QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Writing the Query Letter - The Hook

Okay, people. We all know that to secure a literary agent, you need to write a stellar query letter. You can get feedback at various writerly sites, but none better than the QueryTracker forum. People there are nice, honest, and want to see you succeed.

I know, I know. There are literally hundreds of websites where you can go to find out how to write a query letter. But, um, the fact is, you don't want just a query letter. You want a great query letter—one that sets yours above the others.

I know, I know, I know. There are literary agents who have blogged on how to craft these suckers. They're right. They have good advice. I'm no literary agent, nor an expert, but I did take a class at a conference on writing a killer query. We had to submit our letters before the class and the published author teaching the class reviewed them. Mine wasn't like, awesome or anything. But it did, ahem, win. I didn't get a publishing contract or even a bar of chocolate. I did get a round of applause for my hook and several nods from industry people. You know the kind. The nod of approval, large initial bend with several smaller nods of the head. One editor said she'd definitely like to read my book from the query letter. She did. I got rejected. Life goes on.

So I'm going to share what I learned in the class. It made my query better. The instructor taught that there are four parts to an effective query. I'm only going to talk about the first one today, and we'll visit the other parts soon.

Part One - The Hook

You need a good hook. Scratch that. You need a phenomenal hook. Something that really grabs the reader and says, "Read this! It's gonna be good! Then request my full!" In my opinion, the hook should do two things. 1. Grab the reader (aka the agent) and propel them through the whole letter. 2. Sum up the main plot of the novel.

Here are some I've used/written:
Jonathan Clarke has everything a seventeen-year-old boy could want—except for a beating heart.
This screams fantasy of some kind. At least to me. Or maybe that screaming in my head isn't supposed to be there…Anyway, I had a couple of full requests using that hook. I think it's quite grabby and it does tell the main plot, the driving force behind much of the novel. This dude, Jon, he really wants a beating heart and you better read to find out how/when/if he gets one.

Then I rewrote the book, which of course changed the main plot. So the hook changed to this:
Sixteen-year-old Annie Jenkins must control the magic to balance the realm—it's too bad her unknown abilities are hidden beneath her inhalant addiction.
I received a few more full requests—and a few more rejections. I told you, I'm no expert. Apparently I can write a pretty good query letter, but not a good novel. Oh, and I'm a lover of the em-dash, what can I say? But this hook does, again, tell the main plot. All in 23 words. (I know, mine are kinda long.)

Sometimes the hook can be a little longer, like this one I wrote for a different novel:
In a world where Thinkers control the population and the Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a spectacular job of shattering them to pieces. (29 words, but no em-dash! Go me!)
This hook A) Hopefully propels you to read the rest of the letter, and B) tells the main plot of the novel. That's what you want your hook to do.

I don't think there's one right way to write the hook, but lots of wrong ways. The point is, you need a hook. A good one. A strong one. A sharp one.

Your job: get out your whetstone and sharpen those hooks! I think we're going to have a "Hook Me" contest in the near future.

Look for part two of Writing the Query Letter - The Setup tomorrow.


Suzette Saxton said...

I'm hooked! I can't wait for the rest of your article to be posted. :)

Nayuleska said...

Me too! I'm like 'and the rest....?'

Anonymous said...

Love it...as always

Stina said...

Any suggestions on writing the high-concept hook? My current hook is getting results, but I'm wondering if I should bang my head against the wall and see if a high-concept hook comes out.

Elana Johnson said...

Stina, great idea! *putting that into the QT future-post pot*

In the meantime, you can email me, and we can bang our heads against the wall together. ;) elanajohnson@querytracker.net

Sarah Jensen said...

The girls at If You Give a Girl a Pen have awarded you with the Sunshine Award.