Monday, 27 August 2012

You're Gonna' Need A Sharper Hook

Most agents spend less than a few minutes reading a query. First impressions count, so you have to get their interest...and fast. That's why a good, concise query is essential.

But how do you make yours stand out from the hundreds the agent will read that week?

Hook 'em Danno!
photo credit, behance.net
Easy. The first line should be your hook.

Think of the tag line from your favorite movie. It's the catchy slogan that will resonate with people and make them curious about the show. Your hook should do the same, ie: make the agent want to keep reading.

A good hook tells who the main character is (this can include age or personality description), grounds the genre, and ends with an unexpected twist.


I love to help with queries, but my passion is the hook. Post your 'hook' in my comments if you'd like feedback.

To get the ball rolling, here are two samples from my own writing.

At Willem's department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, but sixteen year old Daniel Gale doesn't scare that easily.

Hopeful heir, Edward Nichols travels to his family's English estate for the reading of his late Uncle's will only to find Craigmoore Manor has been turned into the scene of a murder investigation.

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56 comments:

Jane | @janelebak said...

Not very good because I'm makign these up on the fly, but here we go:

Starving musician Joey Mikalos thinks a new repertoire will get her string quartet more attention, and it does: newspaper articles, more clients, and one attorney out for blood.


Amber Brickman never realized she was separated at birth from her twin, but even worse, neither did her mother.

Arianna said...

Okay, eventhough we both now I fail so hard at queries here we go...

The last thing 16 year old Momoko Yoshimi wants to do after dodging an unhealthy amount of fireballs as her superhero alter ego, Shadow Warrior, is go take a math test, but that's just a typical Tuesday for her.

Bethany Myers said...

Jane, I love them both!

Arianna, the voice totally rocks. I only took out a few adjectives. It still works and the sentence flows better. AWESOME WORK!

The last thing 16 year old Momoko Yoshimi wants to do after dodging fireballs as her superhero alter ego, is write a math test, but that's just a typical Tuesday for her.

Thanks, guys!

Jane | @janelebak said...

Actually, I know very little about how to do a tag line, but should the tag line give not just the setup but some kind of challenge the MC faces? So mine, not just finding out about a mystery twin but what the stakes are? Or for Arianna's, not just that the MC has a superhero alter ego but what that alter ego needs to do?

Bethany Myers said...

The tag line can get too long if that's the case. however, everyone has preferences. I like the short, snappy ones that make you go, "huh! I wasnt' expecting that."

the conflict for the MC will be the next few lines that set up the inevitable crisis.

Great comments! Thanks.

Laila N Mysis said...

Okay, okay, I'm going to have a go at this. Be nice, please. I mean, it doesn't look like you're capable of meanness, but still, just warning you: very amateur writer, no way near publish-worthy material yet.

1. The room was too bright, too slow – like an old memory.

(It's hard to explain...o.o)

2. Radiant hues of yellow, orange, red and pink painted the fading blue sky as the golden orb that was the sun began to drop slowly into the hills.

*shrug* Go nuts.

Bethany Myers said...

Hi Laila,

The descriptions are lovely, a great way to start the novel, but with a query you need to be specific right away.

For instance, who is looking at the sky? Why are they looking at the sky? Are they at a funeral? I need to meet the MC speedy quick. Give me a name and if it's YA, you add the age, or if it's popular fiction add an occupation.

Here's a quick example,

When sixteen year old Cody Taylor looks at the sunset, she relives the vicious fire that took away her best friend and gave her a life time of guilt.

Or something like that.

Good luck! Hope that helps!

Laila N Mysis said...

Okay - now I'm feeling really silly. What exactly is a query? Is it like a summary, or a short version of your story, or a snippet out of it?

How about if my character is introduced in the next one or two lines?

(Sorry for spamming this blog, but it's nice to get feedback so quickly from Le Wise :) I won't annoy you after this! Promise!)

Bethany Myers said...

Laila, how on earth did you know Le Wise was my rap name?

Anywho, in order to answer your question about queries, check this link http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

Keep writing!

Arianna said...

*Facepalm* I never going to get this query thing right if I can't even get a sentence to flow. Thanks anyways.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I think I'm confused about what a "hook" / "tagline" is...like should it reveal the entirety of the book in one sentence ? or should it be just like a quirky first sentence?

(Love your blog by the way ..fellow canadian here :) )

Can you give me a popular example? (For example based on something like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Hunger Games or Charlotte's web? Maybe that would help...thanks!!

J

Laila N Mysis said...

OKAY, final comment and I will not spam anymore. That's it.

