Blogger: Mary Keeley
Last week I gave you a list of tips for writing a perfect synopsis here. Today I’ll list some tips on how to write a powerful hook for your book proposal.
With the growing number of electronic and social media diversions competing for people’s attention, the hook on the first page of your book is proportionately more important to grab readers’ attention, make them hungry for more—and eventually to recommend your book to friends. A compelling hook in your book proposal is equally vital because you have one chance to convince an agent or editor to continue reading.
The hook is not a shorter brief description. This is a frequent mistake I see in proposals, and it reveals more than a lack of understanding of a hook’s purpose. It implies a lesser writing skill or possibly even the author’s lack of clarity about his or her book.
The hook is the first impression the agent or editor will have of your book. It is more than marketing copy. It should capture what your book is about in very few words.
- The hook in your proposal should be one or two sentences. In your manuscript the hook can be up to several paragraphs. I think this difference is where confusion has occurred. Remember that you have only 30 seconds to attract an agent or editor to continue reading your proposal. If you can’t distill the hook to an attention-grabbing sentence or two, their perception may be that your story or topic isn’t strong enough to warrant further reading. Before you think agents and editors are cruel and insensitive, understand that we have stacks of proposals to read and precious little time available to do so. It’s an unfortunate reality in the industry. But it underscores the necessity of having a powerful hook in your proposal, doesn’t it.
- Use strong active—never passive—verbs that convey the emotion or pressing need in your book. Use present tense.
- Allude to the main plot or the issue at stake—the main conflict or crisis. If you can encapsulate the essence in a word or two, 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.
- Questions are for back cover copy, not the hook.
- Unlike the synopsis, do not reveal the ending of your novel in the hook.
One way to start writing your hook is to jot down some sentences about the main plot or topic of your book and the main characters (fiction) or people and ideas (nonfiction). Search for a few strong words that capture the theme and conflict in your story or message and build from there.
In their book Write the Perfect Book Proposal, Jeff Herman and Deborah Levine Herman define the hook this way: “ . . . the hook for your book proposal is the power point from which your ideas take flight.” I like this description because it shows the passion a hook should have to make an agent sit up and say, “Ooh . . . sounds interesting!”
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?