Perhaps you need to take a good look at the bonding moment between reader and main character in the first few paragraphs of your book. Is there something there that could throw that bonding off? Here are some possibilities to consider:
1. Perhaps your character, needing to learn and change, starts out as unlikable. But no one wants to read the thoughts of a jerk. Some possible fixes: create a pet-the-dog moment at the outset, where the character’s generous qualities are plainly displayed. For example, a child starts to walk in front of a bus, and the character, at personal risk, prevents that from happening. Or perhaps the character goes out of her or his way to give food to a hungry person.
2. Perhaps there’s not enough happening at the beginning. Does the narrative take a detour to explain something? Give a tiny history lesson? Don’t do it. Delay all that until after the first 50 pages, to let that bonding moment bloom. And remember that the reader loves to wonder and be tantalized, and will put up with a lot of unexplained things (to a point).
3. Heighten the inner conflict. Your character wants to do something, but he also needs to do something else that conflicts. Put him in a quandary, right at the beginning, front and center. It doesn’t need to be a major plot point. But it will pull the reader into the book.
4. Keep the tension level up in each paragraph, no matter your genre. Tension doesn’t have to come from the really big things like a gun pointed at the character’s head. It can come from conflict as the character tries to reach a goal. Each scene should have a goal that the point of view character is striving to reach, encountering conflict on the way.
5. Watch the vocabulary. Perhaps your character, true to his or her time and place, speaks in stiff language, which readers may find off-putting at first. A possible fix: try to tone that down, at least at first, and substitute action for dialogue or inner monologue.
Got any more good ideas for us?