What does an author have to do to keep his book in the clutches of a reader? As if it's superglued to his or her fingers? Not glued by accident, but by design?
How many times have you been in a bookstore and spent an hour selecting a novel you believe is "the one"? Most likely, countless times. I usually pick up 50 books or so before I make a decision. I glance at the front cover first, then turn to the back cover, then read the blurb. Finally, I read the first paragraph. If it doesn't really do it for me — an eight out of ten in all respects — I actually end up putting the book back on the shelf!
As I started in on Worst Nightmares, I determined to write a book that, once it had been fingered and opened to the first page, no one would put it back on the shelf. Well, maybe "no one" is going a little too far, because, let's face it, not everyone is looking for a thriller. Some are after nonfiction, others are looking for romance and affection with little or no action. Certainly no danger or dead people.
So now I was looking at maybe 75 percent of book buyers.
They look at the cover first. Does it appeal? Does it draw them in? And herein lies a problem: How to make sure your publisher shares your cover vision. I'm lucky here — my publisher, Vanguard Press — works with the author. So, next up — the first paragraph hurdle.
Now this is the acid test. The first paragraph has to be absolutely hypnotic! No time here for any random flowery exposition. It has to be a hollow-point slug that hits between the eyes. Explosive! Intriguing! Thrilling! After all, supposedly what we thriller writers do is thrill.
Years ago, I had a fear of flying. I was practically phobic. I'd sweat as the jumbo jet taxied to the end of the runway. I'd keep a watchful eye on all the engines during the flight, just in case I saw a malfunction, a spark, flames! I'd brace myself for a grizzly death as the plane touched down, convinced it'd veer wildly off the runway and explode in a fireball. How wonderful if I could find a book in the airport book store so incredibly riveting I'd be lost in some fantasy world of danger and suspense, rather than contemplating my imminent demise. Sadly, I found such books very rare.
So, when I wrote Worst Nightmares, I gave it the phobia test. Would a peladophobe (someone with an irrational fear of bald people) still be terrified by a Buddhist monk sitting next to him if he were reading my book? Would a felinophobe read on if a cat jumped up and sat in his or her lap? That was my goal!
I was working on a movie recently and I gave a galley proof of Worst Nightmares to the make-up lady, interested to hear her reaction to the first few chapters. Later that day, during the filming, she disappeared for a cigarette break and didn't come back for 25 minutes. The three assistant directors were furious. The film ground to a halt. When she finally returned, she apologized, telling the director that she'd completely lost track of time. She'd taken Worst Nightmares with her and had started reading. She found she couldn't put it down. Ended up smoking seven cigarettes!
I hope the reaction is the same for everyone who reads Worst Nightmares. That would be my goal achieved.