Thursday, January 05, 2006

Give'em the hook...

I set my alarm clock this morning with the intention of getting up early and being all witty, completely disregarding the fact that I'm never witty (or even intelligible) before two cops of coffee and much zoning on my futon, so all was for naught. Given this (un)surprising turn of events, I'm going to let someone else do the thinking for me.

While blog surfing the other day I came across an interesting post by Melanie Hayden, the writer behind Novelist in Progress. In "What's Your Hook?" she asks the question many before her have asked time and again, "How many good MS get turned down by publishers because they don't have a built in hook?"

I'm not opposed to writing concept chick lit. On the contrary, my current project is so conceptual that my character-loving muse engaged in a balancing act worthy of the Flying Wallendas in an effort to keep the concept at the core of the story without sacrificing character development[...] But as I sit here remembering some of my favorite women's fiction, I realize that it's not the gimmick that holds me, or the snappy titles or even the gorgeous covers. It's characters I believe in and wish I could go to lunch with; it's a vivid setting that means I don't just know the book is set in London because the heroine refers to the transit system as the tube instead of the metro; it's conflict that I see reflected in my life and the lives of my real-life friends.


I agree. A hook can only get a book so far, and it's whether or not I care about the characters that carries me the rest of the way through. The lack of an obvious hook can make it harder to sum up in ten words or less (Da Vinci Code's "The World's largest cover up," anyone?), but that doesn't mean there isn't marketing possibility, simply that one would have to work harder.

I'll go into this in more detail later, but I'm really interested in what y'all have to say in response to Melanie's article and your own dealings with the infamous hook. All I can say is that if I hear/read the words "Like the Da Vinci Code..." one more time I may scream.

6 comments:

Bernita said...

One of the cutest 'hooks" I read recently was "I was sitting at my desk doing my nails when the door opened and the spy sneaked in."
The characters live up to it. It's a mystery with a serial romance effectively sustained over about six books.Now that's skill.

Bookseller Chick said...

Oooh, what was the series?

And I agree that first line is a hook, but I think that Mel is hitting on a hook in the broader sense (or maybe you are too and I just haven't read the books yet) that brought us "Psychic" Chick-Lit, Mommy-Lit, etc. As in the "you must fall into these definable categories so that we can churn out the preplanned marketing because we've got to produce marketing plans for X million books this year (in reality probably more like 25 in any given category). I just wonder if the reliance on a hook is symptomatic of the pressure to produce more and more "bestsellers" every year that publishers are now experiencing. Where once an editor would deal with six books they might now have 26 to handle, multiply that for the marketing department. Anything unique or not quite immediate in the "hook" department would require more work.

jason evans said...

BSC, what books do you see exciting customers? Is it genre? Book covers? Blurbs? Following favorite authors? What are the common reasons people give for choosing certain books?

Douglas Hoffman said...

Janet Evanovich writes a mean hook, based on the two Stephanie Plum novels I've read. She hooks you with Plum's personality, her humor, and the promise of sex.

Bookseller Chick said...

And many people have taken Evanovich's hook and run with it from Stephanie Strohmeyer (who wrote her first book at Janet Evanovich's kitchen table, or so the rumor goes) and Susan Kandel just to name two. In twenty words or less, how would you sum up the Plum books' hook and then look at how many other books out now that it applies to. If there's one thing a publisher loves it's a proven winner.

Bookseller Chick said...

Jason, I started working on your question (see the next post) and will continue to do so on my day off. If you have any specific directions you want me to go, please let me know.