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About Geoff Smith

I am an English teacher, tutor and aspiring writer

bestselling, ebook, amazon
This week's best selling ebooks.

First sentence, first page, first scene's closing hook, first impressions count. They may not govern how our stories or novels or poems are judged overall, but they must surely influence the reader's decision to download, to read, to buy our work so that we can show them what a great story we have to tell.

To that end I decided to look at the top three sellers on the ebook fiction chart and see how the writers used language in their opening pages to hook their readers.

The books here were the top three on the 24th of August, 2016. They were:

1)'The Things We Wish Were True' by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

2)'Interference' by Amélie Antoine, Maren Baudet-Lackner (Translator)

3)'Everything We Keep: A Novel' by Kerry Lonsdale

The first two titles are 'Kindle First' titles. Some people might argue that this means that they are not true bestsellers, but I would argue that in the current context it highlights the importance of impressing the Amazon Editors as well as the broader reading public.

Novel openings

Put simply, the purpose of an opening is to engage the audience into the story and its protagonists as quickly and as deeply as possible. It needs to establish a distinct and credible narrative voice and to provide exposition efficiently, and on top of all that, it should hint at the controlling idea and at the deeper themes of the text as a whole. Oh yeah - and then, after all this i done it needs to excite the readers curiosity, to energise and to make us emote, emote, emote - 'Bloody Hell, Harry!'

Chapter Headings

All three of this weeks best sellers begin with temporal and / or geographical reference. This creates the effect of an 'establishing shot' in the style of film or TV drama or documentary. The fashion for these kinds of openings perhaps reflect the increasing cross media literacy of modern audiences.

In terms of function these choices have benefits for the author. The use of precise reference to time and place gives an immediate sense of credibility and helps the reader to cross the boundary of believability that so many people feel about fiction.

Secondly, it saves the author the effort of exposition as including exposition of time and place can be cumbersome, and awkward. By using headings, bestselling authors are able to dive straight into the drama of the scene.

The Things We Wish Were True and Interference also use the narrator's name to immediately precede the main body of the prose. This allows the reader to feel that they know the character to some degree before the narrative begins. In Everything We Keep, Lonsdale uses direct speech: “'Here Aimee.' Mom gave me a clean one” to achieve the same effect. Perhaps this is because her audience is more plot focused.

Proper Nouns

Proper nouns establish key characters quickly.
Proper nouns establish key characters quickly.

All three texts have female protagonists, and focus the use of proper nouns on a male character. As readers we are focussed quickly on the theme of romantic love. The names of the characters imply outsiders ('Cailey and Cutter' in The Things We Wish Were True), link with faith (Gabriel in Interference) or establish the 'normality' of the characters (Aimee and James in Everything We Keep). In terms of proper nouns The Things We Wish Were True establishes its literary credentials through an early reference to 'Charlotte's Web'.

Starting Sentences with Co-ordinating Conjunctions

With all three texts using first person narrators we expect to feel as if we are being spoken to. And in so many texts, we have become used to sentences beginning with 'And' and 'But'. All three writers use this method of imitating the cadences of speech to create a sense of intimacy between narrator and reader.

The Things We Wish Were True 'But no one wanted to hear that spider's message'

Interference 'But I know he'll be angry this time.'

Everything We Keep 'But instead of walking down the aisle towards my best friend, my first and only love, I was at his funeral.'

Bicolons and Tricolons

'We will fight them on the beaches...' Politicians like Churchill exploit rhetorical techniques.
'We will fight them on the beaches...' Politicians like Churchill exploit rhetorical techniques.

Bicolons and tricolons are terms that mean repeated grammatical structures. They are a feature of rhetoric favoured by politicians and advertisers. All three novelists use this feature.

When I read a novel, I like to enjoy the language; I like to feel that I am in safe hands, that my novelist knows what they're doing. Using rhetorical techniques is attractive to us and helps us to emote.

The Things We Wish Were True 'His body was tense, his inner self trying to get over to those boys even as his arms and legs stayed still.'

