How does an author hook readers in today’s fickle world? by Sandy Semerad


 The great writer John Steinbeck has been quoted as saying, “If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.”
            Steinbeck’s eloquent quote explains why I write. I have an aching urge to communicate.
But is my aching urge a formula for success in today’s fickle world with its fierce competition?
Book marketers say no. They say there are too many books vying for attention. Authors can’t afford to wax poetic for pages and pages, painting the scene, stroke by stroke, as Steinbeck did, and expect to hold a reader’s attention.
Readers are not only fickle but impatient, they say. Today’s writer must hook the reader from the first sentence. Writing a great book, doesn’t equal a best seller anymore. 
Whenever I’m in a book store, I try to observe and learn. I want to know what makes a reader buy.
I’ve learned most consumers examine the front cover, read the blurb to see if the story sounds interesting and then turn to the first chapter to read the first sentence or two.
I’m no marketing expert, but they claim author popularity is the number one reason why a book sells. Also the first sentence must hook the reader.
So I thought it might be fun to see if you’d buy the following books after reading their first sentences.
“To the red country and part of the grey country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.” (From John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939).
“The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw.” (From White Oleander, by Janet Finch, published in 1999).
“On a chilly morning in February with a misty rain shuttering the windows, Devin and Rosie Cauldwell made slow, sleepy love.” (From The Search by Nora Roberts).
“Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner.” (From The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling).
“The tumor in my father’s pancreas was removed last week in an operation that lasted five hours and was more difficult than his surgeons had expected.” (From Calico Joe by John Grisham).
“Deputy Keith Clayton hadn’t heard them approach, and up close, he didn’t like the looks of them any more than he had the first time he’d seen them.” (The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks).
“Fiona Carson left her office with the perfect amount of time to get to the boardroom for an important meeting.” (Power Play by Danielle Steele).
“The first hail of bullets was fired from the house shortly after daybreak at six fifty-seven.” (Deadline by Sandra Brown).
“In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.” (Sophie’s Choice by William Styron.)
“There are four acknowledged ways of meeting your maker.” (Simple Genius by David Baldacci).
“When he was nearly thirteen, my bother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee).
“I’ve always wondered what people felt in the final few hours of their lives.” (The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner).
To play fair, I have included the following first sentences from my books:
 “On a snowy morning in Atlanta, Carrie Sue rummaged through an old cedar chest, searching for a journal.” (A Message in the Roses).
“My heart hammered a warning when I opened the door to leave the beach house.” (Hurricane House).
“If you had seen me on that day you would have said I was a hyper child, not the mother of a teenager.” (Sex, Love & Murder, previously Mardi Gravestone).
I must confess, I don’t worry too much about perfecting a first sentence until I’ve finished the first draft. 
     Writing a story is more fun when I can write freely, get the story out, before I have to go back, edit and rewrite.
     As to hooking a magnitude of readers in today’s fickle world, that’s my dream. 
     Although I kind of like what Steinbeck advised: “Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
I’m trying to follow his advice.
To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website: www.sandysemerad.com
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