3 Exercises for Defining Your Book's Hook

Whether you are writing a memoir or fiction, having a strong hook is essential. This advice rings true to nearly all books. by Paula Balzer
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1. WRITE YOUR OWN COVER COPY
Good back-cover or jacket-flap copy is so essential to a book’s success that publishers often begin working on it before a manuscript is even completed. With this in mind, carefully read the cover copy of three of your favorite memoirs. How does each description hold up with your perception of what the memoir is about? Do you now look at the book from a different perspective? Now, try writing your own cover copy. You’ll quickly find you need to rely on the hook to capture the essence of your story in such limited space. What did you discover when you boiled your story down to a few paragraphs? Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?

2. PUSH YOUR THEME TO THE LIMIT
List 10 things that are unique about the situation you want to write about. What makes your divorce different from your neighbor’s? What makes your bout with cancer different from everyone else’s? Keep in mind that the answers don’t always have to be literal or terribly deep. Did your husband tell you he was leaving you via Facebook? Did your chemotherapy bring you not a life-altering epiphany, but a special bond with the sweet child in the next room? What range of emotions does your list hit? Is it funnier or sadder than you anticipated? Is there something there that would make an especially good hook?

3. SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
Select five different starting points for your memoir. Make a list of the key plot points from the five new starting positions. How does this exercise change the scope of your story? Which important components change? What track does the memoir follow when starting from a different position? How does each new story feel? Where does each one end if you start from a different place?

Want to write a better query letter? Consider:
How To Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters

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