Probably like most authors, I read as often and as much as I possibly can, but lately I’ve been noticing something about my reading habits: For every book I finish, there are probably five or maybe even more where I download the free sample onto my e-reader, read anywhere from the first page to the entire sample . . . and then set aside, without the slightest desire to read the entire book. Of course, that’s probably not so unusual, really. That’s the entire point of the sample feature after all, so that you as a reader can get a sense of whether or not a book is for you. But it’s gotten me thinking about what exactly it is about the books that I have no desire to read further that leads me to put them down? What is it about them that didn’t hook me as a reader?
I’m not, by the way, talking about issues where a book is rife with editorial mistakes, amateur writing, wooden dialogue, etc. I’ve read the samples of plenty of books that were well edited, had fluent, above-average writing, and even opened with what should have been an exciting “hook” in terms of a plot that jumped straight into fast-paced action. And yet I still didn’t click the ‘buy’ button at the end of the sample. Of course, everyone’s mileage varies, and the books that didn’t work for me may well be another reader’s favorite read of the year. But in trying to analyze what determines whether a book is a must-read or a did-not-finish, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, it boils down to emotion; I need the book grab me on an emotional level.
So below are my top 3 tips for kicking your reader right in the feels and ensuring they don’t put your book down:
1. Emotions: your characters should have some. This may seem eye-rollingly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many books I’ve started where the first several pages were either pure exposition– explaining where the characters were and how they got there– or else pure action. That second one is a particularly easy trap to fall into if you’re writing in a genre where action is prevalent in your plot: fantasy, distopian, sci-fi, thrillers, mysteries. All of those genres– and of course others as well– very often include big exciting scenes that involve battles or fist-fights, murders, abductions, and other high-stakes action sequences. All of which can work great at hooking a reader, but it can’t be just straight action. I’ve read loads of books that open with a super high-stakes, thrilling action scene, and yet it falls flat for me because I might as well be watching a video-game character running through a demo. What’s missing? Emotion. You can have all the action in the world, but if your character is just moving through the motions like a robot, readers still aren’t going to care. Show your characters’ desperate fear, their pain, their determination and triumph or even their crushing loss.
Even better–and this brings me to tip #2– show at least two of those at once: