Get help with your hook!

Hey YA Bookcasers and #PitchWars peeps.

Just thought I’d offer a little hands on help for those thinking of entering the best contest in the writing world…

Here’s the deal: I want you to sum up your book in a ONE sentence hook.  In return, I will comment on how I think you can improve it.

To start you off, here’s an example:

“When sixteen year old Lucy’s brother washes up dead on their Scottish island, she’s determined to find out what happened – murder, accident, or legend come to life.”

Now it’s your turn…go!

47 thoughts on “Get help with your hook!

  1. Thirteen-year-old Miguel sought his older brother’s murderer, but sucking Juan’s tormented soul into his mind attracted demons, a doppelganger, a fallen cleric, and an ancient soul slayer from the depths of Hell — all of whom want the truth hidden forever at any cost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So, I’m going to assume you’re aiming this at YA as opposed to MG, right? Since the content is pretty dark (not to say MG can’t be dark, but this looks to be YA).

      So, some comments that might help you on your way:

      1) It’s not quite clear if Juan is his brother or the murderer. You just need a little rephrasing to clarify that.

      2) You also need to think about the core elements of your plot. You have a really awesome mix in there of demons, doppelgangers (love that), and other things, but your hook gets a little complicated because there’s a lot of stuff there. Try to simplify a little.

      3) “The truth hidden forever at any cost” could be more specific. Is it the truth as to why Miguel’s brother was murdered? A truth about Miguel himself? Or the murderer? Or something else?

      4) I’m wondering due to the natural of the content whether your MC might benefit from being older. However, take this with a pinch of salt, as the proof is always in the pages. It’s worth thinking about, though.

      Overall, there is a lot in here I really like. You clearly have a great world in your book, and a consistent dark theme. And I love that Miguel is an active character. However, if you can work on the elements mentioned above (especially about being more specific at the end of your hook), then it would be much stronger. Once you can do that, then I’d just streamline it all a little, and you’ll be on your way!

      Like

  2. Hi Fiona! This is such a nice offer. I’m definitely struggling with a hook. I have an adult SFF (I *think* it’s probably urban fantasy?) with three interrelated conflicts but I want to keep the hook simple. The draft hook I have is:

    To stop the paranormal killer behind a senator’s mysterious murder, a pacifist empath hiding a new ability to hear lies must join forces with a deadly empath-hunter who may or may not be hunting him.

    Any thoughts or feedback you have will be appreciated!

    (Yay courage! 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there, Allie!

      So glad you stopped by! Okay, so let’s take a look at what you have here. I adore anything with paranormal elements, btw. Especially as the book I handed into my agent has strong paranormal elements!

      Okay, so let’s talk about the three inter-related conflicts. One of them will be the core plot, while the other two will act as major subplots, most likely. By the look of it, the strongest element is about the killer, as they are trying to catch the killer. So think of that as your core plot. I see you’ve done this here and I would stick with it. You’re better at this than you think, actually.

      Now, when you say “the paranormal killer” do you mean the killer murders people/creatures that are paranormal? Or that the killer his/herself is actually of paranormal origin? This isn’t 100% clear in the phrasing, and of course, each means a different thing.

      I really love the conflict you have between the empath and the empath-hunter having to join forces. That will be ripe with tension.

      Also, I’m leaning toward your genre actually being paranormal, as both the paranormal killer and empath fall within this remit.

      However, don’t worry about the paranormal label (I know people do because they think it’s out of favor). Any tale well told can find its place!

      Overall, my main comments are: clarify the killer issue, readjust your genre to adult paranormal.

      I’d have been intrigued by this if I was mentoring this year. Again, yay courage – you’re better than you give yourself credit for!

      Like

      • Oh my gosh, thank you!! Ha, you make an excellent point that “paranormal killer” isn’t clear in this context! I will definitely fix that (the killer herself is paranormal, in this story).

