66. Open Your Book with a Hook

If you don’t catch your readers’ attention in the first paragraph of the first page of your book, you’re in trouble.

Luckily, with these 4 proven techniques to open your book with a hook, grabbing them from the very beginning isn’t hard to do.

In this episode, not only do you get those 4 proven techniques, but I also correct and clarify a point I made in episode 65 about publishing hardcover books.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis.

Mentioned in This Episode

Jump-Start: A free guide to help you jump-start your nonfiction book.

Episode Transcript

Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.

I hope your week and your writing are going well.

The world is cautiously opening back up as I record this in July of 2021, and I’ve had an amazing few weeks filled with family and friends—including a trip to New Orleans to visit my daughter and her family, a girls’ trip to Paisley Park in Minneapolis, and a weeklong visit from my two-year-old granddaughter, who is walking perfection to me.

So even though I’m recovering from a difficult illness (not COVID-19) that has affected me since April, I’m still balancing life and family and work and writing. I hope that whatever is going on for you that you’re finding balance as well.

Before we jump into today’s topic, I want to correct and clarify something I shared in episode 65, when I talked about the various formats in which you can publish your book.

I mentioned that one of the downsides of publishing a hardcover book is that you can’t publish on demand.

But that’s not actually true.

You cannot publish hardcover books on demand via Amazon, but you can use Ingram Spark to distribute hardcover copies of your book on demand.

Ingram Spark will distribute print-on-demand copies to Amazon and other booksellers.

There are some limitations, which I can address in a later episode, but it is a possibility. So if that’s something you’ve wanted to do, I suggest you visit ingramspark.com to find out more.

Okay. So let’s dive into opening your book with a hook.

In the early part of the 20th century, books often opened with a sort of slow burn. They rambled through a lot of what today feels like unnecessary words before they got into the meat of the book.

These days you, as an author, are competing with so many demands on your readers’ attention.

They have, quite literally, thousands of other ways to be entertained, enlightened, or educated right at their fingertips.

Online booksellers like Amazon show shoppers the first several pages of your book so they can make a buying decision.

With this sample and when they have the book in hand, readers will all often skip your introduction, so I’m not addressing that in this episode.

I’m talking about the opening pages, opening paragraph, and even opening sentence of your first chapter.

You have to catch your readers there and make them want to keep reading.

That can sound like a big task, but it’s very doable.

Let’s look at four proven ways you can hook your readers from the beginning.

#1. Tell an evocative story. 

The story has to be relevant to chapter 1, of course, but it could be a life-changing moment or a climactic event. 

My coaching client Brandi Harvey does this in her first book, Breakthrough Sold Separately. She opens chapter 1 with a life-changing moment, the moment she found out she was fired by her father, Steve Harvey, from her role as the executive director of his charitable foundation. The story has surprises and drama and it does what every great story should do. It evokes emotion.

You can tell a story from your own life, as Brandi does, if you’re telling personal stories in your book. 

As an alternative, you could tell one of your client’s stories, as long as you have their permission or completely protect their privacy.

Or you can tell relevant stories from historical events small or large. It could be the kind of big moment that makes the history books or it could be a small moment you found in your local paper or heard about online and do a little research to flesh out.

You could even tell a story that asks your reader to imagine a situation.

Just make sure whatever story you choose to open with inspires curiosity and makes your reader feel something. 

Keep in mind that, while you definitely want to evoke emotion, it doesn’t have to be a tear-jerking story. You can evoke hopefulness or excitement or wonder or even humor.

It doesn’t really matter what emotion you trigger. If you can make your readers feel something right away, they’re likely to buy your book and keep reading.

#2. Share a surprising opinion or philosophy. 

Make your reader wonder, “Where is she going with this?”

My client Patrice Washington does this in her bestselling book Real Money Answers for Every Woman

She opens with her philosophy, “Building wealth has 100% nothing to do with money; it has 100% everything to do with you and your mindset towards money.”

Patrice first published this book back in 2013, when mindset was a word most people were just getting to know.

I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that some readers have a fairly negative reaction to this idea. 

They’ve spent a lifetime believing if only they’d been born to rich parents or grown up in the right neighborhoods, or attended the right schools, they’d be rich right now. 

And Patrice is calling BS on that idea.

A smart reader will either want to prove her wrong or hope the author can prove she’s right. But they’ll keep reading to find out what she has to say.

#3. Give a shocking statistic. 

This technique is similar to opening with a surprising opinion, but instead of sharing what you think, you’re giving a provable statistic that your reader’s unlikely to know and which contradicts what they likely believe or makes them think about something they’ve never considered before.

In her parenting book, Focused, Fearless, and Fighting, my coaching client Nicole Petite opens chapter 1 with an unnerving statistic about the lack of effectiveness of condoms. 

It’s a bit of a gut check for people who think condoms alone are the answer to preventing unwanted pregnancy.

It’s not what her book is about, but it is a lead-in to her main topic of the heavy responsibility of raising black children in the good old US of A.

#4. Make your readers laugh. 

Writing humor is definitely not for everyone, but if your book is going to have a humorous tone, then give them your humor right out the gate. 

Make your readers laugh out loud or just chuckle or smile to themselves and they’re likely to keep reading. 

Tina Fey does this really well in her book Bossy Pants, and she doesn’t use over-the-top humor or joke after joke, just humorous storytelling.

If you’re just writing the first draft of your book, don’t get too caught up on the opening. 

I often go back and rewrite openings after I’ve written much of the book. It’s perfectly fine to do that.

But for now, you have some techniques to hook your reader from the beginning.

You can tell an evocative story, share a surprising philosophy or opinion, give a shocking statistic, or if humorous writing is your gift, make them laugh.

That’s all for this episode my friends.

For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on IG @candiceldavis. And if you’re wondering if your story would make a great memoir, DM me and let’s talk about it.

Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m Your Author Coach, Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.

Enjoyed This Episode?

Learn everything you need to know to write a phenomenal book. Subscribe on your favorite podcast player below.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Stitcher
Listen on Spotify
RSS Feed