The ‘Value Added Marketing’ of the First Line in your Book

Value Added Marketing

as explained by Shrek

Video courtesy of ryanmorrison31

Marketing Has Layers

Value added marketing

Photography by Joe Gatineau

Marketing is the message that brings buyers to your story.

Imagine marketing as an onion.

Now place yourself in a book store.

You’re walking along the aisle and a cover catches your eye. It looks interesting.

You pick it up. (Layer one, of the marketing onion, has just been peeled away.)

You hold the book in your hand, and then you flip it over to the description on the back. The description tickles your imagination. (Layer two, of the marketing onion, has been peeled away.) You flip the book back to the cover. Your hand opens the book, and your eyes gaze down at the first line of Chapter-One. (You are now staring at the third layer of the marketing onion.)

What is value added marketing?

Value Added Marketing: Creation of a competitive advantage by bundling, combining, or packaging features and benefits that result in greater customer acceptance. (Courtesy of businessdictionary.com)

How does the first line of my book become value added marketing?

Let me tell you a little story

Many years ago, I was visiting a friend. As we chatted, I perused their bookcase. My eyes settled on the spine of an innocuously colored book. It was the typography, title, and author’s name that caught my attention.

I pulled the book from the shelf and looked at the cover. This author is a particular favorite of mine. In fact, I would go so far as to say that two of their books (in that time) were some of my all-time favorite reads. But, I’ve also read some real clunkers by this same author. I stared at the cover; I was intrigued, but not sold.

I flipped the book and read the description on that back. Oh crap, I thought. It was the first book in a long series. If I commit, I’ll be reading this ‘ongoing’ story for months.

At this point, layer one of the marketing onion had succeeded, but barely. However, it did its job because I picked up the book. That’s what cover design is all about. Layer two, the book description, was less successful. It almost cost the author a reader. It was really the author’s reputation that pushed me to move forward to layer three.

This is a really important point. Imagine this scene in your mind; I was within seconds of sliding that book back into it’s slot on the shelf. If I had, there’s a good chance it may never have resurfaced in my life. But, I didn’t. I flipped it open to page one and read the first line. It read –

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Value added marketing

Photo courtesy of theaudiobookbay.com

By Stephen King

Here is where the concept of value added marketing comes to play.

Mr. King’s first line of, The Gunslinger, induced me to action. The cover got me to pick up the book, the description almost cost him the sale, it was the first line of the story that sold the book. I bought that book within days of reading it at my friend’s house. Then, because The Gunslinger is book one of a seven book series, (and it is superbly written), I went out and bought books two, three, and four about a month later. Finally, about five months later, I bought books five, six, and seven.

Think about this – That first line of, The Gunslinger, was the motivation behind a seven book sale. It had residual value and that’s value added marketing! 

Don’t we wish we could all do that.

I’ve thought about that line many times over the years. What makes it so powerful, so intriguing? The prose is quite simple. I think there are three components that are key to its success –

Antagonist, Protagonist, Conflict

It reveals all three of these elements in a twelve word sentence.
There’s no blood, no violence, no complicated structure

It introduces the Man in Black (mysterious), the Gunslinger (strong mental image), and conflict (the word fled). Stephen King could not have chosen a better word than fled. Even just speaking the word conjures up a feeling that something is about to happen!

There are all kinds of famous first lines and lists of them are plentiful in every corner of the internet. Stephen King’s line from, The Gunslinger, is almost always on the list. It’s that powerful. It sells books. It sells a series of books. For me, it is the epitome of the perfect first line. It has value added marketing!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every story I write gets considerable processing time for that first line. I want that value added marketing in my books. I want a potential reader to get hooked from my first words and find themselves compelled to buy more of my books because they remember that line.

I’ll share this first line from one of my stories. It’s an unpublished short story titled, You Don’t Shoot No Owls.

Claire Brown, was fourteen years old the first time her daddy stuck a gun in her hand and told her to go shoot something.

value added marketing

Illustration by Clarisa Ponce de Leon

This is my favorite first line (of my creation) to date.

I’m striving for that powerful simplicity that Stephen King captured in The Gunslinger. I know I haven’t hit it yet. But, I keep trying and that’s what’s important.

One other interesting note about, The Dark Tower Series, if I had picked up any of the other volumes that day, their first lines would not have had the same effect.

