Querying Tip: Write a Great Hook

An agent can receive hundreds of queries in one day, so it’s crucial that the first few lines of your query catch his/her attention. This “hook” in your query letter needs to be the best of the best. So what do you use as your hook? Whatever it is that makes your book unique. Chances are you’ve pulled inspiration from other things you’ve read or watched or experienced first-hand… the possibilities are endless. But there’s an original gem in the story somewhere, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered writing the book in the first place. That gem is your hook.

You need to make every sentence count. When you think you’ve perfected your query letter, break it down line by line. Read each one on its own and decide if it’s an interesting sentence when isolated. Your first few should be particularly strong. They need to show off your writing style, give details about your manuscript, and create intrigue. Phew.

Does the beginning of your query make you wonder? Read your hook and write down all the questions that come to mind. Ask someone else to do the same, preferably someone who has never read your manuscript. You don’t want to give everything away. Instead, your hook should be interesting enough to make the agent wonder how the hell your book is going to accomplish whatever it is you’re claiming in the query’s first few lines.

Read your query out loud. Seriously. I read queries out loud as often as possible. I realize that this is probably not the norm, but actually hearing the queries gives me a great sense of the writer’s tone and pacing. Plus, you can imagine the query as the voice over for a movie trailer. If you’d want to watch the film, then you have yourself a winner.

Need some inspiration? Read the back cover copy of your favourite book. How do the first few lines set up the story? Here are a few examples from published books:

“Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead.”

“Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe.”

“On a hot, beautiful day in the English countryside, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses a horrific crime. Thirty years later, the man convicted of the crime is released from prison.”