Book Proposal Basics – Hooks Aren’t Only for Fish

The next elements are meant to encourage the agent and editor to read your book. These are worth crafting because, otherwise, your intended audience may never go past the first page.

When I say “hook” in this post, I am not referring to hooking your reader with the first page of your story. Here, I mean an element in the proposal, the reason your reader will want to read your book instead of or in addition to someone else’s. You are “hooking,” or luring, them into reading your book.

The hook can explain the story but not give everything away. Think of a hook as a short teaser. You want the reader to say, “Ah! I want to read this!”

Here are a couple of examples I just made up. You can do better than these, but you get the idea:

When a woman discovers a time capsule her grandfather planted under a tree in the 1920s, she wished she’d never learned the secrets its contents revealed.

When a baby is left at the doorstep of a homeless shelter with a note that her mother must be found before a bomb goes off at Union Station, Detective Sabrina Loyalton faces her toughest case.

Another approach is to compare your book to two popular movies or books:

Mad Max meets Gone with the Wind in this dystopian time-travel thriller.

Hooks are a fun part of your proposal where you get to show how your story is unique, yet marketable. Enjoy!

Your turn:

What is your hook?

What is the best hook you’ve seen? Did you read the book as a result?


Steve Laube has a course on book proposals at The Christian Writers Institute that includes a one-hour lecture, a short ebook on the topic, and sample proposal templates. Click here for more information.


54 Responses to Book Proposal Basics – Hooks Aren’t Only for Fish

  1. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 28, 2019 at 5:59 am #

    So, just to be clear, the hook is the opening line of the proposal?

    No “Thank you for your time …”
    No “My name is …”
    Just lead directly with the hook?

  2. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson March 28, 2019 at 6:02 am #

    I love your made-up hooks! Too bad I didn’t think of them.

  3. Avatar
    Amanda Wen March 28, 2019 at 6:07 am #

    I pitched my current project as Rachel Hauck meets Little House on the Prairie meets This Is Us. When I tell people about the book, the element that seems to grab their attention the most is “century-old farmhouse.” Praying it proves effective! 😉

  4. Avatar
    Daria Doshrelli March 28, 2019 at 6:10 am #

    When I first heard I “needed” to write a hook, I’ll admit I groaned. Can’t I just write my book and forget all this marketing stuff? Now, I enjoy writing the hooks and back cover story a little.
    I don’t remember the best hook I’ve ever seen, but I remember seeing some evil ones where the book turned out to be completely different than the hook suggested. Or, the hook was good. I was definitely on the line. Then the first paragraph in the book had some unacceptable content and I was instantly unhooked.

    I plan to self-pub 2 novels this year and am still working on the titles and hooks. One book is almost done and I’m getting a little excited because it’s my first novel for publication.

    Here’s my first book hook, not quite what I want yet, but it’ll get there.

    “A romantic adventure novel about the unwed son of a famous matchmaker who embarks on a mission to destroy romance in his marriage-obsessed society and the in the whole world, forever.”

    Here’s the second book hook, though still deciding on what version to use:

    ” A romantic adventure novel about an uneducated horse trainer who teams up with a scheming society lady to play the part after his business is mistaken for an ingenious matchmaking service.”

    “An honest but uneducated horse trader falls victim to a scheming society lady after his business is mistaken for an ingenious matchmaking service.”

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 9:23 am #

      Very inventive! I like the second hook better for the second book.

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield March 28, 2019 at 10:05 am #

      Fun concepts! I agree with Tamela. I noticed that Tamela’s hypothetical hooks are about the story, and yours seem to be about the books. If I were shopping in romantic historical fiction, I’d already assume your book might be a romantic adventure novel, and to me, starting the hook actually telling me that would be a little off-putting. Try taking out “A romantic adventure novel about” and the “who” in the only/first hook for each book see if you like them better.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2019 at 6:47 am #

    The Old Hippie looked across his cannabis field in dismay, as his neighbour’s beef cattle broke through the fence and set about devouring his harvest.

    The loss was epic, and the stakes were high.

    • Avatar
      Colleen K Snyder March 28, 2019 at 8:13 am #

      Now that’s one I would love to see!!

