Monday, May 2, 2011

HOOK 'em in (in three seconds or less)

What is it?
The hook is the one-sentence core element of any pitch, logline, or query letter. It is incredibly handy to have memorized for any impromptu meeting with an agent or editor (or nosy family friend…) in a situation with limited interaction time (like an elevator).

Essentially, it answers the question: so what is your book about? In a way that intrigues the reader in exactly three seconds (because that is approximately how long you have to catch his or her attention).

Helpful Hook TipsFiction

Version One:
X genre in which/When X happens, X must do X to X/otherwise X

If you need help getting started, answer these questions (one sentence answers) and plug them into the formula (and tweak from there):

1.What is your age group and genre?
2.What happens?
3.How does your main character react?
4.What are your main character’s options?
5.What does your main character do?
6.What happens if he or she doesn’t get through it?
7.What are the larger consequences of this?

Version Two:
A specific frustration or situation one of your characters has to deal with that illustrates a key theme or problem (that is ideally unique) in the novel.

Non fiction

Why THIS book NOW? (Be prepared to follow up with: why YOU?)



Version One:
*A sci-fi trilogy set in a dystopian future in which a 16-year old girl offers herself as a "tribute" in a series of deadly war games to save her family

Using the help tip:
What is your age group and genre?
YA contemporary fantasy
What happens?
Two girls become sirens
How does your main character react?
freak out
What are your main character’s options?
become a bird or finish the task and return to normal
What does your main character do?
attempts to finish the task
What happens if he or she doesn’t get through it?
they will belong to Hades
What are the larger consequences of this?
they will lose their freedom

Plug it in:
YA contemporary fantasy in which when two girls become sirens they must lure a man to the underworld to be set free or they will belong to Hades and lose their freedom.

Tweak it:
YA contemporary fantasy about two girls forced to work for Hades as sirens luring individuals to the underworld unless they want to belong to Hades forever.

When you’re finished, it should be easily recognizable as a SPECIFIC book.

Version Two:
*It’s hard to fall in love with the boy next door…when you don’t remember who he is.

*Becoming a goddess would be pretty awesome…if it didn’t involve death.

This version is more vague, a pure interest piquer.


*Star Potential is the first astrology how-to guide written exclusively for high school girls ages 15-17 that will capitalize on the teen obsession with astrology-related titles such as the bestselling Star Crossed (Running Press Kids, 2010) and The Star Shack (Sourcebooks Fire, 2010) at an all-time high, and the constant popularity of the horoscope section of teen magazines.

Look at the listings in Publishers Marketplace; these descriptions stem from hooks, though they tend to also be vague.


Other Helpful Tips: – index of helpful writing tips


  1. I absolutely hate the dreaded 'what is your book about?' when I haven't had time to think about what facet of it that particular person wants to hear.

    My family probably doesn't care that my book is YA or the reasons they should buy it, publishers just want to hear why it's different and what appeal it has, and I'd feel ridiculous spouting out some professional shpeal to my friends.

  2. Thanks for this post, Natalie! Very helpful - especially now as the dreaded query is killing me. I'll pass this along.

  3. Wow. thanks for the post, Natalie! Great info. Back to the drawing board once again. Dang it, and just when I thought I had it right this time. :-)

  4. super, awesome post. I'm adding this to my little notes w/NB's and RG's... and just as an aside, I've found the simpler I keep my hook, the better my story is. And having done it both ways, something about knowing that core story before I start writing seems to keep everything moving for me. :o) <3

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  6. Thanks for this simple breakdown! I've also gotten some great tips from --there are lots of lessons on there, as well as video pitchfests where you can see the before and after.

    (Sorry, had to repost to correct the link)

  7. Hey, this is a great post! I'm definitely book marking this one!

  8. This has been extremely helpful. Turns out, I really do have a plot! Who knew? Thanks, Natalie!

  9. Thanks so much, Natalie! After reading this, I've realized that most of the hooks I've seen are more interest piquers, like you showed. I need to get to the more descriptive hook, the true "my book is about..." hook.

    Time to work! :)

  10. Thank you. This posts pushes me forward on my eternal quest for the perfect log line.

  11. Very useful post. I had all sorts of trouble getting my hook sorted out. (Wish I'd read this post first)

  12. Very helpful. You made me realize why I was struggling: I was trying to include too many subplots. Thank you!

  13. Especially with your examples, this is so helpful. Thanks.

  14. Great post. Very useful format to figure out how to describe a book. I also like movie analogies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets Star Trek the Wrath of Khan. Hey, that actually sounds interesting.

  15. I enjoyed seeing you present this information in person at PPWC this past weekend. Thanks for the recap here!

  16. New follower saying hi.

    This is a great post. I love that you give so many different options for creating a hook. Thanks for the info.

  17. Thanks for posting this. I've put the little formula and questions in a Word doc for future reference so I can practice with my WiPs.

  18. These are such fantastic tips! Definitely putting them to use.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  19. Love how answering the simple questions makes it all so much clearer. Thanks for that!

  20. Wow, what a difference having clear direction makes. Thanks. My hook sounds good.

  21. Natalie,
    Thank you! This is "a keeper." I'll follow the steps, try the formula, and finally come up with a clear hook for pitch, log line, and query! Thank you for your help in getting over this hurdle.
    Lori Norman

  22. Thanks so much I'm refining my hook because of what you wrote here.