Creating Hooks That Catch the Reader

So, you've got a great story. You're a really interesting person, and you have fabulous shoes. I have some unfortunate news you may have already discovered: no one cares.

I'm just kidding! But it can feel that way when you're trying to catch the attention of an agent or editor, can't it?

But think about it from the editor's perspective. They get a lot of material sent their way, and frankly, much of it (maybe even the majority of it, depending on who they are and where they work) is simply not very good. I'm talking "I've never heard of punctuation" not-good. So imagine that you're the one getting hundreds of these less-than-stellar pitches and proposals every single day. You want to find the diamond in the rough, but would someone just give you a brownie first, because sending so many rejections is exhausting! What is going to finally catch your attention? What is going to make someone stand out from the crowd?

A good pitch. A hook. Something that makes you say, "Wowsers."

I love writing hooks for my books as well as for chapter endings. I don't know why. I think something about it feels like a challenge to me, and I like the tease factor of it. You don't have to put every little piece of information into your hook. In fact, you don't want to. So ask yourself, "How can I make this idea the most interesting, even if that means leaving out some important information?" You don't want to be deceptive about the way you describe your book, of course, but it is okay to leave out the character's darkest secret or the seventeen jobs your character goes through in the book.

When you're pitching to someone, you've got about five seconds to make a good impression. Let's face it, we all have short attention spans. So while the details of the characters' lives--your character's favorite cheesecake flavor, for instance--may seem relevant, they're probably not relevant to an agent unless the cheesecake was poisoned. I struggle with this each time I write a pitch, because all the details seem so important! You've spent all this time crafting your characters, and you want your audience to know it. But don't despair. If you get the attention of an agent or editor, the details will come in the proper time. Giving away too much too soon would be like going on a first date and spending the whole time talking about your genealogical history.

So how do you craft a solid pitch?

1) Brevity breeds interest. Generally speaking, the shorter the better. Less for the listener or reader to process.

2) Use your voice. Your writing voice, that is. Whether it's humor or suspense, get your voice in your pitch one way or another.

3) Only include the most relevant details.

4) Clearly set up the stakes for the highest point of conflict in your story. Does someone die? Is someone left at the altar? These things are interesting. Say them first. Your reader/listener will be saying to themselves, "I want to hear more about what happens."

5) Give us a reason to worry about your characters. We can't worry if we don't care.

For this week's Fiction Friday postings, we'll be focusing on hooking the reader. So start thinking of a hook for your novel this week, or even for an idea you'd like to write a novel about, and get it ready for submission next Friday!

Questions for Comment: Do you enjoy crafting pitches and hooks? Do you have any "tricks of the trade" to share?

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