How to write an attention-grabbing introduction: the structure that works every time

So many writers focus on the body of their book — the key points they’ll use to express their argument, which case studies would work, which experts to quote, etc. — that they forget about their introduction. In fact, I even had one client say something along the lines of “isn’t the introduction just fluff?” when I recommended moving content from her opening chapters to the beginning.

No, your introduction is not fluff. In a nonfiction book, your introduction is where you make your case for why your readers should continue to read.

No matter how valuable your subsequent content, your introduction is the piece that will turn people into readers, clients, fans, partners and opportunities. It’s where you share:

  • What your book is about,
  • Why it is so important for your readers, and
  • Why you’re the best person to discuss this topic.
In other words, your introduction is what convinces your readers to read the rest of your book.

Fortuately, there’s a formula to get this right — just five steps to write something that’s clear, compelling and coherent.

1. Poke your readers’ pain points

In my book, Book Blueprint, I discuss the importance of understanding your readers’ most burning problems so you could position your book as the solution to them. This is where you will use that information.

By starting with your readers’ thorniest problems you immediately demonstrate that your book is relevant to them, and this persuades them to keep reading. The more accurately you can identify and describe these problems, the more you build your credibility as the expert who can solve them.

So how do you do this? There are a number of ways to tackle this, with each method building on the previous one.

Method 1

The first method is fairly straight forward — simply outline the problems your reader is experiencing, either in a bullet-point list or over a couple of paragraphs. So if you’re a personal trainer or nutritionist who is writing a book on how new mums can lose ten kilos, the problems these mothers might be experiencing include poor fitness levels, feeling fatigued and lacking confidence.

However, while this gets straight to the point and ensures you’ve ticked the ‘problem’ box, it doesn’t make for a very compelling read. For that, you need to move on to method number two.

Method 2

The second method is to describe the problems your reader is experiencing, but rather than just listing the facts, you bring them to life with emotive language. To continue the previous example, rather than simply writing that new mums can lack confidence when carrying extra baby weight, you might say they feel saggy, fat and unattractive (these were the actual words listed in a poll of 3,000 new mothers run by fashion website A Beautiful Mummy in 2011).

How do you find the right words? If you’ve been in the same position as your readers, you might already have a good idea of how this feels. If not, speak to some people who are your target readers about what they’re struggling with, and take note of the words and phrases they use to describe their problems.

Method 3

The third method is to describe these problems in the context of the day-to-day events that happen as a result. Let’s return to our new mum. What are the day-to-day issues she experiences because she hasn’t lost the weight? If one of her problems is lacking confidence, an experience that demonstrates this problem might be going shopping for new clothes and not finding anything that fits. You can then make this more impactful by incorporating the words you listed in the previous method to describe how she feels when she has this experience.

Method 4

By taking these three steps, you already have the power to engage your readers from the get go. But if you’d like to really set yourself apart, the final method is sharing the experience of your target readers in a story.

‘Can I help you?’

You jump as a perky sales assistant tries to get your attention.

‘No thanks, I’m just browsing.’ You plaster on a smile before turning back to the rack of tops. What size are you now? It’s the first time you’ve been shopping since you gave birth, and you have no idea. Maybe you should just give up…

‘Are you sure?’

The sales assistant is still there.

You grab the next top from the rack: ‘I’ll try this one.’

You rush to the change room, dragging the curtain shut behind you. You rip off your top and quickly pull the new one down over your arms… until it gets stuck. You wriggle, tug and contort your shoulders, but it won’t budge.

You decide to surrender and change back into your original outfit, only to discover that you can’t get the top off.

‘Oh please no,’ you mutter as you try to yank the straightjacket up your arms. Your face burns and you start to wish you’d never gone on this shopping expedition. You tug harder and hear a riiiiip!

‘Is everything alright?’ the sales assistant calls.

After that introductory story, you could then continue the discussion with the other problems your readers might be experiencing. By including a story like this, you build an emotional connection with your readers. You show that you can relate to what they are going through. And they think that you get them.

Can you see how much more powerful that is than simply writing a list of problems?

2. Share the possibilities

So what do you do if your book doesn’t solve a problem, but instead helps your readers achieve a desire? Simply follow the same four steps, but instead of bringing your readers’ problems to life, bring their desires to life.

Let’s use home automation as an example. The first step is to list some of the features your readers might enjoy after implementing their home automation solutions, such as better security, improved energy efficiency and cool lifestyle gadgets.

The second step is to make it emotive. What words might your readers use to describe how these features make them feel? Security might help them sleep at night. Being energy efficient might make them feel proud that they’re doing their bit for the planet. The lifestyle gadgets might help them have fun or even show off to their mates.

