Craft a Salable Nonfiction Hook

As promised, I am critiquing two nonfiction book concepts that were submitted in the comments of my post yesterday. (Background: If you’re one of the first 50 people
to sign up for my webinar on Jan. 29, you’ll get a personalized
critique of your book’s hook, up to 100 words. So far, we have about 7
seats left until we reach 50. You can register here.)

Here’s a nonfiction book concept submitted by Deborah:

Have you ever wanted to do something but told yourself it wasn’t
possible? In “Honey, This Isn’t Walden,” you’ll read the story of a
woman who dragged her professor-husband and three kids to 32 acres in
the middle of nowhere to start a 19th century homestead. With no
background in animal husbandry or farming, the family starts raising
goats, pigs, chickens, and other animals, as they try to grow their own
food in an organic garden. After laughing, crying, and shaking your
head as you read about their mistakes, you’ll wonder what’s stopping
you from doing what you’ve always wanted.

the first stage of revision; I have made up some details that may not
necessarily be true but can be adjusted as needed.

“Honey, This Isn’t Walden”:
How a wife and mother of three, without any experience in rural life,
takes her urban and professorial family to live on 32 acres in Nowhere,
Kansas, where they undertake animal husbandry and organic gardening.

two would be figuring out more specifically from the author what big
thing CHANGED for the family. While it can be a lesson about doing what
you’ve always wanted, there does need to be some kind of story arc
where we have a major conflict that has to be resolved (not just a
series of charming anecdotes). Is a broken marriage repaired? Do kids
kick drug habits? These are dramatic examples, but you get the idea.
Or, if this book really is just a series of charming anecdotes, it will
be tougher to sell—and will need a catchier or more intriguing title,
like “How Animal Husbandry Brings Families Together.” (A more
intriguing title in general is recommended.)

Here’s a nonfiction book concept submitted by Cathy:

In “Thrifty Girl: Tips and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Spending
in the Real World,” Ms. Shouse, a Chartered Financial Consultant with
16 years experience, and more importantly a mom and wife seeking
economic sanity, advises to stop thinking of money management as a
dirty word but to seek an enlightened view of finances.

“They call it personal finance because it’s personal and so-called
experts should stop telling people what they can and can’t do,” she
says. “My methods teaches readers to achieve their unique money goals
by design and have a ball doing it.”

Here’s how I would revise; again I’m taking liberties with the actual book content to illustrate how to improve.

Listening to the Financial Experts: An Action Plan for Guilt-Free
Spending in the Real World” offers a customizable 12-point plan that
encourages you to ignore the finance experts and spend in areas that
matter to you—putting the “personal” back in personal finance. Authored
by a financial consultant with
16 years of experience, this book shows you how to take a more enlightened
path to money management that doesn’t feel dirty, accomplishes your
unique long-term goals, and leaves you at peace at the end of the day.
You might even have fun while doing it.

key here is to focus on concrete benefits the book is going to deliver.
The author’s credentials (in a nonfiction book hook this brief) should only be
mentioned as a way to clarify the author’s authority or expertise. I
also amended the title to be more attention-grabbing, because for me,
the best thing about this book’s positioning is that it will teach you
how to manage your money based on personal qualities you have, and not
some strange, alien economic or financial principles you’re not familiar with and might not comprehend.

Now that I’ve given my two cents, what do you think? How could these be further improved? (Sometimes I miss some real obvious improvements!)

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley

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0 thoughts on “Craft a Salable Nonfiction Hook

  1. Cathy


    You’ve arranged my ideas to make them grab much more attention. However, I’m finding I wasn’t clear in communicating what I wanted to say. 🙂 It’s a bit negative which isn’t my intention.

    Maybe this tweaks yours to more what I was thinking?

    "Become Your Own Financial Expert: An Action Plan for Guilt-Free Spending in the Real World." Learn how to tailor the expert advice to your personal situation.

    Possibly delete the phrase "ignore the experts" because it’s really about honing in on your core values "to spend in areas that matter to you." (love that phrase, Jane). I would also delete "that doesn’t feel dirty."

    By remaining on a positive note, this is a book I believe in and feel there is a need for. There is too much cookie-cutter advice out there.

    Thanks so much for doing this. It was really educational.


  2. shelli wells

    You have been awarded the Premio Dardos blog award. This award is given to acknowledge blogs that have cultural, ethical, literary and personal values.

    The award honors favorite blogs for reaching out to readers of all generations who encourage self-awareness, good will, and literacy throughout the world.

    The rules are:
    1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog with a link to the grantee.
    2) Pass the award to blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement and let them know they’ve been selected.

    Shelli Johannes-Wells

  3. Deborah

    Thanks, Jane! That story arc is the thing that’s been slowing me down for a couple years. At least I finally know where the story will end, which is something I didn’t know until very recently, so I feel like I might have a book, rather than a bunch of essays. Spoiler alert: the book ends as my kids leave home, and my husband and I are left here with a big garden and enough sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc. to feed a family of five. One of the reasons I moved out here was to teach my kids real responsibility. I’ve always thought the book should focus on sustainability, but maybe it should focus on the kids? Thanks again!

    BTW, I love the revision of Cathy’s concept.