Posts Tagged ‘query letters’

How to Write a Hook for a Book

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Switching from writing a lengthy manuscript to formulating the couple of punchy sentences that constitute a hook can be tricky. This blog post,“How to Write a Hook for a Book,” will help you write the perfect hook.Pasted Graphic

A hook...not for a book!

A hook…not for a book!

I use hooks all the time as part of my query letter and synopsis services, but they’re not required. If you don’t feel comfortable with a hook, don’t use one.

Guide to Writing a Hook for a Book

1. Throw Away Your Principles

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

3. State What the Main Character Is Going Up Against.

4. End with a Question or Statement of Doubt.

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

1. Throw Away Your Principles

Though “throw away your principles” may be a tad hyperbolic, it’s true that to write an effective hook, you might have to betray your vision a bit. By boiling your book down to a handful of sentences, you’re  going to lose nuance, which may not feel so great. After all, it’s likely that you turned to writing fiction in the first place to explore nuance. But leave nuance for creating the content of your book, not for selling it.  And, remember: the hook is designed to grab someone’s attention, not to accurately reflect every aspect of your book.

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

The first sentence should state who the main character is with a hint or full-out statement of what it is he or she wants.

Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation.

Immediately, the reader is sucked in, gripped by suspense over whether Scarlett will be able to accomplish this task.

3. The Second Sentence

In the second sentence, state what the forces opposing the main character are.

The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Scarlett O'Hara/Vivien Leigh

Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh

4. End with a Question

The third sentence, the last of the hook, ought to be either a question or a sentence that teases the reader.

Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows. Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

Then it’s time to adorn, embellish, and finesse. Beef the sentences up with adjectives and mentions of settings and names.

Feisty Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family’s plantation, Tara, as the Civil War rages. Her father’s creditors are baying at the door. Armed with beauty, charm, and wits, Scarlett schemes her way out of dire straits. But is it enough to rescue Tara?

Voila!  You have a hook.

Five Key Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

You typed in the magic words “The End,” and it’s true, your final page is one sort of end, but “to be continued” may be more appropriate in terms of your writing journey. Where will it continue?  Into the publishing blogosphere, into immense tomes that contain information on agents, into the pages of writing magazines, into the post office, into new files on your computer, with carefully personalized query letters addressed to dozens of strangers—strangers who hold your destiny and dreams in their hands.  Strangers known as literary agents.

Getting a literary agent is an intimidating process, and the world is rife with information on how to lure in one of these mystical creatures.  In this blog post, I’ve distilled my myriad observations from time spent as a literary agent and as a writer down to five key tips that should inform your actions throughout your search.

Tip 1: Write Something Amazing

Too obvious? If you’ve ever had to read the slush piles, you’d know that it actually can never be said enough.  Too many writers are so excited by their bestseller wishes and National Book Award dreams that they end up skipping over the many steps necessary to perfect their manuscripts.  Getting a literary agent in today’s hardscrabble publishing environment is difficult enough when you have something stellar in hand.  Don’t lower your chances by sending out anything less than your best, which might mean having a trusted friend or skilled editor assist you in revisions.


Tip 2:  Choose Your Targets Wisely

You have the next big thing in historical romance.  You read an interview with a Phd making a splash with the latest neuroscience-meets-your-life wherein the author praises his agent effusively.  This agent might be a perfect match for the good doctor, but will he really appreciate the hours you spent mastering the intricacies of 18th-century hairstyles?  More to the point—does he know the editors of your genre?  By making sure the agents you approach are the right fits for your work, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time, rejection, or worse–acceptance by someone who doesn’t really know how to market your book.

Tip 3:  Follow Submission Guidelines

A synopsis and a letter.  A letter and a synopsis and two pages.  A letter and a synopses and ten pages.  Only a letter.  A  partial. A whole.  You can’t keep track of the everyone’s preferred submission format, and you would get your submissions out so much faster—in seconds, really—if all you had to do was replace the name after the salutation and hit send.  However, it’s worth it to take the time and tailor your submission to what the literary agent has requested, since deviation from the requirements might lead them to ignore your submission.  Do your research and also pay attention to whether the agent is even accepting submissions right now—you could save yourself a lot of time in your path to getting a literary agent.

