Temptation Gone Wrong: When Hooks Turn Into Lines
A few weeks ago I bumped into a local author at a coffee shop. He had just come out of a workshop about book marketing when I saw him. He was pumped from the workshop and really excited about his novel and the prospect of re-introducing it to the world with and to fresh eyes.
As some background, this author’s book had been written and released years ago. With a day job as a full-time professional, he poured much of his own knowledge into writing it and willingly admitted he was on his umpteenth edit. The newest release was complete with a fresh title. (I can barely imagine finishing my novel, much less finishing it several times over, so kudos to this guy!) He was full of the kind of energy and ambition that radiates out and rubs off, and it wasn’t but a few seconds before I was glowing too.
But my excitement quickly waned. Why, you ask?
Because as we talked, I got around to asking him a very pointed question, a question that should be easy for any writer to quickly answer:
What’s your hook?
He grinned. My chest fluttered with anticipation. Oh, this’ll be good! I thought. I was sure he was ready with an answer, having just come out of his marketing workshop, and sat, seat-perched and ears perked, for what would surely be his brilliant reply.
I was disappointed.
What should have been a one or two sentence snapshot turned into a several minute summary of the entire plot.
What happened? Did I phrase the question incorrectly? Certainly I must have miscommunicated. Certainly this author knew what a hook was and its importance to the marketing of his work, to the accumulation of his audience, to the selling success of his novel.
But, after a few more minutes of talking, it dawned on me:
He had no hook!
After years of writing, editing, and rewriting, he didn’t have a grasp on the very essence of his novel. He didn’t know what should be driving people to buy and read his book. All he knew was that he’d put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the project and was desperate to make it sell. This time.
He was having a hard time capturing an audience because he had no hook, no dangling bait to tempt readers.
Where he ought to have had a strong, sharp synopsis baited with intrigue, this author, instead, wiggled before me a thin, transparent line that went… somewhere. But it was too long to follow. I became bored.
It was a weak sale.
It’s likely people will never know where that line leads–maybe somewhere insightful, interesting, even life-changing, but they’ll never know because they’ll pass by that flimsy-looking, hookless, baitless line without a second thought.
If you’re fishing for an audience, have a hook.
A hook is an impactful few words that pull a reader into wanting to know more.
For example, a hook could be “A clairvoyant woman returns to her hometown to hunt down her best friend’s killer” (Nora Roberts, Carolina Moon), or “A young heiress is pulled into a complex neighborhood scandal after her fiance mysteriously deserts her, leading her on a wild goose chase for love and a long lost treasure” (Jessica Woken, Pebbles in a Stream).
This synopsis is so important to the marketing of a book–YOUR book–that you need to spend a good amount of time and effort creating it and memorizing it.
Have it ready. Don’t hem and haw when someone asks you what your book is about–be prepared to throw that hook out there at a moment’s notice, the instant you think there might be a bite, the moment you detect a reader hungry for something new to digest!
Competition is tough. In the writing world, there’s no time to waste dangling useless lines in front of potential readers’ faces. Hook them, and do it quickly, before they swim away.
Minutes after my conversation with the author, I forgot what the title of the his book was. I didn’t mean to–in fact, I repeated it a couple times to myself to help my brain remember. It didn’t work. A day later, I couldn’t tell you the author’s name. Truly, I forgot most of what he told me about the story. I vaguely remember it being a historical fiction, something about a Native American Tribesman and some trouble he gets into, but that’s as much as I recall.
And, aside from referring to it to write this blog, I’ll probably never think of it again. I highly doubt I’d ever buy a copy, which is really too bad because I’m sure it’s a good story. But I simply wasn’t tempted by the author to figure out just how good. There was just no hook.
Need help coming up with a good hook? Try these
4 Ideas to Help You Create a Good Hook
Ask beta readers you’ve worked with to write a paragraph synopsis of their own, then pull little gems of awesome from what they’ve written to create a solid 1-2 sentence hook.
Consult with writer’s groups (there are plenty of communities on LinkedIn, if you want to stay anonymous) to get ideas on how to best summarize your plot.
Make it a Facebook contest. Offer up a handful of different hooks and ask people to vote on which they think is most effective. Raffle off a free copy of your book as a prize to participants.
Think like a film director. Sometimes writing a hook is difficult because we keep thinking in author’s terms. That is: We’re naturally wordy (reference the author mentioned at the start of this blog) and often “over write.” Instead, think of your book as a movie and your hook as the preview. What scenes would you choose to highlight the story? Take those, condense them into as few words as possible. THAT’S your hook!
Good luck, and #HappyWriting!