Saturday, April 10, 2010

Workshop: The Elusive HOOK

Hook, defined: something guaranteed to terrify aspiring writers everywhere.
Hook, defined, for real: the reason someone who hasn't read your book will want to read your book.*
*   Nebulous** term, but this is what we're using for the purposes of the workshop.
**  I totally had to look up the definition of nebulous. That's one word I always forget!

There are different parameters or uses for the hook depending on the kind of book you have, what stage you're in. i.e. - Purpose now is to get an agent's or editor's attention. Later it could be used to get a reader's attention.

Many different things could work for a hook, depending on who you are and who your readers are. Hooks are anything that can compound the likelihood that someone will pick up your book.

(I like these definitions! Make hooks seem less scary, somehow.)

Objective Hook Example: fact about your book, something tangible (Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, anyone?)
Subjective Hook Example: "fantastic read-aloud" (less useful to authors)

Think about what makes you pick up / want to read an unknown book for pleasure. For example, what story elements always make you curious? (That would be an objective hook.)

(So specific hooks for me are any books that have magic realism, or involve the Zodiac, or your everyday character learning they have some crazy psychic ability. But I'm also hooked by character-driven novels and voice -- I often read the first page or two to figure this one out, and that's what hooked me with Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks. The voice in Audrey, Wait! and How to Be Bad hooked me too, though they have stronger plot hooks than PLBD.)

-- Early reader, chapter books: Hook is very, very important, moreso than a novel even, because audience is just learning to read. An objective hook is more useful than a subjective hook.
-- Middle grade/YA: Still need for a hook, but other elements can help you (school libraries (glossaries, discussion questions)), and books can appeal to readers of this age for multiple reasons.

Oftentimes, "hook" means one or two sentences, like its use in a query letter. A great query hook can be morphed into a selling tool to go to editors, acquisitions staff, readers, etc.

Our goal as writers: a starting point.

(Whew! That doesn't sound so bad, right?)

Think about your story objectively, as if you didn't write it. Ask yourself what you like most about it.

Our homework for this session was to bring a one-sentence description of our work, then a 100-word description of our work. (We spent the second half of the session reading our stuff aloud and giving each other feedback.)

For editors, they have to do almost the same thing: 10 words for the headline, slightly longer for the tip sheet, then even longer for the flap copy.

Sometimes it's much harder to try to create one longer description, then try to trim that exact one down, because it limits your creativity and can make the process more difficult. Start from scratch, envisioning your project in an entirely new way.

Other Tips:
- See what else is in the market, check comparable titles -- because what differentiates your books from others can guide you to your hook.
- For historical fiction, always include the time period in your hook!

Even if you don't use your one-sentence hook officially, it's a useful exercise to try to distill your work to one sentence -- and it's great to use when a stranger on the street asks what your book is about!

(Great, great session. I've worked long and hard on my hook for my character-driven novel, and I got some concrete tips on a couple tweaks I can make to strengthen it. Hope this recap helped you too!)

Hey everyone, stay tuned -- Frankie's attending this workshop later today, so she'll stop by and update the post with any other great tips she hears!

What are your hooks as a reader?


  1. Good stuff over here guys on the conference!!!

  2. I so wanted to attend this conference but I couldn't schedule the time off in time. These notes are more valuable than you know. Thanks so much.


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