I’m interrupting our normal blog schedule to insert an important announcement: Our agency is sponsoring a writing contest, and we want YOU to enter!
We’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, which signifies 25 years of serving the Kingdom and helping writers. It made sense to us agents that the best way for you to share in that celebration is by entering a writing contest.
Who May Enter
Anyone who is unagented is qualified to enter. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, for children or adults, we want to hear from you!
The Writing Contest Win
Two types of prizes will be awarded.
- Twenty-five semi-finalists will each receive a $10 Starbucks gift certificate to share with your BFF–or go for a drink + a goodie all by yourself. Either way, you’ll have your reason to celebrate.
- The semi-finalists qualify for the big win: a $250 Visa card + the chance to receive just-for-you, customized feedback on your proposal from one of the Books & Such agents.
Hook Us with Your Hook
The deadline is May 15, 2021.
Winners will be announced on June 1, 2021, on our website contest landing page.
Propose Your Proposal
The 25 semi-finalists will each send in his/her book proposal, based on your hook, by June 15, 2021. If you don’t have your proposal ready by then, you’ll still have that Starbucks card and the joy of knowing you have somethin’ good goin’ on with that hook. No rain checks will be issued. (So work on your proposal while we’re picking the semi-finalists.)
We’ll announce the winner of the Grant Prize on August 15, 2021, not only on our landing page but also via a press release to writing groups and to the publishing community–and here, of course.
If you’re wondering what a hook is or how to write one for your project, I’ve offered some winning hints below.
Several years ago I met with an acquisitions editor, and as we talked about what she was looking to acquire, she summed it up simply. “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!'” Her comment has stuck with me because, despite its simplicity, it’s also apt.
Why does a lack of a hook deep-six a project with most publishers? Because, without a hook, every phase of creating and selling your book becomes more problematic.
Ways to employ a hook
- 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 hook might well serve as a starting point for cover design and promotional copy.
- The editor uses it to help shape your book and to keep it sharply focused.
- A hook also makes a sales person’s job a breeze…well, at least a lot more successful. A sales rep has 5 to 10 seconds to sell your book. There’s only enough time to tell the hook.
- Ultimately, it becomes the tool that everyone in a publishing house thinks about when doing their part to ready the book for publication and for marketing.
- For you, once you decide on your hook, it becomes the device you use to shape your book and to create your proposal.
If you don’t have a hook, you’re making everyone’s job, including yours, more difficult.
What is a hook?
Hook: a curved or bent device for catching, holding, or pulling, much like a fishing hook.
For a book,
- a hook catches, holds, or pulls someone into the pages.
- consists of a sentence or maybe a few sentences.
- is brief and to the point, with the concept stripped down to its foundations.
For a novel:
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.” That’s a description that separates your novel from others.
Here’s another example from a book you might have read: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This brief description of the plot is taken from the book’s back cover: “In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”
What’s the hook?
A man is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel during Russia’s tumultuous years after the Bolsheviks start to govern.
Now, this novel offers all sorts of fascinating plot details, but the hook skirts around those to grab you with the story’s essence.
For a Nonfiction Book
What differentiates your book from its competition? A book on how challenging parenting is in today’s plugged in world won’t jazz a book buyer. 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 unique.
Here’s another nonfiction example:
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. This is a portion of the back cover copy: “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep–spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.”
What’s the hook–or what some call the “selling proposition”–of this book?
Deep Work provides a road map on how to focus without distraction on a task in a world where most of us spend each day in a blur of email and social media.
Think about Your WIP
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 publishing house staff, book buyers, or readers saying, “Not another book without a hook.”
Want more hints on how to write a winning hook? Here are links to other blog posts we’ve written on the topic.
I’m eager to see YOUR hook entry to our writing contest! Once again, you may send your hook to us at 25thAnniversaryWritingContest@gmail.com
A writing contest, judged by literary agents, is announced. Click to tweet.
Think your book project is a winner? Here’s an opportunity for it to be discovered. Enter this writing contest. Click to tweet.