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How to Write an Effective Hook (Plus: PITCH SHARE w/ agent Mark Gottlieb)

[1]Please welcome literary agent with Trident Media Group Mark Gottlieb [2] to WU today, speaking about something most writers need to understand: How to write (and even verbally deliver) an effective hook.

More about Mark from his bio:

Mark attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.

Learn more about Mark on the Trident Media website HERE. [2]

How to Write an Effective Hook

I offer up this article on hook writing, also known as the elevator pitch, to lend the reader a feel for comfortable writing and public speaking in the fashion of selling a book idea to an agent, editor or publisher.

First I would like to share some real hook examples I’ve worked on with clients that have recently sold to publishers to lend a sense of what goes into a knock-out hook.

LILY & KOSMO, pitched in the tradition of A TALE DARK & GRIMM, FLORA & ULYSSES, and ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS, in which to join Kosmo’s “Spacetronauts,” an all-boy crew of child space cadets, aboard their floating tree house in the stars, a girl from Brooklyn must prove that she can hold her own among the galaxy’s unruliest rascals…along the way, she and another will evade the clutches of merciless minions, find themselves marooned in The Murky Way nebula, and ultimately face the vilest villain of all, “His Meanness” The Mean-Man of Morgo.

THE REMAINDERS, pitched as DARK PLACES meets GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, in which the daughter of a famed serial killer is compelled to meet the husband of one of her imprisoned mother’s victims, only to find he was murdered—she is made the prime suspect and is forced to flee, knowing she has very little time to find the truth before the police—or the real murderer—gets to her first.

Social media @XplodingUnicorn leader James Breakwell’s ONLY DEAD ON THE INSIDE: A PARENT’S GUIDE FOR SURVIVING ZOMBIES, styled in the tradition of Max Brooks’s THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK, providing practical advice on how to raise happy, healthy children in the midst of the zombie apocalypse, by joining the genres of parenting advice books and undead survival manuals in an unholy union that is both ill-advised and long overdue—the narrator, an inept father of four young daughters, uses twisted logic, graphs with dubious data, and web comics that look like they were drawn by a toddler to teach families how to survive undead hordes.

The nuts and bolts of what makes for a great hook

Let’s dissect what goes into a knock-out hook. The above examples (children’s book, adult fiction and nonfiction) demonstrate the construction of good pitches for presenting book ideas to industry professionals. Here’s what can be easily seen in each of the pitches:

Short sentence descriptions. One of the reasons they call it an elevator pitch is not just so that the pitch can successfully help you go “up” in life, but also because it fits within the span of a short elevator ride. When reading one’s own elevator pitch, it should be thirty to forty-five seconds at most. Otherwise you might just get folks rolling their eyes.

Two to three comparative/competitive titles. Literary agents, and particularly editors, are trying to figure out where a given book goes on their list, where it would sit in a bookstore, and how well a book might perform. One of the first questions a publisher will get from their bookstore distributors is what are two to three comps that were bestsellers and/or award-winners, published in the last three to five years? Why not older than five years? Book publishing was different back then and books were written in a different sort of way. Besides, comparing oneself to one of the masters might also yield eye rolls. The comps should be of the genre/age range and I would encourage the writer to actually sample the comps to see if they’re an accurate comparison.

A sense of the plot/central conflict/theme(s). A good hook you can really hang your hat on lends a sense of what the book is about in its plot, conflict and theme in a very small space. Without this we might not get a good enough sense of what the book is actually about, since simply saying, “It’s this meets that” might not do the trick.

A small window into the author’s writing abilities. There’s much to be said about a well-written hook in that it can entice the listener/reader to actually want to request a query letter or to read the manuscript!

Platform. Somewhat different from fiction, nonfiction often requires that an author have a built-in audience in the way of a huge platform. Sometimes that can be as simple as an individual with over a million social media followers, or a website with similar numbers in terms of visitors or subscribers. Maybe the individual even gave a TED Talk where there were over a million views. In the hook for a nonfiction book, lend a sense of how big the platform is, since a publisher will typically only want to hear it if it’s from a Broadway stage, as opposed to a soapbox.

Note: Platform for novelists tends to be awards, prizes, grants and other accolades. Relevant writing experience is great. An author with an MFA will be in good standing, or an author that has attended prestigious writing conferences is also what I would consider to be a great platform for an aspiring author.

Memorizing the elevator pitch to describe one’s novel is advisable. Short of doing that, I’ve seen authors write a short phrase on the back of a business card. The elevator pitch should be short, sweet and enticing.

Have a pitch you’d like to share? Mark will be in and out today, providing feedback here at WU, so take advantage. The floor is yours!