurry, did they get the job or the role they auditioned for, or are they pregnant and how long they have been trying to conceive. The only way to get the answers to questions like these is for the readers to…you guessed it…keep reading.
Of course, the hook is only part of the battle; the plot development (how the story is carried out) must provide the necessary fuel for the journey, but you must first get the reader on board for the ride.