Part of the How They Do It Series
JH: Hooks are a critical part of any novel, especially in the beginning. Please help me welcome best-selling author Jennifer Probst to the lecture hall today, to share some tips on writing powerful hooks to grab your readers.
Jennifer Probst wrote her first book at twelve years old. She bound it in a folder, read it to her classmates, and hasn’t stopped writing since. She took a short hiatus to get married, get pregnant, buy a house, get pregnant again, pursue a master’s in English Literature, and rescue two shelter dogs. Now she is writing again.
She makes her home in Upstate New York with the whole crew. Her sons keep her active, stressed, joyous, and sad her house will never be truly clean. She is the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of sexy and erotic contemporary romance. She was thrilled her book, The Marriage Bargain, was ranked #6 on Amazon's Best Books for 2012. She loves hearing from readers.
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Take it away Jennifer...
Hooks are powerful tools to draw readers in and keep them. Hooks are not only present in your actual book, but also encompass the cover, title, blurb, and marketing. How do you make your hook pay off and retain a reader for a lifetime?
Here are a few tips.
Deliver on Your Promise
There is nothing more frustrating than when a reader picks up your book and feels cheated. Make sure all of your promises deliver the type of book you’ve written. If you have a sexy, bare-chested man on the cover, your reader may feel frustrated to find no open door sex scenes included. Make sure the image and blurb reflect your book’s intent and don’t try to trick your audience. You have one shot at converting a reader to a fan, so don’t miss your opportunity by offering an amateurish cover, a boring tagline, or a sloppy blurb that doesn’t correctly portray the story. Readers get angry when writers tag a book in a genre that doesn’t match and will not only remember, but tell all their friends.
Create an Interesting Opening
The first line of my books is critical for me to set up my audience. I like to ground the reader immediately in emotion, action, or description. It doesn’t matter how you want to begin your story as long as it’s interesting. If you’ve gotten a reader to flip open the book to scan the first page, she must be intrigued enough to want to read more. Here are a few examples of first lines that promise to deliver on the hook:
In my book, Searching for Always, I pit a cynical, alpha cop against a Zen yoga instructor.
My first line: Officer Stone Petty was having a shit day.
My reader immediately knows my hero will be rough around the edges. The tone of his voice sets the stage for the unveiling of his crappy day and the meeting of the heroine.
Here are some other epic first lines that deliver.
It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance. –Diana Gabaldon, OutlanderThis is an epic, historical adventure waiting to be unveiled with the mysterious hook.
Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom’s name. –Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Kiss An AngelThis is a marriage of convenience story.
I was born beautiful. –Emily Giffin, Something BlueWe are steeped in the main character but will we love or hate her?
Each first line does its job by grabbing the reader and luring her into the story.
Follow Through with Short Jabs
Your main hook snags the reader, but make sure you insert short jabs to keep the pages turning. This encompasses planting a character arc where a reader can see clear growth. There should be a black moment that rips all hope away for the character’s happy ever after. And each chapter should hold its very own story arc, moving the reader forward toward the climax.
Remember, a book bought is a beautiful thing. A great hook will do that.
But a book read is a holy thing. And keeping those short jabs throughout your story will retain your reader’s interest, and keep them turning pages.
By examining the hooks we present in our work, we may find ways to improve so we are always aware of grabbing a reader’s attention from the very first glance.
About Write Naked
Learn how to transform your passion for writing into a career. New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Probst reveals her pathway to success, from struggling as a new writer to signing a seven-figure deal. Write Naked intermingles personal essays on craft with down-to-earth advice on writing romance in the digital age. Probst will teach you how to:
- Commit to your current work-in-progress, get focused, and complete it on schedule
- Reveal raw emotions and thoughts on the page to hook your readers
- Assemble a street team to promote and celebrate your books
- Overcome writer's block with ease
- Develop themes that tie together your books and series
- Write the most difficult elements of romance--including sex scenes--with skill and style
Written in Probst's unmistakable and honest voice, Write Naked is filled with the lessons and craft advice every writer needs in order to carve out a rewarding career.
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