Monday, July 13, 2015

There’s the Hook, and then there’s the Book Hook

We hear a lot about the hook and how important it is for a novel. But the Book Hook is often overlooked.

What do I mean by the Book Hook?

Many times when “the hook” is discussed, writers talk about something on the first page that will entice the reader to continue. This is important. If the reader isn’t convinced to keep reading, then the rest of the excellent work you’ve written will never be seen. So this hook is quite essential.

This is usually the inciting incident. It is the event early on – ideally on the first page or two – that impels the reader into the story, preventing him or her from putting the book down.

But in the larger picture, you want the reader not only to continue, but to finish and then to spread the word that this is a book worth reading. And this is where the Book Hook comes in.

So, what is this Book Hook?

The Book Hook is what makes your book different. It is why someone would want to read the book. It is a statement or question that demands an answer to “What happens next?” It is the ultimate elevator pitch – a fifteen second statement or question that will force the agent or editor to get off the elevator and ask you to continue.

In my suspense book A Ton of Gold, the inciting incident is a seventy-four year old woman telling her granddaughter, “Somebody tried to kill me.” Certainly, the reader needs to read further to find out what is going to happen next. That should get the reader to continue.

But that isn’t the Book Hook. That does not tell us why this book is different. This inciting incident is why the reader should read the first chapter or two – find out what is going on. Why does the grandmother think someone is trying to kill her? But that is only the beginning, the setup. What about the rest of the book?

The Book Hook is: How does a century-old Texas folk tale cause murder, kidnapping and arson today?

Now we have the essence of the book. This makes the book different. This will carry the reader through the entire book, not just the first two chapters. This is what I would hope the reader will tell her friends.

Take a look at your WIP. What is the inciting incident? Now, what is the Book Hook? It should force us to ask, “What’s going to happen next?” And make sure you can give us the essence of your book in fifteen seconds.

Have I ignored the subplots, the sidekick, the setting? I have - for now. Those are important. Those need careful attention. I have some great characters, and a truly fun sidekick. But first things first. What is the Book Hook? What is the essence of the book? What do you want the reader to tell her friends that will “hook” them into reading your book? Just one powerful sentence.

Remember, there’s the hook. And then there’s the Book Hook, and it’s job ONE.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like it.

Sunny Frazier said...

Yesterday author Bonnie Hearn Hill spoke to our Sisters in Crime chapter on this very same subject. My "book hook" for "A Snitch In Time" is "Can Christy find a serial killer by doing a reverse horoscope?" Seeing as how I have never heard of anyone attempting a reverse horoscope (and so glad it actually worked for the plot's sake!) that either pulls in a reader who is intrigued by astrology or not. It might even turn people off. But, the police stuff is solid as well.

Kathleen Kaska said...

This is the best explanation of a hook, book hook, I've come across. Thanks for sharing, James.

Lesley Diehl said...

My book hook for all the books in my Eve Appel mystery series features a fashionista from Connecticut who opens a high end consignment shop in rural Florida to a murder in her dressing room during the grand opening of the shop. Joined by her hunky PI boyfrined, her business partner, her grandmother, a lot of handsome cowboys, a few Miccosukee Indians, and a mob boss, she should have enough ammunition to solve any murder coming her way... if only she would learn to ask for help. If my readers like to shop secondhand at yard sales and in consignment shops, they'll find the bargains and the mystery in Eve's shop intriguing. The third book in the series, A Sporting Murder will be released July 15.

Elaine Faber said...

The hook to my book follows: Black Cat's Legacy is a tale of intrigue and murder with a touch of whimsy. With the aid of his ancestors' memories, Thumper "knows where the bodies are buried", and he is determined to help Kimberlee solve her father's murder.
Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, and Black Cat and the Accidental Angel complete the trilogy.

James R. Callan said...

Thanks Charles, Sunny, Kathleen, Lesley, and Elaine for stopping by -- and for leaving us a comment and what your book hook is. Remember, our goal is --- Hook the readers, then reel them in.

Linda Thorne said...

I hope my book hook works. A career human resources manager finds a no-call-no-show shot to death. She's carrying some heavy guilt over her coerced role in a wrongful termination of an employee two years earlier that ended in a suicide. She thinks helping to solve the current case might assuage her guilt in the older suicide, but does she really know what she wants?

Or are things not as they seem?

Nancy LiPetri said...

Thanks for the book hook guidance! For my WIP, the book hook: When a woman leaves her family behind to rent a lake cottage and "find herself," she uncovers scandalous secrets. How will the discoveries affect her new friends' lives as well as the new life she so desperately seeks?

Patricia Gligor said...

Great article, Jim.
Here's the book hook for "Mistaken Identity," my fourth Malone mystery. "Ann's idyllic vacation on Fripp Island takes an unexpected turn when she discovers the body of a young woman on the beach."

marta chausée said...

Sassy noir minx and sleuth, Maya French, unearths Nazi loot and family sin buried in Berlin-- but will she live to rewrite history?

Coming soon~~

Buried in Berlin:
Maya Pink and Noir

Liane Spicer said...

Intriguing concept, James. How's this for a book hook?

A womanizing journalist's ex-wife is not the only one who wished him dead--but all fingers point to her as his murder shocks the residents of a Caribbean island paradise. (My current WIP)

Krista Lynn said...

Hi Jim,
Great explanation about the "book hook". I think works for my second book in the Haunting of Sunset Canyon series:
A young man and a beautiful archaeologist strive to solve the deaths of family members by forces in a haunted canyon and discover their own dangerous connections to the entities that dwell there.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Love your definition of book hook.
Here's mine for my new release "Hurricane of the Heart"

A playboy with no desire to commit travels to the Caribbean to party. Could a hurricane and a bewitching beauty queen change his ways and capture his heart?

sue mcginty said...

The pitch for my last novel, "Murder in Mariposa Bay,": The murder of a former colleague of Bella Kowalski’s husband sets her on a collision course with the Mafia.

And for the forthcoming, "Murder in a Safe Haven,": Bella Kowalski travels to Detroit where a murder at Metro Airport forces her to finally confront a life-changing truth about her husband.

James R. Callan said...

Thanks, Linda, for stopping by and giving us your book hook. Sounds like an intriguing story to me.
Hi Nancy. Just one question. Is her current family out of the picture? I’d say, you have a good book hook there.
Hi Pat. Since I’ve read your book, I know the hook works. Thanks for sharing your book hook with us.
Hi Marta. Well, who could get away from a hook like that. Be sure and let us know when Buried in Belin comes out. I know I’m ready to buy it.
Good hook, Liane. Another book we’ll all be looking for.
I like it, Krista. “Forces”, “entities.” That ought to grab a reader’s attention. Thanks for sharing.
Jewel, good hook. You could actually say it all in one sentence and a bit shorter. Could a hurricane in the Caribbean and a bewitching beauty change a playboy with no desire to commit?
Sue, both are good hooks and should reel in a lot of readers. Thanks for sharing.