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First Lines Don't Have to Be Complex

Writers are instructed to craft riveting first lines for their books, which causes many writers undue stress. While it would be an achievement to craft the most perfect first line ever written, such as "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times," it isn't necessary to live up to that expectation. A first line just needs to be interesting. 

I took a random sampling of the books I've read recently to illustrate how simple a first line can be and still draw a reader in.

1. "The island appeared first as an inky smudge on the horizon, beaded with pinholes of light against the greying sky." While you sleep, A Novel by Stephanie Merritt

The sentence immediately transports us to an interesting place. An island functions as a locked room. Characters can be trapped there, suggesting suspense.

2. "Shadow Market nights were Kit's favorite." Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

A Shadow Market is something different, suggesting a fantasy world. The character likes to go there, suggesting interesting things are about to happen. We get a sense of anticipation.

3. "I've always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person."  The Witch Elm by Tana French

Introduces the POV character's voice and suggests a "but," so we know that he will not be a lucky person much longer.

4. "If only the swans would swim side by side on the dark green lake, this picture might turn out to be the crowning achievement of the wedding photographer's career." Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

There is a wedding. It isn't going perfectly. There will be conflict ahead and we want to know what that is.

5. "We believe what we want to believe." Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker 

Suggests the character is fooling herself and we want to find out the truth.

6. "Kitten - that is what everyone called her." The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

The nickname suggests something cute and harmless, but kittens have claws and we want to know more about her.

7. "I used to think that drawing studio would be my favorite way to start the school day. Then we started doing nudes, and I realized - after spending an hour and a half staring at an old dude's junk - that no amount of coffee or optimism could get me through the full two-hour class." Shades of Darkness by A. R. Kahler

Okay, I included the second sentence here because I love Kahler's word sorcery. The first sentence places us at an art school. By saying "used to think" we know things aren't going as well as hoped.

8. "They say when you are about to die, your entire life passes before your eyes in a flurry of poignant images, but all I could think of, rather absurdly, was that I should have worn the blue hat." This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

Introduces the POV character's sense of humor and the fact that her life is threatened. We want to know when, why, what, and how.

9. "The peace and quiet never last." Locked Tight by Susan Kaye Quinn 

We know something is about to disrupt the status quo. We will read to find out what it is.

10.  "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate."  Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Dead body suggests a mystery is ahead and Nicholas Brisbane will be a figure of interest to the point of view character, hinting at a future relationship.

I studied examples like these to come up with my first line in the Mythikas series. I decided to start every chapter with an interesting first line, which isn't essential, but can add that special something to your manuscript.

"My day of glory was at hand." Mythikas Island Book One Diana by Diana Hurwitz

We know the main character is about to get something she wants, or thinks she will. We will stay tuned to find out if she does.

You don't need to agonize over a first line until you are on your final revision layers. Does your first line hint at something more to come? If not, it is an easy fix. Just read the first line and if the words "and then" naturally follow, you've succeeded. If not, change it until it does.

A good closing line can make the difference in getting the reader to turn the page too.

You can see more examples of opening and closing lines here.

How to Create Customized Page Numbers in Word

In this tutorial, I will show you how to insert flourishes and images around page numbers to give the print edition of your book interior a custom look.

1. Within your Word document (this is Windows 2010). Go to Insert Footer

2. Insert Page Number.

I chose Insert Page Number - Bottom of Page - Centered in this example. You can make it right or left justified, or even put the page number it in the Header if you choose.

3. Pick a Font for your page number.

4. Space to the left side of page number and Insert Symbol.

5. Space to the right of the page number. Insert Symbol.

It should look like this: the number with a flourish on the left and one on the right. 

The page number style will repeat on subsequent pages. If you have your document setup with different even and odd page footers, you will have to repeat the process with the first even page number.

Here are a few sites that offer free open source flourish fonts you can download and utilize

Download and install the font on your computer. When you bring up insert symbol, scroll until you find the font you wished to use.

You can achieve the same effect with Insert Picture.

 As always, make sure you have the rights to use a font or image. Some require you to purchase a commercial license to use in a print edition book you sell.

See this post on font licensing.

You might also be interested in this post on stock images.

Crafting Book Marks and Cards

Make your book mark or business card count by giving it a second purpose.

Depending on the size of bookmark, you can make it entertaining or useful by putting a poignant quote, recipe, a useful tip, a list of useful links, or a quote about books on the flip side. Don't make them too crowded though.

You can add tassels, dangling charms, or elastic banding. Just don't bedazzle it so much it loses impact or usefulness. 3-D elements do not work well between pages.

It is best to keep the bookmark to one standalone book or one cover from a series. It may be possible to fit the three covers of trilogy plus the pertinent data on the back. But you could also utilize the artwork from the first title and list the book titles below it. You don't need to repeat the author name, tagline, or series name each time. 

1. First decide on the size. Two by six inches is a common book mark size. You can go larger (3 x 8, 4 x 10) if you need more space.  Keep in mind that the average paperback is 5.5 x 8.5 -inches and hardcover is 6 x 9 inches. 
You can have a single-sided or double-sided bookmark.

2. You want good, heavy paper stock. If your home printer does not allow for card stock, take it to an office supply store or FedEx/Kinkos to be printed.

