Posted On July 7, 2017 by Print This Post

HOW TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE HOOK with Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Please welcome literary agent Mark Gottlieb from Trident Media Group. 

I offer up this article on hook writing, also known as the elevator pitch, to lend the reader a feel for comfortable writing and public speaking in the fashion of selling a book idea to an agent, editor or publisher. Rarely is such an industry insider craft shared.

First I would like to share with the reader real hook examples I’ve worked on with clients that have recently sold to publishers to lend a sense of what goes into a knock-out hook

LILY & KOSMO, pitched in the tradition of A TALE DARK & GRIMM, FLORA & ULYSSES, and ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS, in which to join Kosmo’s “Spacetronauts,” an all-boy crew of child space cadets, aboard their floating tree house in the stars, a girl from Brooklyn must prove that she can hold her own among the galaxy’s unruliest rascals…along the way, she and another will evade the clutches of merciless minions, find themselves marooned in The Murky Way nebula, and ultimately face the vilest villain of all, “His Meanness” The Mean-Man of Morgo.

THE REMAINDERS, pitched as DARK PLACES meets GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, in which the daughter of a famed serial killer is compelled to meet the husband of one of her imprisoned mother’s victims, only to find he was murdered—she is made the prime suspect and is forced to flee, knowing she has very little time to find the truth before the police—or the real murderer—gets to her first.

 Social media @XplodingUnicorn leader James Breakwell’s ONLY DEAD ON THE INSIDE: A PARENT’S GUIDE FOR SURVIVING ZOMBIES, styled in the tradition of Max Brooks’s THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK, providing practical advice on how to raise happy, healthy children in the midst of the zombie apocalypse, by joining the genres of parenting advice books and undead survival manuals in an unholy union that is both ill-advised and long overdue—the narrator, an inept father of four young daughters, uses twisted logic, graphs with dubious data, and web comics that look like they were drawn by a toddler to teach families how to survive undead hordes.

The nuts and bolts of what makes for a great hook

Let’s dissect what goes into a knock-out hook. The above examples (children’s book, adult fiction and nonfiction) demonstrate the construction of good pitches for presenting book ideas to industry professionals. Here’s what can be easily seen in each of the pitches:

-Short one to three-sentence descriptions

One of the reasons they call it an elevator pitch is not just so that the pitch can successfully help you go “up” in life, but also because it fits within the span of a short elevator ride. When reading one’s own elevator pitch, it should be thirty to forty-five seconds at most. Otherwise you might just get folks rolling their eyes.

-Two to three comparative/competitive titles

Literary agents, and particularly editors, are trying to figure out where a given book goes on their list, where it would sit in a bookstore, and how well a book might perform. One of the first questions a publisher will get from their bookstore distributors is what are two to three comps that were bestsellers and/or award-winners, published in the last three to five years? Why not older than five years? Book publishing was different back then and books were written in a different sort of way. Besides, comparing oneself to one of the masters might also yield eye rolls. The comps should be of the genre/age range and I would encourage the writer to actually sample the comps to see if they’re an accurate comparison.

-A sense of the plot/central conflict/theme(s)

A good hook you can really hang your hat on lends a sense of what the book is about in its plot, conflict and theme in a very small space. Without this we might not get a good enough sense of what the book is actually about, since simply saying, “It’s this meets that” might not do the trick.

-A small window into the author’s writing abilities

There’s much to be said about a well-written hook in that it can entice the listener/reader to actually want to request a query letter or to read the manuscript!

-In the nonfiction example, we get a sense of the author’s platform

Somewhat different from fiction, nonfiction often requires that an author have a built-in audience in the way of a huge platform. Sometimes that can be as simple as an individual with over a million social media followers, or a website with similar numbers in terms of visitors or subscribers. Maybe the individual even gave a TED Talk where there were over a million views. In the hook for a nonfiction book, lend a sense of how big the platform is, since a publisher will typically only want to hear it if it’s from a Broadway stage, as opposed to a soapbox.

If the article interests you, comment below with your own pitch for a chance to have it work-shopped in the comment thread! This is a great opportunity to get your book idea in front of a literary agent from Trident Media Group, Publishers Marketplace’s #1-Ranked Literary Agency.


Bio: Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on in Overall Deals and other categories.


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19 Responses to “HOW TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE HOOK with Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb”

  1. Thank you for the informative article. I’ve never seen pitches broken down this way. Extremely helpful! Thanks for the opportunity to fine tune my pitch.

    BLACK MIST, pitched as THE BONE LABRYNTH meets GORILLAS IN THE MIST, in which a black ops recruit is sent to the Congo to suppress a violent gang of poachers, only to find himself following a wildlife contraband trail to a terrorist cell bent on destroying the country’s budding eco-tourism, all while battling a deadly disease sweeping through the area, threatening the natural resource he was sent to protect.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | July 7, 2017, 8:25 am
    • Hi Tracey,

      Thanks for checking out the article and commenting here. Sounds interesting. I like the James Rollins THE BONE LABYRINTH comp, though GORILLAS IN THE MIST is much too old of a book, having been published in 1983. I think a bit of Googling or searching on Amazon will yield some better results for a second comp. It actually reminds me of this documentary I saw on Netflix called “Virunga,” but generally-speaking, movies and TV shows are not good comps.

      I still think you’re off to a good start and you should feel encouraged to query someone at out literary agency.

