Getting ready to teach a nonfiction first-chapter boot camp at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, I just had three opportunities to test what I plan to teach.
The past few days I’ve critiqued two nonfiction samples for a conference and one nonfiction book proposal. All three authors missed the point of what a first chapter ought to accomplish.
Here it is: To make people want to keep reading.
That shouldn’t be surprising. But somehow these authors missed the point of reader first.
Your book may deal with your experiences, but if you want more readers than just your closest friends, it can’t be about you. What you write, especially your first chapter and first page, has to target what your reader wants enough to spend full retail to learn.
What you write, especially your first chapter and first page,
has to target what your reader wants enough to spend full retail to learn.
After scanning the title, subtitle, and back-cover text, potential readers turn to the first chapter to confirm if the author will deliver what’s been promised.
Chances are, your title and back-cover text don’t promise a convoluted backstory with rambling page after page before you might finally arrive at your topic.
Nor do you likely promise an anecdote set half-a-world away with no immediate connection to your topic.
Ditto a lengthy anecdote about your childhood.
If you’ve promised you’ll help meet a reader’s real need, offer solid evidence of that in the first chapter—beginning early on the first page.
If you do that, there’s a much better chance that others, including agents and editors, may want to keep reading.