Posted On June 15, 2009 by Print This Post

How To Be An Excellent Hooker

secret_garden_shoe-cj-redwineWe are delighted to welcome C.J. Redwine to RU to discuss the all-important hook.   C.J. tells us she fears goats, loves stilettos and frequently lets her imagination run away with her. She writes edgy urban fantasy with a side of comic relief. You can learn more about her at www.cjredwine.blogspot.com and read samples of her writing, which is full of imagination and the occasional stiletto but is noticeably lacking in goats.

Take it away, C.J. with how to be an excellent hooker: 

No, not that kind of hooker. I don’t give that kind of knowledge out for free. I’m talking about how to hook an agent, an editor, and ultimately, a reader.

 Before we can talk about what a hook is, we need to talk about what a hook is not.

 A hook is not an introduction of every single character in your novel. Hero, heroine, and villain if you have one-that’s it. You want the heart of the book. Leave the discovery of the other organs to your delighted reader.

 A hook is not a blow by blow explanation of every major plot point. That way lies Query Death, a fate best avoided. Besides, that’s a synopsis, not a hook, and never the two shall meet. You want the spine-the conflict that hurtles your heroine into peril in chapter one and escalates until she finally learns/grows/changes/accepts/acts/does the unthinkable…and comes out a winner on your last page.

 A hook is not a formal, business-y sounding measly paragraph sandwiched between the rest of the stuff in your query. Your hook is your query. The rest is just garnish because if you don’t grab an agent or editor’s attention with your hook, the rest won’t matter anyway.

 Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at what a hook is.

 A hook is a two to three paragraph blurb that captures both the conflict and the Voice of your manuscript.

 That’s it. Sound simple? If so, please take a moment to slap some sense into yourself and we’ll continue. Condensing your 90k novel of fabulosity into a two-three paragraph blurb is tough. Most of us stink at it the first few times we try it. I know I did. But, like any other area of craft, practice really does make perfect.

 Or pretty close to it.

 How do you write a two-three paragraph blurb capturing the conflict and Voice of your manuscript?

Forget the two-three paragraph thing. Really. I know I just said it, but it’s like the Code on Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s more like guidelines than actual rules. You should feel free to break your hook up as your pacing needs dictate. Take a look at my example to see how I totally flaunted this rule. I did it because it mimics the pacing of my novel (which is one truly excellent way to bring Voice into your hook) and because I was experimenting with throwing business writing rules out the window.

Throw your pre-conceived notions of business writing out the window. Seriously. Yes, a query letter is a business communication and you’re going to keep a business-letter framework by having proper headers, salutations, and a nice tidy paragraph with your writing background and the word count and genre of your manuscript, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Why? Because novel writing is art. Publishing is art meets business. Query letters have to be a successful marriage of both as well. Nothing kills the excitement and Voice of a hook like trying to make it sound business-y.

Understand your novel’s basic conflict. Remember when I said you wanted to only include the spine of the book? A simple formula to help you identify your novel’s basic conflict is this: A must do B to avoid or accomplish C but D is a huge problem.  Fill in the blanks to this and you have your conflict. This is NOT your hook. This is a starting place.

Understand the Voice of your novel. My novel is dark urban fantasy written in a quasi-chick lit voice. Guess what? My hook reveals a dark urban fantasy and is written in a quasi-chick lit voice. The pacing of my hook mimics the pacing of my novel. My MC’s personality comes through. You want to do the same. Identify your novel’s voice. If you’re having trouble understanding how to make the connection between that Voice and your hook, grab five or six books in your genre and read the backs for some inspiration.

Write your hook. Take the conflict, play around with how to present it in the Voice of your manuscript, and tie it all up with either a question (Will Angela throw caution-and her reputation-out the window in time to rescue Jack before the vampires turn him into one of their own?) or a statement letting us know the final stakes (see my hook for an example).

Run it through the Query Shark. (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) Agent Janet Reid provides an invaluable service to writers by giving honest, knowledgeable feedback on queries (posted anonymously). She’s also been known to request pages from those queries she really likes.

Writing an excellent hook takes perseverance, but when the end result is an agent’s or editor’s interest, the blood, sweat, and multiple revisions you poured into it are worth it. Happy hooking!

 My query:

 Ms. Fabulous Literary Agent
1234 Publishable Ave.
New York City, NY 10001

Dear Ms. Agent,

Alexa Tate is more than human. She can swim underwater without holding her breath, scale a brick building in five seconds flat, and hear the emotions of those about to commit a crime. A secretary by day, she uses her skills to hunt down evil at night. She is stronger, faster, and more lethal than anyone she’s ever met.

Until now.

A non-human hunter has come to town. Using mind-control to inhabit his victims and through them commit unspeakable crimes, the hunter leaves a trail of bodies leading right to Alexa’s door.

Suddenly, Alexa is the prey in an ancient war whose rules she is just beginning to understand.  

