Tuesday, June 08, 2021

4 Ways to Hook Readers on Your Series

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Not every reader starts a series with Book One. Laurence MacNaughton shares tips on how to hook your reader no matter which book in the series they start with.

Wouldn't it be great if every reader started your series with the first book and continued onward in order? But sometimes readers start in the middle of your series, especially if it's in paperback, and they can easily get confused. You need to hook them on your story quickly.

To do that, you need to make sure that every book in your series invites new readers into your world and brings them up to speed quickly. And you have to do it without boring your existing readers. It's a tall order, but I'll show you how.

I ran into this problem with A Kiss Before Doomsday, the second book of my Dru Jasper urban fantasy series. After the first book made a big splash on the front table at Barnes & Noble, we followed up with a big publicity push on the second one. For many readers, Book Two was actually their entry point into the series.
I'm proud of how many reviewers made a point of saying that they didn't feel lost at all. They felt perfectly comfortable starting the series in the middle, because I made it as easy for them as possible.

You can, too. Here's what you need to do in every book in your series.

1. Introduce the characters.

It's best to introduce all of your main cast in the first few chapters. You don't want to go halfway through the book and suddenly bring in a character that new readers are unfamiliar with. You want to establish the main characters right up front.

Sometimes, for plot reasons, it's impossible to actually have a character show up until later in the book. In that case, you have a few choices.

One, you can spend some time early in the book having other characters think about this character or talk about them. That clues in the reader that this is an important character, and they will actually start looking forward to seeing that character introduced later.

Another option is to give that character a brief POV scene earlier in the book, and then have other characters find out about what happened in that scene. That creates a sense of mystery.

Or you can simply show that character in a flashback with one of the main characters. That establishes them as a part of the story.

(Here’s more with Have You Met Ted? Introducing Characters)

2. Explain the relationships.

Every important character in your series has some kind of relationship with every other character, whether they're friends, enemies, neighbors, or whatever. After a few books, it's a tangled web.

Don't worry about trying to explain all of that. All the new reader cares about is how each character fits into this story. When a character walks in, are we supposed to be rooting for them? Or are we supposed to hate them?

It's crucial to make this clear to new readers. The last thing you want to do is confuse them.

Every time a series character enters the story, spend a quick sentence or two explaining how they relate to the other main character in that scene. Quickly tell the reader how they fit in, and then continue the story.

(Here’s more with What Are Your Protagonist’s Relationships Like?)

3. Start with trouble.

This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Don't waste time at the beginning of the book explaining everything or setting things up.

Hit the main character with some kind of trouble right away, on the first page. Start with a problem and get the story going. You can explain more later.

(Here’s more with Struggling to Start Your Novel? Here's What Makes a Good Beginning)

4. Inflict your exposition on new characters.

Exposition is a tricky topic. Basically, it's whatever information the reader needs to know in order to understand the story.

For example, Dru Jasper is a crystal sorceress, and has a cute little shop that sells magic crystals to other sorcerers. But some people walk in off the street knowing nothing about magic, and just want to buy some pretty rocks. If you're reading this series, you need to know this, so that when you see someone walk into the shop, you know they're either about to cast a magic spell, or they're about to get into some kind of magical trouble that they don't understand.

Exposition is a good thing, if you do it right. It helps the reader understand and enjoy your story.

But if you just throw a wall of text at them, they'll tune it out. This is often called an infodump. Important safety tip: only tell the reader what they absolutely need to know right then and there.

The quick and dirty way around this problem is to bring in a new character who desperately needs some information. Give them the bare minimum information and then move on.

Don't worry, your readers are smart. They'll figure out the rest on their own.

(Here’s more with It's Exposition, Yeah, Baby! Handling Your Exposition)

Make every book an invitation to new readers.

For whatever reason, it's possible that a reader might jump into the middle of your series without even knowing that earlier books exist. And that's okay. All you have to do is immerse them in the story, and gradually feed them the bare minimum they need to know to avoid being confused. After that, let them enjoy your story.

Are you struggling to write your series? Leave a comment below, or contact me on my author website at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

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About It Happened One Doomsday

Magic is real. Only a handful of natural-born sorcerers can wield its arcane power against demons, foul creatures, and the forces of darkness. These protectors of the powerless are descendants of an elite order. The best magic-users in the world.

Unfortunately, Dru isn’t one of them.

Sure, she’s got a smidge of magical potential. She can use crystals to see enchantments or brew up an occasional potion. And she can research practically anything in the library of dusty leather-bound tomes she keeps stacked in the back of her little store. There, sandwiched between a pawn shop and a 24-hour liquor mart, she sells enough crystals, incense, and magic charms to scrape by. But everything changes the day a handsome mechanic pulls up in a possessed black muscle car, his eyes glowing red.

Just being near Greyson raises Dru’s magical powers to dizzying heights. But he’s been cursed to transform into a demonic creature that could bring about the end of the world.

Then she discovers that the Harbingers, seven fallen sorcerers, want to wipe the planet clean of humans and install themselves as new lords of an unfettered magical realm. And when they unearth the Apocalypse Scroll, the possibility of a fiery cosmic do-over suddenly becomes very real.

There’s only one chance to break Greyson’s curse and save the world from a fiery Doomsday – and it’s about to fall into Dru’s magically inexperienced hands....

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  1. Loved this article, it will be helpful to me and many others. I'm querying agents to pitch the first book in a series and critique group halfwway through book 2.A new member never read Book 1 so your Exposition recommendation will introduce her to the backstory. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this excellent post. I'm currently struggling with this problem. I'm writing the fourth book in a series and have found myself creating huge infodumps explaining what happened before. I've deleted most, but need to cut down on the rest. Whole chapters have gone!