Why Is Writing a Hook So Hard for Me?

I love hooks. As a writer, I work hard on my hooks. As a magazine editor, the hook was often the best way for a writer to make a good first impression on me. And, as an agent, the hook is the first and one of the most important criteria I use in evaluating a book pitch, proposal, or manuscript.

“Hook” is a fairly flexible term in writing and publishing. It can mean:

  • The overall unique appeal of an article or book
  • The first page, paragraph, or sentence of an article, story, or book
  • The short, punchy summary of a book idea in a book proposal

I often talk to writers who say, “I really have trouble writing hooks.” Or they’ll ask, “Why is it so hard for me to write a good hook?” It’s a good question (which usually means you’re about to get a lousy answer). I can think of several reasons it may be hard for you to write a hook:

  1. Lack of exposure

I often suggest to writers that they make a study of hooks. Once you open your eyes a little and look around, you’ll see that hooks are everywhere: in advertisements, movie trailers, book jackets, etc. Subscribe to BookBub’s newsletter and study the hooks they use to promote books. Read a lot of books’ back cover copy. Make a habit of noticing hooks everywhere you see them and dissecting their appeal. You may even want to start a collection.

  1. Lack of focus

Sometimes writers struggle to write a hook because they haven’t yet defined the unique appeal of their idea. It’s unclear in their minds so they can’t really put it into a few words. If you’re struggling to express what’s unique or compelling about your idea, it may be because you haven’t yet nailed it down or defined the takeaway.

  1. Lack of practice

It takes practice—and lots of it—to write good hooks. It doesn’t come naturally for many of us. However, like most things, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Sometimes when I’m working on a hook for a project, I’ll draft several different approaches and float them to a few discerning friends, like an optometrist testing a patient’s vision: “How’s this look?” Next idea: “Is this better?” Next idea: “How about this?” The process usually pays off.

These are just three possibilities, of course. But, as I say often, writing is an art, not a science, so you probably won’t come up with a formula that works every time. But lots of exposure, focus, and practice will help you to get better at writing hooks—and that’s one of the most important things you can do for your writing future.


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Would You Buy Your Own Book?

When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

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What Makes You Click?

Below is a visual representation of some astounding statistics regarding Internet usage. A little more than twelve years ago I wrote a chapter for a writing book on how to use the Internet for research. I re-read that article recently…umm, Google didn’t even exist back then (founded in September 1998), much less Wikipedia (where the jury is still out if is a reliable source for verifiable facts).

210 billion emails sent per day? I think I get half of those. <!>
20 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute?

We swim in a sea of data. So how do you discern what to read or view? In other words, what makes you buy or click?

Take that same mindset and apply it to your next book idea or article. What would make the consumer buy or click it, especially when faced with a plethora of competing options? If your idea, your novel, your insight, can withstand competitive scrutiny then you have a chance to impact this world. Obscurity equals no audience. That is why publishers are pushing agents and authors to make their “platform” bigger.

Via: OnlineSchools.org

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Write for Narcissists

Every reader is a narcissist. Hold on, there. Don’t get all mad and sassy yet. Let me explain I often tell developing writers, “No one reads about other people; we read only about ourselves.” Go ahead and quote me, just be sure to give me credit and send me the …

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Resist the Urge to Explain Your Title

For fiction writers, there is an important self-editing technique called RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain). The problem occurs when an author overwrites a scene and explains every thought, movement, etc., or fails to allow the reader to fill in the details, thereby ruining the reading experience. The concept is …

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Lessons Learned As a Literary Agent

Dan is leaving the agency at the end of this month to focus his attention on the work of Gilead Publishing, the company he started in 2016. Here are some parting thoughts. _____ I’ve been a literary agent for about 2,000 of the 13,000 total days spent working with and …

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The Ultimate Sound Bite

Can you boil the essence of your novel or non-fiction book idea into twenty-five words or less?

This is one of the keys to creating a marketing hook that makes your idea sellable in today’s crowded market.

You have less than a minute to make that hook work.

It is also called creating the “elevator pitch” or the “Hollywood pitch.” The goal is get the marketing department to exclaim, “We can sell that without any problem!” And ultimately to get a consumer to say, “I want that” or “I need that” or “I know someone who should have that.”

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