      All the best,


      Mark Gottlieb
      Literary Agent
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      41 Madison Avenue, Floor 36
      New York, NY 10010
      (212) 333-1506

      Posted by Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb | July 8, 2017, 9:17 am
      • Thanks for the great feedback, Mark. I really appreciate it. Two of my secondary characters were inspired by Virunga. Such an incredible documentary.

        Thanks for the encouragement to send the manuscript to Trident. I’ll do so, once it’s complete.

        Have agreat weekend,

        Posted by Tracey Devlyn | July 8, 2017, 9:02 pm
  2. This was such a helpful article! While I’m still putting the final polishes on my novel manuscript, I’d like to hone my pitch. Thanks in advance for your feedback!

    THE KINDEST LIE pitched in the tradition of THE MOTHERS and BEHOLD THE DREAMERS centers on the promise and limits of hope during the start of the Obama presidency and the collapse of the auto industry. A black engineer desperate to reconnect with the son she abandoned at birth forms a tenuous friendship with an 11-year-old white boy yearning for a stable home life. Their secrets collide in a tragedy that divides a dying factory town along the fault lines of race and class.

    Posted by Nancy Johnson | July 7, 2017, 9:55 am
    • Hi Nancy,

      I am glad this post was helpful. I think those are some good comps you use in your pitch. Good pitch, too, and it sounds like something someone at Trident might like if you want to try us with it.

      All the best,


      Mark Gottlieb
      Literary Agent
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      41 Madison Avenue, Floor 36
      New York, NY 10010
      (212) 333-1506

      Posted by Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb | July 8, 2017, 4:18 pm
  3. Thanks so much for this helpful post! I love a good hook, especially when I’m trying to decide which of the many books on my waiting-to-be-read piles I’ll tackle next.

    I even enjoy writing hooks – unlike the synopsis, which is the bane of my existence. But first I have to dig in and get back to writing, instead of just enjoying playing with my granddaughters all summer.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 7, 2017, 12:15 pm
  4. Your post came at the right time, because I’m currently working on my first pitch.

    Thank you for offering to provide feedback, Mark. The only problem I encountered was finding two books that are similar to my ms. I know they’re out there, but I haven’t come across any yet.

    BLESSED, pitched as (blank) and (blank), reunites a proud Ojibway man and an obedient Catholic seminarian whose differing beliefs destroyed their love affair ten years earlier. To achieve peace between the warring factions at their home Reserve—the staunch cultural traditionalists against the devout Catholics—the former lovers must reconcile their differences or witness the church’s doors closing forever, depriving one half of the reserve without a place of worship.

    Posted by Mercy | July 7, 2017, 1:21 pm
    • Hi Mercy,

      I am glad this is helpful to you. A little bit of Googling or time on Amazon will yield some good results. Remember to read the descriptions of the books and actually sample them! Otherwise I think you’re off to a good start.

      All the best,


      Mark Gottlieb
      Literary Agent
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      41 Madison Avenue, Floor 36
      New York, NY 10010
      (212) 333-1506

      Posted by Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb | July 8, 2017, 4:20 pm
  5. Thanks for agreeing to provide feedback, Mark!

    In DISTRACTED, pitched as THE HATING GAME meets THE ROSIE PROJECT, a software project manager raising her nephew with ADHD is assigned to lead a team that includes a brilliant but distracted programmer. Faced with an impossible deadline, a battle for control of the project, and issues at home, the heroine thinks she’s succeeded until she finds that she’s fallen for her coworker and—oops—he’s actually her boss.

    Posted by Michelle | July 7, 2017, 2:06 pm
  6. Hi Mark! Thanks for the helpful post! I appreciated the examples from different genres, and the way you broke down the composition was very accessible. It’s also kind of you to offer the chance for work-shopping. So awesome!

    BURY THEM DEEP, pitched as DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD meets the film RED, in which a pot-smoking suicide prevention counselor follows clues in relation to a client’s sexual assault and reawakens an addiction to adrenaline that could destroy her life, or lead her towards the discovery of a secret family legacy.

    Posted by Jennie Shaw | July 7, 2017, 7:12 pm
    • Hi Jennie,

      You have a unique premise here. Again, as I mention above, it’s generally best to use book comps, even though RED was originally a graphic novel. YA-YA is too old of a book comp since it was published in 1996.

      All the best,


      Mark Gottlieb
      Literary Agent
      Trident Media Group, LLC
      41 Madison Avenue, Floor 36
      New York, NY 10010
      (212) 333-1506

      Posted by Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb | July 8, 2017, 4:31 pm
  7. A big thank you to everyone who submitted a pitch. Mark, thanks so much for your feedback!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 9, 2017, 12:46 am
  8. Mark – I literally just queried you the day before this post was published, so you may be able to imagine my Jerry-Seinfeld-saying-Newman face as I read your incredibly helpful comments about film usage for comps (Grrrr).
    No matter. As an old-school martial artist instructor, I’ve long since learned to roll with the punches and I beseech you to read my revised hook – ready to roll again in case you jab.
    ISIS QUEEN, pitched as LONE SURVIVOR meets THE GOOD GIRL, in which the teenage daughter of a U.S. Congresswoman falls under the influence of an ISIS recruiter online and runs away to Turkey, and the Senator’s only hope of ever seeing her daughter again lies with an Israeli Special Operator trained at getting himself captured for the sake of rescuing hostages held deep within the fanatical enclaves of terror organizations.

    Posted by A.C. Schneider | July 9, 2017, 9:31 am


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