When it comes to topics for my IWSG posts, I really push the envelope, mainly because insecurities will wait in the darkest corner, ready to slither through the smallest crack of doubt in our already fragile egos. Every aspect of writing has spots of vulnerability that allow for the second-guessing of our talents until, feeling defeated, we rip the paper out of the virtual carriage and crumple it in a ball, tossing it across the room to join the other failed attempts in our waste can of ideas.
In the past, I’ve written about the importance of the first line in our soon-to-be New York Times best-sellers. A good one will make the reader turn the page; a great one will cause them to finish the book in one sitting.
From one line to a whole novel? That’s quite a stretch, Mike. The rest of the book might be total crap. Yeah, I know what you’re saying, but I contend if the first line is of that much importance to the author, it’s doubtful the rest of the book will contain a bunch of “see Dick run” sentences.
But what makes the reader pick up the book to get to that first sentence?
The other day I was at Goodwill, rifling through a bin of discount books for something to pique my interest, when a delightful sketch caught my eye. It was a novel titled, The Bear Went Over the Mountain. I drifted back to earlier years to a rhyme that contained the phrase, and I wasn’t sure if this was aimed at youth or adults. The book was about a 300-pager.
The cover art was beautiful, though. I liked everything about it, from the whimsical drawing of a large bear amid the crowds of a busy New York avenue, to the font chosen for the title itself, so I picked it up and read the description on the back. The bear, it seemed, found a briefcase with a manuscript and decided to publish it. COOL.
I opened to the first line: “A fire raged in an old farmhouse.” Not bad, but it didn’t grab me—not the way I like to be grabbed (fondled?) by the first sentence. So I continued: “The indifferent flames were feeding on the pages of a manuscript.” Okay…still not grabbing me.
Had the cover and synopsis (and the bear’s name, Hal Jam, chosen from the label of his favorite food) not been so enticing, I doubt I would have bought it. Oh yeah…and the 99¢ price. That’s how quickly the decision is made to buy a book.
When the consumer—in this case, me—is randomly choosing novels without prior knowledge of the content or positive word-of-mouth, you have less than ten seconds to sway their minds. The cover is the first step in doing that. I certainly didn’t read the synopsis before I picked it up, and there were plenty of books in the bin that I glanced over without a second thought. It was the cover that made me continue further.
Facing insecurities involves doing the work that makes you feel more secure. After you’ve penned your masterpiece, spend time on the cover. You don’t put a crappy frame on a valuable work of art, do you?
This post was written as a part of Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post the first Wednesday of every month and share our solutions to common difficulties, encourage other writers to meet their insecurities head-on, and seek supportive shoulders to tear-stain when we’ve received just one too many rejections. If you’d like to join the group (and we’d love to have you), follow the link to Alex’s site, grab a badge, and put your name on the list. I’ll see you next month!