The third step is translating these features and feelings into day-to-day experiences. They might be able to monitor their house from their smartphone at work. They might not need to worry about turning off the sprinkler system on a rainy day, because their garden system monitors the water in the soil and knows whether or not their plants need extra watering. Or, with the touch of a button, their home might automatically switch to ‘entertain’ mode with low lighting and soft music playing.

Again, these three steps are more than enough to whet your readers’ appetites. However, if you want to go above and beyond, once again you can set the scene with a story. For an example of this done well, check out my client Sam Bucbky’s book, Homes with a Heartbeat (you can even download his introduction at http://smarterbuildings.com.au/).

If you started your introduction with your readers’ problems, this step is still important, as you need to describe what their life might look like if they solved these problems.

Sharing the benefits of solving their problems immediately after you’ve fleshed out those problems helps emphasise how good your solution is, as your readers can clearly see the contrast against how bad their situation is.

How do you do it? Simply follow the first three steps — list the benefits, describe them with emotive language, and translate them into the day-to-day experiences your reader will have as a result of solving their problems.

So if we return to our new mum who is struggling to lose the baby weight, what are the benefits of losing the weight? These might include having more energy, improved sleep, clearer skin, more regular eating habits, improved fitness and feeling more confident.

Then imagine how these benefits would feel in this mum’s day-to-day life.

Imagine if you bounced out of bed every morning after a night of refreshing sleep, excited about the day ahead. Imagine if making food choices was easy — if your fridge was full of colourful, delicious food; your meals tasted delicious and left you satisfied; and you knew they were improving your health, strength and vitality every single day. Imagine loving the way you looked in the mirror and planning a shopping trip to buy new clothes at your pre-baby size.

And, as an author, imagine how much more this reader is going to want to find out what comes next.

3. Position your book as the solution

The next step is to position your book as the Holy Grail that will solve their problem, help them achieve their desires, or both.

The good thing is that because you started with your readers’ problems and desires, you’ve already done your sales pitch. You’ve already convinced your reader that they need a solution. All that’s left to do is outline what you will cover in your book.

First, write a subheading for each chapter or part of your book. If you are planning to have smaller chapters grouped within larger parts, I recommend just outlining the major parts here, as the list can start to get very long otherwise.

Then under each subheading write two to three sentences that explain what your readers will learn in each of these chapters or parts and the benefits they will experience as a result.

4. Demonstrate your credibility

Now you’ve shown your readers that you understand their problems, have started to build their hopes about what their lives might be like if they solved these problems, and have positioned your book as the solution that will help them achieve this. The logical next question for any sceptic is, ‘Who are you to make all of these claims?’

This is where you share your credibility. This might include:

  • Your education — do you have a degree or other qualifications in your area of expertise?
  • Your experience — how many years have you been working in this field (both in your business as well as prior experience)? How many clients have you worked with? What type of clients are they — individuals like your readers, or global businesses?
  • Your results — what results have your clients seen after implementing the recommendations you will be making in your book?
  • Your story — how has your story informed your knowledge? Did you go through a personal journey like the one your reader is experiencing? What did you discover, and what results have you experienced?

In most cases, your education and experience is plenty to cement your credibility, and results your clients have experienced are a bonus that gives you the opportunity to hammer home the benefits your readers will likely experience after reading your book.

In my book, this included saying that I’d worked with over 100 entrepreneurs, that I’d been working as a professional writer and editor for a decade years, and that I was going to teach my readers the same method I’d used to write my own book. Something as simple as this is enough to put your readers’ minds at ease and reassure them that the advice to come is not only reliable, but that it has been tested and is therefore likely to work for them.

When it comes to your story, I recommend having a good think about how relevant your story is in your introduction. In personal development books, personal stories can work quite well, as your personal journey is often the foundation of what you teach. Explaining how you started in the same position as your target readers, your trial and error to find a solution, and what you experienced when you discovered what actually worked can be an inspiration for readers who feel like they’ve tried everything and nothing has worked. It can also give them hope, as if they see that you were just like them, it makes your solution feel more attainable.

However, if the advice you are sharing in your book isn’t based on a personal journey then a lot of your story won’t be relevant. If you are giving marketing advice, for example, your readers don’t really need to know about your struggle to find a fulfilling career and why marketing was the right choice for you. That story doesn’t contribute to your credibility as a marketing expert. Instead, it’s far more relevant to stick with your education, experience and results, as these are what demonstrate that your advice works.

5. Final note

While this isn’t essential, you don’t want your introduction to end abruptly, so it’s nice to add a final note before going into the rest of the book. This can be as simple as wishing your readers well and hoping that they enjoy the book, or a couple of sentences recapping the benefits they’ll experience before inviting them to get started.

Ready to write your book?

Awesome! This is an extract from my award-winning book, Book Blueprint, which is being released in June 2017.

Pre-order a copy or download the first two chapters for free at grammarfactory.com/bookblueprint.