Posted On June 7, 2010 by Print This Post

How To Be An Excellent Hooker

Good morning and welcome to Crafting Your Career.  Unfortunately, C.J. Redwine could not be with us today for Query Writing 101.

Due to the volume of new readers who may not have seen C.J.’s first post with us, we have an encore for you.  To the wonderful (and dedicated) readers who have been with us since the beginning, we apologize for the repeat. 

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

***

We’ll see everyone on Wednesday when Wayne Levine will discuss why women don’t want to know what men are thinking.

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5 Responses to “How To Be An Excellent Hooker”

  1. Thanks CJ! An excellent article….I always have the worst time bringing my voice to a query, it always sounds so stilted!

    Thanks for letting us read your query!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 7, 2010, 11:44 am
  2. Hi CJ!
    Great info.! It always helps to see examples.
    Thanks!

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | June 7, 2010, 12:46 pm
  3. CJ –

    When I was writing a query letter a few weeks ago, I pulled every Query 101 post and printed them. Very helpful in crafting my letter!

    Thanks,
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | June 7, 2010, 1:13 pm
  4. So glad it was helpful for you!!

    Posted by C.J. Redwine | June 7, 2010, 7:27 pm
  5. C.J.,
    I appreciate the post.

    I’m a little confused about something.
    You wrote “Your hook is your query.”

    When I hear ‘hook’ I think of fish-hook. Then it’s just that little sharp bent anchor-looking needle-like thing with a worm wiggling on it. So then my words are the worm and I’m dangling it from–a query letter?

    Can you explain the difference between a hook, an elevator pitch, a blurb, back cover copay, a [non-elevator] pitch, and a query? Is it mostly semantics? Is the difference in length? Or where you use them? Or how they’re used?

    Thanks so much. I didn’t realize I had this mixed up until I read your post.

    Regards
    MissDaisy

    Posted by Daisy Herndon | June 16, 2017, 12:57 pm

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