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Give Your Book a Hook!

Updated: Jun 30, 2022




A hook is what sells a book. I used to be terrible at creating hooks, at the beginning of my career. I had a tendency to write very immersive, character-driven stories with no high-concept hook to sell them. Eventually, I had to learn to explain hooks to editing clients, and along the way, I developed this method for how to write them myself!


First, to make sure we're talking about the same thing, a book-level hook is related to the premise (general idea of the book) but instead, it's the thing that sets it apart from any other story of its type. For example, a book about a marriage falling apart (premise) could become a book about a marriage falling apart because of complications of the husband's time traveling disorder (hook). When you're designing a book, choosing the best possible version of a hook is one of your most important tasks. These days, a high concept hook will land you a deal faster than even the most beautiful sentence-level writing.


The million dollar question is, how do you create a hook? It's actually pretty simple.


3 Steps to Creating a Hook


You start with the general idea: A person falls in love with another forbidden person.


Then you advance it. Who is the biggest and splashiest version of a PERSON who could fall in love with another person? Hmm, how about the President of the United States and the Queen of England? Okay, this is YA not adult so let’s make it the kid of the President of the United States and the heir of the English crown. If they date, it has huge political repercussions and they’re very public figures. Plus, the long distance obstacle makes this super bittersweet.


Then you TWIST it to make it your own: Let’s make this more fun by having it be a queer royal romance, and one of them is closeted, so it’s even more forbidden for them to date openly because some people are homophobic.


Poof, you have Red, White, and Royal Blue, which was a bestseller!


Let's try it again.


Start with a general idea: A guy wins back his girl. Cute, right?


Then you advance it: What if the guy learns how to win back his girl from a romance novel? That’s subverting the expectation that men don’t read romance, and for a romance novel audience, this'll be an instant winner. Ooh, what if the guy is a famous athlete, that’ll make him more interesting and also sexy.


Then you TWIST it to make it your own, or advance it even further: What if there was a whole CLUB of men who had a book club to read romance novels, to find out how to please women better? Then you could get a series out of it, plus a bunch of cute clueless dudes bumbling through romance novels together.

Presto, you have The Bromance Book Club, also a very hot seller!



See how these successful books take a universally appealing premise, and then make the characters the biggest, splashiest version of that trope? Or they make the setting the most interesting version of it, or choose the setup with the highest stakes. It’s like Romeo and Juliet--because their families were sort of rival gangs, their love led to some bloodshed, not just glares over cocktails. 

Now that we're cranking out bestselling ideas left and right, let's try another. Hey, maybe we'll get enough moola to buy a beach house!


Start with a general idea: Ordinary girl falls for extraordinary boy. Cinderella trope. Very common.


Then you advance it: The boy is an immortal, rich, unbelievably handsome vampire. Sparkles may be involved.


Then you twist it or advance it again: Who is drawn to want to kill HER specifically.


Now you have Twilight! You twist the trope in another way and you have Pretty Woman (girl is a sex worker, guy is a high class businessman). You gender swap THAT for a unique twist and you have The Kiss Quotient (girl is on the spectrum, hires a male escort to help her learn how to have a relationship.)




Let’s do one more, and show you how far a pro can take the idea of a high-concept hook.


Start with a general idea: Girl up against a villain. Let’s call it bank robbers.

Then you advance it: Girl is stuck in a bank robbery with her love interest, so there are higher stakes if she fails because they won’t just hurt her, they’ll hurt her love interest.


Then you advance it again: Girl is stuck in a bank robbery with her best friend and her love interest (double stakes) but her best friend is also her ex and didn’t know she’d hooked up with the new love interest. This adds awkwardness, now we have relationships to navigate, not just a bank robber situation.


Then you advance it again: Best friend is a boy, love interest is a girl. Main character is bi.


Then you advance it AGAIN: Main character is the daughter of a con artist so now she has to con her way out of a robbery (suspense plot meet con/heist plot). This is a way to make the main character a more special version of herself.


When you have a hook this strong, congratulations, you’re Tess Sharpe and your book is The Girls I’ve Been. You have a Netflix show, three pen names, you release 17 books a year and they’re all mega bestsellers. Also, you have the world’s cutest puppy because maybe life IS fair?



Now please, try this at home! Writing Coach tip: practice this on other, basic, super zoomed-out book ideas before you try it on your own, and it'll be easier. If you get stuck, take it less seriously. You can also read more about hooks and examples of them on KM Weiland's blog here.


And of course, if you come up with a bestselling, Netflix-blasting hook from this blog, you definitely have to come back and buy me the world's second cutest puppy, just to prove that life is fair.


 

If you'd like this and other writing tips delivered directly to your mailbox, the follow link is below!




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