What entices you to buy a book?
For me it’s got very little to do with the design of the front cover.
Sometimes, the cover of a book will grab me as I walk past and make me pick it up. Generally these are brightly coloured designs. I’m a bit like a magpie in that respect; I like bright and shiny things.
‘Never judge a book by its cover’ is a metaphorical phrase which means ’You shouldn’t prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone.’ I have believed this for many years, and not just about books. Therefore I read the first paragraph of any book that I pick up.
If, in that first paragraph there’s a ‘Hook’, I carry on reading because that hook has made me want to know more.
A hook is what writers use to keep their readers interested in the story. It will come in different forms and there can be many on the first page, or just one. It depends on the length of the story, and how many other things are happening to the characters outside of the main body of work.
For example; ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’ is the first line of Iain Banks: The Crow Road (1992.) You carry on reading because you want to know why grandma exploded, and how.
It doesn’t matter if you have to read another two chapters before you are told, you have to know. By the time you’ve read the answer you are so invested in the story, by the hooks that are present up to that point, that you will finish the whole book because you want to know the answers to all of the questions that are presented to you.
Another example is; ‘All children, except one, grow up.’ J.M Barrie: Peter Pan (1911) Naturally, you want to know more. Everyone knows that children grow up, so why wouldn’t this one?
A further example; ‘Sir, they needed to be told, you know. This is not something we should have tried to suppress.’ Said Salinger.
This is an extract from page one of a book I am writing. The hook is in the phrasing of the whole sentence. The questions it prompts you to ask are;
What did the public need to know? and What did the police try to hide?
Hinting that something is not quite right is almost guaranteed reader grabbing material.
If you write something like ‘I walked into the room, I picked up the keys and I left’ as your opening sentence, that book is probably going back onto the shelf.
Why, you ask? It’s simply because there are no hooks. It just tells me that you walked into the room and picked up some keys. It’s mundane every day stuff which everyone does.
If, instead, you wrote; ‘I knew where the keys were, so I strode confidently into the room and grabbed them. I left the house in darkness.’
That’s stronger, there’s more description for the reader to see in their head, and they can make up their own mind as to why you’d need to be confident to walk into a room, especially if you give the impression that it’s your house you’ve just left. More so because you’ve been confident to walk into a room in an empty house, why else is it in darkness when you leave?
All of these things have come from that one sentence.
When you write, think like a reader. Then you’ll find yourself writing in a way that hooks the reader and forces them to carry on reading. Read your work out loud. Then ask yourself if you would carry on reading it if you’d just picked it up in a shop, and opened to the first page.
The hooks appear throughout the story. They can make you buy a book on a whim, or they can stick in your brain and leave you desperate for more after you leave the shop, so you go back and buy it later.
If there’s no ‘hook’ I simply get bored and put it down.
That’s how I buy books.
So, what entices you to buy a book?