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First Lines

Would Your First Lines Sell Your Book?

If someone read the first line of each paragraph in your book, would they buy it? I tried that exercise once, afraid of the answer. It taught me to pay closer attention to my paragraphs. Each line that begins a paragraph is like one of those people who are hired to stand on a corner and hold a sign that says: Come visit so-and-so. Except, your first lines hold an invisible sign that says: Keep reading!

So try it. You’ve probably heard that customers look at the first line of a book to see if they want to buy it. But remember that they are likely to skim more of your book to make a final decision. Help them out. Take the first chapter of your work in progress, and read the first line of every paragraph. Then ask yourself the following questions.

10 Questions to Test the Quality of Your First Lines

  1. Do my first lines make me want to read the whole book?
  2. Do they make me want to read the paragraphs they begin?
  3. Have I used enough vivid nouns and verbs?
  4. Are there any “limp” words I can take out?
  5. Is there enough mystery in my first lines, so that the reader has to keep reading to find out more about the story or the concept I am sharing?
  6. Do my first lines stir the heart and appeal to my audience’s felt need?
  7. Could I win a contest just with the wording of my first lines? (Don’t stress about this one, but think excellent quality.)
  8. Have I crammed too much into my first lines, and I can move something to the second or third lines?
  9. Do my lines progress the unfolding of my book’s premise?
  10. If the first lines of my paragraphs were lifted from the book and published separately, would I be willing to put my name with them?

If you use this checklist with every chapter in your book, do you know what you will have? Not only will you have tight, intriguing writing, but words that speak to the soul. That’s what we are aiming for as writers—to craft sentences that speak to the reader’s soul and etch some truth or hope on it forever.

Will you accept the challenge? Try this exercise, and see what your answers are. Then read the first lines of your favorite books. How do those authors begin their paragraphs? What words did they use to make you read on? What information did they leave out, so you had to read on? We can learn from the best to make our work better, and each minute we take investing in our writing will make it shine all the more.

Keep at it, writing comrade! And let each first line of your paragraphs shine.

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12 comments

  1. I am going to keep these tips on my desktop!

  2. Excellent ideas. Printing them now for ready reference.

  3. Such great tips Katy! Thanks for sharing, I just finished my first manuscript. I am going to use this as a guide as I edit.

  4. Katy, these are excellent, practical ideas to strengthen writing.

  5. Barbara D'Antoni Diggs

    Great info, Katy. I’m joining the printing out folks to use as a visual reminder.

  6. Great post, Katy! In my day job as a magazine editor, I’ve found that a lot of reporters know how to make the very first line catchy (you #1), but not the beginning lines of subsequent paragraphs (your #2). It’s important to convince the reader at first, but then keep re-convincing them.

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