When I first started to send out queries, I was ignorant of what constituted a good one. I wrote what I felt was an interesting summary of my manuscript, but there was no hook, and in the bio section I rambled on about having styled it after classic boy books of the 1950s and 1960s. I burned through about 25 agents before getting smart and posting my query on AQConnect for some feedback. After taking the advice of people who obviously knew more than I did, my new query has been averaging slightly better than one request per 10 queries.
The hardest thing about writing the new query was to think of a good hook. After several lackluster attempts, I was finally inspired. “When fourteen-year-old Brian Edwards finds a box in the attic filled with old newspaper clippings and a ring just like his grandfather’s, he realizes he’s stumbled across the family secret: Jack.” (This had been preceded by: “Brian Edwards moves with his dad to the family farm and discovers an 80-year-old secret,” and before that, “Jim and Jack is a contemporary boy book with a historical twist, realistic literary fiction.” Catchy!)
Since then, I have found myself thinking of hooks for fun. Whether it’s a new idea for a short story or just a pithy twist on a real-life situation, I am honing my hook skills so that the next time I need to write a query letter, I’ll be ready. For example, on my birthday, it occurred to me that it would be funny to write a short story called Happy Birthday to Me, with the hook, “Crazed mother/wife decides that she is going to get exactly what she wants for her birthday, or else!” For my recent contribution to Anne Riley’s murder scene blog-fest, it was, “An heiress suspects that her life is in danger, but no one listens until she is silenced for good.”
These may not be great, but the point is that it takes a certain mindset to hone a summary into a short but catchy phrase, and practice makes perfect.
What in your life can be summed into a hook?