Interference 'I love how he makes me feel about myself, and I love knowing that he's nothing without me.'

Everything We Keep 'Same church. Same flowers. Wrong wedding'

Sentence Structures

The texts use sentence structures to reflect their themes and protagonists.

Mayhew Whalen's writing is the most heavily textured of the three texts. She combines the use of sophisticated sentence structures with colloquialisms ('smack-dab' 'superheroes') to create Cailey as a protagonist who is an outsider but who is also clearly an intelligent young woman. It includes a great cumulative sentence too that adds and adds and adds to the theme of the outsider.

The Things We Wish Were True 'Cutter and I stood, the two of us, off to the side, apart from the crowd.'

Amelie Antoine's Interference is the most clearly stylised of the three books. She uses short sentences most of which start with subject pronouns to create a staccato effect, creating a powerful impression of a detached and possibly psychopathic speaker.

Interference 'I feel like I'm in the here and now.'

Though the most traditional in terms writing style, Lonsdale does make use of minor sentences (or fragments to MS Office users). She does this to represent the emotional difficulty that Aimee has when thinking about her deceased love, James.

Everything We Keep 'The little boy I imagined standing between James and me, his small hands linked with ours.'


As you would expect – these three book openings are different! That said it is interesting that all three are using female protagonists and first person narrators and that all three use similar chapter headers.

My favourite sentence: 'Maybe I should be using the past tense' (Interference).

Tim Grahl, Story Grid, marketing

Tim Grahl, author of 'Sell Your First 1000 Copies'.

Tim Grahl is the marketing brain behind the Story Grid podcast. He has worked with the likes of Hugh Howey and Dan Pink.

Listening to Tim and Shawne on the Story Grid podcast recently got me thinking, not only about writing stories that work – the main focus of the project – but also about marketing books that sell. And marketing books that sell is something that Tim Grahl knows a thing or two about.

 I guess it was the podcast that made me purchase Tim's ebook from Amazon: YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES: THE STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO MARKETING YOUR BOOK. I thought it might be useful to me with this Blog. Hmmmm – time will tell on that one! Anyone who has listened to the Story Grid podcast will know that Tim, despite some pretty impressive achievements in his field is refreshingly arrogance free, and has a laid back persona that is welcoming and inclusive. And in Your First 1000 Copies we find that Tim's persona on the page is equally accessible.

With his work on the Story Grid project with partner, publisher and story charmer, Shawn Coyne, Tim's profile is on the up. Now I've never written a novel (more of that later) but my dad has (more of that later too). I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that like so many self-published writers in an increasingly competitive market, his sales so far have hardly set the world alight.

In Your First 1000 Copies, Tim outlines what he calls the CONNECTION SYSTEM, which basically means that in marketing what we need to think that everything we write is all about building long lasting connections with people and that we do this by being relentlessly helpful.

How to do it:

1 Permission

Connecting with people directly and regularly is key to the Connection System in Your First 1000 Copies and for Tim this means building an email list (do sign up to ours!). The argument is that only email connects you directly with an audience that is already receptive to what you are doing as a writer.

To build an email list you will need: a web presence, an email marketing tool (like MailChimp for example), a clear and prominently placed email sign up form, something to give away.

And of course when your email list grows, you need to keep that connection with relentless and regular content.

2 Content

One of the sub-headings in Your First 1000 Copies is, tellingly, To blog or not to blog. Tim's answer to this is to celebrate the potential of the blog, but also to warn of the challenges that blogging brings with it. In this book Tim recommends making use of others' platforms as a first priority, be that through columns on major websites, guest entries on other people's blogs, and publication in magazines and anthologies.

Whatever mode of internet presence you choose, Tim's approach to content can be summarised in two words: sharing and adventure.

By sharing we mean to share both what you are doing and what you have. Whether that be extracts, or plans, permafrees, or supplementary resources like reading guides. Long lasting connections depend on being open with your audience. If you think you're sharing just enough, you need to share a little more is the mantra here.

Adventure means that life can be be every bit as engaging as fiction, and that what sharing what we already do – sharing our own learning process – is almost certainly going to land with a lot more people than we think that it will.

3 Outreach

If we want people to notice what we are doing we need to be the best influencers that we can be. And just as in the Blog or not to blog section, Grahl suggests that working with other proven influencers can be the best way to build our own following. And how do we get to work with great people like this? By being helpful of course!

Don't ask for help; offer your service.

This is the section where social media comes in. To do that we need to understand our readers or potential readers and give them what they want too. To this end choosing the most appropriate Social Media platform can be key. If you write Young Adult, shouldn't you be on Instagram already?

Don't forget, though, that the best way to connect is always to meet face to face. So go to events and do this whenever and wherever you can. And no, folks, I do not think that this does include Skype.

4 Sales

The final ingredient of successful book marketing is sales, and sales Grahl reminds us, is not a dirty word. In Your First 1000 Copies reminds us to be our own fans. Be positive and enthusiastic about your work. Enthusiasm is infectious.

Make it easy to buy your book. In email communication, give your audience clear and repeated opportunities to buy your book. And don't be afraid to ask for the sale either. Remember that your customers gave you permission to contact them.

They want to know what you have to offer.

In summary

Obviously, this article contains a condensed version of the ideas in Your First 1,000 Copies, and to get the full version you can buy the book and read it for yourself. I found the book compelling and the ideas engaging. It's not expensive and it's a pleasant and uplifting read.

As I mentioned at the start, my dad is a self-published author with only limited sales. It'll be interesting to see whether applying the principles of Tim Grahl's Your First 1000 Copies can help him with his next project.

1,000 copies would certainly be a great start.

ALL NEW Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones' Baby to arrive after a phantom pregnancy

Those of us around in 1996 will remember the mega-phenomenon that was Bridget Jones's Diary – the novel that emerged from Helen Fielding's 1995 column for The Independent newspaper. The iconic everygirl was everywhere and everyone either knew a Bridget
or, just as likely, was one.


And the good news for Bridget Jones fans is that Jonathan Cape have just announced that there will, after-all,  be a new release to tie in with the release of the new film, Bridget Jones's Baby, which is due for release in cinemas on the 16th of September.


The new book, Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries, is to focus on Bridget's first pregnancy, some time before the events of the most recent novel – Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy - in which Bridget's children are all grown up and husband, Mark Darcy, is dead.


Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries, is set to be published on 11 October and is available for pre-order on Amazon.


NEW NEW Harry Potter
Cursed Child breaks more records for Rowling.

Anyone visiting a supermarket last Sunday will no doubt have seen half-emptied display stands with the last few copies of the Cursed Child playscript by Jack Thorne and JK Rowling.


The book launch has been marked by midnight openings, special discounts and record-breaking pre-orders with chains like Amazon and Waterstones. This Special Rehearsal Edition of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book contains the script used by the cast in crew in development of the stage show, along with further details about those involved in the stage production.


This current rehearsal edition is to be available for a limited time only, and will soon be replaced by the Definitive Collector’s Edition. This will contain the finalised, definitive script of the play, and other extras related to the production.


The book has received four stars in The Telegraph, 6/10 in The Irish Times.


NEW OLD Harry Potter
Hogwarts Houses for everyone - except you muggles, not for you.

The 26th June 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, which Bloomsbury will mark with an unprecedented year long marketing campaign.


The occasion will see special 'Hogwarts House Editions' of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for each of the the four Hogwarts houses. There will be shields on the jackets, extra content, and edges sprayed in house colours.


There will also be an exhibition on the magic of Harry Potter run in partnership with the British Library, set to open in October.


Longer Lives For Readers
 reading, longevity, long life, health

The New York Times reports on a study that links reading with longevity in the Elderly. The study reported in Elsevier journal Social Science & Medicine, found that those readers who read up to three and a half hours a week were 17% less likely to die in the next 12 years,
with those reading over 3.5 hours 23% less likely to die.


The results suggest that readers live on average approximately two years longer than non-readers, even after adjusting for gender, wealth and education.