        You also make an excellent point that one of the three plots is probably the core plot…and your point makes me realize that the pitch I just gave you about catching the killer might actually be a major subplot! The core plot is probably the protagonist’s personal quest for the explanation behind *why* he can suddenly hear lies – which turns out to be the same information that explains the murder, information that’s kept secret by his empath-hunting partner.

        And thanks for the help on genre! You’re right, paranormal might be more accurate. I know exactly what you mean about people thinking it’s out of favor, but there’s something to be said for just owning your genre, whatever it is!

        Thank you again! This was such helpful feedback and given so nicely!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad I could help, and if you ever need anything else, you’re more than welcome to message me or Tweet me on Twitter. Spooky books are something close to my heart, as I think, as you say, owning your genre is super important.

        Like

      • I’m so glad I could help, and if you ever need anything else, you’re more than welcome to message me or Tweet me on Twitter. Spooky books are something close to my heart, as I think, as you say, owning your genre is super important.

        Thank you, I will! And I forgot to say in my first reply, but thank you for being so encouraging; it really means a lot, especially to those of us who are so new at this.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Everyone has a superpower except Daniel, who with his friends must travel across the country to find the only person rumored to be able to make him whole.

    Like

    • Hey Patrick! Thanks for stopping by. I love the twist on everyone having a power except the MC. That’s nice. I’d love to see a little more on this hook, though. I know what you mean by “to make him whole”, but I think you’ve got room to put some voice into this hook. What does “being whole” mean to Daniel – what kind of power does he want? Or does he want just any?

      However, my main concern (and the most important) is that traveling across the country doesn’t sound like a big enough obstacle. It may very well be a big obstacle in the scope of the book – kind of The Body-ish – (and quieter books are absolutely fine), but there needs to be a stronger indication of the obstacle facing him. What is going to prevent him from his goal?

      Like

      • Hah, yes. I forgot the other thing (busy at work) — he’s got various overly powerful people trying to piggy-back on his cross-country quest and essentially use the quest reward for themselves. Let’s try:

        Everyone has a superpower except Daniel, who with his friends must travel across the country to find the only person rumored to be able to give him a power — assuming that the guidebook they have is even real, and assuming that he and his friends can outwit several powerful people who will do nearly anything to find out where that person is.

        Thanks for your help. Distilling 110K words down to, er, few is hard 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lol I know what you mean about distilling books down. Whoever thought that up was cruel! Ah, the necessary evils of our industry.

        All right, to the pitch.

        Much better. I can see how you’ve got more action here. And I have a better sense of your conflict. I’d still love to see the specific power (or tell us he just wants any power) that Daniel wants. Let the reader feel his goal. Like is he desperate to be able to fly? Why?

        I’d also be tempted to lead in with the first fragment of the sentence. Then say there is a rumor of someone who can help him. Then say what Danny must do. Also, I’d want to know why the other people wanting access to the rumored person is a bad thing? Is it because they could get too much power and rule over people?

        Just a little reorganization and clarification here, and you’ll be good to go, IMO.

        Like

    • Hi! I love the cave turning them to wood idea. That’s really unusual. I am a little confused about one or two elements. Do they get trapped in the cave somehow? Or are they so curious to explore it they get too deep in before they realize what’s happening? Also, could you give a rough idea of why the memories connect to the curse (I know that might be a spoiler, but a small foreshadow might help make this more cohesive).

      You have a really interested premise with the cave and the wood. Reminds me a little of the scenes in the magical forest in the Raven Cycle.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello! Thank you so much! The cave allows them to actually travel into their thoughts where they physically explore their memories. They have no idea if it will even help them reverse the curse, but it’s their only hope, and they get trapped because they get turned from the legs up and when they can’t move their legs they can’t move to climb out of the hole they fell into. I was trying to keep the pitch short enough to be tweetable but it seems a little unlikely.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah okay, so Twitter pitching is a whole other kettle of fish than general pitching. I think what you need to do is nail your basic pitch first, before whittling it down to a Twitter pitch.