So, first and foremost, I knew you were Le Wise 'cause you had Le Wise kinda swagger bro... yeah x)

That's completely besides the point, the point is, thanks for the website, now I feel like I'm completely in tune again. I really would've preferred to go with the '“Hey, what’s up, buddy. I’m the next John Grisham. Got the next best selling thriller for ya' kind of letter, but they convinced me otherwise.

Anyway, may I take just one more shot at the hook thing? Well, here, anyway, and regardless of what you say (or don't say), I will not spam no more.

Okay, okay, (I say okay a lot), here I go:

It is generally agreed that the part that makes a nightmare perfect is the waking up bit, but unfortunately for 17-year-old Monica, the nightmare she's in refuses to meet this standard.

Bethany Myers said...

Hey Anonymous,

Thanks for the blog love. Using Harry Potter as an example, here's the difference between how a hook and tagline look.

Orphaned as a baby and forced to live with his spiteful Aunt and Uncle, eleven-year-old Harry Potter doesn't think being bullied by his cousin is inescapable, until he receives an invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The tagline for the movie was,

Let the magic begin.

Hope that helps.

Bethany Myers said...

Hi Laila,

Chill. I love comments.

I love this hook. I only have a few suggestions. I'd like to have an adjective for Monica.

Most people get to wake up from their nightmares, but for (add adjective here) 17-year-old Monica, the nightmare she's in refuses to end, even after she opens her eyes.

Awesome job!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bethany. I think I see the difference with the hook and the tagline now...hmm...
You are smart :)
I'm just working on (I guess) my first real novel (so it's terrible and likely will never see the light of day), but I feel very....unliterary.
I don't have any education in writing or english and I seem to have become "dumb" in anything to do with analyzing stories :)

Even that tagline you wrote about Harry Potter -- yes, its concise and exact. Now, if I had to figure that out off top of my head, I'd write and erase, think, write and erase, think.
Oh my. I have much much much to learn! Now if I could do this fulltime :)

Arianna said...

Okay, I have a few hooks to test out if you wouldn't mind. I realize I'm probably the most annoying person ever when it comes to my stupid query. But here they are:

1) While most teenagers can only dream of flying around and kicking some bad guy butt, 16-year-old Momoko Yoshimi lives in that reality everyday.

2) 16-year-old Momoko Yoshimi has never made it one full day of high school without being late to at least one class; but how could she when she's too busy fighting off mutant crabs?

3) Biology tests, dating, research papers, and... Fighting super villains? This is just an average Tuesday for 16-year-old Momoko Yoshimi.

Bethany Myers said...

Hey Arianna,

I really like the second one, it lets us know what the MC's usual routine is (late for class) but the twist is WHY she's late.

Also, the mutant crabs gives it that sci-fi feel.

Sixteen year old, detention diva, Momoko Yoshimi can never make it to class on time—she's too busy saving the world from mutant killer crabs.

I only added a little colorful bit about her being in detention to ground her personality.

If she hates being late for class and the negative attention it brings, mention that. Something like Sixteen year old, honor roll wanna be, Momo...

Caitlin said...

I'm not quite at the querying stage yet but I think I'll come back a bit later to give this a go. I'm terrible at things like this, though.

Kathleen said...

Witches can reanimate the dead only we aren’t allowed to. Ever. Ronnie is a zombie and, it’s all
my fault.

Kathleen said...

Witches can reanimate the dead only we aren’t allowed to. Ever. Ronnie is a zombie and, it’s all
my fault.

Bethany Myers said...

Hey Kathleen,

This sounds like a great start to the novel. However, most agents prefer to have the query written in the third person.

So, tell me about the narrator. Is she a good witch, clumsy with spells, hates having magical powers?

The bit about Ronnie can be the twist. Is Ronnie the best friend? Secret Crush?

Also, if this is YA, mention the MC's age.

This looks promising. Keep it at!

Ashley Nixon said...

When I am finished with my edits, and begin writing my query, I should come to you for advice! Queries are so hard for me, I posted several on my blog months back before my rewrite to get help. Now I just decided that will a different book (basically), it might be easier to write one.

Kris Mehigan said...

Hi Bethany,

Just saw your Twitter #querytip link. Hope it's not too late to have you review my hook...

When straight A college student, Megyn Quill is falsely accused of plagiarizing her thesis, she turns to the Purple Shadows- UVA's legendary secret society- for help only to find that she is a pawn in Thomas Jefferson’s unresolved 200- year old scandal.

Separately, my novel is technically "New Adult" suspense, but few agents indicate that they cover this market category. Do you recommend I query YA and/or Adult agents.

Thank you for your help.

