Monday, November 18, 2013

Tips for your Query's Hook

by Jemi Fraser

After my last post on Query No Nos, I had several people ask me about query hooks so I thought I'd focus on that today.

The hook is the first line or short paragraph of your query. (Some agents like to have the 'business' paragraph up front, but I'm not talking about that bit.) The hook's job is to make the agent HAVE to read on. From reading agent blogs and Twitter comments, it seems to me that most agents decide within a few seconds whether or not to read the entire query. That's not a lot of time, so make your hook sparkle!

Do:

Include your main character's name (and age if your story is YA or MG).
 
Use active verbs, especially the first verb of the query.
 
Stay in chronological order. Don't give away a key point in the hook then backtrack to build to it - way too confusing!
 
Showcase what's unique about your story.
 
Keep it short. Long convoluted sentences make for slow reading and that's the last thing you want.


Don't:

Start with your novel's title - way too tempting to describe the story if you say MY TITLE is...  Pretty soon you'll be telling all over the place.
 
Use the words 'about' or 'is the story of' or 'follows the adventures of'. Those are sure signs of telling!
 
Be generic. Make sure something about your hook is unique and that your hook can't match a dozen different stories.


As with everything else in writing, there are no ironclad rules that can never be broken and that holds true for these suggestions. There are always brilliant writers out there who can go against all the 'rules' and make it work!

Do you have any suggestions to add? In your opinion, what makes a good query hook?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

8 comments:

JeffO said...

Good hooks are one of those 'you know it when you see it' deals, I think. Nice summary, Jemi!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Made a note of the 'don't.' I'm pretty sure I've used those a few times.

Crystal Collier said...

In my opinion most querying is a joke. If you want an agent's attention, go to a conference or enter contests judged by them.

Jemi Fraser said...

Jeff - I think you're right. I often feel an "Oh!" when I read a great one :)

Susan - they're sometimes a bit tough to avoid - but I think it's works well if you can!

Crystal - that would be great, but it's not always an option. And I do know several people who've got their fantastic agents through the good old query!

SC Author said...

YOUR CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER TIP IS SPOT ON. In all my Query Kombat and Nightmare Query slush reading, I've been wondering why those types of hooks just don't work. I never knew what the reason was until you mentioned it! I really don't like when hooks are awesome and then, wait, rewind and let me explain the intro. I mean, sometimes hooks just end up being like that, and I've grown to just sort of ignore/accept them, but if there was a way to write awesome hooks without doing that....

Medeia Sharif said...

First lines of books are so much easier than first lines of queries. As someone who's in the subbing process, I keep rewriting and making my query stronger. I have to have that punch in the beginning.

Shelley Sly said...

These are excellent tips! I agree that keeping it short is a good idea. When I read and critique queries online, most often I see queries that are way longer than they need to be. I've been guilty of this myself. ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

SC - thanks! Those often do pack a great punch, but then I get confused about the order later on :)

Medeia - I agree! Those query lines are so tough!

Shelley - thanks! I think most of us start with more of a synopsis than a query ... or is that just me :)