“You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” No one knows who first voiced that statement, but the logic of it has endured. A bad impression may be mended over time, and a good impression may turn out false. But you only have one chance to make that first impression on readers and convince them you are an author worth listening to.
There are three sources through which readers will get their first impression of you. The first is yourself. This could be via your blog, website, or social media profiles. It could even be you in person, at a writers’ conference or gathering.
As Christians, our behavior should already be gracious and respectful. As writers, we want to build a consistent picture of ourselves, interacting with readers so they know and trust us. If someone asks a question on your blog or Facebook, respond in a timely fashion. Hold conversations. Have fun. Weigh everything you post, comment, or share, and make sure it is something you don’t mind existing forever.
Be candid and honest. It’s our mistakes that show we are human, so talk and laugh about them. You needn’t act embarrassed or pretend it didn’t happen. Not only is your presentation of yourself essential to marketing, it also affects what people think of you and your work before they even touch your book. Let people get to know you so that they come to your work prepared to like it instead of uncertain about what they will receive.
Metadata of Your Writing
The information surrounding your novel (such as title, subtitle, cover, and blurb) creates an impression before readers even open your book.
Your title should preferably be short and catch readers’ attention. A Time to Die brings half a dozen questions to mind at once. Waking Beauty attracts the eye because one immediately thinks of Sleeping Beauty, yet this title is declaring the exact opposite idea. Dreamlander is a term which clues readers in to the type of book, while it’s also intriguing because we don’t know who or what a dreamlander is.
If your cover is gripping and professional, it will draw readers in, or at least won’t drive them away. If it looks amateurish and hand-painted, they’ll probably pass it by. Everyone judges a book by its cover to some extent.
Once your cover has enticed readers, they will check out your novel’s blurb next. Don’t disappoint them. The first sentence needs to be gripping. Keep your wording tight. Concise. Exciting. The goal of your blurb is to introduce your protagonist and cause readers to wonder what will or could happen to that character.
I doubt I’m the only one who enjoys flipping open a book and skimming the first paragraph. These first sentences leave an impression of your writing itself that will encourage or discourage readers.
The opening line of your story should reveal details such as the POV, mood, setting, an observation, a segment of dialogue, etc., which can all be mixed and matched to offer several items at once.
First lines should also hold mystery and generate a question (implied or otherwise) of some kind. This keeps people reading. Consider the first line from A Time To Die: “There was once a time when only God knew the day you’d die.” Or the first line from Space Drifters: The Emerald Enigma: “Waking up to a fleet of Zormian star pirates surrounding my ship was yet another reminder that my life was not going as planned.” Then there are a few random lines I’ve concocted purely for fun: “Once again, I was the only person on the planet” or “I sent my enemy apple pie for breakfast.” Each of these lines arouses curiosity, urging readers to keep turning pages.
First lines lead to first paragraphs that establish the main character, the problem or possibility of a problem, the setting, etc.—all the components needed to keep the story moving. Your readers meet your protagonist for the first time in your opening scene, so focus on him and shape his image to what readers ought to expect from him throughout the book. If he is a tortured, conflicted character who keeps to himself, don’t start with him laughing in an inn at some joke. Instead, open with him feeling torn between saving a complete stranger from being bullied, or staying concealed and going his own way.
Somewhere in the first chapter, first impressions become expectations. You’ve hooked readers with the promise of a great story and, once they are reading, you want to exceed the expectations they’ve formed.
Giving a good first impression is important, but you don’t need dazzling graphics and bestselling novels. You just need yourself, your spirit, and your experience. If you’re waiting for perfection, there will always be something else to finish. Don’t postpone your goals for fear of tripping up over words or making a typo. Get to work. Be courteous. Enjoy yourself. Do the very best you can. Admit to your mistakes. And get going!