By Ann H. Gabhart, Author of The Refuge
“I read one of your books and now I’m hooked!!” (Amazon reviewer) I don’t like to fish. I went fishing once on a school trip when I was twelve. Didn’t catch anything. More telling is that I didn’t want to catch anything. So, I didn’t bother baiting my hook. Fast forward a few years and I’m writing novels. Now I want to catch some readers. I need to bait my hook.
Recently I asked my Facebook reading friends why they picked up a new book to read. Some said the author’s name, but what if you had never read that author before? What then? The cover made some of them grab a book off a shelf or click on a link to find out about the story. Back cover copy was a big key too. My new Shaker story, The Refuge, has an appealing cover and a snappy tag line. “Can love live again for this widow in a community that doesn’t believe in marriage?”
While a novel’s window dressing is important, the words inside are what reels in readers and makes them want to stay in the story. Some readers said they look at the first page to decide what to read. So, a dynamite first line can be perfect bait to catch a reader.
Try noticing first lines to see if the author grabbed your interest right away. You can find famous first lines online such as this one from George Orwell for 1984. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. The weather update might not grab you but the clocks striking thirteen pulls you into the story to find out why.
But what makes a great first line? You need something that not only gives a hint of the story but stirs the reader’s curiosity about what’s to come. I try my best to come up with a good beginning. Sometimes my first lines are edited time and time again, perhaps not being set in stone, or rather print, until after the story goes through many edits. Other times, the first line is in my mind even before I put my fingers on the keyboard to start that first chapter.
That was how it was with The Refuge. This line echoed in my head and drew me into the story. You can’t cheat death. I hope that line will make my readers curious enough to keep them reading the second line. We thought we could. And on and on until they are firmly hooked on my story.
Bait the hook for your readers with every enticement you can imagine. That great cover. Fabulous back cover copy. A hard-hitting tag line. A compelling first sentence, but most important of all, tell such a good story that after they’ve read it to the end, you’ll have them saying, “I’m hooked!!”
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, The Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as historical novels—River to Redemption, These Healing Hills, Angel Sister, Love Comes Home, and more. Writing as A. H. Gabhart, she is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, has won two Selah Awards for Love Comes Home, and won RWA’s Faith, Hope, and Love Award for These Healing Hills. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.