If there were a definitive way to hook every reader into buying a book, I’m sure it would have been discovered before now. Purchasing a book can be a big surprise, sometimes way beyond excellent, sometimes very awful (see this blog post). That’s because all readers are individuals who share some similarities, but most often have distinctive ‘wants’ in reading entertainment.
When I choose a print book, I always read the first few pages. Electronic books don’t usually allow this selling tactic, but excerpts can often be found online, just not always the first few pages. Those pages often determine if I’ll spend the time reading the book. Let’s face it, the cliché is true: time is precious, and I don't want to waste three or more hours on an unsatisfactory story. This lack of prevue might be what is driving potential readers to other entertainment venues. So what draws me into a story?
I like when 1) I receive either obvious or subliminal hints about the lead-in character (first chapter not prologue) and his or her predicament that I can identify with in some manner; or 2) the situation is fascinating. It’s that simple. If the character shares an emotion response to an interesting situation, past or pending, I’ll continue reading. Does it guarantee I’ll finish? No, it’s only the start, but if the story continues with the introduction’s promise of suspense, emotional or physical turmoil faced in a realistic manner, or dealing with some life-changing decision, I’m in, no matter what the genre. I do enjoy stories of contemporary, historical, or future eras, and I’m willing to engage in believable fantasy (there are many that are not believable). I do like to receive some type of insight into the human condition before the end, no matter what. That’s also how I attempt to engage readers in my own novels.
Follow the links to discover other author's viewpoints on how story openings hook them: