This past weekend, I learned a valuable lesson about the necessity of hooking readers within the first few pages. My husband and I are planning a trip to New Zealand later this year, so we bought an audiobook copy of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton to get some perspective on New Zealand history. Now my husband is not a big reader. I can’t remember the last time he read a novel, but he does enjoy listening to audiobooks on long car trips. We had a five-hour drive on Sunday, so I thought we would start listening to the book then.

Boy, was I wrong. My husband gave up on the 29-hour audiobook after just 18 minutes. We hadn’t learned anything about the main character or why he was in New Zealand, and my husband didn’t care. He had turned off the book and put on music.

Over the next four hours of driving, I thought about what had happened. I’ve heard many times that an author needs to hook the reader in the first few pages, but it had never been so dramatically illustrated as in the car that day. I am an avid reader and will give a book many pages (or minutes) to pull me into the story. Not every reader is as patient. I have a feeling my husband is more typical. He didn’t think twice about abandoning a book that probably took Ms. Catton years to write. That made me think about the novel I am currently editing. How quickly do I hook the reader? How effectively do I make the reader want to keep reading? How do I keep a reader with the attention span of a goldfish interested? It’s a daunting problem.

How long do you give a book before you put it down?  How quickly do you need to be plunged into the plot to stay interested?

Side note: I will probably keep listening to the audiobook on my own. It’s going to take us most of two days to get to New Zealand so I’ll have plenty of time.