PART ONE: THE HOOK
A hook, a.k.a. elevator pitch or logline, is 2-3 sentences explaining what your book is about. It’s the heart of a query letter, the thing that gets the agent to request pages. It is also the second hardest thing you will write (next to your synopsis, which we’ll discuss later). But here are some tips that made it easier for me.
The Technical Stuff
Write in third person, present tense. Anything else will get you in trouble. Even if your book is in first person, past (“I did this, I went there”), write the hook in third, present (“He does this, he goes here”).
Keep it short. The entire letter should fit on one page in Times New Roman, 12pt. That means the hook is one or two short paragraphs.
State facts, not opinions. No fluff phrases like “thrilling page-turner,” “harrowing adventure,” “heart-wrenching tragedy” or any of the things you want reviewers to say after you’re published. That’s bragging. Don’t include your book’s theme (e.g. “about trying to find hope amidst despair,” “about love conquering against all odds”). That’s telling, not showing, remember?
How You’ll Really Get it Done
Start with one sentence. I took this advice from Nathan Bransford. It’s painful, but it works. Write in one sentence, as short as possible, what your book is about. Then, expand in one or two more sentences, including whatever makes your story different from everyone else’s.
Write what it seems to be about, not what it’s really about. If your story seems too complicated to narrow down to a hook, this tip is your magic key. I struggled with the same thing for years. In one book I had two storylines and at least five major characters, three of whom had back story to be explained before any of it made sense. In 2-3 sentences? Impossible. So I turned my thinking around. Yeah, when all is revealed, it’s really a complex political chess game involving secret organizations and entire worlds, but what it seems to be about, what happens in the first chapter – is a bunch of kids stranded in the wilderness. So I went with that. And it worked.
You’ll know when you’ve found The One. I read this somewhere and then experienced it myself, so I swear by it now. I sent out multiple versions of a query letter thinking each version was alright, but I never got page requests back. That was my problem; it was decent, okay. But I wasn’t in love with it. Then when I finally hit upon The One, I felt it, deep down – and I got page requests days or even hours after submitting it. So learn from my mistakes, keep rewriting your hook and don’t submit a query until you know. And none of this “I think I know.” You’ll know.
Still confused? Read some exciting hook examples!