A fantastic first line is not easy.

Back to value added marketing

I hope that today’s blog will inspire you to consider how important each component of your book is:

  1. Writing an interesting story
  2. Giving that story a powerful first line
  3. Writing a synopsis, tagline, and book description with the same dedication that you wrote the story.
  4. Edit every aspect of your writing, thoroughly
  5. Design your cover carefully

Each of these components bring value added marketing to your efforts. As human beings each of us is unique. We all see things differently. You never know which element, or combination of elements, will click with a book buyer.

And finally, maybe one of your first lines will bring you a dedicated reader. One that will follow your efforts for years to come, just as Stephen King did to me.

I’d love to read some of your favorite “first lines” in our comments section.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

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21 thoughts on “The ‘Value Added Marketing’ of the First Line in your Book

  1. “The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death, he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.”

    That’s from Wool by Hugh Howey. A great book that I’m finishing off.

    Great post Bella!

  2. I love this post.
    OK. I’ll play. This is from Dragonstone:

    “Great. First royal dragon egg stolen from Chalvaren in ten thousand years and the damn thing’s already hatched.” Kort Elias grimaced and stared at the remnants of the Aurora eggshell.

    I’ll concede it’s three sentences, but I think it does the work. What say you Bellakentucky?

    • I concur Lady Millhouse. It is a good opening. We have a conflict, a character introduction, a description of setting, and we know this is going to be fantasy story. True it is three lines. It would be just as effective written like this – “Great, the first royal dragon egg stolen from Chalvaren in ten thousand years and the damn thing’s already hatched.” So, I qualify it as a great opening line! Cheers!!!

  3. Great post! Good things to remember. Ok, I love a challenge & would appreciate an opionion. Here’s the first line in my WIP:
    Aiden hadn’t bothered with the prosthesis, but a crutch leaned against the end table within easy reach.

    • Hi Catherine- Well you’re going to benefit from two opinions as well this morning; my editor friend is still here. We both agree that there is nothing wrong with your line. BUT- we also think that it doesn’t inspire. Why do we say that that? Because it’s passive. There is no verb that calls to an action. The problem with a passive sentence (in our opinion) is that it doesn’t generate reader excitement. So, what do we mean? How do you make a guy sitting in a chair, doing nothing, more exciting? You create a problem. This is just an example (not knowing your story).

      Aiden, hadn’t bothered with the prosthesis, but he wished he had when his crutches fell to the ground and out of reach.

      Cheers!

      Kent

      • Thanks for the input! I do have problems with writing too passive. Sadly, I don’t always recognize it so point well taken! My mentor always says writing is like juggling – lots of balls in the air. I always seem to drop one! But that’s what re-writes are for, right? :)

  4. Hmm. Out of the ones I have in progress, this is my favorite. Does it work?

    A dark symphony of passion and restraint played out in my dreams each night; played out with a man of moonlight and darkness.

    • Hi- Thanks for sharing! You’re going to receive the benefit of two opinions this morning as an editor friend of mine was visiting me when I pulled up your comment. We both felt that the sentence has weaknesses. One commonality among many famous first lines is that they create a strong mental picture of something happening. The man in black fled into the desert. And, why was he fleeing? Because, the Gunslinger was chasing him. Your line is passive, and describes more of a process, than a picture. We both felt that the use of the verb “played out” is weak. And we definitely felt that it shouldn’t be repeated. If you were set on keeping the line as close to this form as possible, we felt it would strengthen it significantly by ending the sentence with the word night, and then add the information about the man of moon and darkness later. If you wanted to create more tension, and make the sentence more active, you might consider replacing the verb ‘played out’with something like-
      A dark symphony of passion and restraint caressed me in my dreams each night.
      or, for something a little more exotic which plays to the word restraint-
      A dark symphony of passion and restraint pummeled me in my dreams each night.
      Always remember. These are strictly opinions.
      All my best!
      Kent

  5. The book I am currently writing is WW1 trench warfare

    MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS

    Terrified. Private Peter Cassidy sat huddled in the trench pressing his back into the wet mud walls knees drawn up almost to his chin……..

  6. What a helpful and interesting post. It is something I will endeavour to remember. Thank you.
    This is the first line from my novel, ‘The Shadowed Valley.’ Celia huddled nervously in her corner of the taxi. A storm threatened.

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