Don’t Clickbait Your Book’s Readers (They Won’t Like You When They’re Angry)

One of the most important elements a book needs to have in order to hook readers is a great opening. But you never (I repeat, never) want to create a hook that comes at the expense of the reader.

For this post’s image, I’m using the cover of V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows, the second book in her Shades of Magic series. I don’t like to call books out directly, however, although there are probably other good examples out there for what is clickbait in a book opening, there’s no better example that I’ve found than the first chapter in this particular book.

I’m going to get this out into the open: although I really liked the concepts in book one, A Darker Shade of Magic — the three Londons in particular — I didn’t get more than a quarter of the way through book two. This post talks about one part of why I stopped reading it.

Now, I must warn you, there are spoilers ahead! Take heed if you haven’t read this book and still intend to.

“Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.”

This may be one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read. I mean that in all sincerity.

It’s not hyperbole when I say this opening to A Gathering of Shadows got me to buy book one AND book two of this series. When I first read this line in the Fantasy section at my local Barnes & Noble, the second book was the hot new release on the shelf. Curious about Schwab’s writing style (I’m very picky), I read the first page and was immediately hooked by not only her voice but the need to find out what would be the plight of Lila Bard.

I finished book one in about three days, which for me is pretty fast. I had a hard time putting the book down. though, I took issue with some of the more egregious continuity and historical inaccuracies. Overall, Schwab’s first entry in the series was top-notch. I can’t say that about a lot of new releases these days, so I was really excited to start book two. I had such high expectations.

They were quickly dashed.

“She always thought it was better than letting trouble find her, but floating in an ocean in a two-person skiff with no oars, no view of land, and no real resources save for the ropes binding her wrists, she was beginning to reconsider.”

And it just gets worse from there for Lila. Or so the reader is lead to believe, until a few pages later, where we discover that we and the crew of The Copper Thief have been had. Lila’s compatriots weren’t far and there was little REAL danger to her.

I suppose it would have been a less impactful opening if V.E. Schwab had been honest in the beginning that Lila was tied up by her own ship’s crew so that the privateer’s crew would “rescue her” and then she could spring the trap from inside their own ship. But I think a writer of Schwab’s caliber could have managed it, or at the least, she could have given us a hint somewhere on page two.

If she hadn’t let the deception go on so long, I wouldn’t have felt cheated by the first pages of this book.

I was so incensed that I put the book down for a month before I went back and finished chapter one. Shortly after that, I put the book down altogether and haven’t returned, but the reason for that is a story for another day.

Sure, I guess Schwab and her publisher got their way in the end.

I didn’t read far enough that day in B&N and I didn’t catch their deception. I bought the book. They got my money. Congratulations to them.

They won’t get my money for book three.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll read another V.E. Schwab book going forward. Yep. I’m that mad.

When you consider how you want to open your book, also consider how you want the reader to come away from your book when they finish chapter one. Are you only interested in getting them to buy that book and no others? Or do you want a reader for life?

If your answer is the latter, kindly, leave the clickbait on the cutting room floor. It has no place in a serious book.