You Only Have Ten Seconds

So you’d better make them count

© Can Stock Photo/ stillfx

You have about ten seconds to capture a reader’s interest. Ten seconds. So my advice to you is to make them count. People have short attention spans, and social media is making them even shorter. This means you, the novel writer, had better grab their attention fast. If you don’t hook them within those first few seconds, they are far more likely to toss your book aside.

I think of my opening sentences as, “Lights, camera, action!” I always start with an action narrative. Nothing overly dramatic, such as explosions going off, but with something interesting enough to intrigue the reader so he or she will want to learn more. So, how do I do this? I write an opening sentence that creates tension, and I’ll use the first sentences from some of my Marina Martindale novels as examples.

Strong opening sentences

Rosemary McGee had the next traffic light perfectly timed until a car from the other lane suddenly cut in front of her minivan.

Well, I’m sure that got your attention. What happened next? Did she have a accident? You’ll have to read more to find out.

My openings aren’t always this dramatic, but even if the opening subject matter is more mundane, I can still create tension in my first line.

Emily St. Claire reached for another tissue to dab the sweat off her forehead and grab her water bottle, but the once-cold liquid had turned lukewarm.

Well, that certainly feels uncomfortable. So where is Emily? And why is it so hot? Again, you have to keep reading to find out more.

Opening lines and your characters

No doubt you’ve noticed I’ve included a character’s name in these opening lines, and you certainly want to start introducing your characters as soon as possible. However, you don’t necessarily have to include them in the opening sentences, nor does the opening line have to be about a leading character. Rosemary was actually a supporting character. My lead character is introduced a few sentences later when Rosemary asks her if she’s okay. Emily, on the other hand, is the lead character. My stories are all different, so my openings are different as well.

A descriptive opening line

Some authors like to begin their stories with a descriptive narrative of where the story takes place. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, you still need to create some tension. An opening paragraph that’s nothing more than a flowery, detailed description of the scenery without any action or tension is less likely to capture the reader’s attention. So unless something really interesting happens within the next paragraph or two there’s a good chance the reader will set the book aside. My advice is to end that fluffy narrative with something to suggest things aren’t quite as peachy as they appear. Here is a descriptive opening from another Marina Martindale novel.

The moonlight reflected off the snow-covered mountains, creating a dreamy, picturesque landscape, which could easily hide a deadly hazard.

Yikes! So what kind of hazard could be hiding there? Again, you have to read more.

Remember, when writing fiction, the conflict drives the plot, so you want to create as much tension as you can. The sooner you start creating that tension, the quicker you’ll draw your reader in.

Gayle Martin, aka Marina Martindale

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Business Cards

an Overlooked Book Marketing Tool

© Can Stock Photo / iqoncept

The lowly business card. It has to be one of the most overlooked, and underused, tools in an author’s promotional arsenal.

Back in college, where I studied graphic design, one of my instructors taught us to think of a business card as a billboard in miniature. It’s an advertisement for the product or service you represent. Sadly, too many people don’t see it that way. Many of the business cards people hand me are so poorly done that I want to dump them in the recycling bin. It’s really not that hard to design a business card that helps promote your book. (Or your product or service.) So, here are a few tips for creating a more effective business card.

Use Easy to Read Serif Fonts

If you want your message to be understood then it needs to be easily read. As a graphic designer, I suggest using serif fonts, as they are easier to read than sans serif fonts. Common serif fonts include Times New Roman, Baskerville, Century Schoolbook and Garamond. All are attractive fonts which work well, and I highly recommend using them for your most important information, such as your name, phone number and email address. If a fancy, decorative font makes this information too hard to read your card may end up in the trash.

Use a Light Text on Dark Backgrounds

Someone once handed me a business card with tiny red text on a dark brown background. Both colors had the same value, meaning there was no contrast between them. This resulted in her phone number and email address being impossible for me to read. Her card went straight into the recycling bin.

Keep the Font Size to at Least 9 Points

I have been frustrated to no end trying to decipher phone numbers and email addresses printed with a 6 point, or smaller, font size. Even with my prescription glasses, the type is too small for me to see clearly. My graphic design instructors taught me that any font size smaller than 9 points is very difficult for people to read. If I can’t read it, the card goes into the recycling bin. No exceptions.

Don’t Look Cheap

I understand money is an issue for many of us, but you want to avoid cutting costs on your business card. A cheap looking card is like a cheap suit. It makes you look, well, cheap, and no one wants to do business with someone who looks like they don’t have any money.

One of the biggest no-nos is printing out your business cards at home. I once attended a business association meeting where someone asked the woman sitting next to me for her card, so she handed that person one of her home printed cards. The person she gave it to immediately called her out on it, and what could have been a good business lead instantly went sour. Don’t be that woman. A homemade business card makes you look like an amatuer.

Online business card templates have also become popular with those on a budget. However, the problem with using them is that other people are using them too. I have, on occasion, ended up with identical business cards from different people in different occupations who used the same background template, making it all too easy for me to pull the wrong person’s card from the Rolodex.

For you authors out there, I recommend a designing simple card, with your book cover or logo, along with your name, website and contact info. You really don’t need to use those artsy-fartsy Vista Print background templates that everyone else is using. A plain white, ivory, or pastel background should work just fine. If your budget is small there are plenty of online printing companies, such as PrintingForLess.com, who can print 500 4-color cards for around $50, including shipping. They can also help you design your cards if you need it.

Remember, your business card represents you. It’s often the first thing people will see about you, and you want to give them the best impression you possibly can.

Gayle Martin

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