Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Would Your First Lines Sell Your Book?

by Katy Kauffman @KatyKauffman28

If someone read the first line of each paragraph in your book, would they buy it? I tried that exercise once, afraid of the answer. It taught me to pay closer attention to my paragraphs. Each line that begins a paragraph is like one of those people who are hired to stand on a corner and hold a sign that says: Come visit so-and-so. Except, your first lines hold an invisible sign that says: Keep reading! 

So try it. You’ve probably heard that customers look at the first line of a book to see if they want to buy it. But remember that they are likely to skim more of your book to make a final decision. Help them out. Take the first chapter of your work in progress, and read the first line of every paragraph. Then ask yourself the following questions.

10 Questions to Test the Quality of Your First Lines
  1. Do my first lines make me want to read the whole book? 
  2. Do they make me want to read the paragraphs they begin?
  3. Have I used enough vivid nouns and verbs? 
  4. Are there any “limp” words I can take out?
  5. Is there enough mystery in my first lines, so that the reader has to keep reading to find out more about the story or the concept I am sharing?
  6. Do my first lines stir the heart and appeal to my audience’s felt need?
  7. Could I win a contest just with the wording of my first lines? (Don’t stress about this one, but think excellent quality.)
  8. Have I crammed too much into my first lines, and I can move something to the second or third lines?
  9. Do my lines progress the unfolding of my book’s premise?
  10. If the first lines of my paragraphs were lifted from the book and published separately, would I be willing to put my name with them?

If you use this checklist with every chapter in your book, do you know what you will have? Not only will you have tight, intriguing writing, but words that speak to the soul. That’s what we are aiming for as writers—to craft sentences that speak to the reader’s soul and etch some truth or hope on it forever. 

Will you accept the challenge? Try this exercise, and see what your answers are. Then read the first lines of your favorite books. How do those authors begin their paragraphs? What words did they use to make you read on? What information did they leave out, so you had to read on? We can learn from the best to make our work better, and each minute we take investing in our writing will make it shine all the more. 

Keep at it, writing comrade! And make each first line shine.

Which of the ten questions above are you already mindful of? Which ones may you need to remember? Tell us in the comments below, and keep the conversation going!


Katy Kauffman is an award-winning author, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. Her compilation, Breaking the Chains, won a 2018 Selah finalist award. Her newest compilation, Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character, discusses the hidden problems of growing in character and how to overcome them. Katy’s writing can be found at, at, at, in online magazines, and on devotional blogs. Connect with her at www.lighthousebiblestudies.comand on Facebookand Twitter.


  1. So much to learn. Thank you Lord for sending me wonderful teachers. God's blessings Ms. Katy...

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, DiAnn! I greatly appreciate your comment.

  3. Katy, I love great first lines. When I'm considering a book, I read the first line and pause to gauge my reaction. As a writer, I try to provide a reaction for the reader as well. However, I haven't been as intentional about the first line of every paragraph...but I will be now! Your posts always give me something to think about. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Karen, for saying that! I try to picture myself as the reader as well, and I had to really work on the first lines of my paragraphs. I am so glad you find the posts helpful!

  4. Great exercise!
    I find myself paying more attention to first lines and paragraphs lately.
    Great post, Katy!

  5. I took a seminar with Cec Murphy several years ago. He said the first and last lines of each chapter and each paragraph need to draw the reader to the next one.

    I'm not very good at that and this post has reminded me again. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Sherry. I'm glad this post helped!

  6. Very good and thought-provoking. Thank you, my friend.

    1. Hello, Neil! Thanks for reading this, and I'm glad you liked it.

  7. I've printed these and am taping them to my computer/desk.

    1. That's so good to hear! Thanks for telling us.

  8. Wonderful information! Thanks for sharing, Katy and Edie!

  9. Katy,

    Edie does post the best information for hopeful writers. Thanks for the helpful advice.