I was in a local bookstore recently, a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, trying to decide between a novel, a biography, and a political best seller. To make my decision, I did what I always do when browsing: I opened to the first page and read a few sentences to decide if I like the writer's style -- the writer's "voice," if you will.
A few sentences is all I'm willing to invest before making a decision. I don't think I'm alone among book buyers in that approach.
The lesson for me? Readers aren't going to wait a few pages or even a few paragraphs for me-as-writer to "warm up." I need to establish a strong, likable, readable voice immediately.
The voices that appeal to me vary according to genre. But in all cases, I need to feel that I'm in excellent hands, that the author is an outstanding writer who isn't trying to impress me with his or writing skills, but instead just wants to tell me about something I might find interesting or exciting or life-affirming or... whatever. Just not boring or pompous. In fact, the best writers make me forget I'm reading somebody's writing. I'm just "there" with whomever or whatever the author is writing about, completely immersed, and glad of it.
If you're wondering which book I selected... I didn't. All three openings were so good that I have to go back for more before I choose. Based on how I've handled this situation before, I may end up buying all three.