Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
A few months ago I met with an acquisitions editor, and as we talked about what she was looking to acquire, she said, “I enjoy reading literary books and ‘softer’ nonfiction books, but I’ve learned that if a project doesn’t have a strong hook, the sales staff on our publishing committee will say, ‘Not another book without a hook!'”
What does that mean? And why does a lack of a hook deep six a project with most publishers?
As in fishing, a book’s hook snags the reader and won’t let go. It’s the premise of your novel or nonfiction book that causes the reader to say, upon hearing the hook, “I want to read that book.” A good hook captures our imagination and promises us that reading this book will satisfy us emotionally, be mentally stimulating and cause us to rapturously tell others they have to read the book as well. (That’s the book all we readers are always on the hunt for, right?)
A hook also makes a sales person’s job a breeze…well, at least a lot more successful. Always remember that a sales rep has about 10 seconds to sell your book. If you had to convince a book buyer in 10 seconds to say yes to buying into your book, what would you say to him or her?
Obviously you can’t tell all the plot details; a hook is broad-brush painting. But it has to be a descriptor that’s unique to your book. The sales rep is unlikely to make a sale if he describes a novel as “a female FBI agent hunts down a serial killer.” Yawn. But what about this: “A female FBI agent hunts down a serial killer who turns out to be her sister.” Okay, now we have a unique angle.
For a nonfiction book, the book buyer won’t get jazzed about a book about parenting challenges in today’s secularized world. Been there, done that. But a book about a family that went one year unplugged electronically every Sabbath and spent that time together, now that’s much more engaging.
And, you’ll note, each of these descriptions is concise.
If you have trouble coming up with a unique hook for your manuscript, it might mean your idea isn’t as focused–or as standout–as it needs to be.
After all, you don’t want to have an editor head-over-heels about your project only to find the sales staff crossing their arms and saying, “Not another book without a hook.”
What hook would you use to describe one of your all-time favorite books? to describe your WIP? Plus, it can be fun to think of hooks for classics like Moby Dick, The Screwtape Letters or Gone with the Wind.