Proposals: Creating a Strong Hook

Last week we tackled the proposal synopsis. The cool thing about creating that aspect of the proposal first is that you can use it as the springboard for your hook: those few lines at the beginning of your proposal that draw an editor/agent deeper.

(One note here: many writers have asked if they need to put something in the hook about genre. My vote: put the genre right after the title on the proposal. So for my sample book, this is what would be at the top of the first page:

Shattered Justice

A contemporary suspense novel

Now, as you may recall, here’s the short synopsis for my book:

Sheriff’s deputy Dan Justice has spent his life seeking justice for others, but when everything that matters most to him is ripped away, he’s lost in despair and anger.

Where was God’s justice for him?

Then a small town thrust into danger turns to him for help. Dan must do what he can, even if it costs him the one thing he has left…

 His life.

How to turn that into a hook? Easy peasy! Using the same three factors we utilized for the synopsis—

  • Just enough of the character to form a connection
  • Just enough of the story to intrigue
  • Just enough of what’s at stake to make us want to know what happens

Pinpoint the details/emotions that will most intrigue the editor/agent.

Sheriff’s deputy—lets them know there’s a law enforcement aspect to the story and that the hero is, actually, a hero in what he does.

Everything is ripped away from him/Where was God’s justice—there is loss, anger, pain, and struggle

Small town in jeopardy—the drama of the story, both because the town’s in jeopardy and because you know this guy, who is a hero/warrior at heart, is going to have to overcome his struggle to save others. Again.

I try to keep the hook to around 30 words. Sometimes that’s possible, sometimes not. But trying to do so forces me to ensure every word needs to be there. Do your best, though, keep it under 40 words.

Now, let’s do what I call the Hook Two-Step:

  1. Patch the details into a few lines.
  2. Rework and refine.

Here’s how my hook progressed…

First attempt:

Everything sheriff’s deputy Dan Justice loves has been ripped away. Broken, angry, he can’t help but wonder:  Where was God’s justice was for him?  Then the small town where he lives is thrust into danger…

            And they’ve come to him for help.

Blah, blah, blah. Too wordy. Takes too long to get to the point. And I’m not sure the last bit works.

Next try:

Sheriff’s deputy Dan Justice has lost everything. Where was God’s justice was for him? Then the small town where he lives faces danger…

            And they’ve come to him for help.

Shorter, but I’m still not crazy about the last part. And I think I’ve lost some of the drama of the story.

One more time:

Everything sheriff’s deputy Dan Justice loves has been ripped away. Where was God’s justice was for him?  All he knows is he’s done. Let someone else play hero.

Then the small town where he lives is thrust into danger…

            And they’ve come to him for help.

Too long again, but hey, I like showing the anger rather than saying he’s angry. And I like using hero—that’s a strong emotive word. Then it occurred to me to use the policemen’s motto… So here’s what I landed on, and though it’s a bit over 30 words, I think it works.

Final:

Sheriff’s deputy Dan Justice has lost everything. Where was God’s justice for him? He’s done. Let someone else “serve and protect.”

  Then danger strikes a small community, and like it or not…

he’s the only hero in town.

Okay, YOUR turn! Use your synopses/summaries from last week to craft a hook.

Can’t wait to see what you do!

 

 

39 Responses to Proposals: Creating a Strong Hook

  1. Jackie Layton September 10, 2014 at 4:28 am #

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks so much for these posts to help us prepare for conference. I’ve heard you speak the past two years at ACFW, and we met briefly at Starbucks in Indy. (Don’t really expect you to remember that.)

    Here’s my hook:

    For years Rachel Grant avoids falling in love because of her dad’s desertion when she was a child, but Matt Jackson enters her life, and the survival techniques she’s perfected suddenly vanish. Can Rachel learn to live like she’s not scared of a man’s rejection and allow herself to fall in love with Matt?

    Thanks!

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Jackie, great start, but think eve shorter. You don’t need to give so many details in the hook.

      With a background of abuse, Rachel Grant has good reasons for not falling in love. Then Matt Jackson shows up, and suddenly her defenses don’t work. How did this man get to her–and what is she going to do about him?

      • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

        Oops! Sorry, mixed yours up with Pam’s. So here’s a revision:

        Scarred by her father’s desertion, Rachel Grant…and so on.

        • Jackie Layton September 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

          Thanks so much Karen! I appreciate you and all you do for us.

  2. Andrea Nell September 10, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    Great post, Karen. Thanks! Here’s my hook:
    Music is his world. She can’t here it. Can love break through the silence?

    • karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Great! Just make sure you spell hear (not here) correctly.

  3. Pam Gossiaux September 10, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    Thanks Karen! This is so helpful!
    Here’s my hook:

    After an abusive childhood, horse-trainer Francie Carlson trusted no one – until she encountered God. Then tragedy strikes and her world- and faith – are shattered.
    Surrounded by broken people and broken horses, Francie faces a decision that will test her morals, her faith, and her one true love.

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

      As with the others, let’s go shorter.

      After an abusive childhood, horse-trainer Francie Carlson trusted no one–until she encountered God. Then tragedy strikes and Francie faces a decision that will test her faith–and her one true love.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka September 10, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    What a great post, Karen. I’ve been agonizing over my hook for my story. This post came along at a good time for me. 🙂 Is it okay to end a hook with a question? I’ve heard mixed answers on this, and I’d love your opinion.

    This is a little too long, but I can’t figure out how to shorten it. Here goes:

    Non-profit manager Tiana Emory longs to escape the shadow of her scandalous past. When her late husband’s best friend asks her for help, her anonymity is threatened. But, how can she say no to a job that provides funds for the aid her chronically-ill daughter needs?

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      I get that you want to let the editor/agent know what your character does for a living, but “non-profit manager” just doesn’t generate a lot of excitement. So I’d focus more on her past, her secret, and her daughter.

      Tiana Emory has two needs: escape her past and take care of her chronically-ill daughter. Then her late husband’s best friend offers her a job that may expose her past. How can she say no when her daughter needs the money so desperately?

      • Jeanne Takenaka September 10, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

        Karen, you are a master. I so appreciate your suggestions for this hook. I struggled with sharing the bulk of what she’ll be working on in the story vs her past which also plays an important role in the story.

        Thanks so much for your help!

  5. Jenelle. M September 10, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    This series is challenging in the best way! I can feel that my last line can be tweaked somehow, and I will keep refining and reworking like you said until it clicks and then I give the Spirit a high five. Thank you for your guidance here 🙂

    Kinsley McClellan has pushed aside her royal birthright. Leading her kingdom holds to many risks. When rebels threaten to destroy the land, the people look to her for only she carries the power to save them.

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      How about…

      Kinsley McClellan has refused her royal birthright. Leading her kingdom is just too risky! Then rebels threaten to destroy the land. Kinsley can save her people…
      If she’s willing to pay the price.

  6. Elizabeth Kitchens September 10, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    These posts have helped me a lot, Karen. Thanks!

    Here’s my attempt:

    A cursed magic collector teams up with an accident-prone enchantress to recover a stolen document the sorcerers need to take over the kingdom—and maybe find the missing princess Snow White while they’re at it.

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

      Put the threat up front on this one.

      Sorcerers are about to take over the kingdom. All they need is one document. But a cursed magic collector and an accident-prone enchantress join forces to stop them–and maybe find the missing princess Snow White while they’re at it.

  7. Joe Plemon September 10, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Karen,

    Thanks for this series on proposals. It is very enlightening for a guy who is working on his first ever proposal, but I would appreciate a little more clarity in understanding the difference between the short synopsis and the hook. They seem very similar (I realize that the hook is shorter), but I’m not sure if both should be included in a proposal or only one. If only one, which?

    By the way, if any of my fellow blog readers can help me with this, please feel free to jump in. Thanks!

    • Jenelle. M September 10, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

      Joe, I will take a stab since you asked, but I am NOT a professional like the people at this agency. I have only studied. Oh, and I may be wrong. Read at your own risk!

      Agency’s have guidelines for what they want in your proposal, and they vary from one another. Sometimes they list the word count desired sometimes not. This agency has number suggestions for their guidelines and I suggest looking at theirs to get some clarification.

      Now for the lingo. It various on the agency which can be confusing. There are multiple ways of titling a super short pitch… the 8- second elevator pitch, one sentence log line or tagline, hook, sound bite.. those are usually one to a few sentences long.

