I’m currently trying to write a query for publishing agents. Do you have any advice for me on writing a hook?
YES! I can help with this, though that isn’t really the way I got published, I do have some experience with this. Still, take my advice with a grain of salt as again, I didn’t get published this way.
All right, so you’re writing a hook to try to pull a literary agent in, great! First, let’s start off with why it’s called a hook. A hook is a metaphor to a fish hook. It’s a baited hook designed to entice a fish snatch onto your line. Literary agents are your fish, the letter your sending them is your line, now it’s up to you to give them a hook they’d want to bite into. So how do you do that?
First picture that agent sitting right in front of you. S/he sits back in their chair, folds their hands together, looks at you seriously, and says, “Okay, you’ve got ten seconds. Impress me.”
He quickly checks the time and looks back at you to impress him. What’s the two or three sentences you’re going to give this person that is going to make them want to give you another ten seconds or more? They’re not getting paid to listen to you, so it better be good.
So here’s an example of what I would do if I were writing one on my most recent book:
Changwei Kaori is an Asian Princess, living lavishly in a world still healing from a cataclysmic war. While on a visit to the market, she encounters a pair of fugitive children that open her eyes to the horrific crimes committed by her country. With this knowledge in had, she must mobilize what influence she can, with her mother breathing down her neck, to prevent the genocide of an innocent people. In the process, she befriends people who have been adversely affected by her mother’s policies and uncovers truths about her own past that she was unprepared for.
Remember, it is absolutely vital to keep the tempo up and the narrative flowing. This is your ONLY chance to impress the agent and if they find your hook boring, guess what? They’re going to assume, rightly or otherwise, that the rest of the book is as well. It may not seem fair, but literary agents get thousands of these queries and they only have time to judge a book by this query. Sometimes not even that.
Jane, I don’t want you to focus entirely on the hook as a whole, I want you to put emphasis on the first sentence. I’m not kidding pour your heart and soul into it. Make it dramatic. Use big, color words. Look at mine for a reference; “Princess” “Cataclysmic” “War” “Lavish”. Believe it or not, I’ve known agents who have to read through so many of these, they’ll throw them out after the first sentence. So that’s where I want your focus to be. Build a strong one that establishes your main character and setting. Then use the second setting to establish the problem your character will face. Instill a sense of urgency here. You want to make it impossible for the agent to pull their eyes away. Finally, make the third sentence about what the main character needs to do in order to resolve their issue, or what about a greater discovery that they make on their journey. Most importantly, though… LEAVE IT AS A CLIFFHANGER!!! Give the agent enough that they want more, but don’t answer all of his or her questions right then and there. Make it clear that if they want to hear more they’re going to need to work for it.
Finally, when all this is said and done, have a bunch of people look at your hook. Make sure they’re non-writers and ask them if this sounds interesting. Ask them straight up if they’ll buy that book when it comes out. Ask someone critical, but someone who is interested in the subject matter.
The importance of doing so cannot be overstated, because when you’re not the writer, you have distance from the work and it’s not something you’re invested in. A great hook should come across as something that was fairly easy to write (whether or not it was) flows easily, and just feels natural.
Think you’ve got an idea of where you’re going now? Awesome. If you get stuck again, just refer to this small list of no-nos:
- Over 200 words? YOU’RE REVEALING TOO MUCH!!! Look at my example above! It was 97 words!!!
- Multiple characters in your hook? This is a tough one, especially if you have an ensemble cast. Pick one, the one that you view as the most interesting or important and use them for your hook.
- Ask a question in the first sentence? This one is strictly my opinion, but this is a tired and cheap way of hooking someone in. It’s best left to, at most, mystery writers. Try to avoid it.
- Don’t talk about the story, TELL the story. A way to get your hook thrown in the trash is you lecturing the agent about what your book is going to be about rather than walking them through the story itself.
- Minor plot points? Don’t reveal your hand too soon. Keep it simple, keep it interesting. You’re wasting word count by getting into the minor details of the story. This is supposed to be a summary of the whole thing in three small sentences.
- Is the Ending of the book in your Hook? Get it out! At most, the synopsis should have that! Again, don’t show more of your hand then you need to!
All right, so there you go. Good luck, and good hunting! Let me know how it turns out and please feel free to email me if you have any more questions. I’m always happy to help.
Let’s open it up to my other readers as there are other writers who follow my blog. Readers, what other advice do you have for Jane? Is there anything else you’d add to the no-no list, or possibly refute? Let me know down in the comments!
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
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Catch you on the flip side!