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2019 at 8:26 am #

        Colleen, it’s actually going to be a very mooving story; with the world going to pot around him, the Old Hippie finds himself on the horns of a dilemna, and wonders how he should steer his life.

        Terrible puns aside, it actually IS about the Old Hippie’s discovery that his former outlaw life has now become hip, chic, and in many places, legal.

        It’s not an easy transition to make, especially when one grdually has become convinced that the illicit life really was evil (but there was no way out save destitution)…and now society says it’s good.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 9:24 am #

      I can visualize fences, land grants, fistfights, and peace pipes now!

    • Avatar
      Steve Cass September 20, 2019 at 2:37 pm #

      “Stakes are high” LOL

  6. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2019 at 7:02 am #

    Don’t now ’bout my next book,
    but I know about today,
    and man, oh, man, I need a hook
    or there’ll be hell to pay.
    I need to find some purpose
    for a body that’s been shattered,
    and in adding to my corpus
    have to believe it mattered.
    Did my words speak well of Christ,
    and does life do the same?
    Did I help make what He sacrificed
    worthy of the name?
    I hope they did; I tried my best,
    and in Thy Hands I leave the rest.

  7. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell March 28, 2019 at 7:23 am #

    I’m still toying with my hook, so it reads well. This is how I usually describe it. I thought up a quick teaser to add some depth.

    It’s Dante’s Inferno meets Alice in Wonderland. The way home isn’t through the wizard; it’s within. Finding the key requires humility, but can this unfortunate soul see past a life of prideful sin and find the kingdom of God is at hand.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 9:26 am #

      The question seems to be answered about the unfortunate soul. Maybe talk about the soul’s battle. Just a thought!

  8. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 28, 2019 at 7:43 am #

    I’ve found that one-sentence summaries that hook have uses far beyond the proposal. You have to write one to include your novel in the ACFW Fiction Finder new releases listing. They’re handy when you want more than a tagline but less than a blurb for guest blogs or interviews. I also find that writing one prepares me for when someone asks what my book is about. Here’s a couple of mine from the Fiction Finder for romantic historicals that are meant to hook both women and men.

    When a foolish choice lands one man in a fight for his life, unlikely friendships are born, love blossoms, and broken relationships are restored as his best friend’s faith and courage guide the quest to rescue him. (Faithful)

    Obeying Jesus’s command to love the enemy unleashes the power of forgiveness to heal the wounded hearts of former enemies, leading to friendship and love. (Forgiven)

    I do have a mechanics question for my next release:
    When a Roman slave rescues his master’s daughter from the kidnapping arranged by her own brother, his sacrificial service could earn the freedom and love he never dreamed possible or end in death.
    When a Roman slave rescues his master’s daughter from the kidnapping arranged by her own brother, will his sacrificial service earn the freedom and love he never dreamed possible, or will it only end in death?

    Which hooks better? In general, is it better to make the hook a statement or a question, or does it matter?

    • Avatar
      Colleen K Snyder March 28, 2019 at 8:16 am #

      I like the question angle… it seems to imply (hopefully!!) that the answer lies within the book.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2019 at 8:28 am #

      Carol, the question, definitely.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 9:28 am #

      Either way works!

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield March 28, 2019 at 10:08 am #

      I strongly prefer the question, too. The purpose of the hook is to draw the potential reader in and create interest, and I think questions are better at that than statements.

  9. Avatar
    Colleen K Snyder March 28, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    “What terrifies you? In the dark recess of your soul, what is it that you’ve managed to avoid, to hide, to bury deep, never to be faced? And what if the Lord asked you to face that fear for no other reason than, “Because I’m asking?” What would you do?
    Welcome to Collin Walker’s world.”

    Is that too lengthy for a “hook?”

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Mugrage March 28, 2019 at 8:29 am #

      I don’t think it’s too lengthy (see my long hook below), but I find it a little vague. I’d like to know more specifically what his deep dark fear is. If it’s sufficiently scary, it probably scares me too.

      That’s just speaking as a reader. I’m not an agent.

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am #

      Colleen, to me the ‘What would you do?’ could be cut, because the question’s already implicit in that which has gone before.

      Also, the last line ‘Welcome to Collin Walker’s world’ might also be un-needed.

      It sounds eerily like my daily reality.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 9:29 am #

      I think you’re fine. The hook is interesting, and that’s what matters!