      A description/blurb is longer than a hook. I’ve seen agency’s ask for anywhere from 75 to 300 words. This is what you might see on the back cover of a book. Meaning, it’s meant to grab the reader so they’re left wanting more.

      Synopsis is another word for an outline or summary. It tells more of the story. Again, I’ve seen anywhere from a one to six page synopsis request. And again it depends. Karen called her last weeks exercise a “short synopsis” where I immediately went “ok, a blurb.” See, I’m not as professional in my lingo, ha!

      Then you might want to submit to an agency that wants your query to be one pages and they’ll give you what information to include in that page. Oh, dear, am I confusing you? Am I confusing myself….?

      The best thing to do is look at the agency’s submission guidelines that you are interested in, and start practicing since it all takes time to learn. I have my current story broken down into 40 words (hook/sound bite), 70 words (short blurb/back cover), 199 words (description/back cover) and now I’m working on my 2 page synopsis. Phew.

      If you belong to a writing group or online forum, posting your question would be helpful. Google might lead you to the right place too. Man, I really hope I didn’t fry your brain. I’m sure someone could’ve said this way better, but there you go 🙂

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

      Thanks for the help, Jenelle.

    • karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

      Joe, that’s a great question. Including all of these elements in your proposal helps give the editors/agents the most complete picture of your project possible. Also, the various lengths of descriptions–from the short hook to the long synopsis–can be used by those in marketing to develop promo copy. The more variations you give them, the more helpful it can be.

  8. Patricia Beal September 10, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    These pre-conference posts are so good. Thank you. Here is my current best:

    Ana is a professional ballerina with a dashing fiancé and her eye on dancing at the Met. But when her first love sweeps back into her life and gives her the kiss she’s longed for, her fiancé pulls away and her dreams begin to unravel beneath her perfectly pointed toes.

    Patricia Beal

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      Cut back on specific detail and give us the punch. How about:

      Ana is a professional ballerina with a dashing fiancé and her eye on dancing at the Met. Then her first love sweeps back into her life, and all it takes is a few missteps for her dreams to unravel beneath her perfectly pointed toes…

      • Patricia Beal September 10, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

        Ooh, I like that. Thank you so much.

        Patricia

  9. m. rochellino September 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Karen, I coupled last weeks synopsis with this weeks hook for maximum context. Great exercises, thank you!

    Title: Children of the Son
    Genre: Crossover Mainstream/Christian fiction. (A thrillingly adventurous social justice historical.)

    ABANDONED. NEGLECTED. MARGINALIZED.
    A helpless innocent child abandoned by mother to the racism and crime of the urban slum.
    HATED. BRUTALIZED. HARDENED.
    A violent hostile teenager ready-made for war in Vietnam.
    SEARCHING . YEARNING . ACHING .
    An enlightened young man still longing to know a mother’s love. Will his perilous life end unfulfilled as an abandoned throwaway soul or blossom into a destiny of true greatness?

    Parents, bad. Disposable child, pitifully abandoned. Lorenzo matures hardened teen. Excelling in Vietnam, died remorseful. Heaven summoned, enlightened with knowledge/abilities, returns. Remaining life seeks a mothers love and destiny as Son of Light in service to Heavenly Father.

    Food for thought:
    Ephesians 5:9
    … Live and act as sons of Light–for the effect of the Light is seen
    in every kind of goodness, uprightness and truth– …

    John 12:36
    While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

    God Bless!

    • karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

      M, way too long for a hook. You’ve got to just give the most salient points. Maybe…

      Wounded by a brutal childhood, molded by the Vietnam war, a young man struggles to make his life count for something, not just in God’s eyes…but his own.

  10. Sandy Faye Mauck September 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Been struggling with this all day:

    Katie Jensen runs from her uncle’s oppression into a town of comfort and budding romance. But will she be able to overcome the plot of the vindictive beauty who wants her gone?

    • Karen Ball September 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

      Great job. I’d just replace the non-question question at the end. Remember, if the answer is obvious, then it really doesn’t add value. So how about:

      Katie Jensen runs from her uncle’s oppression to a town of comfort and budding romance, a town where everyone welcomes her.
      Everyone, that is, but a vindictive beauty plotting to send Katie packing…

  11. Sandy Faye Mauck September 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Yes. Karen…that did it. Love it. Thanks!

