So someone's picked up your book from the bookshelves of Waterstones or your local library. How can you convince them to borrow or buy? How can you encourage your reader to become engrossed in your novel, seeing it through to see the words 'The End'?
This is, by all means, not a comprehensive guide as to how to keep your reader's attention and get them to see the book the whole distance, but hopefully it will suggest some new tips for you to consider. I'm probably losing you already...
To start with, you need to engineer a fantastic title. Which of these well-known titles grab your attention most and make you want to know more?
1. Before I Go To Sleep
2. The Hunger Games
3. Shadows of the Workhouse: The drama of life in post-war London
4. Mum's List
5. In The Midst of Life
If appropriate, pair your text with a great image. Use something relevant, empathetic, and something with you can link an emotion to. It breaks up the content and brings colour to your feature. This counts for novels too. For example, have you read The Book Thief? The cartoons in that beast of a paperback really add to the story. And plus, visual eye candy always helps. See above. I have her attention and yours, no doubt!
Build suspense. This is what makes your readers want to turn the page and keep reading. We all know books which have made us feel like that. Cliff hangers. They don't need to be life and death situations where the lead character is literally dandling from a rocky outcrop. Could Eugene, our protagonist, have found a private diary of a deceased relative - maybe the relative might not have been so quiet and angelic after all? Maybe Janice has walked in on her unsuspecting husband with her best friend - what will her and their reactions be? Tim's just rolled his Jag into a ditch on an icy evening - is he still breathing? End that chapter and begin another suspense building scene. The story, and therefore the reader, will come back to Tim, Janice and Eugene in good time and find out what happens.
Having a good plot helps with building suspense. Make sure your suspense builds to the end of a chapter and the following page starts a new, cooler, fresh scene, leaving the reader wondering and waiting to return to the action. Look at how addictive soap operas are. They always end on a 'cliff hanger', albeit not always a gripping one if it's midweek. Friday night's episode - that's another thing altogether!
It won't work in every scene for every reader, but getting a situation to unfold which the reader might be able to relate to can really help engage the audience as well. Even the most fantastical, intergalactic or futuristic stories have a love story, a family conflict, a quest - scenarios most readers are familiar with in their own lives.
Create questions. This starts from sentence one. The first sentence is the door into your material, and the introduction is the window. It suggests to the reader what they might find in the forthcoming pages. Make them want it!
It all started that stormy afternoon when Robin took his younger sister into the woods to get rid of her for good. Why was Robin so intent on getting rid of his poor sister? Did she deserve it? How old are they, and should they be out alone in the woods? How's he going to get rid of her?
So you've managed to read the whole post. Thanks for your attention - now get writing.
P.S. Eugene's nan was a heart breaker with several love children, Janice took the opportunity of leaving her husband to travel the world, and Tim was paralysed from the hip down. Now you know!