Your Hook: the On/Off Button in Your Proposal
Blogger: Mary Keeley
After at trip to the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS), Christian publishing’s version of the general market’s Book Expo America (BEA), which Rachelle Gardner reported on here, I served on the writers track at SpeakUp, a conference for aspiring speakers, leaders, and nonfiction writers. One thing I noticed in my 15-minute meetings with many writers was a misunderstanding of the purpose of a hook, so I thought you might also appreciate a review and tips for writing a powerful hook. The kind that will grab agents’ full attention and eventually cause editors to drop everything they’re doing to read your book proposal.
How do you accomplish this? By communicating the book’s unique angle for your topic or story—in as few, perfectly chosen words as possible–for added punch. Have you noticed how some one-word book titles “speak a thousand words” and connote the gist of the book? The same concept applies for a creating your proposal’s hook.
Agents have back-to-back, 15-minute meetings at conferences and many proposals waiting in their submissions folder. Yours might be the fifth, tenth, or fifteenth proposal an agent has opened that day. While we spend an afternoon going through proposals, our primary agent responsibilities continue to pile up. We need to make decisions quickly. You have one chance to convince an agent to continue reading. That’s the power your hook wields.
The hook is the first impression you give agents about your book because it’s one of the first things we read. It will either intrigue us or be the first step toward disconnecting with your proposal. Here are eight tips for writing your hook: the on/off button in your proposal:
- The hook in your proposal should be one or two sentences, max. All the better if you can capture it in one or two brilliant phrases or clauses. When referring to your book, the hook can be several paragraphs. I think this difference is where confusion has occurred for many writers. Remember that you have only 30 seconds to attract an agent or editor to continue reading your proposal. If you can’t condense the hook to an attention-grabbing sentence or two, their perception may be that your story or topic isn’t strong or unique enough to warrant further reading. Before you think agents and editors are cruel and insensitive, remember our stack of proposals waiting to be read and precious little time available to do so. It’s an unfortunate reality in the industry.
- Use strong, active—never passive—power verbs that convey the emotion or pressing need in your book. Always use present tense.
- Novelists should focus on the main plot, main character(s), and the main conflict or crisis. Nonfiction writers should point to the primary issue at stake. If you can wrap the essence in a few potent words, great! Use them in an illusive, edgy, bold, or passionate sentence—whichever type corresponds with your book. But don’t explain the conflict or crisis. That’s the job of the synopsis.
- It isn’t necessary to refer specifically to the protagonist but if you do, use his or her name. It can create a personal connection with the character in an instant.
- Sometimes it’s more intriguing to make a passionate but general statement that conveys the central theme.
- Use colorful nouns; eliminate adjectives.
- Use questions to draw readers’ attention in the first page or two of your book or in back cover copy, but questions usually don’t pack the power necessary in the hook of your proposal.
- Unlike the synopsis, do not reveal the ending of your novel in the hook.
One way to begin creating your hook for your proposal is to jot down some sentences about the main plot or topic of your book and the main characters (fiction) or ideas and intended readers (nonfiction). Search for a few strong words that capture the theme and conflict in your story or message and distill from there. Get a few ideas on paper and then maybe step away from the process for a while. When you go back to brainstorming, the perfect words might ring in your mind. Don’t rush it. You’ll know when it’s right. It will pop.
What do you find to be the hardest part about writing a hook for your proposal? What approach works best for you in narrowing down your words and phrases? What are your favorite power words?
Your proposal’s hook is the on/off switch for initial agent interest. Here are tips for writing a good one. Click to Tweet.
Eight tips for writing your proposal’s hook to grab an agent’s attention. Click to Tweet.