How to Write a Prologue that Hooks Readers

Among those of us who proudly call ourselves writing geeks, the topic of prologues can be like discussing the morality of the death penalty in other circles. I know authors who hate them, as well as readers who skip prologues and go straight to the first chapter. Personally, I love a great prologue. I think of a well-written prologue as a teaser pulls me in to the story right away.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times to avoid the prologue. But when used appropriately, prologues can be a powerful tool to hook readers and add an extra layer of tension or depth to the first reading of a story. Below are some of my favorite prologues in YA fiction and the lessons I took away from them. Each of these authors used their prologues to achieve different ends, but they all created an opening that hooks the reader and enhances the story that follows.

Add dimension to your story by giving away a key piece of information.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The prologue for Eleanor and Park sets up from the get-go that the two title characters in this teen romance are no longer together. By giving this away from the beginning, it makes the romance that follows all the more bittersweet. It also adds an element of danger – are they broken up because the heroine died? Constructing the prologue this way adds to the tension of the story in key scenes, and the payoff in the end is very satisfying.

Inform readers of key backstory.
Paper Towns by Josh Green
Paper Towns was the book that got me thinking about the effectiveness of backstory. The author uses a prologue to introduce readers to a key scene that is telling about the two main characters in the story, a suicide that they witnessed as children. The scene is prologue-worthy not only because it reveals the personalities of the two main characters, but also because the incident has an impact on how they process the world for the rest of their lives.

Give readers a peek into the future.
Timebound by Rysa Walker
A prologue can be the perfect tool to drop readers in the middle of action without frustrating them. It’s a great hook, and you can then back up and tell your story more slowly when you begin with Chapter 1. In Timebound, we quickly discover that the protagonist is time traveling, and is in incredible danger. The mystery of what’s happening in this scene become unraveled throughout the book, and we only discover how it is resolved in the climax.

Use your prologue to set the stakes.
Sanctum by Sarah Fine
In Sanctum, the heroine goes to a kind of hellish afterlife to save her best friend from an eternity of limbo, while risking her own chance at finding heaven. To understand why she would go to these lengths, the reader has to understand the relationship. Fine skillfully uses her prologue to establish the roots of the friendship, as well as the roots of the problems that lead to the premise of the story. The prologue captures the reader’s attention and leads seamlessly into the story that follows.

Subvert expectations.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
The Twilight series has its detractors, but I thought Meyer did an excellent job with her prologues, particularly in the first book of the series. As the heroine explains that she is happy to die for love, it not only tells us something about her character, but also sets us up for the climax of the book. Throughout, we are sure that Bella will be sacrificing her life for her new soul mate, but in fact the prologue is talking about her love for her mother. The surprise was sweet and increased my sympathy with the protagonist.

Did you include a prologue in your story? If so, what purpose does it serve?

Welcome to the Author Marketing Institute

A Story Worth Telling…

Did you know that millions of regular people are choosing to become authors since the creation and mass adoption of things like the Kindle, mobile devices and eReaders? It’s an amazing time for authors because now anyone who can tell stories (fiction) or solve problems/inform (non-fiction) can share their work with the entire globe through the power of the Internet; both digitally, and yes, still in print.

But what happens when a story-teller writes a novel about Vampires, or when a business person writes a book about real estate, and they don’t have the knowledge, skills, or time to market the book? That’s where we come in.

The Author Marketing Institute (AMI) mission is to advance the practice of author marketing for writers of any kind, in any genre, in any part of the world. We strive to provide a network of tools, training, data, learning and helpful insight and advice from today’s top selling authors and author services providers.

How Did AMI Get Started?

Jim F. KukralIn 2009 our founder Jim F. Kukral signed a book contract with a large publishing firm for his first book. Shortly after his the book was released, Jim experienced with most authors experienced; that the marketing of his book was left primarily in his own hands, and not much help came from his publisher. So Jim set out to take his 18-years of experience as a Web entrepreneur and marketing consultant and create something that authors could turn to to learn how to market their books.

In 2010 the Author Marketing Club was born. A site dedicated to providing tools, advice and training for any author to use, free of charge. Over time, the AMC site grew to over 20,000 members, and has helped inspire and motivate authors from around the world to have more success with their books. Over 100,000 books have been submitted and promoted through the AMC network of sites, and thousands of authors have used the tools and training to turn their writing into full-time careers.

As the club grew, so did millions of new authors who wanted to take advantage of a world where the gatekeepers of books no longer existed. So Jim decided to create an event called Author Marketing Live! where authors from all over the world congregated to learn and network with some of the best-selling authors and publishing experts.

But the need for more from the author world continued to grow and grow. To feed that need Jim created the Author Marketing Institute, which will act as the flagship brand for all things related to helping the practice of author marketing.

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If you have a question about author marketing, ideas you would like to share, or feedback on our educational tools and services, please reach out anytime.