blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
Sounds a little Seussian, doesn’t it? Hooks for books and books on hooks and looks at hooks that hook the books.
It’s no surprise that a book needs a hook. We navigate much of our lives with an eye out for the hook that snags us, often in a good way. That’s not just an ad for athletic shoes, but for shoes that conquer plantar fasciitis pain once and for all. Unsure what to cook for dinner? Try this 3-ingredient chicken recipe that will have the pickiest eater asking for seconds. Scrolling through movie possibilities? You may check the number of stars, the rating, and the length of the movie, but what sells you on a choice is the one or two sentence hook that lets you know it’s not an ordinary save-the-family-farm tale. It’s save-the-family’s-plot-of-real-estate-on-Mars.
Grabbing a reader’s, editor’s, or agent’s attention depends heavily on the strength of your hook.
A hook isn’t just an elevator pitch, a quick pitch, or a summary of your story. It is the grabber. It’s what makes your book stand out from the hundreds or thousands of others with a similar storyline or subject matter.
Every book needs a hook.
A good hook lures (pardon the pun) a reader to say, “Ooh! Have to read that one!” It doesn’t communicate, “That could be interesting” but rather compels the potential reader to get their hands on that book.
Hooks for books aren’t templates.
Some claim they can be.
FICTION: <insert person> must find/conquer/reveal/evade/solve <insert the item or foe or secret or mystery> before <insert what makes it a ticking time bomb> or <insert what’s at stake, why it could spell disaster>.
NONFICTION: Because <insert problem> creates <insert felt need> for <insert people group>, <insert answer the book provides>.
But templates usually mean that even if the elements themselves are intriguing, the format sounds like every other hook an editor has ever heard. And that makes the bait easy to resist.
Writing a hook for a book takes creativity.
Authors sometimes think a hook is an afterthought. It’s a before, during, and after thought. It helps shape the book, helps make it worth writing, helps editors understand what makes it unique, and helps marketing teams and sales people quickly and efficiently interest potential purchasers.
Let’s look at several examples of ho-hum non-hooks that can be turned into sharp hooks that accomplish their purpose of snagging a reader’s or editor’s attention.
- Two people need to save the world from disaster.
- A pair of unlikely heroes join forces to prevent a global disaster.
- Two sworn enemies join forces to prevent a rogue satellite from destroying all human life.
- Sworn enemies join forces to intercept a rogue satellite bent on human destruction, but one of them will have to die in the process, and neither is volunteering.
Note that moving from yawn-worthy in the first example to “gotta have that book” in the last version was a matter of figuring out what will resonate with and stimulate the imagination of the reader. The first version sounds like it could describe any number of other books. It’s too generic to mean anything, to even register on the interest meter.
What makes a good hook?
Try this set:
- A young woman needs to find a way to preserve her grandfather’s legacy. (Sound familiar?)
- A young investment advisor must save the family farm or risk losing her grandfather’s legacy. (Still too generic.)
- More accustomed to bilking unsuspecting investors than milking cows, Serena faces the end of her grandfather’s legacy—and the last remnants of her soul—if she fails to make good on the promise she made at his deathbed. From manipulation to manure, she’s stepping in it. (That one, I’d read.)
Or this one:
- An old man struggles in his trip across the Pacific. (Snore.)
- An old man sails solo across the Pacific to find himself. (Haven’t I read that one already?)
- A man nearing the end of an unremarkable life takes to the sea to prove life was worth living anyway. Nature is out to prove him wrong.
Which would you want to read? Consider another set of examples, this time nonfiction:
- Learning how to be generous is as easy as one, two, three.
- Generosity, like money, doesn’t grow on trees.
- What if changing one thing could change everything about your enjoyment of life, your relationship with others, and your ability to make a difference in your circle of influence? It can. God called it living generously.
A good hook doesn’t give away the whole story, but it also doesn’t leave out either tension or hope. It tantalizes and intrigues. It offers the promise of a good read. And it makes the bait (your book) irresistible.
It’s been said before, but bears repeating. (Every time you hear that phrase, you probably say, “Let me be the judge of whether or not it bears repeating.” Personally, I think it does.) A hook is designed to grab a reader’s or editor’s attention and not let go. So writers, let’s start sharpening our hooks.
Thank you, Pixabay, and Pixabay contributors for the images.
It’s what makes the book worth writing. Yes, Cynthia! The hook of my book has to pull me in. If I don’t love it, no one else will!
Great comment, Shirlee!
I’m working on the hook for my latest WIP. Thank you for the information. 🙂
You’re very welcome.
An author is a fisherman
angling readers for his book,
but before he reels ’em in,
he’s got to set the hook,
that shiny flashy spinny barb
that grabs quarry’s attention,
and making one, it can be hard,
and needs informed attention
to avoid the (yawn!) cliche,
and the hackneyed phrase;
no, the hook must point a way
to brighten readers’ days,
and the success of this appeal
will thus ensure a brim-full creel.
A hook “points the way”! So true, Andrew!
You have a gift for laying out the great example. Showing me what to do instead of telling. I guess setting so many books yourself has made you a great fisher of men and women authors!!!!!!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oooh, this makes me want to rework my hook, too! Great job at getting us going!
Priming the pump on your creativity!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! I reworked my hook.
A young boy brings home a puppy who is twenty pounds larger than expected.
Little known fact: an eight-week-old Newfoundland puppy is approximately the same size as a full-grown Scottish terrier. Most perspective pet owners can easily tell the difference … almost every time.
Cynthia, thank you for clearly summarizing the basics of a book hook. I especially liked your illustrative “What makes a good hook” sets.
This is really clear and helpful. Thank you. I could see the difference and understand how wording makes a difference. I look forward to applying what you’ve shown here.
That makes me happy, Susan!
Thanks so much for your tips on writing a great hook, Cynthia! I’ll keep your advice in mind as I continue to tweak the hooks I have for my two completed manuscripts. And now I’ll consider the hook first in future projects.
Interesting concept–consider the hook first. 🙂
Jean E Jones
LOVE this! Thanks, Cynthia, for the great examples.
Thank you, Jean. You’re a blessing.
This came at the perfect time! I’m ready to start a new novel, have it plotted out, and the idea of starting with the hook in mind intrigues me. Thanks for the way you presented this, with three examples each, “growing” the idea each time! So, so helpful! 🙂
Thank you, Regina. Happy writing.
I’m having the hardest time finding the perfect hook for my religious book