There is this belief in the writing/publishing community that you have 500 words to capture your reader. If you can’t hook them by then, they will more than likely put the book down and never return. Spoiler Alert: I disagree. Immensely.
Now, this is not some fabricated articulation that I’ve heard maybe once or twice, this is a consistent theme. And it seems cruelly unfair. Have you ever stopped to think how many 500 words isn’t? If that question makes no sense to you, consider it in the grand scheme of a complete work, say…100,000 words (my typical average). When viewed through that lens, it boils down to 0.5%. That means less than 1% of the entire book is responsible for making sure the rest gets read. I recognize that humankind essentially has the attention span of a goldfish at times, but seriously? 0.5%? There are interest rates that are higher.
However, despite how unrealistic this expectation is, it continues to hold as an industry standard. The result? Amazing stories don’t get picked up by agents, or editors, or publishers. Notice I didn’t say readers. Name me one reader that stops middle of the second or third page of a book they’ve already expressed an interest in and decided “Nope, not feeling it,” then put the book down. Forever.
Come up with anyone yet?
I thought not.
Because readers know better. They know you have to build a world before you can explore it. You have to meet a character before you can decide they’re awful or misunderstood or completely relatable. You have to know before you can feel. Many books require at least a modicum of build up to invest a reader in why they should care. Quite frankly, 500 words doesn’t really cut it.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to hook a reader within the first few paragraphs, just that it’s harmful to the literary world to expect it. Every. Single. Time. Consider the consequences of forcing an author to boil down their story to an inciting incident that launches everything. What has been lost? Core motivation? Character development? Where the hell we are during this event? Now also consider the very real result of starting with a bang–it’s all downhill from there. In order to keep people captivated, now the bangs must get bigger and more elaborate.
Again, this is not always what results. Many times it also forces a writer to reconsider what is important to the story, delete extraneous information, and hone their craft. As someone who has struggled with this journey through not one, but twelve manuscripts, often times 500 words still doesn’t cut it. A 1000 maybe, heck even 800, but chasing the elusive 500 kills me.
So we’re going to do a little experiment. For the next however many weeks, I’m going to post the first 500 words of all/most of my books. Some of them will include content warnings (i.e. language, mature content, violence, etc.) and I will be sure to include that at the top, including any over/under steps to the set criteria. In addition, each section will start with the blurb, so that you can have the exact same experience as any reader casually picking up a book.
I would love to get your feedback. Did I hook you in the first 500? Are you frustrated because 500 isn’t enough to get a real feel? Is all of this nonsense? Tell me. Leave a comment, send a message, whatever. Post goes live Thursday, September 17th.
First Up: Hart’s Betrayal
In 2115, werewolves are more believable than an ancient family dedicated to hunting them…until murder comes to town.
4 thoughts on “500 Words”