Updated: Feb 8
As it were, the hook for catching the attention and curiosity of a potential reader is essential. They say you cannot judge a book by its cover, but I think the phrase was useful long before today’s flashy printing ability.
I mean, let’s get serious. We do precisely that, judge a book by its cover. If it is attractive enough, we then pick it up and read the jacket. I will talk about the jacket in another blog. Today I want to focus on the words.
Trying to find a few words to represent an entire 70,000-word novel is both frustrating and challenging.
My novel series Pandemic Dawn is a prime example. When I began writing Pandemic Dawn, I wanted it to be a short story on another blog site of mine. I never intended for it to become a book. Or even a novel or series with the 5th novel on the way!
However, here we are!
The first challenge when a self-published author is trying to get his book’s attention is to get the perfect cover. But more importantly, an author needs to find the right selection of quotes from the novel to draw a potential reader in enough to buy your book.
I have struggled with this. Let’s face it; it is nearly impossible to find a couple of paragraphs that can represent 30+ chapters with multiple storylines and over 70,000 words.
Over the years, I have learned a few things about things and have changed my book descriptions on my website and Amazon various times. I just did so again, which is why I thought to write this blog topic today.
My first novel in the Pandemic Dawn Series was more straightforward than the other three. The description of the main plot, with mention of the main character.
The other three were far more difficult because you don’t want to give too much away or give spoilers to the previous novels. So I needed to step back, think of each book individually and try to pick what I felt gave the “feel” of that book as a whole.
For the first novel, Pandemic Dawn Book I, I used the hook I placed on the book’s first page. Someone told me once they pick up a book, and if the first paragraph sounds interesting enough, they will read the book.
But the first paragraph doesn’t reveal the main storyline, so I chose to have multiple blurbs on my book covers and websites.
This way, if the hook on page 1 didn’t get them, perhaps a description of the series plot would—two shots at an angle to draw them in.
So first, I wrote the plot;
“Taylor knew the zombie-filled suburbs wouldn’t be safe, but a group of slaves in need of rescue may be what stops him from finding his missing son.
Taylor has not seen his teenage son since the Cleansing. He knew his travels through the radioactive and virus-infected suburbs he used to call home wouldn’t be simple, but he had to find his son, and nothing would stop him from looking. That is until he met them, a small group of women and children slaves in desperate need of rescue. He knew that he had to save them, somehow. But if his son was still alive, he needed to keep searching.
In a hidden island military base, Dr. Miles Richards works on a cure for the ever-spreading virus. With Dorothy’s aid, a self-aware robot Miles created, they discover far more than mutated viruses hidden deep in the government computer. Who was Dr. Atkins? Moreover, why was all of his research encrypted? Did it have to do with his dead daughter or the multiple variations of a virus that had already killed millions of innocent people? Can Miles find a cure before it is too late?”
It took many, many re-writes to get this. I wanted to give just enough of a couple of storylines without writing too much and filling the jacket with words.
Next, was to add the first few sentences from the book.
“The day no longer mattered. The seasons no longer discernible. The smell of fall leaves, the dew in the early morning, and the aroma of the air after a fresh rain—gone.
Mornings now brought with it the wind and odors of those who had died. No one knew how many were dead, but most knew how many they had lost. No one knew whether the virus itself claimed the most victims or the government’s steps to combat the infectious and mutating disease.
Most of those living did not keep track of the days as humankind once did, marked with calendars and dates—but by the sun’s rising and setting. There were rumors of groups who had made it their sole purpose to collect the histories of this once great and clean world. Recording a new history from the date of the second fall of humankind, they referred to as The Apocalypse.”
The first few paragraphs bring people into the atmosphere of the novel. I love it, and it makes me want to reread the book.
A few other places in the novel where the action was riveting, the dialog was great, but it missed what I was trying to do with as few words as possible—the hook.
For my second novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book II: Rise of the State, the focus shifts from various people trying to organize and survive to a well organized military power losing its foundational authority.
However, I wanted the description to connect this novel to the first. I didn’t want to make it sound like a different story, instead, a continuation of the first. If readers enjoyed the first book enough to look at the second, then they had to know it was as good as the first, if not better.
So I chose once again to pull the first few paragraphs from page 1.
“He looked up into the eyes of his enemy once more. The debris and rocks cut into his joints as his elbows and knees buried themselves into the sun-scorched earth. He slid further this time, and the pain was much more intense with every breath, dust-filled his mouth. The sand clicked between his teeth as he clenched them together from the pain. He heard a voice inside himself cry out, “Stand up!” and he immediately obeyed. His enemy stood firm casting a shadow that nearly reached where the boy had lain just moments before.
“Now stay down and shut up, boy, or I’ll gut you like a sewer rat!” The man had reached his limit and meant every word he screamed. Spit flew from his mouth as he swore, his grimacing face revealing the filth that had collected on his stained teeth from years of neglect.”
This description makes me want to reread my book!
Once I got into writing a description for the third novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book III: Day of Abomination, it was even more difficult. I didn’t want to reveal the answers to any of the first few novels’ questions. However, I chose a character who shows a little about the previous books. I thought about changing this description but left it because I loved it so much.
“He paused for a moment. Talking aloud to himself was a saddening but now standard practice. Since Scott’s death, Pete had begun doing that to fill the silence that saturated his house. With his mother in the back shed, there were none of her noises to keep him company either. The wind and an occasional creak were all he usually heard, and that certainly wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling as empty inside as the house now was.
Since his mother became infected, Pete was never sure if she would ever get better, and Scott had become his closest friend. He never dreamed that Scott would have turned on him as he did. He would never have dreamed, six months ago, that he would be sitting in an empty house with his best friend buried in the yard and his mother chained in the shed.”
Nice, enough to remind you of the previous books and entice you with “what’s next?”
With the fourth novel in the series, Pandemic Dawn Book IV: Before the Sun Sets, I wanted to reveal that the action continues as it did in the first three novels. Though I feel my stories focus more on the relationships between people in difficult times, there is still great action and adventure.
This book description reminds them of that fact.
“Ashleigh screamed, which only enraged the creatures, and they screeched back in full voice. They tore at the gate, scratching and psychotically clawing, trying to get hold of Matthew.
Trying to hold the gate, he dropped the pistol at his feet.
“Ashleigh, get my gun,” she didn’t move, except for shuddering in fear and uncontrollably crying, covering her face with the blanket.
Matthew tried to keep the gate closed and reach for the pistol, but each attempt at shifting his weight caused the door to pull open.
“Ashleigh, get my gun!” he screamed at her. This time she opened her eyes, dropping the blanket, and crawled quickly toward the gun.
Matthew’s feet slid back and forth as he tried to get a firm stance to keep the gate from opening, the loose dirt and straw making it near impossible.
Ashleigh grabbed the gun and handed it to Matthew. He took it and shot without aiming, CRACK, the bullet hit the chest of one of the cursed with no effect.”
Honestly, I want to reread this book as well!
A couple of paragraphs can mean the difference between a book that sells and one that sits on the shelf.
Now, to much shame and embarrassment, but to exemplify my point on this matter, I will also share with you one of the first descriptions I had for my first novel.
“Taylor knew the zombie-filled suburbs wouldn’t be safe, but a group of slaves in need of rescue may be what stops him from finding his missing son.”
This short description I wrote ten or eleven years ago is terrible compared to what I currently use.
So take your time picking the quotes for your website, ads, and book jackets.
Until next time, happy writing!