Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to Hook an Agent or Editor

My agent, Jessica Faust at BookEnds, has been talking about pitching and queries on her blog lately. Spring and summer writers conferences are coming up, along with chances for unpublished authors to pitch their work break into the business. Here are my thoughts on how to hook an editor or an agent.

Want to stand out from the crowd? You'll need a hook. If you handle it right, this will be your dream editor or agent's first impression of your book. It's what sets you and your work apart from everyone else.

Sound good? It is. When your hook is both strong and memorable, you'll have that editor thinking about your book and anticipating it long after that initial meeting is over.

So what's the first step to a good hook? Simplicity. You don't need to recite a paragraph-long pitch to an editor. You don't want to wow them with every nuance of your book. That comes later. What you want to do first is get them interested in your book's premise.

For example, the hook for my first book (my entire series really) is the gang of geriatric biker witches. When anyone asks me about the Accidental Demon Slayer series (and now it's booksellers) , I tell them it's about a gang of geriatric biker witches, oh and a reluctant demon slayer. End of story. Either they get the hook or they don't. You'll know right away if you're a good match for an editor, or in my case, potential readers.

So many times, authors will confuse their book's conflict with the hook. It's tempting to tell an editor you've written the most touching love story of the year, or a suspenseful thrill ride that will keep readers up all night. That's all fine. In fact, that's what you want your books to do. But it's not a hook.

To find your book's hook, dig deep. Ask yourself:
  1. What makes my story completely unique?
  2. If I could tell an editor or agent one thing about my book, what would it be?
  3. What impression do I want to leave with my readers after they've read my work?
Another worthwhile exercise is to look at the books you've bought. What about each of them hooked you? Chances are, it's also what made the editor buy.

Sometimes a hook is worked right into the title of a book. Think of Sally MacKenzie's series: The Naked Duke, The Naked Earl, The Naked Baron.

Editors love strong hooks because it lets them know immediately whether your book will be a good fit for their line. And after they offer you that cushy contract, your publishing house marketing department will use your hook to promote your work.

It can be hard to find the hook in our own work, simply because we are so engrossed in our own stories. This is never an easy exercise, especially the first few times. But pulling back, discovering what makes your book unique and then being able to communicate that can make the difference between an engaging pitch and an unforgettable one.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

That is true. I am a reader, not a writer, I can say that the title/cover will get me to pick up a book and the small blurb on the back will make me buy (or at least go google the author/book for more info) So you have to hook me. Of course once a writer does, I will follow them from book to book as long as they make me laugh, cry, or squeal :)