What Makes a Great Hook?

Lately, smart publishing professionals have been saying “it needs a great hook” to describe  books they seek. Recently I wrote about the all-important first page, which of course should seize the reader and not let go.

However, that’s not the same as the story hook itself. The hook must make the consumer say, “I’ve got to read this!” even before she turns to page one.

Nonfiction:

The nonfiction hook shows weighty questions the book answers, also known as “felt need” in editorial circles. Here, the title can be a major selling point because it immediately lets the reader know the book’s purpose. Examples:

The Art of Loving God: Simple Virtues for the Christian Life by St. Francis de Sales

Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind by Joyce Meyer

And to illustrate how subtitles can be changed to hook various audiences at different times:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy about Universal Redemption is Fully Discussed by John Owen. Published 1959

Death of Death in the Death of Christ: Why Christ Saves All for Whom He Died by John Owen.  Published 2016

Which version of Owen’s book would you prefer to read?

Fiction:

In fiction, the hook tells us how the plot entertains and answers questions. Novels can be more challenging to name, but you want the reader to pick up your book based on the title, then intrigue the consumer to read the blurb to see if the story is of interest. For example:

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Michell answers the question: How does one Southern woman cope with the loss of everything she knows in the wake of war?

1984 by George Orwell answers the question: What happens when Government exerts too much control?

Granted, no matter how excellent your hook is, a specific portion of the reading public will not bite because the book doesn’t resonate with them. Not to worry. Your job isn’t to attract all readers. Your mission is to lure your intended audience. With a great hook, you can.

Your turn:

Are you reading a book with an exceptionally good hook now?

What type of books currently get your attention? Why?

 

 

34 Responses to What Makes a Great Hook?

  1. Damon J. Gray October 12, 2017 at 5:32 am #

    I just received a book in the mail, yesterday, with what I believe is a great title: Hidden in Plain View – Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Lydia McGrew. I am very excited to get started reading it.

    I like books that make me think. I want to ponder the scriptures, not to discover something novel about them that no one has ever thought of, but rather to understand how the original audience thought, and how those thought patterns would color or filter the things Jesus said and did.

    I have always maintained that a passage of scripture can never mean what it never meant. Therefore, in order to understand what a passage means for me, I have to know what it meant for its original audience. Only then can I translate it’s meaning to my time, culture, and context.

    That’s the type of thing I read, and that’s what I like to write.

  2. Melissa Ferguson October 12, 2017 at 5:34 am #

    I just finished my friend’s book, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, and think her hook is awesome: what happens when a steamy romance writer becomes a Christian and starts dating her pastor? It’s Christian romantic comedy–which I love!

  3. Rebekah Love Dorris October 12, 2017 at 5:50 am #

    A book that sinks deep and won’t let me put the book down until I’ve finished in the wee hours is one like Jolina Petersheim’s The Alliance, where a believable catastrophe topples the world as we know it upside down.

    If I can identify with the terrible trouble, even if it’s unlikely, I’ll keep turning pages because I need to know what might happen in the event of an EMP. That’s just one example, but I remember the way my adrenaline surged as I kept flipping pages at 3 am.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 12, 2017 at 7:30 am #

      I’ll have to check that one out when I don’t mind losing an afternoon to reading!

  4. Sarah Hamaker October 12, 2017 at 5:53 am #

    One of the best ways to learn how to see if your book has a good hook is to read the best seller lists with the short tagline/hook. I’ve found it so helpful to read those on a regular basis because it spurs me to think about my own book hooks in a similar manner.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 12, 2017 at 7:18 am #

    The best hook is subliminal: “Dear Reader…this book is a magic mirror in which you will see in the characters the bet and worst parts of yourself, and in these reflections you will know your true being and purpose.”

    Thou a musical hook is a bit different, you might find Blues Traveler’s take on it, the song called ‘Hook’, amusing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdz5kCaCRFM

  6. Linda Thomas October 12, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    I’m not sure if my question here is appropriate, but what do you think of this title for my memoir?

    Oh God, Don’t Make Me Go! A Memoir of Finding Faith and Courage to Go

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 12, 2017 at 7:49 am #

      Intriguing. I’d want to see the book and more about its contents.

      • Linda Thomas October 12, 2017 at 9:41 am #

        I haven’t yet pinned down an elevator pitch or blurb but the memoir is about my husband and God wanting our young family to move to the middle of nowhere in a dangerous South American country to do missions work. I pleaded, “Oh, God, don’t make me go!” When I eventually recovered from my hysteria and listened to God, He gave me only His assurance that going there was the right thing to do. Somehow I found the faith and courage to go. Halfway through our three years there, I faced a frightening situation and again pleaded, “Oh, God, don’t make me go!” My fear paralyzed me, but over time, God helped me find the faith and courage to go.

