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Writer’s Tip: How To Make Compelling First Chapters

By Acquisitions Editor Jess Cohn

Everyone has had a favorite book that when they cracked open the spine, smoothed out the first page, and starting reading, they just couldn’t stop. The first chapter sucked them in and carried them all the way to the last snap of closing the book. And I bet they wondered “How?” How did the first chapter make them keep reading? There’s no formula for writing a compelling first chapter, but there are tricks you can use to captivate your readers and get them to crave more.

The function of a first chapter is to draw the reader in and get them to continue on to chapter two, chapter three, and so on. If the book is fiction, you need to establish who the main character is, the point of view, give snippets of the conflict, and establish the setting—all without an overload of exposition. Easy, right? Not always. So here’s a tip: don’t have your character wake up at the beginning of the chapter. Instead, show them doing a normal task like washing dishes, chatting with a friend, or eating breakfast with the family. That way you’re not immediately launched into the conflict of the book, but you’re introduced to the character(s) and have a chance to establish a good sense of voice. If your book is in an abnormal world where monsters rule the streets, well, what’s their normal?

For nonfiction titles, a compelling first chapter is even harder to write. Depending on the subgenre, first decide on what point of view the book will be in. First person doesn’t always work for business books, just like third person isn’t great for memoirs. Once you have that, establish the why of the book. Why do the readers need to continue reading? What are you planning on teaching them or helping them with? Making sure readers know this right off the bat sets up the rest of the book for them. Don’t overload it with statistics, but instead open the book as if you’re going to have a conversation with a friend. This works for almost every subgenre except memoir. For that, follow rules more aligned with fiction.

As an Acquisitions Editor, there are three main things I look for in a first chapter:

  1. Originality
  2. How the author established voice, and
  3. The ultimate question: Do I want to keep reading?

If the book is a concept that’s been done before (like zombies, for example), what’s the author’s take on it? If it’s a nonfiction topic that has a lot of books published on it (like politics), how does the author make the book different? The author’s voice needs to come across clearly and their style should be evident on the first page. I should realize that I want to read this book—or better yet, that I need to read it. My job is to find books that readers are going to love, and that always starts with the first chapter.

My best advice to you, dear writer, is to ask for opinions on your first chapter. Whether it’s from family, friends, or strangers you meet on the Internet, they’ll tell you if they want to keep reading. No matter what area of publishing you decide to pursue (hybrid, traditional, or self), a compelling first chapter will do your book a world of good.

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Roles at Mascot Books

There are many names and faces here at Mascot Books and we are always growing. Today we wanted to share a closer look into all the various roles on our team and give more insight on the tasks and responsibilities of each one. Each position is unique and important to the process of helping authors share their books with the world.


 

Acquisitions Editor
“I’m an acquisitions editor, which means that I bring in books to publish. I review manuscript submissions and conversations with authors about our publishing process. My day is made up of emails,
phone calls, and chats with the different members of production and marketing. I also create publishing proposals for the books we’re interested in and figure out what might work best for an author’s specific title. As an Acquisitions Editor I’m a main point of contact and I stay with my authors throughout the entire publishing process. It’s so much fun to see a book take shape from an idea to a physical copy!“ – Jess Cohn





Production Editor

“I serve as a senior production editor here at Mascot Books. That means it’s my responsibility to guide books through the twists and turns of the publishing process. I work primarily on children’s books, so for me that means a lot of manuscript editing, working with illustrators, and coordinating with our in-house graphic design team to make sure everything comes together beautifully. I also serve as the liaison between the various parties who contribute to the book and the author of each book so I can ensure everything is going as planned and is in line with the author’s overall vision. On a daily basis, you can find me editing (a lot!), reviewing illustrations, working with our design team and the other PEs, reviewing printer proofs, and, of course, sending lots of emails.” – Susan Roberts






Graphic Designer
“As a graphic designer, I wear many hats here. I design the layouts from adult novels to children’s books, from cover all the way down to the spacing between letters. I also design the marketing materials, like bookmarks, flyers, posters, postcards, and book trailers. My strengths are photo compositing (bringing several images together to appear like it’s always been one image; think fantasy books), retouching (fixing errors in images), and every now and again, I get to digitally paint an entire cover!” – Jasmine White





 

Marketing Manager
“I’m a marketing manager, and I work specifically with Marketing Plus and Premium authors. I help authors get their book out into the 
world by setting up book events, bookstore placement, and securing reviews and media coverage. I also write pitches and create marketing materials and web copy. No day looks the same! What I love about my job is that marketing every book is different, and I get to think creatively every day!” – Anna-Marie Collins 




Bookkeeper
“I am an assistant bookkeeper here at Mascot Books. I have a variety of responsibilities, including processing daily orders for distributors and retailers. I work directly with authors to collect payments, coordinate shipping arrangements, monitor sales, and make sure they receive their royalty reports every quarter.”
Abby Simpson






By Nelia Dashiell

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