Adding a Special Hook to Draw in Your Audience

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

I recently read Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley. I really enjoyed the book and wanted to read it again immediately when I got to the end. I didn’t have the time to reread it because I let my good friend borrow it, and she’s had it for a couple of months. I’m feeling the separation, and I look forward to rereading the book when she returns it to me!

The author (and publisher?) did a really interesting thing with this story. She added Jane Austen references (and quotes from other classics) in the title and throughout the book to draw in the 20-to-30-something audience. The basic plot does not need Jane Austen or Emma references. The book is the story of a young woman who grew up in foster care. She is able to go to journalism school because an benefactor agrees to pay for it if she writes him letters keeping him informed of her progress. The benefactor requests she call him Mr. Knightley in the letters because he desires to remain anonymous.

The book would likely have been lovely even without the quotes and special Jane Austen-y title, but would it have sold as well as this book is? I doubt it. Readers who are around my age are very interested in the Jane Austen-type stories–like Austenland by Shannon Hale–so we would immediately be attracted to this book because of the title.

Have you ever considered spicing up your story by adding references that would appeal to your readers? Perhaps a certain geographical location for your setting? Or quotes from a well-known movie or book? Or could you frame your story around a popular classic?

These types of hooks might be just what you need to catch a publisher’s or agent’s eye, too. It might give your story what it needs to sell. It is important to make sure your special hook fits naturally with your plot, and you want to be sure it’s a relatively timeless reference, too. Pop culture and technology change so quickly that your book could rapidly seem out-of-date if you use those types of references.

 What type of special hook might appeal to your readers?

Can you think of other published stories that have used this technique?

One other book that comes to mind for me is Dreaming in Black & White by Laura Jenson Walker. The main character loves classic movies.

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40 Comments

  • Hello, Rachel! With having a secret benefactor, the story line reminded me of Great Expectations.

    On my current middle grade work, I didn’t use a hook like that for my title … but since my title isn’t set in stone, I’ll be thinking about that.

    And as I wait for that next project idea to arrive … I’ll definitely keep that concept in mind.

    • Christine Dorman says:

      Of course, Shelli, you’ll come up with a great title, then the publisher will change it. ;)

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      It’s best not to force a hook into something that is already working, but good idea to keep this in mind for your next book!

  • What an interesting topic!

    I can think of a few examples –

    * Military history and memoir since the mid-90s have referenced Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers”. This has been true in print and film. (The HBO miniseries “Generation Kill”, based on Evan Wright’s book, consciously avoided the “Band of Brothers” hook, and suffered for it.)

    * Andrew Greeley’s novels from the 80s and 90s hooked back to Graham Greene’s work.

    * Nevil Shute’s best book (well, I think so) “Round the Bend” uses quotes and embedded imagery from James Elroy Flecker’s poem “The Golden Journey to Samarkand”.

    You’re right about avoiding pop culture and technological hooks. Those evanescent enthusiasms can remind one of a period of life that is a bit embarrassing – SO six months ago!

  • I love the Austin hook. I gravitate toward books with those references and I’ve read several.
    My current WIP follows a band on tour. Maybe I can find a popular music reference to work into the plot and title.
    Great post! Thanks Rachel!

  • Jenny Leo says:

    I’ve been noticing many books with “Bone” in the title: The Bone Season, The Lovely Bones, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, the Bone Collector, Winter’s Bone. Not sure which demographic in particular is attracted to “bone” but they must be influential.

    • Arthur Upfield used this a while back, in his series about a half-aboriginal detective in the Australian Outback.

      The detective’s name was Napoleon Bonapatre – nicknamed “Boney”.

      One of the most memorable titles is “The Bone is Pointed”, taken from an aboriginal method of laying a curse.

      Probably not related to the current trends…but if those who like a good detective mystery are intrigued enough to pick up one of Upfield’s books, I’ve done my bit for the day.

      Oh – avoid “Death of a Lake”. It’s really depressing.

    • Christine Dorman says:

      Interesting observation, Jenny. I hadn’t noticed, but now that you say it, I realize you’re right. Now I need to know why. :)

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I have no answers! Interesting observation.

    • Jenny, I don’t know those books, so I’m not for sure. But it makes me think of the popular show about forensics, Bones. The word “bones” summons notions of mystery and intrigue, perhaps criminal intent, righting wrongs, just the facts but with a little bit of backstory thrown in to tantalize, how history affects our present course. I’m just thinking out loud and wondering what others think.

  • Rachel, I never even picked up on this. I love the idea. I’ll have to think about this, both in other references I’ve seen and as to how to incorporate the idea in my next story. Thanks for sharing this!

  • rachel m says:

    i love this book! i especially love how it is one of the few CBA novels of the past year that has such great cross-over potential into the general market.

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      But it was still Christian. I really appreciated that. Sometimes we try so hard for crossover potential that we forget that we are CBA authors. :) Katherine did a wonderful job.

  • Christine Dorman says:

    Thank you, Rachel. Now I want to read Dear Mr. Knightley. Emma is my favorite Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice is second).

    I have put in allusions here and there in my novel as fun inside jokes. Since the novel is a fantasy, I used references that fantasy fans would pick up on. In one early scene, my teenage protagonist has just moved to her aunt’s house. She loves to read and so is drawn to exploring the bookcase in her room. She picks up a small book and begins reading it. It is about “something called ‘a hobbit.'” The book is fun but she’s not in the mood for fun at the time, so she moves on to the next book. She glances through it, but is mystified. (She is a Faerie, by the way, who has just been transplanted to a human town). The second book has drawings of many characters, but the book’s title makes no sense to her since the book doesn’t seem to have anything to do with stars or wars.

