Ep 213: How to Hook and Hold Your Readers
If you didn’t click to read this first sentence, I failed.
If we want to hook readers and hold their attention so they read all the way to the end, we have to generate an intriguing title or headline.
Lure Readers with Your Title
Books, chapters, articles, essays, poems: they all need names or titles that invite the reader to stop skimming and scrolling and think, “Hm. I wonder what this is about?” or “Oh, wow, I need this information.”
I opened up Feedly when I was preparing this article and stopped on an article at The Write Practice titled “How to Find the Core Message of Your Writing” because it was clear and seemed relevant to the kinds of things I like to read.
But I also stopped on an article by Emily P. Freeman: “How to Find (and Become) A Good Listener.” That sounded useful to help me as a coach and to help me improve relationships with family and friends.
Or consider James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. The main title intrigues me with that word “atomic” connected to “habits.” His subtitle is “An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.” Then he includes a tagline that clarifies it further: “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” That sounds like a doable approach to the topic of habits, doesn’t it? He hooked me with his title and subtitle combo.
We have to entice our readers to click on the link or open the book by capturing that first concept in a few words that hint at or outright reveal the subject, topic, theme, or problem we’ll address in the piece.
Hook Your Readers with Attention Grabbers
Let’s say you nailed it—you lured in your readers with the headline.
Now it’s time to hook them—to grab them by the throat, as novelists often say. Bring on the attention grabber: it’s that first line or two that will keep them reading.
When I taught composition to high school students, I’d offer attention-grabber ideas like:
a startling statistic
an intriguing statement or claim
a story (e.g., an anecdote that stands alone, a personal story, or someone else’s story)
That article about finding the core message of your writing starts, “Why do you write?”—a question any writer will instinctively answer, at least in his head.
So the author, Joe Bunting, has probably hooked us. Our mind is engaged with the question. It’s a good attention-grabber.
Emily P. Freeman’s article on finding and becoming a good listener has an epigraph—a quote from Dr. Larry Crabb about listening to each other—followed by the beginning of the actual article. She starts with a story:
It’s 2012, and there’s a stack of brochures in the little room I type in. I keep staring over at them, rereading their invitation, “To know more about you: If you would like to be informed of upcoming events…”
I reach over, and I turn the plastic holder to face the wall. I cannot keep reading that same brochure over and over again.
What’s going to happen? Why is this brochure featured so prominently in this story? Is she going to take action? Is it going to change her? What does this brochure have to do with listening?
You can see how stories are great for hooking readers—they’re great attention-grabbers. They awaken curiosity and open a loop that we must close. We want to know what happens and how it ends.
So Emily has hooked me.
You, too, can use stories. And here’s a bonus tip—if you start far enough into a situation, the action of a story engages and hooks the reader, but you can leave it hanging so that you complete the story in the conclusion. That provides closure that satisfies and gratifies the reader. It feels like you’ve come full circle.
But for them to get to the end, you’ve got to hold him.
First you hook them, then you hold them.
Hold Your Reader’s Attention
To hold the reader isn’t easy. We’re battling for his or her attention, and we all know the long list of distractions that can pull a reader away at any moment.
Here are some tips.