Monday, May 27, 2013


How to draw your reader and make him swallow the bait.

The hook is the sentence that makes you want to buy it even more than word of mouth, because word of mouth invitations are a reader’s individual interpretation of the hook.

A Tale of Two CitiesA hook is not a synopsis, it is not an explanation, it is not a series of descriptions, it is not a subtitle, or a log line (which the description of a movie), or an endorsement. It is not a cliché.

A hook may be a complete sentence, or a phrase, or a premise, or a theory. It should always be a promise.

Where should you place this hook to make the best use of it?
Authors want to reach all readers. Browser readers will do one of two things, or both: they will flip a physical book and read the back, or they will open to the first page and read the opening sentence/hopefully paragraph. This is also why that “look inside” feature of e-book sellers is important. You want to entice online readers the same way.

The back cover blurb hook: Is it the same sentence as your opening? No

The opening sentence of your work must use the genre to do more than invite—it must entice and keep the reader, like a fish taking the bait, in a way that won’t let the reader escape.

Just like fishing, a fish may be curious and check the bait from a safe distance (the cover or genre or name was attractive, but enough to merit a touch); a fish may nibble and escape (the reader has touched the book; i.e., read the blurb but backed off); a fish may bite but escape before being landed (the reader was attracted and bit, but dropped away after the promise of the hook didn’t hold up); or a fish may be captured (the reader liked your book!).

Here’s one way to research a perfect hook.
Walk to your bookshelf if you have one that contains any fiction and even non-fiction, even text books, look at the books there and read the opening sentences on the backs/flaps of the books, or the subtitles on the front. If you don’t have access to books in your genre, go to your book store or library and look at some books in your genre. Or use online retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Christian Book Distributers, or Goodreads, and hunt for books similar to yours. Read all those descriptions of the books, take some notes then think about your story.

Here are some from the pile of books near me.

Back cover/flap: Three brothers tear their way through childhood—smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. First sentence: We wanted more. –from We the Animals, by Justin Torres 

Back cover: When romance calls, will she choose to answer? First sentence: Did she dare? –from When Love Calls, by Lorna Seilstad 

Back cover: Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. First sentence: He is coming on the Lord’s Day. –from Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks 

Back cover: They came on a mission of mercy, but now they’re in a fight for their lives. First sentence: We were in the cantina waiting for a bus when Mendoza walked in and shot the waiter dead. –from If We Survive, by Andrew Klavan

Here’s one way to develop that hook for your own work.
Start by asking yourself some questions. What is your one-word overall theme?
What are the three most important things that happen in the book?
What is the inciting incident—or what caused the action/main problem—and what are the stakes?

Those are the elements you’ll use in your hook—the sentence that entices to reader to read on. The goal must be fresh, unique, active, and have grave circumstances if not achieved.

These are the elements from my current work in progress:
One-word theme: Restoration

Three most important events: The female protag is rescued by the male protag. The villain is encouraged to complete his task. The male protag discovers the underlying impediments to both his and her struggles for victory.

The inciting incident: The female protag attempts to trump the villain’s plan.
The stakes: Survival, rescue, justice, revelation of the truth
Some thoughts about the hook blurb:
When nobody loves you, you have nothing to lose.
Hiding might not be the best way to deal with being exonerated of a false accusation.
Running might not be the best way to deal with being the target of an insurance fraud scheme.
It’s a sin to be impure.
Hiding can’t erase their past.
The current opening sentence: The engine spluttered and choked.

What are some of your favorite openings or hooks? What are some from the book you’re reading or working on now?

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  1. Great post!Love to see hooks at the end of chapters where I might put the book down for the night, then I can't!!!

  2. My favorite part of writing is figuring out how to hook the reader. I'm not a master at it, but I enjoy trying!