    I was thinking today how I often will read only the hook to decide if I want to read a book. I hate knowing too much when I read a book. I remember the little hook-blurbs in the front of Grace Livingston Hill’s books. I purposely ignored them. I didn’t have to be wowed by extreme excitement in a book, I just didn’t want TMI (<;

  12. Jenni Brummett September 11, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    I’m a bit late to the party, but I’ve learned so much from reading what everyone shared here.

    Here’s mine:
    When New England mill girl Marjorie Reddick inherits a shipwreck salvage company in Key West, she must rely on the Lord’s rescue to keep her afloat.

  13. Karen Ball September 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    Jenni, very nice, but it’s a little too sparse. Is this a romance? Or is there romance in the story? If so, then how about adding just a bit about the hero…

    When New England mill girl Marjorie Reddick inherits a shipwreck salvage company in Key West, she must rely on the Lord–and an infuriating man–to keep the business afloat.

    • Jenni Brummett September 13, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

      Karen, I thought I slipped in too late to hear back from you.
      Thanks for your comments. It is a romance, and there is an infuriating man, so your addition is spot on.

  14. Shelli Littleton September 12, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    Karen, am I too late? I could surely use some help. Here is my summary on my middle grade … trying to figure out the hook –

    Azzie’s deepest wish is freedom. “House cat” in the country? When he discovers the door ajar, he hears freedom ring. He sets out on the adventure of his life. But when he witnesses his sister Lucy in distress—he must decide what matters most. Will he give up being lost for his sister to be found? Saving her would mean surrendering all.

    Hook:

    Azzie’s deepest wish for freedom comes true. But when this common house cat witnesses his sister Lucy in distress, will he give up freedom to save her? He must choose—freedom or surrender.

    • Shelli Littleton September 12, 2014 at 6:14 am #

      And Karen, since it’s middle grade … I wondered if I should add more “fun” into it … I thought about this line …

      Azzie is catapulted by his longing for freedom through the open door. When his tabby tail flees out of sight, his sister Lucy finds herself itchin’ to follow.

      • Karen Ball September 22, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

        Shelli, sorry it took so long to respond. I just saw this today. How about:

        When house cat Azzie gives in to his longing for freedom and catapults out an open door, his sister Lucy is right on his tabby tail! Now Azzie must choose: freedom…
        or his sister’s safety!

  15. Stephanie Jay September 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Thank you for this unique ministry you have. This is, well, my very first literary hook ever, but I thought I’d give it a try. Any feedback would be tremendously appreciated! Here’s my hook:

    Nita wrote many letters over the years. Would the correspondences she received be an open door to her past? The past she could never bring herself to speak of? A quick graveside visit turns into a providential meeting with a shadowy figure from bygone days who discloses where the stories that lie in a forgotten treasure trove might be found. Scattered throughout the pages of the old dust-covered Halversen family bible, tucked away in the attic, Nita’s long lost letters are about to be read for the first time in 70 years.

    • Karen Ball September 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      Stephanie, you need to make it snappier, more emotive. Something like:

      When Nita finds some long lost letters, will they provide a bridge to the future…or be an open door to a past she longs to escape?

  16. Heather October 16, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks for your post. Hope this isn’t too late.
    This is my first ever proposal:

    Going back in time? Via a drink? Impossible! Or is it?
    All Michelle wanted to do was have her friends over to bring in the new year. She’d taken Care of her handicapped husband for most of her married life. Then suddenly, she finds in the year 1890.
    Tom and Cindy had recently married and wanted to have the best honeymoon. They thought they were going to the year 1300.
    Little do any of them know that they did not go back in time.

  17. Samantha Evans March 19, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    I just saw this blog. SO helpful!

    Here’s mine. I tried to follow the rules. Would you keep reading if this showed up on your screen?

    There’s a black hole in Iraq, survived by very few servicemen. There’s a ballistic missile allegedly hidden there. And should the Wells, an entangled military family, engage the enemy, the stakes will be devastating and the cost, grievous.

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