To stop the hunter and save those she loves, she must uncover the truth about her origins, keep a certain handsome cop from suspecting her of crimes she may have committed, and unleash the tremendous power locked inside of her without becoming what she fears most: a killer.

Living in New York City can be murder.

Shadowing Fate is an urban fantasy complete at 80,000 words. I’m a member of RWA, and a 2008 Golden Heart finalist. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

C.J. Redwine

***

C.J. will be with us today so now is your chance to get answers to those query/hook related questions.   

Thank you, C.J. for an excellent post!   

We’ll see everyone on Wednesday for Anatomy of the Male Mind.

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41 Responses to “How To Be An Excellent Hooker”

  1. Hi, C.J. Thanks for the query tips – funny and informative all at the same time. 🙂

    When in your process do you write your query letter? I know, of course, that unpublished writers should have a complete, polished manuscript before sending out query letters, but I’m curious if you use the blurbs to help identify or strengthen your main plot? It’s easy to get caught up in the little stuff that we think is important to the plot (my personal weakness is backstory) so that it’s hard to see the big picture of the story.

    Thanks again! I’ll definitely be bookmarking this article for reference once I hit the query stage. 🙂

    Posted by Jamie | June 15, 2009, 8:00 am
    • I replied to your comment without hitting “reply to this comment” because technology and I are often at odds. 🙂 I do use blurbs to focus the plot. I wrote the above query when only 1/3 of the way through Shadowing Fate. Do whatever works best for you, just don’t submit the query until the manuscript is ready.

      Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 15, 2009, 9:18 am
  2. Hi CJ!
    Thanks for joining us at RU. I LOVE your A-B-C-D approach. I’m going to try it with the next blurb I write, which is just around the corner!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 15, 2009, 8:30 am
  3. Hi CJ. Thank you for being with us today. I took your online class and your “A must do B” suggestion was a turning point for me. Talk about an “Aha!” moment. I would never have believed one line of instruction could simplify something that once seemed so difficult. Thank you for that!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 15, 2009, 8:42 am
  4. Jamie – I write a blurb before I begin writing my next manuscript. It helps me identify the main conflict and is as close to outlining as this Pantser ever gets. 🙂 I wrote the above query for Shadowing Fate when I was about 1/3 of the way into it. Naturally, I didn’t send it out until I was ready to submit the manuscript, but it helped to have the core of the book laid out. Good luck with yours! 🙂

    Tracey – You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure. Good luck on your next blurb writing! 🙂

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 15, 2009, 8:42 am
  5. Adrienne,

    I’m so glad it was helpful for you! I’m honored to be here today. Thanks for the invite!

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 15, 2009, 8:44 am
  6. Howdy, C.J.! I noticed that your approach is very character-centered and plot-focused, with just a pinch about you at the bottom. My question is: what should an unpublished author put in that “pinch” to get an agent/editor interested? This is also assuming the poor author can’t afford RWA and hasn’t entered/won any contests either.

    A hope? A stab at humor?

    Thank you so much,

    Jayna

    Posted by Jayna Morton | June 15, 2009, 9:04 am
    • Jayna –

      If you don’t have any publishing credits and don’t belong to any writing groups, don’t sweat it. The title, the word count, the genre and a polite thank you for your time is enough. Really. Agents know debut authors won’t arrive with plenty of credits to their name. That’s why the hook portion is so essential. The hook grabs the agent. The rest is just garnish.

      Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 15, 2009, 9:17 am
  7. CJ,

    Great post. When it comes to writing query letters, you be the woman.

    I think your story rocks, and I love how you captured the feel of it in your query letter. An example filled with fabulosity!

    Posted by Keli Gwyn | June 15, 2009, 9:40 am
  8. Hey CJ!
    Great tips on drafting that all important query letter. Thanks to your help in your query class using this easy formula, I’ve got a kick-butt hook. I say ‘easy’ because you make it sound simple, but it took quite a lot of effort to get the thing just right.

    I love the advice not to make it sound too business-y. My writing voice certainly isn’t business-y, so why should my hook be full of intricately crafted sentences and stilted grammar? Thanks for getting me to loosen up.
    Laurie

    Posted by Laurie T. | June 15, 2009, 9:58 am
  9. Great topic, C.J. And great tips. Thank you! You’re query letter read like a back cover blurb, which definitely saves work down the road. 🙂 And maybe that’s where my queries are lacking. I keep thinking that the synopsis will give them the story and I should not devote more than a paragraph to it in the letter. But it’s the first thing they see and our best opportunity to hook the intended agent or editor. I think I need to change my mindset because your sample is very powerful. Thanks for sharing!
    Laurie Ryan

    Posted by Laurie Ryan | June 15, 2009, 10:35 am
  10. Thanks for the great article CJ! I haven’t done a query yet, but that’s next on my “to do” list…just finished the first rough draft of my first book ever yesterday. =)
    I love how your query letter reads, very suspenseful and tells a bit about the characters and plot all in one little letter! great job!
    looking forward to trying out your ABCD plan in the next couple of weeks!

    carrie

    Posted by carrie | June 15, 2009, 12:13 pm
  11. Hey CJ!