        “When X & Z explore too deeply into a cursed cave, they’re given the power to physically explore their memories, but as they do, the curse slowly turns them to wood. With no way to retreat, they must discover if their memories are linked to the curse and can help them find a way to escape, or X Y Z.

        That’s just a rough example of how to start off your pitch in a way that will make logical sense. Try to do that within the specific parameters of your story, and that will allow you to have your basic pitch nailed down.

        After that, and only after that, can you whittle it down to one sentence. Always think “make logical steps and sense first”, then carve it back slowly to one sentence.

        Btw, I still adore this wood concept!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks it means a lot, I’ve been worried it wasn’t enough of a problem to motivate the reader to keep reading. so how about something like,

      Richard and Jessica try to escape reality by running away to the into the nearby forest only to fall into an open cavern, and to soon realize that they are transforming into wood and now can travel physically through their memories; together they must find out if their past can stop the curse by traveling through troubled thoughts and dark secrets.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quieter stories can most definitely hook readers. It’s all about the emotional stakes in these types of books.

        I would open your pitch with something like this:

        When Richard and Jessica fall into a cursed cavern and can’t get out, they begin to transform into wood, and gain the ability to travel physically through their memories.

        However, this section is still a little too disconnected:

        Together they must find out if their past can stop the curse by traveling through troubled thoughts and dark secrets.

        You still need to be clearer in exactly what you mean. Is it that they need to find out a connection between them and the cave that is buried deep within hidden memories? Or that they may be responsible for the curse, but can only find out by searching out their memories?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Autistic teen, Richard, and his new friend, Jessica, fall into a cursed cavern that has started transforming them into wood and made it impossible for them to get out, but they gain the ability to travel physically through their memories together, they must find out if their dark past and secrets have something to do with the curse, and if there’s a way to stop it.

        Thank you so much for the help, I know it must be a lot to go through all of these requests!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh this is looking much better! You have all the elements that should be there. I know who your characters are, their obstacle, their choice, and that there will be a link between both elements.

        Now all I’d do is tighten the prose. The best way to do this, I’ve found, is cut it word by word. Oh, and here’s something I’ve learned along the way, too. If you ever want to trim the word count on a book/chapter, try cutting just ten words per page. Over 300 pages that would take you down 3k words without losing a thing. I don’t know if this is something that applies to you, but it just came into my head, so thought I’d say!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alright I think I got it this time!

        Autistic teen, Richard, and his new friend, Jessica, fall into a cursed cavern that is changing them into wood and made escape impossible, and now they can travel physically through their memories, and must find out if their past has anything to do with it and if they can stop it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fiona,
    You are so gracious to provide this offer. I write a cozy mystery. The pitch is the one thing I am having trouble getting a handle on. I’m just not sure how to get it right.
    When new relationship guru Ashley Compton gives advice to someone who is killed that night, she must travel to the seedy side of Las Vegas and uncover its secrets to track down a killer and save her job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tammy! Creating pitches can be tough. I actually think a pitch can be as hard as a synopsis, as they are so logic based…just smaller word counts!

      Okay, so onto this cozy mystery of yours (I’d like to see this genre build up more in the current market these days, as it’s been under the radar a little!).

      Okay, so you have a slightly conflicting vibe in the pitch, and I’ll tell you why (for me, at least). Have you seen the movie called Failure to Launch? Well, it’s a kind of rom-com that has the relationship guru vibe, and it was actually the first thing that came into my head. Also, the word guru can be a little light-hearted, so the two combined threw me off a little. This is quite subjective though.

      Anyway, to more constructive help:

      I’d like to know if it’s Ashley’s specific advice that leads to someone getting killed. If so, what advice was that? And this would be the motivation for her wanting to track down the killer, correct?

      However, if it’s not her advice that caused the circumstances of the death, why does she feel compelled to track down the killer?

