Querying: Part One – The Hook

I was going to do a single post on querying, then realized that would end up being a novella. Instead, I’m going to write several posts on querying, focusing on what I consider to be the most important parts. I will be using examples from an old shelved project of mine.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the hook. What is the hook? The hook should be the opener of your query, a very short, snappy line or two that draw an agent in.

Here’s what a bad hook looks like (this was from the VERY FIRST draft of one of my old projects):

You would think that being deemed the Anti-Christ by a rogue cult would be as bad as your life could get. But after Daisy fell in love with a boy who only has a month to live, and then is arrested for her mother’s murder, she realized her life was about to get a whole lot worse.

I cringe now when I read this.

At the time,  I thought this was genius. I didn’t understand what a hook was, or how to write one.  This query did get quite a few requests, so it took me a long time to realize there was anything wrong with it. But eventually after reading every blog in existence on the querying process, I recognized my error.

Here’s the final hook I used in queries:

17-year-old Daisy Fitzpatrick has doled out more death sentences than the Texas Prison system. And it’s going to get her killed.

See the difference? I’m not trying to stuff everything that happens in the story into a paragraph, that’s what the rest of the query is for. While this isn’t the best hook in the world, it did get a lot of attention.

 

Great — But how the hell do I write a hook?

To write a good hook, drill down to the absolute barebones of your story.  A good way to do this is to force yourself to write a Twitter Pitch. With 140 characters you HAVE to rely on the essentials. In those 140 characters, what does a reader need to know?

Cut your story down to two or three elements that set your story apart. What makes it special? What are the stakes? Why should someone read it?

This is the formula I’ve seen before: [Character] + [Conflict] + [Stakes]  = A great hook.

Need some more examples? Agent query has some listed here.