3. You can choose glossy or matte. Depending on the artwork, both have advantages. If you print at home on an inkjet, it is best to use matte. Inkjet ink bleeds when wet and can smear on glossy paper. Laser printing is best for wear and tear. If you have a color printer and can use a simple photo manipulation program, you can print them then cut them out at home with a good craft trimmer or a die cut machine found in craft stores. There are many creative shapes and sizes for bookmarks depending on the genre of your book, especially nonfiction. Specialty shapes can be ordered online through printing services.

4. At a minimum you should have your book cover, a tag line (if not a short synopsis), and ordering information (available in ebook and print, etc.). The genre should be obvious, the art seductive, and the fonts related to the genre and tone. Make sure you have the rights to the images and fonts.

5. You can spread the art from the cover from edge to edge of the bookmark and place the text where appropriate. You can have the art, title, and author name fill the front and put ordering information, website data, etc. on the back.

There are several bookmark templates available for doing it yourself.

1. Template Lab 

2. Word Templates

3. Canva 

4. Print Ready Bookmarks by Zapco

5. Overnight Prints Templates 

There are many sources for professional printing varying in cost, some easily affordable.

1. PS Print 

2. 4imprint 

3. Vistaprint

4. 48 Hours Print 

5. Overnight Prints 

6. Bannerbuzz 

Feel free to share you creative bookmark or business card idea in the comments.

Marketing with Bookmarks

Bookmarks are enticing for book lovers.

I gathered dozens of specialty bookmarks over the years that live in a drawer.  I have a box of  jeweled book marks I designed to sell at craft markets. Most often I end up using a rubberband, stray piece of paper, or paperclip. How many bookmarks do you have sitting in a drawer?

I still ooh and aah over pretty bookmarks at bookstores. I no longer buy them though. And if I pick up a bookmark at an event, I don't keep it after I've checked out the title and put in on my wish list. However, there are many collectors who keep them. There are several ways to use them for marketing.

If you are a writer without a published book, you can use bookmarks or cards to promote your website and/or blog. You may have a mock-up cover designed.

They are fun to trade at book sales, writing conferences, and can act in place of a standard business card.

Bookmarks are most useful for promotion when they add benefit or call for further action.

People are inundated with marketing materials from so many sources. I get calendars, totes, magnets, pens, rulers, organizers, even calculators. I don't need or keep them or we'd soon run out of storage.

The best way to keep your marketing materials out of the trash bin is to make them useful.

1. Writers can always use pens, so attaching a pen to your bookmark, especially if the pen has your name on it, can be handy. Having the bookmark act as a paperclip might also work. I wouldn't go the ruler or calendar route, but it has been done. They are more likely to hold onto to something they will use again. You can add a magnet if you wish. However, unless it is a sturdy refrigerator magnet and the artwork is something the reader would enjoy viewing on a daily basis, it is likely to add to the landfill.

2. People love dealsAdd a discount or promotional giveaway code to promote sales. That's just the way it is. J C Penney tried an everyday discount instead of relying on coupons and sales. Customers threw a fit and got their sales and coupons back, true story. People also love "limited time offer" and "special one-time rate."

3. People love "free." So if you have a series, you could offer a "free" copy of book one and hope they love it and continue with the rest of the series. Or give away a copy of one of your older books in hopes they will try out newer titles.  My friend offered a free pair of earrings with her ceramic dishes. She was the only vendor who sold out.

4. Autograph it. You can sign the bookmark in lieu of the title page for an e-book giveaway or promotion. Some people collect autographs. Some bibliophiles have bookmark scrapbooks or keep them inside the paper version of their favorite books. Some ebook collectors save the bookmarks as reminders of the books and authors they've read.

5. Personalize it. A bookmark can be used in place of a business card. Leaving room to write a personal note or give a specific email or other contact information makes the holder feel like they are getting an "exclusive" piece of information. If you find yourself talking to a book lover and want to connect again in the future (perhaps a blogger or book reviewer) you can add your email or phone number. Your website, blog, and/or author page should be listed either way.

6. Plant seeds. I know of one person who randomly left her book cards in waiting rooms, even bookstores. I probably wouldn't go that far, but I guess it doesn't hurt to try as long as you aren't obnoxious or pushy and get permission where needed. Is your book YA? Leave them where teens might be interested. Have a mystery set in specific real town? Leave them at local hotels (with permission) or ask local shops to stock them. I don't promote littering, but you can get creative based on the type of book you have written.

When selling books at an event, have a stack of bookmarks for people not quite ready to buy. Bookmarks can be part of a giveaway package at an event, especially if they are unique or have trinkets attached, etc.

If you place a bookmark in each book you hand sell, the reader can share the bookmark with a friend.

If you have an "in" with a local independent bookstore, you can ask them if they will allow you to leave a stack of bookmarks near the display of your book. 

7. Group Marketing is a huge boon for authors. If you and a few of your author friends advertise books on the same bookmark, you have multiple people passing them out. It is important for them to be in the same genre and appeal to the same readership.

8. Keep them on handAlways carry a business card, small bookmarks, or other ads with your website/author page, blog, and book titles. One of the first things people ask is:

"And what do you do?"

"I am a writer."

"What do you write?"

"Let me show you." Pass them a card.

Perhaps you meet an agent, editor, or book reviewer. Never let an opportunity pass to offer your information. They can refuse it or toss it as soon as they leave, but I have sold many a book by chance encounter. I went on a European tour and must have passed out thirty cards to people on the bus and people I met along the way. I noticed an uptick in UK sales when I got home.

Next week, we look at tips for bookmark design and printing.