      If you can answer that question, then you’ll be on your way to a very solid pitch indeed!

      Like

      • Thank you very much. I knew I was having trouble with it. I will work the guru word this weekend. I think I’ve seen the movie. Will check it out!
        And in answer to your question, she told the caller to give her cheating husband an ultimatum. More work on editing! Busy weekend. I am pumped! And I’m not being sarcastic for once.
        Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi! Any help with this hook would be very appreciated!

    At the age of seven, newly-orphaned Zaria pledged her life to the crown — ten years later, in order to protect her princess, she must abandon everything she knows to swear her allegiance to terrorists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Sahana! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your pitch with me! I like that the fantasy vibe is upfront here. Too often, it can be hard to see the genre in someone’s pitch, but yours is loud and clear.

      On to the notes: First of all, who is Zaria protecting the princess against and why? What is the main conflict here? You certainly have a conflict in there, but in order to feel unique, we need to see the specific conflict of your book. And we need a specific of why she needs to abandon everything she knows.

      Also, make sure you not only add in the specifics but try to avoid the phrases like “abandon everything she knows”, because they are vague and can apply to any story. Instead, again, go for a specific. For example: “She must abandon the fire-wielding world she grew up in” or “She must abandon her sacred vows to protect” or, you see what I mean. Obviously, those are just random ideas plucked from the air, as I don’t know your story.

      However, if you put in the specifics and answer the main questions above, then I most definitely will know your story.

      Like

      • Thank you so much for your feedback! I really appreciate how you broke down what was needed.

        Zaria needs to protect the princess from the terrorists trying to assassinate her. She does so by infiltrating the group.

        This is my revised hook. Is this any clearer? I’m worried about the pronouns getting confusing.

        At the age of seven, newly-orphaned Zaria pledged her life to the crown — ten years later, in order to protect her princess, she must abandon her to swear allegiance to the very terrorists that threaten her.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Sahana – I’m getting a clearer overview of your book here. I still think you need to make this even more specific. Why is someone trying to assassinate the princess and what are their terrorist goals?

        If you look at the part above your pitch in this message:

        (Zaria needs to protect the princess from the terrorists trying to assassinate her. She does so by infiltrating the group.)

        This actually tells me more than your pitch does (even though the pitch is pretty). Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the voice of your pitch before the logic. Only add voice in after. I’ll show you a little more of what I’d look for as a mentor:

        17 yo Zaria pledged allegiance to her princess, but when the [name of terrorist group] attack, aiming to [what they want to achieve], Zaria must infiltrate their group in order to [X, Y, Z – find the traitor/take over leadership/dismantle the group within].

        On first blush, it looks plain. However, it’s going to help give the reader specifics, and that is what the pitch is about. Communicating the clear, specific book you have written. Once you have that in place, then you can play around with the prose.

        Hope this helps!

        Like

  6. I’ve been struggling with my hook, so I’d LOVE LOVE LOVE your input! Thanks so very much for your time!

    Humanity is stranded in space and geneticist Dr. Zera Lewin’s research can help terraform a new world. But a sentient alien race occupies the planet. Without the new planet, humanity will die trying to prolong life in the vacuum of space.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Lol. Books in one sentence are like punishments from the underworld! Don’t worry. Best way is to think about it like redecorating a room. Write the pitch in as many words as it needs so it’s fully decorated. Then slowly strip it back piece by piece. Word by word if you need to!

        Like

    • Hey 🙂 Welcome to the blog! And thank you for sharing your pitch!

      I think I can help you with this one, actually. What you’re missing here is actually your main conflict: why won’t the alien race let the humans join them on the planet? Lack of space? Aggression? Not able to communicate what they need? Habitat will change and both races couldn’t survive?

      Obviously, I don’t know what your specific answer to this question is, but knowing it will show us the real conflict. Yes, aliens live there and humans can’t, but this is a result of conflict. The “why” of why the races can’t share gives the conflict specificity and weight.