  10. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 28, 2019 at 8:22 am #

    Carol, I also like the question better.

    Even though it seems obvious that it WON’T end in death.

    If I picked up the book, I’d expect the plot to unfold in such a way that it looks like he can’t avoid death right until the last minute.

  11. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 28, 2019 at 8:39 am #

    “As his tribe approaches the Land Bridge, fourteen-year-old Ikash wishes to find a better life than the one he has with his mother, three brothers, and abusive father. He longs to become a shaman like his adored older cousin Ki-Ki, who regularly walks in the spirit world. But when Ki-Ki consents to teach him, Ikash is not prepared for what he will find there.”

  12. Avatar
    Jennifer Mugrage March 28, 2019 at 10:09 am #

    Thanks for the feedback here and the instruction above, Tamela!

  13. Avatar
    Debby March 28, 2019 at 10:33 am #

    I thought this might be too long for a hook, but seeing what others have written, maybe not. It’s for The Jesus Pages (not fiction, of course!)

    “Think you know Him? Think again. Slow down, read the Bible words and put some 21rst century clothes and attitudes on Him. He wasn’t a wimp, sourpuss or unapproachable. He didn’t wear a halo or glow with sainthood. He was real and could have been your neighbor, coworker or that homeless guy on the corner. One thing for certain: He definitely was Jesus.”

  14. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield March 28, 2019 at 10:43 am #

    Debby, I LOVE your hook! It says a lot about Jesus, but it discloses a lot about your writing style and what to expect in the the book, too. Kudos!

    • Avatar
      Debby March 28, 2019 at 11:13 am #

      Thanks for your kind words, Linda Mayfield. I’ve only sat on this book since 2012 when I wrote it! It’s the proposal part that trips me up (even tho I’m a 3 time book author in another genre; but then you go right to the publisher). I guess I’ll have to work thru those proposal details in the next few months. After all, The Jesus Pages begs to be read (if only in my head!)

  15. Avatar
    Lila Diller March 28, 2019 at 11:04 am #

    Does this give enough to whet the readers’ appetite, or does it need more?

    What if Judas Iscariot had heeded the warning Jesus gave him at the Last Supper?

    Judas Iscariot, called by Jesus Himself to be one of the Twelve, thinks he can earn power and influence—and especially the money that comes with it—when Jesus becomes King of Israel. But Jesus won’t take advantage of His popularity. And His teachings contradict everything Judas is working towards.

    Will Judas betray his Master for thirty pieces of silver after all?

  16. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield March 28, 2019 at 12:09 pm #

    I’m writing a historical fiction series following one extended family in which all the protagonists live in places in which early Mormonism is taking shape in the background and influences the main plot in a different way in each book. The first book, set in Western NY, and the third, set in Quincy, IL, are done. The middle one, set in NW Missouri, in which slavery is also a related background theme, is in progress. I’ve seen proposal criteria that stipulate the length of the hook. This 100-word hook is for the Quincy, IL, book:

    Martha Robertson thinks her life as the wife of a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in Western Illinois is already challenging: John is gone for weeks at a time, leaving her to tend to their children and his mother and the responsibilities of a pastor’s wife. Then when the Mormon War breaks out in Missouri, just across the Mississippi River, long-lost Mormon and non-Mormon relatives–and one slave, arrive unannounced, all expecting to stay in the Robertson home. Can Martha extend hospitality to people with such strongly differing beliefs from each other’s and her own without risking her own family–or herself?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 28, 2019 at 12:27 pm #

      This looks like a great story, but with this length, you’re getting a bit into back cover ground. I recommend saving this for the back cover copy and tightening this up for the hook. 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D March 28, 2019 at 1:04 pm #

    My favorite hook right now is this:

    “My Mommy died last night and I don’t know why. I guess she’s never coming back.”

    The book is a romantic suspense novel set in Annapolis, Maryland. I read it….because I wrote it.

    (Please forgive me for a little shameless self-promotion.)

    Love your blog postings, Tamela!

