The importance of Story Outlines in attracting potential readers

Story Outlines

Choosing a book

When browsing in a book store and contemplating taking a gamble on a book or writer you’re not familiar with, what helps you to make a decision?

The title and cover are, of course, the initial attention grabbers, but after this, what helps turn that nascent interest into the desire to take something home with you, to invest not just your money but also your time?

For most readers it will be two things. Firstly there is the blurb: that carefully constructed paragraph on the back cover that is intended to do one thing – make you buy the book. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, is the opportunity to flick through the pages. It is in this simple act that we can take in the tone and style and see if there is enough promise in the snippets we sample to want to know more. Personally, I start at the beginning. That all important first sentence. Does it grab me? And if it does, what about the second? And the third? I also tend to flick to a random section in the middle. Do any turns of phrase catch my eye? Do the snatches of dialogue I glance over make me want to know more about the characters who say them? I have an acquaintance who rather morbidly reads the last line of any novel he buys first, just in case he shuffles off this mortal coil before he reaches the end. I’m fairly confident such an approach is rare, but the point remains: in order to turn potential readers into actual readers they need to be provided with sufficient information to make a decision.

Promoting your ebook

When loading work onto CUT, the place to provide this information, to convince someone to buy your ebook, is the Story Outline. Here you can pique the interest of someone who is initially just browsing the site. In short, this area is key in attracting readers – even for flash fiction and short stories.

With this in mind, we strongly suggest giving this due consideration when you next make a submission, and that you revisit the Outline of any work we’ve already published, and ask yourself, “Would this be enough to make me buy an ebook by a writer I’m not familiar with?”

In most cases, a single sentence is unlikely to hint enough at the storyline, nor illustrate your style sufficiently to tempt or encourage someone to buy your work. We suggest using the Outline as a way of allowing readers to recreate the experience of picking up and flicking through a physical book. This can be done by carefully writing an outline sufficient in length and craft to do the job of the blurb, and also including a couple of sample paragraphs of the text in order to give the reader a good sense of what they will be purchasing. Naturally, the length of sample text should vary depending on the length of the ebook – flash fiction, short story, novella, or novel – and of course it should avoid giving away the crux of the story.

In addition, there are some specific facets of a work, which may be worth incorporating into the Outline:

  • If it is a collection, state how many pieces are included;
  • If it is aimed at children, indicate the target age range: 0-5; 5-7; 7-12;
  • If it contains adult-themes, it’s worth giving an indication of their nature;
  • If the work has won any prizes, or been read at any festivals, it is worth mentioning this.

Any of the above suggestions may help to encourage a reader to buy your work, and we strongly advise you to channel some of the time, patience and skill used to write your stories, into persuading potential readers to take a chance on them.

For an interesting example, take a look at the Story Outline of Providence, by Lara Bardsley.

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