Tip 4:  Create a Good Query Letter.

I’ve written before about the importance of query letters—and one of my most popular service is editing and refining query letters.  As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression.   This is actually true for literary agents, who you cannot query twice. So labor over that query letter.   When a document is short, it’s even more vital that every word is carefully chosen, every paragraph polished to its highest potential.

Tip 5:  Be Patient.

The time between when you send your material to agents and the time in which it takes them to respond may feel like an eternity.  But agents are plowing through tons of material, so don’t take the delay personally or let your imagination run wild—Perhaps it got lost in the mail!  Occupy yourself with a new project, or catch up on all the television shows you missed out on while writing your book.

Ten Tips for Your Query Letter

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the Writer magazine about query letters.   It’s now one of the most visited pages on my website.   Since then I’ve read more query letters and learned to see them from a different vantage point through my work editing them for my book editing services. So I decided to take my new knowledge and write an updated article for my business blog.

These tips are mostly geared toward fiction writers.  Note–there is overlap with my original letter.

TIP #1:  Watch the Length.

A good rule of thumb is that your query letter should be in twelve-point font, single-spaced, and one page.   Beginning writers commonly overwrite and lengthy query letters are the first hint that self-editing is tough for them.

TIP #2:  Use Comp Titles to Describe Your Book

Mentioning titles that your book resembles gives it a certain legitimacy.  Right away, the agent can imagine your book on shelves alongside the illustrious company you’ve brought up.

TIP #3:  Allude to the Agent’s Own List

Chances are that if you’re querying an agent, you’ve done some research about their client list.  Be sure to say if your book has anything in common with those the agent already represents.  Showing that you’ve put thought into the agent’s own work also helps create a sense of  personal connection.

TIP #4:  Triplecheck Your Agent’s Guidelines

Every agency has specific guidelines.  For example, some want to see no pages with a query, some want to see ten, some fifty.  Some allow email, some don’t.  Not following proper protocol is a easy way to ruffle feathers or even get tossed in the reject pile.  Send what they want, usually outlined on their websites or found in a reference book like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.

TIP #5:  Lay off the Detail

Often writers want to explain every twist and turn of the plot; drop  the names in of all the characters they love; articulate  the themes that are so close to their hearts.  However, the query letter isn’t the place to get every detail down.  Stick to the main characters and most important plot points.  The agent should finish reading your letter wanting to know more.

TIP #6: Go Easy on the Unpublished Manuscript Credentials

Every writer has a manuscript or two (or three or four)  in the proverbial desk drawer, but just as you wouldn’t mention past dates on a first date, try not to bring your discarded efforts up.  What’s important is what’s happening now, not the past.

TIP #7: It’s Not a Resume

Agents are primarily interested in your book:  the writing, the plot, the characters.  They welcome learning of some credentials, but don’t overdo it, especially if those credentials aren’t writing related.  Bring up points about career only if they’re relevant to your writing–like if your horror novel is about zombie chimpanzees and you’re a primate biologist.

TIP #8:  Hook Them In With Your First Few Lines

A great opening can mean the difference between having the rest of your letter ignored, skimmed or read.  Make sure you start off your query with a bang.  Establish high stakes.  Present a fascinating situation.  Ask a tantalizing question.

TIP #9:  Choose the Agents Carefully

Do your homework and make sure that the agent you’re sending your query to is currently accepting new clients (best of all if they encourage new writers to contact them), confirm from multiple sources that they’re still at the agency you have them at, and try to make sure that they are interested in books like yours.

TIP #10:  Power of Proofreading

Last but not least, proofread carefully.  You want your final draft to look polished and professional.  Consider giving it to a friend or fellow writer to go over.  Fresh eyes can do wonders.

Like all tips, these aren’t written in stone.  Be flexible and don’t get too caught up in trying to write the “perfect letter.”  If you feel your book necessitates a 1.5 page letter or that there are no comp titles, don’t strain to push yourself in a box you don’t belong in.  Your query letter, like your book, should ultimately be an expression of yourself.