  18. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson March 28, 2019 at 3:15 pm #

    Recently at the Carolina Christian Writers Conference, I was blessed to take a class given by Larry Leech. He gave a great presentation on writing a pitch in 25 words. My current work in progress has a firm hook now. 🙂

  19. Avatar
    Elisabeth Warner March 28, 2019 at 6:15 pm #

    Well, I wrote a dystopian time-travel thriller, so I really hope that’s selling now.

    But mine is more A Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984 that answers the question, “Where is God when life seems out of control?”

  20. Avatar
    Robin Mason March 28, 2019 at 7:43 pm #

    I created a blurb-let for my last series, included on the back cover of each of the four books in the series:

    “The southern town of Saisons lies at the crossroads between North and South, progressive and genteel antebellum life. Between East and West, between history and heritage, and new frontiers. Downton Abbey meets Gone With the Wind.

    It’s 1912, in a world where slavery is dying and women’s rights are rising, and four young women who once shared a bond—and experienced a tragedy—question their own truths.”

    And the tag on the front of the first book in the series,

    “Will the shadows of her past eclipse the sunlight of her future?”

  21. Avatar
    Julie Johnson March 29, 2019 at 6:57 am #

    Mine is a story about a newswoman and a sex-trafficker both pursuing the same girl—one to save her, the other to enslave her.

  22. Avatar
    Lillian March 29, 2019 at 10:36 am #

    I missed this post yesterday, but I thought I would throw out my hook since it seems to be the only non-fiction one posted. As I posted in an earlier blog, the tentative title of my book is The Other Doctor is You. When I read this post, I became a bit discouraged because I saw little of a hook in my original Proposal, at least not the kind Tamela referred to. Here’s what I came up with but subject to change. 🙂

    The Other Doctor Is You

    If health insurance and a physician of choice are the meat and
    potatoes of health care, then a savvy patient is caviar. Leonard Kish, a neuroscientist, turned passionate advocate for patient-centric healthcare,
    equates an active and informed patient to a “blockbuster drug.” He writes:

    “If patient engagement were a drug, it would be the blockbuster drug of the century and malpractice not to use it,”

    All comments accepted. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Steve Cass September 20, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

      Hi Lillian–

      I think you’ve got an important work to share. But, just my .02, I think you need more focus and less words in this hook:

      If health insurance and a physician of choice are the meat and
      potatoes of health care, then a savvy patient is caviar.

      Your own food choices matter (or a better summary statement with more intrigue).

      “If patient engagement were a drug, it would be the blockbuster drug of the century and malpractice not to use it.”

      Leonard Kish, PhDxxxx

  23. Avatar
    Kathryn Bain March 30, 2019 at 6:24 am #

    Here is a draft hook for my middle-grade book WIP: When thirteen-year-old Penny Mulberry gets lost on Seven Sister’s Road, she learns the legend is far worse than she heard.

    Still working on it. Want to get the umph down right.

    Thanks for the blog. Great stuff!

    • Avatar
      Debby March 30, 2019 at 6:35 am #

      Oooh, Kathryn! I’m intrigued as to why you chose “Seven Sisters Road.” As a quilter (my other life), that is a vintage pattern that I updated and stitched multiple times and actually teach those workshops. I always ask my students to tell me WHAT Seven Sisters is (constellation of Pleiades). Now, I have to put my English teacher hat on here and gently correct your use of the apostrophe in “Sister’s.” It can either be after the last “s” (showing possession of the road by a single sister) or none at all (for plural). (Or I could be wrong – not the first time.)

      • Avatar
        Debby March 30, 2019 at 6:39 am #

        Sorry. Sisters’ means possession by ALL 7 of them.

        • Avatar
          Kathryn Bain March 30, 2019 at 6:52 am #

          I just double-checked and Seven Sisters Road doesn’t have an apostrophe at all. Need to make sure I fix that in my story. Thanks for catching it.

          Actually, my Seven Sisters Road has nothing to do with quilting. Seven Sisters Road is a haunted road near Nebraska City. The legend is that in the 1800s a brother got into a fight at the local saloon and lost. He was so mad that when he got home, he killed all seven of his sisters, hanging their bodies along the road to be found the next morning. (Makes me wonder what THAT’S got to do with quilting now. LOL)

          When I read the legend, this story just popped into my head though I’d never written middle-grade before. I usually write adult inspirational mystery and suspense. But as most writers know, when a story won’t leave you alone, you just gotta write it.

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