More than a place--it's a writer's muse.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Right Pick-Up Lines

I didn't know what to blog about today (things are in a bizarre upheaval right now on several fronts, so blogging wasn't my immediate priority). So I hopped on Twitter and asked people what they look at when they're shopping for books. No surprise the cover, back cover copy and first page were their most frequent responses--though they didn't necessarily all go in that order and there seemed to be no hard and fast rules.

I like a nice cover. I do. Back cover copy? Very important. But I'm a sucker for a strong first line. I want to be hooked. I want someone to write an opening line that shows me they know so much about their target audience (presumably me) that I have to take their book home. Of course, the first line only works if they can carry through that sensation of grabbing your attention the whole way through.

So I spent a couple minutes prowling my bookshelves to find some examples where I think the author got it right. I must admit--some of these surprised me (and some books I adored didn't have a hooking first line).

FAIRYTALE by Cyn Balog [If you click on Cyn's title it'll magically transport you to Amazon's page where they have her cover and a "Look Inside" link. Go ahead, give it a peek. I love this first sentence because it instantly intrigues me. I wanna know why.]

VAMPED by Lucienne Diver [Lucienne delivers a great line and continues the protagonist's attitude throughout--great! To read a bit, click the title then the cover to see the first few pages.]

THE CURSED ONE by Ronda Thompson [Click the title then hit the cover at for a "Look Inside." This one made me go Yikes! Why?]

THE AWAKENING by Kelley Armstrong [This opening sentence is longer, but great because it gets setting and circumstance in and raises a bunch of questions! You can click the title to get to the Amazon page and then click the cover to look inside.]

MARKED by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast [This one gets points with me because it's got attitude, setting and raises questions. Click the title then click the "Look Inside" link that's connected with the cover to read a smidge.]

TITHE: A MODERN FAERIE TALE by Holly Black [This one's fabulous! You know so much about two characters in just one line... Go ahead, click the title and go to Amazon's "Look Inside" link]

THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova [Click the title to go to the "Look Inside" link. See what I mean? Right there I'm hooked. Why didn't the protagonist intend to do it and why did s/he finally relent?]

BAD TO THE BONE by Jeri Smith-Ready [Click the title to go to Amazon's "Look Inside" link. I love this one! It's awesome! It's funny and gives a fascinating look into the protagonist's deepest beliefs. You get attitude, background and a look into her core right from the get-go.]

TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer [Click the title to pop to Amazon for the "Look Inside" link. Take a sec and check it out. Just the first sentence--no. Get back here! ;-) Doesn't that make you curious about not only the "now" but also the past few months? And we know stakes are incredibly high!]

by Ann Aguirre [There's no "Look Inside" link on the Amazon page, so you'll need to search for the book in your local bookstore. Heck. Just buy it. It's really good. Anyhow... This is terrific opening because we're trained to understand if an author focuses on a physical detail like that there's bound to be an important reason. So mentally we're wondering why it's so important to the protagonist and what it says about her.]

APPLE IN THE ATTIC by Mildred Jordan: The destiny of Jacob Z. Dreibelbis was altered by eight quarts of schnitz. [This book appears to be waaay out of print. This one catches me because of the strong cultural overtone and the obviously high stakes. It's not often that a bunch of dried apples ("schnitz" for you non-Dutchies) changes a man's destiny--or is it?]

DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris [Amazon has a "Look Inside" link so you can read a bit. Go ahead. I'll wait. See? Doesn't that make you say, Huh? It perks the interest.]

So, considering these great first lines, as readers do you get intrigued by a single line? Is a strong hook enough to keep you going a little?

My first line in 13 TO LIFE (launching in June 2010) is: I closed the door behind me, heading down the hallway and straight to Hell. [I hope it has the power to intrigue readers in a way that's vaguely close to the power of the authors' words above.]

I hope I gave you something to think about (and perhaps a few things to buy... ;-).

Have a great day!


SarannaDeWylde said...

That's an excellent first line for your book, Shannon! An opening like that will make me pick up a book every time.

Shannon Delany said...

Here's hoping lots of people think so, Saranna! ;-)

What makes you buy a book? A bunch of folks today said: book cover, back copy blurb, first page and then some skip around a little.

Always curious!

Gail Hart said...

Fun blog, Shannon!

Personally, it's usually word of mouth or a friend's recommendation that makes me buy a book, much more often than any of the things you mention.

Sheila Deeth said...

Nice first line! And interesting to see what people said.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

That's an amazing first line. Back cover copy is important to me. And yeah, I'm a total cover slut. If I love the cover, I'll read the back copy. Then the first line. Then first paragraph.

If I've gone that far, chances are I will buy the book, VISA limit willing. ;)

Robin said...

How many times did you rewrite 13 before you loved your first line? The original on Textnovel isn't quite as polished.

I'm a back cover reader. I get totally excited if there is snippet on the inside page, though. That definitely pulls me in.

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