    I just had an “aha” moment reading your post. My queries are all definitely too ‘business-y’. Must be the administrative assistant in me.

    So glad your wonderful query got you an agent. You so deserve it!

    Cheers,
    Sue

    Posted by Sue Mason | June 15, 2009, 1:30 pm
  12. Darn, CJ! I was hoping for a little advice on how to make good use of those stilettos! Especially since I’m normally a flip-flop kinda gal…

    Can you ballpark for us the number of revisions one of your query letters might go through? I find I “fiddle” with my query letter several times throughout the query process.

    Thanks for sharing your fabulousity formula with us and our readers!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | June 15, 2009, 1:54 pm
  13. Hey CJ and all the RU folks,
    Great site, and great post, CJ. I loved your tips on putting together a powerful sales tool. I personally like the short approach to writing a pitch/query, b/c I don’t have to decide as much what to include & what to leave out: leave out almost everything. 🙂

    What terrific tips, CJ. And what a great site! Well-done, all!

    Posted by Kris Kennedy | June 15, 2009, 2:47 pm
  14. CJ, this is one of the best posts on writing queries I’ve ever seen! I cannot wait to read Shadowing Fate. 🙂 –Anne

    Posted by Anne Barton | June 15, 2009, 3:25 pm
  15. Aw, CJ. I wish I’d read this two hours ago, before hitting “send” on that query. Or maybe I don’t. Either way, my stomach would still be in knots that only tequila can untie–but it’s 5p in 10 minutes.

    Posted by Keri Stevens | June 15, 2009, 3:50 pm
  16. Thanks C.J. and Adrienne!
    And yes–today I posted on facebook that “send” is the scariest word. Though now I’m worried about the sentence, “You’ve got mail.”

    Posted by Keri Stevens | June 15, 2009, 5:58 pm
  17. Hi C.J.

    What an awesome post. I even took notes like a student should. I love your ABCD approach to the conflict. Very well stated. I’m looking foreward to reading your book.

    Posted by Shawna | June 15, 2009, 7:04 pm
  18. C.J., wow, what a great explanation on “how to write a query.” Fabulous job. Love the story, too! Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Theresa Ragan | June 16, 2009, 7:42 am
  19. Great blog, CJ! Not that I’d expect anything less from a Pixie.

    Your story sounds fabulous! And your querying tips are just as fabulous. 🙂

    Posted by Kristina McMorris | June 16, 2009, 12:20 pm
  20. Wow. Your query letter sounds incredible. My query letters suck. I’ve written one about a fantastic paranormal short story. It sounds stilted. I can’t seem to find the voice of my story when I hit the letter. I don’t know if you have a trick for finding the voice when trying to type the business letter, but I would love some tips. I can find the ABCD stuff, but I sound like my grandma trying to talk about sex. Wrong words, ebarrassed or sheepish, or worst apologetic! definitley not my voice in the story about the son of Lucifer. HELP

    PS I plan on buying anyone of your books I can get ahold of, and that was BEFORE I read your sample query letter. Your sense of humor hooked me.

    Posted by Leona Bushman | June 17, 2009, 1:09 am
    • Leona, I replied to your comment only it’s late, I’m tired, and I suffer from Swiss Cheese of the Brain Syndrome (you can blame my three boys for that) so I forgot to hit “reply” and doubt it emailed you because technology so RARELY intuits what I MEANT to do.

      Pfft.

      So, come on over and read my pithy response to your questions. And my unabashed SQUEE that someone besides my mother wants to read my books.

      Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 18, 2009, 11:00 pm
  21. Leona,

    1. I’m so thrilled you want to buy my books. 🙂 I get butterflies when I think of strangers wanting to read what I write. May that slightly giddy feeling never go away. 🙂

    2. Deep breath. I can help. Or you can help yourself. Or both. My query letters used to be stilted, formal, and oh-so-bland and I wanted to beat my head against my keyboard in frustration because my novels are anything but stilted, formal, or bland. Again, I’d grab a stack of your favorite books (within your genre), read the back, and look for how that author infused the voice of their story into their blurb. Then, throw out every query you’ve written and start over, only THIS time, write it in a way that mimics those book backs. It still took me three times to get it RIGHT, but every time was a definite improvement!

    Good luck to you!

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 18, 2009, 10:58 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the useful and handy front, C.J. Redwine made an excellent post today at Romance University on how to write a hook in query letters.  You should read […]

  2. […] 16, 2009 by Shawna Yesterday I read a wonderful post at Romance University. C.J. Redwine, who is a talented and funny writer with a love for stilettos to match my own, […]

  3. […] Writing your query? Just came across this article at the Romance University by C.J. Redwine, titled ‘How To Be An Excellent Hooker‘. […]

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