Developing the Hook in a Query Letter

Sometimes you only have seconds for your query to catch interest, and a great opening line can do that. We, as authors, try so hard to summarize our entire book, instead of just picking out the one or two elements that make our book unique, that I think we get lost when trying to do something like this. But practice will make it easier for you, and I hope the following ideas will help.

Kathryne is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.


Guest column by Kathryne Kennedy, award-winning
author of magical romances. She’s lived in
Okinawa, and several states in the U.S., and currently
lives in Arizona with her wonderful family—which
includes two very tiny Chihuahuas. She welcomes
readers to visit her website where she has
contests at:



Taglines are the one or two lines that are often on the front of a book cover. They are another way for publishers to draw the interest of a reader to your book. For example, the tagline on the cover of my December release, Beneath the Thirteen Moons. is “She never believed in fairy tales … until she found a prince…” And from my to-be-read pile:

  • “A novel of vampires, werewolves and dirigibles” from the cover of CHANGELESS by Gail Carriger.
  • “Her next jump may be her last” from the cover of GRIMSPACE by Ann Aguirre.
  • “Four lives. Two great loves. Every expectation SHATTERED” from SHATTERED by Joan Johnston.

Taglines may be a great way to hook an agent or editor to your book in your query letter. It’s always helpful to present your novel from a marketing perspective. You can study the taglines from your favorite books to help you craft your own, and expand on them (if necessary) to use for the opening line of your query letter. One day soon, you may very well be using it in an advertisement for your own novel … or seeing it on the cover of your book.


And speaking about advertising and marketing, another great way to come up with ideas for your hook is by studying the ads in publications for your genre. Again, this is another way to develop a hook from a marketing perspective. I write romance, so I would study the ads in Romance Writers Report or Romantic Times Book Reviews. If you don’t have a publication that you subscribe to for your genre, Publishers Weekly covers them all.

Take a look at the advertisements, paying special attention to what I refer to as power words, like “never expected” or “discovered” or  “emotional.” After reading many ads, you will begin to see a pattern, or a sequence of words that are slightly altered. Publishers know their target audience, and will craft their advertisements specifically geared towards that market—a  market which you may soon be a part of. Then pay attention to the slight differences in the ads, where a unique quality of the book is highlighted, whether that may be a character, setting, or plot.

Then ask yourself, “What audience am I targeting?” and “How is my book unique to all the others out there?”

Approaching your hook from an advertising perspective allows agents or editors to know that you did your homework. You know where your book will fall in the marketplace; you know what makes it unique so that readers will want to pick it up. And most importantly, the agent or editor will know how to sell it. And despite the artistry involved in literature, and the often subjective process in publishing, the hard truth is that this is a sales-driven industry.

Kathryne is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.

Writing romance? Check out the
excellent resource, On Writing Romance
by Leigh Michaels.




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16 thoughts on “Developing the Hook in a Query Letter

  1. Alyssa

    One of the things I really enjoy about reading your blogs and articles, is that you not only put all this time and research into your wonderful books, but you take it one step further. You fully explain your creative and marketing process in order to help others. Thank you for always providing a little more magic in our lives. Can’t wait for TLoTS!

  2. Jan Patterson

    I’ve learned so much from reading your posting. My first draft is waiting to be revised & I’m starting to think about my query letter. I’ll take all the help I can get-to improve my work! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. Kathryne Kennedy

    Hi Susan! My pleasure.

    Glad to help, Cherie.

    Sounds like you’ve already been approaching your query from the right angle, Tracy. Keep up the good work!

    Great to hear from Canada, Giora!

    You’re welcome, Marie!

    I hope it helps with your pitch, Rachel! Best wishes.

    Hi Nanette. Good to hear I’ve helped inspire you!

    It’s the harder thing for any writer to do, Theresa. Get some feedback from your writing partners, it will help.

    Hi Kelly & Penny. I guess it’s a little hard to read on the small cover posted here. The tagline is: He’ll fill her with power…and show her how to use it…
    My publisher actually came up with this tag line, and since it’s a romance, it has a double entendre that’s pretty clever. :}

    My very best wishes to all of you in your writing endeavors,

  4. Kelly Anderson

    This was an interesting article. I would have loved to see your hook for this book. Thank you for taking the time to teach others what you have already accomplished.

  5. Nanette Littlestone

    Thank you for the enlightening article. I’ve crafted blurbs for back covers and hooks for query letters, but I’ve never paid much attention to the taglines on the front covers. Aside from the gorgeous picture on Beneath the Thirteen Moons and its wonderful tagline, the other one I liked is the one from Shattered. I recently finished a power writing course where we learned about backloading, and the tagline from Shattered is a perfect example.

    These are such great suggestions. I can already feel new ideas forming out of the ether in my brain, wisps of vapor turning into thoughts, thoughts into words. Soon they’ll pour out onto paper and become real, inspiring, provocative.

    Thank you!

  6. Rachel

    Kathryne, thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful piece of advice. I’m getting ready to go to a writing conference and I knew I needed something more in my pitch arsenal, and your idea of a tagline is perfect.

  7. TracyLR

    I think this is very sound advice. "Approaching your hook from an advertising perspective allows agents or editors to know that you did your homework." Very smart, thank you for that. From everything I’ve read from other agents you literally have only seconds to grab their attention and pull them in. I’m constanlty paying attention to movie trailers and book tag lines that catach my eye because of course if it catches my eye then it will hopefully catch the right agent and targeted audience I’m trying to reach. Thnx.


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