Kris

Bethany Myers said...

Hi Kris,

Never too late. I love this premise. And I would query both YA and Adult as this seems like a perfect example of what 'cross over' potential means.

It made a few little tweaks! Good luck you should get lots of requests.

When straight A college student, Megyn Quill is falsely accused of plagiarizing her thesis, she's forced to throw her usual caution to the wind and seek out help from the Purple Shadows, (I would spell out full name of University) legendary secret society, but Megyn has more to lose than her reputation when she discovers she's a pawn in an unresolved 200 year old scandal involving Thomas Jefferson.

Kris Mehigan said...

Thanks, Bethany! Love the twist you added... and my ego thanks you too :)
Kris

MaryAnn Kempher said...

When 28 year old Katherine O'Brian's husband drained their checking account and left her for the biker chick next door...

Jane | @janelebak said...

..she loaded her shotgun and said, "Let's see if I'm still a perfect shot"?

...she threw a party and invited over Brent, the personal trainer who'd been asking to help with some ab exercises for the past four months?

...she laughed as hard as she could because the idiot had finally, FINALLY, taken that cursed coin off her hands!

Bethany Myers said...

Mary Ann!

Don't leave us hanging!

As you can see, Jane is a genius, but we need YOUR story.

Finish it up girl and post again. Don't be a tease!

Megan said...

When 12-year-old tomboy Max Compton travels to the diamond mine state park with her earth sciences class, she thinks she will finally get to discover The Big One that has eluded her, but instead she forges an unlikely friendship, stumbles upon a 100-year-old legend of lost treasure, and has to rely on her photographic memory to solve the mystery before she and her new friend are captured by somebody who wants the treasure all for himself.

Megan said...

By the way, thank you, Bethany for the opportunity.

Bethany Myers said...

Hi Megan,

Awesome premise. Very Goonies-like

However...

This is one mightly loooooooong sentence.

You're giving away too much for a first line hook. This is the whole querry.

I'm wondering if tomboy is the best way to describe Max. I want to know more about her. Does she have many friends or is she a loner? Does she snub the girly girls but secretly wish to be included?

"The Big One that eluded her" made me stumble. Is she an amateur geologist who is obcessed with dicovering the worlds' largest gem? And why is it so important for her to find it? Tired of being compared to more stellar siblings at home? Desperate to get money to pay for grandma's life saving operation?

The rest about the new friend, her photographic memory and the villian are thrown in the end are better for the querry.

When twelve-year-old tomboy, and class loner, Max Compton goes on a school field trip to the diamond mine state park, she gets lost...on purpose, and executes her year long plan to steal the world's largest diamond.

Or something like that.

In your query you would follow this with WHY it's so important to her and what will happen if she doesn't bet THE BIG ONE. Then add the new friend and end with the cliffhanger about the other dude.

Good luck!

Megan said...

I get what you're saying about the long sentence. I guess I was trying to get all the book in there. I think I confused the hook with a pitch. Now it makes more sense that I can spread it out over a couple of paragraphs.

Thanks for your input. I know it will help me focus not only my query but also my writing/revision.

I loved The Goonies! Awesome that you made that connection.

MaryAnn Kempher said...

Below is the first paragraph of my query:

Six months after 28 year old Katherine O’Brian’s hubby left her for the biker chick next door, she’s feeling better than ever. The only thing that stands between her and inner peace is former football player Scott Mitchell. Katherine needs just one more class for her college degree. Unfortunately, she’s stuck working with Scott on the extremely important class project. It’s not bad enough that he isn’t taking the class seriously, but he’s seriously good looking too. A distraction she doesn’t need. Despite his appeal, she has no interest in romance or love or anything of the sort; unfortunately for her, Scott has plans of his own, and he’s prepared to wait out or wear down Katherine’s no romance rule.

Bethany Myers said...

Hi MaryAnn,

Aw, I love this set up.

I put a little more, 'hook' into your first line, since it seems like Kat is dealing splendidly... we want CONFLICT.

See if this scratches the right itch...

When twenty-eight year old die hard romantic Katherine O'Brian, gets dumped by her two timing hubby, she locks away her broken heart, and returns college, swearing off men for good; not an easy vow considering a hunky classmate keeps cathing her eye.

MaryAnn Kempher said...

Just changed the very beginning.

Six months after 28 year old hopeless romantic Katherine O’Brian’s hubby left her for the biker chick next door, she’s feeling better than ever. The only thing that’s giving her grief these days is former football player Scott Mitchell.

Better?

Bethany Myers said...

Hmm...I still think you need more of a hook for that first sentence.

How's this?

