I’ve often heard writers say that the beginning of a novel–the opening hook and first few pages–is what sells a book. The end of the novel sells the next one. I have to agree. The book cover can catch a reader’s eye, the back blurb can make them open the pages, but then there’s a quick scan of the first few paragraphs to see if the writer’s voice and premise is worth paying for. It’s a “deal or no deal” type of thing. The words either catch the reader right away, or he/she moves on to the next book that attracts his fancy. If a writer’s lucky, and the first pages pull the reader in, he’ll buy the book. And hopefully, it lives up to expectations. The reader takes it home and can’t stop turning the pages to see how the story plays out. If the ending satisfies him, he’ll be tempted to look for the next book the author wrote.
I just finished a book. The title isn’t important. What matters is that the story line was unusual enough that I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The characters were unique and varied and pulled me in. They were flawed. Sometimes, I was happy with them. Sometimes, they disappointed me. Occasionally, I wanted to throttle them, but they felt real. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with a better villain. But the author kept hinting that there was more going on than the characters were willing to tell me, so there was an air of mystery–a surprise twist that I didn’t know. The thing is, when the big, black moment ended and the dust settled, the book’s surprise just plain irritated me. A few more hints so that I’d wonder, but wasn’t sure, would have added a lot more tension to the entire story, and I wouldn’t have had to endure an entire, LONG chapter of the author explaining how each thing that happened could have been interpreted differently if only I’d known.
The author played fair. For me, she just didn’t pull it off. I like twist endings. I like surprises. The movie The Sixth Sense mastered the kind of duality this author was trying for. At the end of the movie, no one had to sit down and explain in detail how the clues added up. Everything culminated in an “Aha!” moment. I’d have STILL liked the book except that the author added one more twist that annoyed me even more. She made a character that I liked into one that I didn’t. The result? I’d loved the entire book, was involved in the characters, and would have gladly looked for another book by the author. But the ending not only didn’t satisfy me. It irritated me. So…. no next book for me.
Which made me remember the old lesson. The first few pages of your book is what sells it. The end of your book is what sells your next one. So work as hard on that ending as you do on your opening chapter.