is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It’s meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back and read Part 1.
THE 3 ELEMENTS OF A NOVEL HOOK
The novel hook is where you sell your story. It should spark the agent/editor to request the manuscript. And don’t forget, this is the sole purpose of the query:
To seduce the agent/editor into reading or requesting your work
As Marcus Sakey has argued, you should be able to write a compelling hook (and/or query) without even having written a manuscript. The two have NOTHING to do with each other.
To write a hook well usually requires achieving distance from your work, so that you can spin it in a compelling way that doesn’t get bogged down in the plot details.
You should boil down your story to these 3 elements:
- Protagonist problem
- Setting/context (sometimes even this isn’t really needed)
Then you must add the SIZZLE, or that one thing that sets your work apart from all others in the genre, that makes your story stand out. What makes this story uniquely yours?
When a hook is well-written but boring, it is usually because it lacks anything fresh. It’s the same old formula without distinction. The protagonist feels one-dimensional (or like every other protagonist), the story angle is something we’ve seen too many times, the premise doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. The agent or editor is thinking, “Sigh. Another one of these?”
This is the toughest part of the hook—finding that special je ne sais quois that makes someone say, “Wow, I’ve got to see more of this!”
And this is often how an editor or agent gauges if you’re a storyteller worth spending time on.
Sometimes great hooks can be botched because there is no life, voice, or personality in them.
Sometimes so-so hooks can be taken to the next level because they convey a liveliness or personality that is seductive.
You want to be one of those seductive writers.
Next up: We’ll take a look at specific hooks.
Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer’s Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.