Some books turn you off whether it’s spelling mistakes, cheesy cliches, or Mary-Sue characters. On the other end of the spectrum there are books that attract you. Some books instantly jump out at you whether you’re perusing the shelves of Barnes & Noble, or scrolling through the pages of Amazon. You just have this urge to pick the book up or click on it to see what it’s all about. What attracts a reader to a book depends on multiple factors from genre preferences to an attractive character plastered on the front cover. With so many books flooding the market you want your book to stand out, but how? What will attract readers?
Flip the Turn-offs into Turn-ons
As an indie writer, I’ve found myself asking that question even after my book was published. Obviously avoiding the three writing traps I discussed in my last post is a step in the right direction. For example, having near perfect spelling/grammar will improve the flow of the story. However it’s only the beginning. Most readers expect a published book to be well-written and error free. You not only want to avoid writing traps in your story, but you want to strive to do the opposite. For example, instead of writing a Mary-Sue character, create a character that is different. Maybe they have a quark or a different world view. Whatever it is, you want to flesh them out so that they feel like real people with real fears, desires and idiosyncrasies.
Tip: Next time you read a book filled with your favorite characters, think about why you liked those characters? An example of this was a detailed post I did on one of my favorite characters of a popular dystopian novel on what made her real and likable. If you’re a writer, set out to create the kind of characters that you would want to meet. Chances are other readers may find those characters appealing.
However before a reader can learn how interesting your set of characters are or the wonderful world you created, they have to actually read your story. At least the first page. Otherwise they will never know how interesting you think your plot or characters are. As I alluded to earlier, there’s no one-size-fit-all approach to attracting readers. I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact if I did I would be a best-selling author by now. However after reading other books and analyzing why I was drawn to certain ones, here are the common elements I’ve learned that play the biggest role in attracting readers.
- An interesting premise or plot – With so many recycled story lines and overused cliches, when a writer does come out with an original story line readers will take notice especially those hungry for something new and fresh. Whether you’re hearing about the book through word-of-mouth or the blurb, the premise of the story needs to fill your mind with intrigue from the questions it raises to the built-in conflict that leaves you wondering how this story is going to turn out. For more information on writing an effective blurb you can read on here.
- Eye-popping cover – Despite the common saying: “don’t judge a book by its cover,” people do base their judgments from first impressions. Sight is one of the most powerful and seductive of your five senses. This is true of most people and if you’re a visual person, an eye-grabbing book cover can be a powerful determining factor in choosing one book over another. The imagery coupled with the font should not only be visually pleasing but should clue the reader on what the book is about. Certain imagery will attract certain readers but having attractive characters is the easiest way to attract readers. Just look at popular romance books. They play on basic human nature which is that we are naturally drawn to beauty. Granted this method won’t work for every story. This is where knowing your audience comes into play. While it’s good to be unique, it’s advisable to still follow some expectations of the given genre you’re writing in. Whether people are seeking out books in a given genre/sub-genre or subject matter, many readers tend to gravitate to what they’re familiar with.
- Catchy title – Sometimes just reading the title is enough to pique your curiosity. Although there are exceptions, keeping it short and snappy will not only pique the reader’s curiosity but make it more memorable. In a sea of books, new writers in particular want people to remember their book.
- Interest-grabbing introduction – Once the reader responds to the lure, whether the plot sounded promising or the book cover intrigued them, this is the part where you hook the reader. The first few lines are arguably the make or break point and in my opinion the hardest part to get right. If you fail to hook the reader by the first page, there’s a high chance the reader will drop the book and move on to something else. Even if the reader continues on to finish the rest of chapter one, something needs to happen. While you don’t have to write out an action-packed scene to keep your reader’s attention, you should be setting up the inciting incident that propels the main plot forward. Questions need to be raised. The tone of the book should be taking shape at this point, giving the reader an idea of what they can expect going forward. If the beginning fails to grab the reader’s interest soon, whatever interest they initially had will quickly fizzle out.
There are many factors that affects our choices that I haven’t touched on. Sometimes we simply base our choices on what we’re familiar with. Perhaps we have a certain author that we love so we seek out books by that author because we like their writing style. But when analyzing why I pick a book to read even if I’m not familiar with the author or the book, the four elements I mentioned earlier are what initially draw me to the story. And I’m betting that’s true of most readers as well.
If one or more of these elements are executed well, the writer is doing pretty good. Of course you want to give attention to each of the four elements. For instance you can have an amazing blurb but your cover comes across amateurish. Or you may have an eye-popping cover but your introduction fails to hold your reader’s attention and they end up dropping the book. However if you can manage to nail all four elements, you have a book too irresistible to pass up!
So what’s the most important element to initially attract readers? I’ll leave that for you to decide in the comments.