Monday, November 7, 2011

Fishing for Jaws


Let's face it. The book publishing industry has changed. With the invention of the Kindle and Nook, endless worldwide distribution is available to any author with a manuscript and a dream. Literary agents can no longer hold you out by deleting your query email before opening it. Publishers are just as powerless.

"This is too good to be true," you might be saying. "I can finally have the writing career I've always wanted."

You may already be underway. With so much power at your fingertips, what possibly could be the bad news? Brace yourself. You might want to have a seat.

Everyone can have worldwide distribution. All seven billion of us. This includes drunken Uncle Bob, with his how-to guide for the perfect technique to hit on college women. Don't forget your coworker, Marjorie, whose novel involves her protagonist weeping for fifteen pages.

Today's readers are flooded with content. Published authors are not exempt either. We have to hunt for readers in the exact same ocean as everyone else. If you expect these fish to jump willingly into your schooner, think again. They're hungry, distracted, and moving fast. Authors today might as well be fishing for Jaws. Needless to say, we're all going to need a bigger boat, or at least better craft.

With so much competition in the digital age, an author's skill matters more than ever, because any reader can download a sample chapter of your book from the comfort of her home. If she doesn't like your writing, you will be deleted. Believe me, thousands of other authors are waiting to take your place.

Therefore, you have to hook your reader quickly if you expect her to click the buy button. In your writing arsenal, you have dozens of spears and hooks. A strong opening line and a compelling voice always help, but there is one harpoon that's best suited to hook your readers in the first few pages and pull them to the last.

Story question. You need to reveal it in the first chapter, but what is it? When somebody asks about the subject of my novel, I always say the same thing. The Portal is the story of Vivian Carmichael, who's fighting to protect her son Cody from his own father. Sure, there's a paranormal element to the thriller, but the simplified story question is right there. Will Vivian be able to protect her son from his father? You can also view story question as the main problem of your book.

Thomas Harris didn't waste time getting to the story question when he wrote The Silence of the Lambs. Can Clarice Starling help capture Buffalo Bill before he kills again? The reader knows about this problem in chapter one.

Suzanne Collins didn't dither either. Will Katniss Everdeen survive the Hunger Games? We readers hear about the reaping for the games in the first paragraph. Brilliant.

If your story question is the main problem of your novel, it definitely needs to be resolved when you reach the end of the book. It's a one-sentence question, and the answer should be yes or no. Early on, it's your best chance to hook the reader. Think about your manuscript. What's your story question?

To be clear, your characters are hands down the strongest hooks your novel can have, but you'll need many chapters to develop them properly. Your story question needs only a sentence and a good setup, and it will lodge into your reader's brain and pull her along until she relates to your characters. At that point, she's onboard.

When you present your novel's story question in the first chapter, you not only work to hook the reader, but you'll also avoid a plot that floats along aimlessly. If your reader knows the main problem and the stakes early on, she'll have a harder time putting your book down. That translates to her clicking the buy button, which brings her one step closer to becoming the ravenous great white shark that hungers for your books.
The Portal Blurb:

Vivian Carmichael has been hiding in the San Bernardino Mountains for more than a year now. Far from cell towers and video cameras, she's finally found a safe place to raise her four-year old son, Cody. Until the night he crawls into bed and whispers two words that fill her with terror.

"Daddy's home."

Running for her life now, she's horrified to learn that her estranged husband Jarod is not quite human anymore. Can she unravel the mystery of her family's dark secret before he can steal her son and claim her as his next victim?

Christopher Allan Poe Bio:

Christopher Allan Poe is an author and touring musician from Los Angeles, CA.

He writes paranormal fiction, with an emphasis in themes that shed light on social problems for women and children. His award-winning novel, The Portal, is now available on Black Opal Books.

1 comment:

Bonnie Hearn Hill said...

Great advice, Chris. And you definitely practice what you preach. Thanks for a thoughtful, enlightening post.