You’re at a networking event. (Maybe you’re an introverted writer who avoids any group gathering with strangers, but work with me here.) While chatting over wine and cheese, someone who knows you’re a writer asks you, “So what are you working on now?”
My advice? Make something up. Don’t ever tell people what you’re working on until you’ve finished it. It just raises expectations and makes you crazy, especially when you dump that idea in favor of something better but your great uncle keeps asking you, “Have you finished that book on the secret life of squirrels?”
That said, YOU need to know what you’re working on. Last week, you jotted down all of the features you love in a book. Once you’ve got that information, it’s time to pull them together into a book idea you will love working on. In order to gain clarity and focus, it’s helpful to prepare a book hook.
What it is: A short summary of your book that includes the genre, main character, and central conflict (fiction) or main problem and solution (nonfiction).
What it looks like: Here are three examples from the current New York Times bestseller list:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A woman disappears on the day of her fifth anniversary; is her husband a killer?
Personal by Lee Child. Jack Reacher, a former military cop, helps the State Department and the C.I.A. stop a sniper who has targeted a G8 summit.
Quiet by Susan Cain. Introverts — approximately one-third of the population — are undervalued in American society.
Why you need it:
While you are writing the book, your book hook will keep you focused. When you’re tempted to jump off onto yet another meandering tangent or subplot, you can look at the book hook and remember the central theme and purpose of your book.
After you’ve written the book, your book hook will help you sell it to editors, agents, booksellers, bloggers, and the rest of your adoring public.
How to create it:
Read. The best way to learn how to write book hooks is to read them. Look at book jacket copy, reviews, and author websites until you “get” the formula.
Know the key elements. Start by jotting down the key elements for your book hook. As you do so, remember you are writing this hook with your ideal reader in mind. What will he or she need to know?
If you’re a fiction writer, the key elements of a book hook include:
*type of book
*central conflict or quest of the book
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, your elements are:
*central problem the book addresses or teaches readers to overcome (perhaps with some anecdotal evidence or statistics to aid you in hooking the reader)
*the ideal reader (e.g., overworked parents who need help managing tasks and children)
*the solution (you don’t have to give it all away, but let us know what you’re providing—maybe a ten-step program to help people lose weight)
Write and Revise. Write a draft of your own book hook. Rewrite it. Play with word order and verb choices. After you have a draft you like, test it out on a few trusted people, like those in your critique group. Don’t worry if you have to rewrite it hundreds of times—the work will help you sharpen your understanding of both your book and how to sell it. A great hook gets used repeatedly throughout the life of a book—so it’s well worth the time and effort to get it right.
Next week: Tune in to find out how to turn your book hook into an outline!