    A little later on, while she is still adjusting to the new culture, she watches television with her aunt. She’s listless since she’s stuck here in this human town when what she really wants to do is to go live among dragons and fly with them. Although she is a faerie, she doesn’t have wings. There are all types of faeries and her family are all human-size and wingless–to her chagrin. She REALLY wants to fly. The movie doesn’t interest her. It is about a boy who’s just found out he’s a wizard and has gone off to a boarding school to learn about wizarding. Siobhan, my protagonist, is just about to nod off when she sees the boy wizard playing some sort of strange game and zipping around on a broom. This excites her. “I didn’t know Cinn-gan [the faerie name for humans] could fly!” she exclaims, not understanding special effects.

    The novel is only lightly peppered with those kinds of references, but I also have fun occasionally having Siobhan discover something we would consider ordinary. In a scene much later in the novel, Siobhan goes to a restaurant with her aunt. She is used to eating pizzas and subs by this point, but her aunt recommends something else. When Siobhan bites into the sandwich, she decides she likes this human “delicacy: the cheeseburger.” Although I do want to show the human world through faerie eyes, the plot certainly could be written without the things I referenced above. I just think a sprinkle of humor helps.

    Have a great weekend. :)

  • Angela Mills says:

    Dear Mr. Knightley has been on my to read list for a while and I knew nothing of the plot. I just really liked the title! Now I might ask for it for Mother’s Day :)

    This made me think of Bridget Jones’s Diary and her references and similarities on the story to Pride and Prejudice.

    My novel has some current references, so I’ll need to think about whether or not they’ll be timeless.

  • COLUMBA KNOX says:

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    Your blogging is thought—provoking.

    KAREN BARN(STORMING)ETT(E) —
    that could be her Aviatrix—writing
    penname………

    “desires to remain anonymous”;
    Caroline Oliphant………

    The short story, BARNSTORMING Them To Thee SAVIOUR gives you aviation history —
    Boeing;Walter Beech;Cessna; and
    the inventor of flying, Glenn Curtiss.

    The area above Chattanooga and near the mountains of Smokie is going to become
    world famous with the BOOKS about
    BARNSTORMING………

    FILM — BARNSTORMING

    JOHNNIE………Randolph Scott

    DUNCAN………Dana Andrews

    “YOUNG FELLAH”………Walter Brennan

    SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN……..L. Barrymore

    Director — Frank Capra………

    THAT is going sell the NOVELS………

    Sincerely, Indeed,
    COLUMBA KNOX

    • COLUMBA KNOX says:

      O, we must not forget from the world famous short story, BARNSTORMING Them To Thee SAVIOUR,
      the Gentleman who brought about the
      ladies’ favourite invention,
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      Happy JN4—D “JENNIE” To Yah………

      Porridge………

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Now I want to read that book! I love it when you come to the end and start right back at the beginning because it was so good. I just finished up “The One” the conclusion to the Selection series. Loved it and am ready for something new. Maybe Austinland or Dear Mr. Knightly. And you are right. I am much more likely to pick the book up since the title references the greatest romance novel of all time (IMHO). Those authors were savvy to manage it.

  • Rachel, What fun to find this here. I’m thrilled you enjoyed DMK. The references in it came organically to the story as a place for the main character to hide, but I can’t deny the added boost they gave it and how they have broadened its appeal. Happy blessing.

    I think you’ve struck upon something in that such references draw us back into our own lives and our own stories — so we are not only interacting with the story in front of us, but with a much larger history that is personally relevant.

    Thanks again…

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! It’s great to “meet” you here online.

      Great point about references drawing us back to our own lives and connecting the story to us in that way.

      You have written a wonderful book and I’m looking forward to your next one.

  • I personally have never liked chapters having titles, or quotes. It takes me out of the story. But that’s just moi. I get too distracted too easily.
    Squirrel!

  • Elaine Manders says:

    In one of my yet to be published novels the hero likes to quote Einstein and those quotes are sprinkled throughout the story. I don’t know what kind of hook that would be, but it does help deepen the character and provides a plot twist at the end.

  • I love this post, Rachel. It’s got me thinking about stories somewhere down the road… :)

  • Bonnie Doran says:

    In my science thriller, I used an expression from one of the original Star Trek episodes. One reader was delighted with the reference.

  • I used a literary hook with my recent (upper) MG nautical themed novel.

    Excerpt.
    While endless waves broke on the beach and the sun marched across the sky, he wished he had his favorite book. Eighty some years ago, an Englishman named Daniel Defoe had written a book about a shipwrecked sailor named Robinson Crusoe.

    The man had been stranded on a deserted island for twenty-seven years and Nicholas found it ironic how close the story matched his current situation. Crusoe was luckier than him, he had made friends with a native he called Friday. Rather than think about his friend lost at sea, Nicholas focused on how lonely and afraid Robinson Crusoe must have felt those first few months.

  • Tessa Afshar says:

    Actually, I see one more hidden hook for old book geeks like me. The whole girl in foster care being sent to school by an unknown benefactor reads just like Daddy Long Legs to me, which was my favorite book when I was an adolescent. I wonder if Katherine did that on purpose, or if it’s just a coincidence?

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