Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hook your Reader!

Every author/mentor I’ve met at writing workshops agrees on one important factor: the story’s hook. Without it, chances are you’ll lose your reader. Agent Paula Balzer also agrees by saying that whether you are writing a memoir or fiction, having a strong hook is essential. This applies to nearly all books. She advises to practice these three exercises for defining your book's hook:

Good back-cover or jacket-flap copy is so essential to a book’s success that publishers often begin working on it before a manuscript is even completed. With this in mind, carefully read the cover copy of three of your favorite memoirs. How does each description hold up with your perception of what the memoir is about? Do you now look at the book from a different perspective? Now, try writing your own cover copy. You’ll quickly find you need to rely on the hook to capture the essence of your story in such limited space. What did you discover when you boiled your story down to a few paragraphs? Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?

List 10 things that are unique to the situation you want to write about. What makes your divorce different from your neighbor’s? What makes your bout with cancer different from everyone else’s? Keep in mind that the answers don’t always have to be literal or terribly deep. Did your husband tell you he was leaving you via Facebook? Did your chemotherapy bring you not a life-altering epiphany, but a special bond with the sweet child in the next room? What range of emotions does your list hit? Is it funnier or sadder than you anticipated? Is there something there that would make an especially good hook?

Select five different starting points for your memoir. Make a list of the key plot points from the five new starting positions. How does this exercise change the scope of your story? Which important components change? What track does the memoir follow when starting from a different position? How does each new story feel? Where does each one end if you start from a different place?

Will your readers be hooked with your story / book?


  1. This is SO appropriate for me right now, it's amazing! I just sent the fifth revisions of my memoir to my editor at WiDo Publishing yesterday. If I'd had this post of yours when I first started, I might have saved myself some revisions. Memoir has been one of the most difficult things to write; you have so much material rolling around in your head! What is most helpful about this post for me right now is your comments about writing cover copy. I'm going to work on it now. Of course my editors will have their say, but hey, this is great. Thanks so much!!!

  2. I'm struggling with the notion of "hook". It's a device with such a vague meaning and diverse applications. I like your approach though. you always make things precise and original.

  3. Hi Ann,
    I'm happy to hear you like my latest post ;) Don't worry, I'm sure your editors will give you the right advice. And yes, memoirs are NOT easy to write. Hope to read yours soon!

    Hi Ben,
    The hook is a literary technique, something that draws the reader in at the beginning of the story, first paragrapsh, or first pages.
    Thanks for your kind words. Cheers!

  4. *correction*
    paragraphs -- sorry, typed too fast.

  5. I love this post - thank you!! I've always had problems with loglines and blurbs and suchlike -as I tend to waffle!! I like the question prompts here!! I've just about done my synopsis but I've read it again and it just reads very flat!! I need to add some oomph!!

    Thank again! Take care

  6. Hi Old Kitty,
    You're so sweet! I hope Charlie or some muse help you get that oomph so that you can hook us all ;) Hope to read your book soon!

  7. Timely advice for many right now. The jacket blurb is becoming key. Nathan Bransford gave out some great advice a few months ago: a writer should be able to pitch their mss in one sentence, one paragraph, and a one page synopsis.

    Daunting, but essential training.

  8. I am still working on pushing to the limit maybe i will be able to layer it in when i do my edits and revisions.

  9. Good post. I struggled with the hook a lot in the past and I still do sometimes. It's so important to start the story in the right place and often times that's several pages or even a scene after where you've already begun. My goal with my current WIP was to write an interesting opening line that drew the reader in and build from there. Since my MC's occupation is an adventure novelist, I have to work hard at being unique since I've heard it's difficult to sell a story with a character with this occupation.

    Thanks for the tips!

  10. Hi Donna,
    Thanks for sharing your comments. I'm still nowhere near to writing my jacket blurb :(
    I guess I could think of the synopsis as microfiction: squeeze as much info as possible in a few sentences ;)

    Hi Joanna,
    Revisions are a great help. You might come up with something clever while editing.

    Hi Cindy,
    Welcome to my blog! Thank you for joining my community. Your main character's occupation sounds fascinating. I guess you could compare your MC to others who had similar occupations such as Josephine March. What made her special? What makes your MC special? You could incorporate some of your own characteristics ;) That will make her/him special for sure.

  11. This is so helpful! I am struggling with my story not being "unique" enough to be interesting but you are so right about focusing on those things that set it apart. I love all of your advice! Great blog :)

  12. Hi Saumya,
    Thank you for your kind words. Glad you dropped by. Hope to see you here again ;)
    I'll check out your blog in a bit.

  13. Gosh, I hope my book will hook the reader! I like to write the blurb before I start the book, as it really helps focus my thoughts on what exactly I'm writing!

    Great tips!

  14. Hi Talli,
    I bet your book will be as successful as your blog ;) you already have a great audience so no worries there.

    Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for dropping by and for joining my blog. I'll come by your neck of the woods and learn more about your blog.
    Hope to see you around here again!