        • Daphne Woodall October 12, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

          Linda, that reminds me of Marcia Moston’s book “Call Of A Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife” published by Thomas Nelson.

          God called her family to Guatemala to serve as missionaries. It was well written and a page turner.

          • Linda Thomas October 13, 2017 at 6:53 am #

            Daphne, thanks for letting me know about that book. She crafted an excellent title (in my opinion, but I’m still learning) and it sounds like Marcia’s story resembles mine. I’ll look into it. Thanks again.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 12, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      Linda, I’m no professional, but I think ‘let go’ would be better (if it’s appropriate to the story).

      Perhaps, “Oh God, Don’t Make Me Go There!” might work? With the subtitle “A Memoir of Finding the Courage to Go Where God Sends Me.”

      There’s a problem with the word ‘go’ in the original, and it hit me right between the eyes this morning. I have pancreatic cancer, which causes some very painful digestive issues…if you get my drift. Your title is actually my prayer as I write this.

      • Linda Thomas October 12, 2017 at 9:33 am #

        Andrew, I’m so sorry that the “go” hit you between the eyes. Your prayer about “going” gives me a new picture of what the word means! May you sense God walking close beside as you experience pancreatic cancer. And I appreciate your suggestions for title and subtitle, “Go There” and “Go Where God Sends Me.” Those are more specific. Thanks.

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 12, 2017 at 9:49 am #

          linda no worries, perfect irony-timing of my reading it gave me a good laugh

          devil hates when you laugh at death

    • Damon J. Gray October 12, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      My mind immediately went to Johan and Nineveh. I don’t know if that was your intent, but …

  7. Edward Lane October 12, 2017 at 9:46 am #

    Yes, Lynette Eason’s novel “Always Watching” has a great hook. I’m on the third book of hers., and can’t put it down. While I was waiting for Lynette’s third book to arrive in the mail, I read an ancient book by John O’Hara entitled “Appointment In Samaria” which had once been recommended to me by an English professor. It’s not Christian, but it has snappy dialog like all of Lynette’s books. Nice to meet you at AfCA Conference, Tamela!

    • Lynette Eason October 12, 2017 at 10:54 am #

      Aw, thanks, Ed, I appreciate that!

      • Edward Lane October 12, 2017 at 11:12 am #

        You are welcome, Lynette, but it is only the truth! Reading Always Watching as we speak.

  8. SherrInda October 12, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    Charming the Troublemaker by Pepper Basham is one I recently read. The title is perfect for the book and I thoroughly enjoyed the “adorkable” hero!

  9. Edward Lane October 12, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    Should read ACFW conference near Dallas , Tamela. Please excuse my clumsy fingers, Tamela! It was really nice to meet people like you there, and I enjoyed your input at the agents’ session Thursday night. Thank you!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 12, 2017 at 11:45 am #

      Edward, thank YOU for being there, and for choosing to go to the panel! I had a great time, and enjoyed meeting you.

  10. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 12, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    Tamela, thanks for another super blog…..am I reading a book with a good hook right now? Well, maybe not but hopefully I am writing one!

    I have always loved biographies, even if the individual is not famous. That said, a book that would not get my attention is one with Fabian on it.

  11. Robin E. Mason October 12, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    i’m drawn to different and unusual, different take on the ordinary, juxtaposition of opposites!
    if i may, i give you the first line of my third novel,
    “I hate you and I wish you was dead.”

  12. Melissa Henderson October 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    I am reading Suzanne Kelman’s latest story. The Rejected Writer’s Christmas Wedding. From the first paragraph, I was taken in by the descriptions and details of the story. I laughed out loud and knew this would be another great story.

  13. Deb Santefort October 12, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

    I just finished THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US by Charles Martin. It maintained my attention because I kept wondering about the characters’ backstories. I was surprised that I was more interested in their past than their future for most of the book. I consider that a hook!

  14. Linda Riggs Mayfield October 12, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    “It will reel you in and keep you hooked to the end.” I’m not kidding, a TV commercial for a new movie, “Suburbathon,” just began with that line as I was reading the post and these Comments! I guess this wise advice about a hook has already gotten around in some circles! 😉 Adding another piece to the hook concept to clearly make it a fishing metaphor and make the job of the hook last a lot longer gives it another whole level of meaning, doesn’t it? Now I’m trying hard to recall the exact hook I wrote for a proposal I recently submitted. Will it hook the agent and reel her in? I guess thinking even more intentionally about the next one instead of what may be “the one that got away” would be a more productive endeavor, wouldn’t it? ☺

  15. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 12, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    Does anyone recall ‘Alien’, from 1979?

    “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *