Sometimes I read other blogs because the picture they embed at the top of their post is interesting. It draws me in.
Other times, I see the picture, but then don't read the text because the first few sentences are boring and I'm already looking for a quick and easy intake of information...the picture sets me up for that. I want the post to be just as entertaining as the picture or else I won't read it.
In short, putting pictures before every post on a blog is a great way to draw people in. But if your post doesn't live up to the expectation you create by giving your readers a picture first, then they'll likely drop you like a hot potato.
Kinda like publishing. The first chapter (or prologue if you must) is a promise to your readers of what they can expect. If your first chapter rocks, but the rest of the book is slow, they'll most likely stop reading, frustrated with a story that doesn't stay true to what that first chapter promised.
Of course there are other things that catch the readers' eyes before the first chapter that also act as promises: cover art, what section of the bookstore it's in, what they've heard about the book online, the reviews they've read, which of their friends recommended it, the blurbs and summary on the jacket cover, etc. But these things you don't necessarily have control over if you seek traditional publishing.
It's kind of sad, in a way, that the very first promise I'm going to make to my beloved future readers whom I've dreamed about writing for for years isn't even in my control. The cover art could be completely misrepresentative of the book inside. The blurbs could promise my book will make the readers' hair stand on end, when all I really wanted to do was make the reader feel warm and cozy. Sounds a little awkward, doesn't it? Having to fulfill the promises your publisher and editor have made for you by designing your publishing package?
And yet, maybe we do have control over those things as well. Our publishers and editors are people, too. In fact, they are our very first readers. If we can't communicate the vision of the book to them, the excitement and passion we poured into it, then maybe they won't know how to present it to readers in the way we envisioned.
My pastor (who's also my boss) talks a lot about vision. He says it needs to be clear, it needs to be inspiring, and it needs to be portable: you have to be able to transfer the vision to someone else. And not just to one other person through a ton of thoughtful explaining. You need to be able to port your vision to lots of people, and be able to do that with a simple summary of your book.
Can you sum up your book in an inspiring, single sentence that draws people in? Can you talk about your book with passion, excitement, and longing? Is your passion about what you're doing catchy?
To picture or not to picture...
Do we present the reader with something that draws them in all easy like and promises great content with little effort on their part? Or do we draw them in slowly, telling them upfront that this book will take a lot of clever thinking to keep up with it, that it will challenge them?
Maybe I should put a picture in at the end. Kind of like an easter egg in a DVD, or a reward for reading all the way through. I know I will never walk out of a movie theater again until the credits have completely played through. I did that once, with an X-men movie, and didn't get to see Magneeto playing chess without his powers. I now expect and even hope for that last picture at the end. Maybe building a reputation that way would draw people in, knowing your work is solid all the way through?
So....here. Have a picture. :)