Congratulations! An editor loves your prose. You’ve sold your story. Feel wonderful. You should.
After the euphoria collapses, you wonder when the fan mail and comments will start pouring in. Experienced authors acknowledge, selling the story is only one of many steps necessary when building a fan base.
Selling your story to readers begins before you get the editor hooked. You must write your story for your market—the web skimmer. Most magazines publish or advertise stories on the web, and most users of the web skim. Close to 80% of all people visiting your story or story’s advert will skim the page, rather than read the page.
Gaining readers is the act of converting skimmers into readers through a three step combination of hooking them with a great title, convincing them to read on with an engaging first sentence, and pulling them into the story with a compelling first paragraph. I’ve heard this approach summed up with the words, “Catch, grab, and keep.”
Skimmers are embryonic fans. Convert skimmers into readers by catching their attention. Your title must stop the skimmers eyes from roaming the page. Story titles are critical to readership. Trite as it may sound, your title can make or break your story. A catchy title is your first hook. If your story’s title stops the skimmer, you now have the chance of converting them into a reader.
Catch the skimmer’s attention with a title that fills them with wonder. They need to wonder if the rest of the story is as good as the title, or they need to wonder what the title is describing. Either way, you have one title to create an unfulfilled need in that skimmer. You must create a desire in the skimmer to read your first sentence.
Follow up the title with an amazing first sentence. Realize, your story’s first sentence must keep that skimmer from going back to their unhelpful skimming ways. Opening with a shocking or humorous statement may catch their attention. The first sentence must interest the reader, and leave them hanging. If your reader doesn’t have at least one unanswered question because of the first sentence, they may go back to skimming. The key, again, is creating unfulfilled needs in the reader. The reader must feel a nagging desire to know what happens next.
If your title and first sentence engaged the skimmer, you’re ready for the power play—your first paragraph. You have almost turned a skimmer into a fan. Don’t blow it with a boring first paragraph.
Your first paragraph must make your readers care, and leave them wanting something. If the first paragraph fulfills the readers needs and answers all their questions, it must introduce more questions and needs. Remember, unfulfilled desire keeps your reader reading. When your reader stops wanting something from your story, you lose your reader.
One rule of thumb I’ve heard, is to give your reader no less than three reasons to keep reading. If you’re skilled, they might care about one of the reasons enough to continue reading. At this point, you have turned a skimmer into a fan.
Catch the skimmer with an amazing title that makes them want to know what your story is about. Grab them with an engaging first sentence. Keep them reading with a paragraph that gives them answers, but leaves them asking even more questions.
That’s what you need to do to hook the skimmers.