snowball in the face. It makes an impact. It leaves you reeling. It makes you want more. Okay, maybe not. This is where my analogy ends.
Query letter terminology invites analogies. In the case of writing a ‘hook’, this analogy is apt.
A hook is not just a piece of curved metal
The hook is right at the beginning of your query. It’s the first sentence. Yes, that’s right. A single sentence. And I’m going to spend an entire post discussing it, which should give you insight into its importance.
Your hook sentence can be short and punchy or longer if your story is complex and you can still keep the necessary impact. Above all, you need to hit the high points in order to give the reader a solid grasp of your story idea. Otherwise, your hook may mislead your reader about what to expect from your book.
Let’s look at what the hook in your query letter should do. It should intrigue. It should build interest. It should keep your target reader, whether it’s a literary agent or a publisher, reading. It should sing arias. Okay, the first few criteria are a tall enough order.
However, the hook sentence is not a cliffhanger. No ellipses.
Fishing with a hook
Imposing requirements, aren’t they?
But, really, at its essence, what does the hook do? It describes the piece of writing you are trying to find representation for or have published. So your hook is about your writing, not about you or the audience or your favourite sushi restaurant.
Your hook says ‘this is an interesting book’ and makes your target reader respond with ‘I want to see more’. More of your query letter and more of your writing.
If you’ve submitted a partial manuscript as per the target reader’s submission guidelines, then your hook will make the reader open up that attachment (or scroll down the page, depending on the specifics of the guidelines they’ve provided). If you’ve submitted just a query letter then the hook sentence is doing even more of the heavy lifting – it’s attempting to get your target reader to write back to you and request your writing.
Example of Clueless
Let’s try it out now.
Clueless is one of my favourite 90s movies. I’m going to write a hook for it which will form the first sentence of my query letter.
“Cher Horowitz schemes to arrange everyone else’s life in this Emma-update, until she falls for her stepbrother and finds that love can’t be planned ahead.”
This one sentence tells us the crucial aspects of the plot and character, as well as gives us a link to the inspiration for the story, which is always useful. But what are we missing? How about the age of the main character? What about the title of the movie? It refers to Cher’s initial cluelessness. We might want to explain that title. So, yes, the movie is about love but it’s also about teenaged Cher finding her social conscience, an important part of the plot.
Okay, let’s cast out again.
“In this Emma-update, Beverly Hills teenager Cher Horowitz tries to arrange everyone else’s life until falling in love with her stepbrother gives her a social conscience and her first clue about love.”
Ah, better. A little long-winded, yes, but I think it covers the essentials and no more. The hook is baited. Now let’s together the rest of our tackle box.
Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net