Your opening chapter is your most important one because that is where you strike your deal with the reader—his or her reading time in exchange for what you’re offering. The cover, title, back cover and table of contents are all selling opportunities to bring the reader to this decision point. By the end of the first chapter, the reader will have decided whether and why to continue reading.
To win over your reader, the opening chapter should generally address five Ps:
1. Problem—What’s really wrong and why it really matters to the reader. The best problem is one the reader is highly motivated to address in a reading experience, or would be if he or she knew what the author knows.
2. Premise—How this book will approach and resolve the problem in a unique and promising way. Describes the insight(s), principle or strategy that could solve the problem. The best premise feels fresh, powerful and promising—the reader should, for example, have an “aha!” response on first hearing of it.
3. Personal angle—Why the reader can trust this author to deliver a credible, helpful reading experience. Personal angle may be rooted in experience, education, observation, access to data, or a combination of these. The best angle is the one that shows that the author is not only the best source for help, but understands and respects the reader’s experience, and sincerely wants to help.
4. Promise—“Here’s a preview of what you’ll learn/how you’ll change by the end of the book….” Describes the take-away benefit for the reader. The best promise strikes the reader as credible, likely to be life-changing if applied, and worth paying for.
5. Plan—“In the pages ahead, here’s what will happen…here’s what you’ll think and feel….” Describes the reading experience ahead. The best plan is simple, intuitively sound and strongly motivating.
Alice Crider is an editor, an author, and an author coach. Since 2011, she has combined her life coaching skills with her writing and 15 years of publishing experience. Alice shared these ideas at LittWorld 2012, gathering many of them from Steps to “Bring about Life Change” by David Kopp.
Photo above by Tina Phillips, courtesy Freedigitalphotos