viking shipThere hasn’t been a Pen Warrior here in a while. No excuses. We just decided to ease up on the blogging. But we’re back, and we’re back with a mission. During our last retreat we talked about what most authors who are actively self-publishing talk about, how to get our work discovered. Translation: How to find readers.

Because—and here’s the thing—sometimes books Do. Not. Sell. And, for any writer, that’s a huge OUCH! Most of us do what we can to avoid that world of hurt.

Self-publishing a book boils down to five work units:

  • Write a great story.
  • Edit. Edit. Edit. (Then get a professional edit.)
  • Create (or have created) a genre appropriate cover.
  • Write a seductive book description. …sigh…
  • Push the publish button. (This is the easy part.)

Each of these five steps splinter into a million decisions. And after all of them have been made, whether your story is taken home by one of the beautiful people, aka readers, is in the hands of the cyber-gods. These gray gods, composed of bits and bytes moving at warp speed across an ocean of titles are relentlessly neutral. So, after doing your best with the things you, the author, have control over, the gray gods rule. We might be able to move our book an inch or two along the way to Readerdom, but it’s a lot like plying that vast ocean in a Viking ship with a single oar.

While we were mulling over the five steps and what more we could do to capture a reader and take them along in our Viking ship, we realized that embedded in Step One, write a great story, was a mini step with a major impact—our opening pages. We decided that if the story had to be “great” the opening to the story had to be greater still, meaning: intriguing, absorbing, enthralling, and captivating. We decided, that while we might spend hours fussing over a book description, promo opportunities, reviews, a cover, equally imperative was that our opening pages provide an exciting and honest entry point to the book. Our openings must impact the reader, be so captivating (there’s that word again) he or she is compelled to read on and on and on…

For a moment, we stared at each other blankly, faintly panicked thinking about the openings to our books currently for e sale. (I’m pretty sure some of us considered going back in and rereading them…) But the decision made was to move forward, form a study group of sorts, and start analyzing what works for us when we browse eBook stores for a good read. Going forward on the Pen Warrior’s blog, we’ll be highlighting and talking about opening pages that we liked and why they compelled us to download the book and read more.  We’re calling this effort Opening Pages Impact Critique (OPIC) and we’re looking forward to learning from our writing peers, and seeing what they did in their OPs that made us buy the book.

And, no, we’re not going to sling negative criticisms into the public air space. An opener might fail for us and captivate another. In the end everything is subjective. Besides, there are already enough deleterious comments on the net for a hundred lifetimes.

For example, here is a book opening I liked.

 The woman washed up on the beach at sunset—a girl, really, eighteen or nineteen by the looks of her, dressed in black lace panties and a white tank-top. No doubt she was dead. Gage had seen enough dead bodies to know.

A fierce wind blew back his hair. His bare hand, gripping his cane, was numb from the cold. The approaching storm stretched along the horizon like an old metal coil, the hint of orange like rust in the dark, tightly-wound clouds. Above the clouds, the sky was flat and sterile like dull silver; beneath the clouds, only the white-capped swells broke up the gray monotony of the ocean. It would be dark in twenty minutes. Gage, groggy from an early bourbon, had almost skipped his evening walk. How different his life would have been if he had.

 This opening is from THE GRAY AND GUILTY SEA: An Oregon Coast Mystery by Scott William Carpenter

How did this opening impact me? It gave me mystery, mood, and a sense of melancholy. In only 140 words it raised a question I became curious about—actually two questions: who was the dead girl? And how did not skipping his “evening walk” (still slightly drunk and with a cane) change Gage’s life? I also liked that the author named the main character immediately. But that’s maybe just me, because starting a book with vague pronouns is often done and depending on the author’s intent can work.

Words/phrases that intrigued me:

Washed up, approaching storm, rust in the dark, tightly-wound clouds, dull silver, numb from the cold, early bourbon.

We hope you’ll come back to the blog and read more OPs. (We’ll be doing them every other week or so.) We’d love your opinions and would be super interested to hear about book openings that worked for you.


Article written by

EC Sheedy writes romantic suspense, because she loves writing weird and nasty villains. She lives on Vancouver Island in the moody, green, and rain-washed Pacific Northwest. When she's seriously story challenged (too often in her opinion) she often walks the beach and communes with the stunning and multi-talented Mother Nature. (Make that begs for inspiration!) If that doesn’t work, a few minutes thinking about the quirks and foibles of human nature usually does. She loves reading, writing, her twin granddaughters, her Ridgeback, Zuke--and most of all her first and last husband, Tim. You can follow EC on Twitter, if that's something you tend to do. @EC_Sheedy Or you can check out her website and titles

One Response

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  1. Vanessa Grant
    Vanessa Grant at | | Reply

    Thanks, E. C.

    The author’s opening of A GRAY AND GUILTY SEA caught my interest right away. The first paragraph had me hooked! In 3 sentences, Carpenter had me on that Oregon beach, staring at the dead girl who’d washed up, and seeing the scene through the eyes of the man named Gage who’d seen dead bodies before.

    Great opening! I hopped right over to Amazon to buy the book – and wow, the Kindle version is on a free promotion right now, so if you like mysteries I’d suggest grabbing it. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the book to find out what happens to Gage, and what happened to the girl.


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