10.03.2006

Hook up

Dear Miss Snark,

I have been sending out query letters to agents, and so far I have had some great resonses. I have been told my writing is 'very good' and my story 'compelling' and that my book is very promotable. However, I have just been turned down by my number one choice of agent who says the book doesn't have enough of a hook to it. I obviously want to change my book so that it's better, but I don't really know what to do. Make it tighter? More simplistic? Any chance that you could help me unravel what he means?



You could give it a hook.
Just an idea.

19 comments:

Dee said...

It's funny how sometimes the obvious escapes us...

I got a chuckle out of this one.

Maya said...

Bill for new keyboard en route.

McKoala said...

Pack of fishhooks en route.

also said...

Maybe the writer isn't sure exactly what a hook is? A hook happens at the beginning; probably within the first few pages or at least within the first chapter. It hints at crazy, strange, dangerous, sexy or adverterous intrigue-to-come. A character might be setting out to accomplish something against overwhelming odds. Something. Write that.

Anonymous said...

I think what the questioner is asking is, "What's a hook?"

Howzabout the snarklings take a stab at being helpful and give their definitions for that term? I think the writer would appreciate it.

I'd define a hook two different ways.

A hook can be conflict or tension that happens right on the first page and draws the reader into the book.

Or, and I would guess this is the agent's definition of a hook, it's some element of the plot that is fresh and unusual enough that even a description of the plot will make people interested in reading the book.

One last thing, writer: it's not the end of the world to be turned down by your number one pick. It happens to the vast majority of us. Just keep querying agents.

theraspberrycordial said...

Personally I think with the amount of plot advice Miss Snark is handing out, she is practically writing it for them

What a big softie

Anonymous said...

thanks for the advice commenters, it is much appreciated.
I'm having a hard time because I know what a hook is, I know how to define it, but actually looking at my manuscript and changing it so it has more of a hook is so hard.
My book is about having an accident, becoming permanently disabled and having to over come that.
It does have a hook, just apparently not enough of one.
I am Harvard educated, and as I said I have had some great responses. Other agents thought it had a hook, just not this one. Back to work then.

Anonymous said...

That's possibly what seperates the great writers from the good ones. Or, at least the published from the unpublished. -JTC

Kimber An said...

You poor thing. You sound like your brain is just plumb tuckered out. My advice is to get away from your story for about a week, a month would be better. Run in a field of lilies. Play with a dog (not Killer Yapp though.) Have fun. Try to stay away from anything related to your story. Eat chocolate. Then, set aside several uninterrupted hours and sit down and read your story from start to finish. Don't take a break to watch a little t.v. No other stories are allowed near your brain. Just your fresh one. Odds are a hook will jump right out at you.

Anonymous said...

Let's say you're browsing in a bookstore; you have just a few minutes to find something you know you're really going to like. Now imagine if you picked up YOUR book, would that be the one you bought? Or would you buy something with a more intriguing first page?

Go to a bookstore and just read first pages in your genre. Make notes. Go home and think about it (i.e. obsess) for a few days. You'll know what to do - it just pops into your head all of a sudden. I promise.

Anonymous said...

PS I'm currently doing my beta reader service to mankind by reading for a friend. The manuscript, as a whole, is fantastic. The first chapter is beyond sucky.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

i read miss snark's one-line response. cracked me UP.

this is my first visit to this site. miss snark totally lives up to her name. miss snark, i already love you!

Anonymous said...

Is it really a good idea to change your manuscript after only one rejection? I can see changing it if 3 or 5 or 25 agents all said, "Give it a hook." But after one rejection, were I in your shoes, I believe I'd keep querying. What one agent thinks isn't what they all think, and maybe your second choice agent will be agreeable to representing the work.

Are you in a critique group? If so, what do they think? If you're not, is that an option?

Georgiana said...

What is it about your book that makes it special? Can you take that and punch it up and make it even more special?

I think that all stories are essentially the story you're telling; someone has an obstacle and has to overcome it, hopefully growing in the process. Your obstacle is a physical ailment but I've read quite a few books (and screenplays) with the same sort of obstacle and most of them were kind of dreary or mawkish.

Assuming that yours isn't, what makes it compelling? Is it character driven? If so can I tell right away that your character is someone I am going to find interesting and someone I'm going to root for? If not then how can you engage me sooner?

One last thought, are you sure that becoming disabled and getting used to it is a plot and not a subplot? If you've read much Dean Koontz you've surely noticed that many of his characters have some sort of disability but that's not what the story is about. It's something that's going on in the background of the book.

He may be a bad example because his work may be very different from yours so maybe this question will help. What keeps your story from being a movie of the week? Betty Battles Bulimia may be alliterative but it's only going to appeal to a niche audience.

BuffySquirrel said...

The hook is the bit at the start of the book that the writer spends so much time on that they forget to work on the rest of the book.

Kelly Jones said...

anonymous said: "I'm having a hard time because I know what a hook is, I know how to define it, but actually looking at my manuscript and changing it so it has more of a hook is so hard.
My book is about having an accident, becoming permanently disabled and having to over come that.
It does have a hook, just apparently not enough of one. "

I do feel your pain, anonymous. It's particularly hard to see your own hook in your own book.
However, which would you rather read:

A teenage girl wins her karate tournament, then ends up in the hospital with a broken neck. (Peeling the Onion, by Wendy Orr)

A teenage girl wakes up one ordinary morning to find she can't move her limbs. (Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, by Peg Kehret)

A teenage boy tries to solve the mystery of his neighbor's murdered dog, both helped and hampered by his own autism. (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon)

A book about having an accident, becoming permanently disabled and having to over come that.

For me, the hook is usually interesting specifics about the character and/or the conflict.
What I particularly liked about the Curious Incident was that there were lots of layers--things other than him learning to navigate the world. The hook reflects that.
That was also true of Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins, a memoir of a man whose two-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, interlaced with interesting parts of the history of autism. (LOVE that book!!!)

I assume you didn't want to be more specific here, but look for your own details and complexities. Make sure your query reflects them (in a short, simple way--yeah, right, that's easy!)

Hope this helps, but I do agree with the others--you may not want to change the premise of your book, based on one comment.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me what being "Harvard educated" has to do with your book having a hook?

Throwing in elitist credentials seems pointless when you're asking for help.

TMack said...

Excellent idea, anon:

Go to a bookstore and just read first pages in your genre. Make notes. Go home and think about it (i.e. obsess) for a few days. You'll know what to do - it just pops into your head all of a sudden. I promise.

I'll borrow that one. Thank you!

TMack said...

QUOTE:
Can someone explain to me what being "Harvard educated" has to do with your book having a hook?

Throwing in elitist credentials seems pointless when you're asking for help.


Here comes something even more pointless, i.e. my conjecture...

My guess is the writer was anticipating a visit from the clue gun firing squad and on reflex threw up a shield in his/her own defense. In which case, "I'm Harvard educated" might translate as: "Hold your fire! I've learned a lot, but I've got more to learn. I'd truly appreciate insight from others who can shed some light."