Six months after 28 year old hopeless romantic Katherine O’Brian’s hubby left her for the biker chick next door, she’s feeling better than ever, that is until she meets Scott Mitchell.

BAM!

MaryAnn said...

Thanks Bethany.

Megan said...

Okay, here's my second attempt, using your suggestions to guide me.

Finders, keepers is the rule at the diamond mine state park, but when the only thing she unearths is a heap of trouble 12-year-old Max Compton wonders whether she wants to keep what she finds after all.

Bethany Myers said...

Megan,


I like the new opening. I added a few bits from your earlier posts.

Okay, I know this is long, but your latest 'hook' got me thinking.


Finders, keepers is the rule at the diamond mine state park, but when twelve year old tomboy, Max Compton unearths 'The Big One' she grabs the attention of some unsavory characters and is tossed into an underground maze of danger, legendary treasure and more dirt than she's used to.

febe moss said...

Ooh how fun! I'll jump in.

Here's my first line from my WIP:

I hated desperate local news reporters more than bold subway rats.

Anonymous said...

It seems like for me picture book hooks are harder. Here would be mine:

1) Getting mistaken more times than not as a baby rhino, Wally the Warthog will share with you all the things he loves to do when you come visit him at the zoo!

2) Come join in the fun as Wally digs muddy pits and prowls for food, all in a day for a warthog at the zoo.

Bethany Myers said...

Febe,

That's a great first line for your book. What's the 'hook' for your query?

Bethany Myers said...

Hey Anon,

I like the first one more. I made a few tweeks.

Wally does everything a baby rhino should, like digging in muddy pits and rough play with the other rhinos——there's only one problem, Wally is a warthog.

@ZooCrewSeries said...

Would love that if Wally actually did play with rhinos...I am a former zookeeper and children would mistaken Wally as a baby rhino in his exhibit with 2 zebras (no rhinos). Crazy I know! :)

@ZooCrewSeries said...

I am writing a series of books about each animal I took care of and Wally is the first one (Bubby the African Lion is next). Thats why I getting a hook has been hard for me..

Bethany Myers said...

Oh, okay, now I get it. Is this about following Wally around or is there more of a fictional component?

ZooCrewSeres said...

There is some fiction to it...I add the personality of the animal into the story while talking about what he likes to do...this may be a long explanation sorry! For Example, Wally is in an exhibit with Zebras-Wally would get himself down into the little "moat" around the exhibit and the female zebra liked to pick on him by blocking the exits so he couldnt get back out (he eventually would) but there is a part in the story where "Wally often imagines if he could fly" (I wouldnt necessarily know for sure if that is what he is thinking) but I can imagine cause he would get so frustrated with her blocking the exit lol it was quite funny seeing them interact...poor lil wally But I also wanted to teach children a little bit about the animals (basic stuff) so when they come to the zoos to visit they will know about them and know what they are (versus mistaking them for a baby rhino; or a wallaby for a really large squirrel..lol) Hope that makes sense?

Bethany Myers said...

Hmm...yeah, that is a bit tricky. I'm thinking you don't need a hook since this is non-fiction.

Wally is a warthog who loves to play with all the animals.

Follow him as he shows you up close, the interesting and sometimes mucky, day in the life of a zoo animal.

Or something like that...good luck!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bethany Myers said...

Hey Unknown,

I love this premise. However, for your hook, I'd put the bit about Ash being the son of Zeus at the beginning.


When struggling pre-med student, Ruby (last name would be good to add)bests the unbeatable Ash at chess, he becomes fixated on her; which is great if you like smoldering stares and chiseled chins, but not so great when his dad happens to be Zeus, king of the Gods.

Joannah Miley said...

Ah, yes...I see!!

Should this be the very first line of the query? Then a little more of the story, some about me, and that's it?

Just starting to think about this as I wrap up the third draft. Thanks for your help!



Bethany Myers said...

Yup. After the first line follow with the rest of the query.

Show the conflict of why dating Ash would be bad for Ruby, then add the cliffhanger. It would be good to add the med school thing, too. Does Ash have the power to get her in, even if her marks can't? That could be the conflict.

Just a thought.

Joannah Miley said...

Thanks Bethany!

Anonymous said...

Hi :)

Here's mine:

When two childhood sweethearts are reunited after ten years apart, sparks fly. There's just one problem; she's now married to another man.

I'd love to know what you think.

Jo

Bethany Myers said...

Hey Jo,

I'd mention their names.

Example,

When high school sweethearts, Pam and Dave, reunite by chance after ten years, sparks fly as they rekindle their romance. There's only one problem, Pam's husband.

There you go! Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!

Jo :)

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