      I think you should look at that aspect first. Add it in (don’t worry if it’s over a sentence or so), and then hone from there. Feel free to re-post a revised version in the blog so I can see the conflict that lies between the aliens and humans. That way, I can better help you.

      But I really do like this concept. It fits squarely in your genre and will appeal to a wide swathe of your intended audience!

      Like

      • Oh there you go!! I’d only make one small change. I’d change “doesn’t use” to “can’t use”. The change is small, but the definition of the conflict is clear. It’s not that she doesn’t want to use it, it’s that she can’t.

        I do, however, have a thought or two about how the whole of humanity could be in space? Or is it the remains of humanity? Just curious. If you can slide that into your pitch, it’d be spot on.

        This holds my interest!

        Like

  7. Hi Fiona! Thanks for doing this. I’m struggling to make my hook stand out for my adult sci-fi novel. This is what I have right now:

    The clandestine M.I.C.A. organization shatters genetically engineered soldier Morrighan’s family. If she doesn’t unite the survivors and expose the enemy, the shady company will continue their crusade against her family and way of life.

    Like

    • One sentence version:

      The clandestine M.I.C.A. organization shatters genetically engineered soldier Morrighan’s family, and if she doesn’t unite the survivors and expose the enemy, the shady company will continue their crusade against her family and way of life.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by. The good news is two-fold. 1) You’ve nailed your genre and your intended target audience. 2) I know the issue you’re having, and it’s actually a common one. A little bit of generic, “coverall” statements, and a little bit of trying to add too much in.

      What you want to do is be specific (you’ll hear this word come out of my mouth all the time with writers lol).

      When you say M.I..C.A shattered Morrighan’s family – how? Did the family know s/he was genetically engineered and something happened that broke up the family (how/why/what)? Or did they find out Morrighan was genetically engineered and they didn’t know it and they hate her/him for it? What is the specific “shattering”? Without knowing what the specific issue is, then it can’t give the unique sense of your story.

      Also, you need to tell us what these survivors are about. Are they soldiers who have families destroyed by M.I.C.A, too? Or is there a battle? How do the soldiers, families and survivors connect?

      Also, I’m guessing M.I.C.A is the enemy you refer to, correct? Also, what have the survivors actually survived?

      I’m also wondering why the company has a crusade against the family?

      I know this sounds like a lot of comments, but perhaps you’d like to list out those answers for me, and I can get a better feel for your story and give more specific suggestions.

      Like

      • Thanks for your response!

        M.I.C.A. slaughters her family, so perhaps I can just say that instead of “shatters.”

        The family are the ones who created Morrighan, so they definitely know she was genetically engineered. Her “family” is actually a team of scientists and the soldiers they created (her siblings), but her family structure is kind of unconventional and it seems to confuse a lot of people so I left that out.

        The survivors are a few remaining scientists and her genetically engineered siblings. They’ve escaped the slaughter and are hiding out in another city. Morrighan eventually tracks them to that city.

        Yes, M.I.C.A. is the enemy. The survivors survived a massive shelling/gunfight/firebombing of their home (their home is the Helix Lab campus, which includes the main labs and residential buildings.)

        The company’s beef with the family… The whole thing was a pre-emptive strike to prevent the scientists from discovering and producing a countermeasure to M.I.C.A.’s ultimate plan (which isn’t quite revealed in this first book, so I’ve left that out as well), thus ensuring the plan’s success.

        Hopefully this answers everything, if not please let me know, I’m happy to provide more info!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, so this gives me a much clearer idea of what is going on. You have a complex story here, but I do think we could boil it down more. Let’s aim for the logic in the pitch first, then you can hone it down further and refine. This is where I would start with this (roughly):

        When genetically engineered Morrighan and her soldier siblings are caught in a preemptive ambush prompted by a secret organization -M.I.C.A – bent on wiping them out, the survivors must band together to bring down M.I.C.A before their surviving family is slaughtered, and find out why they are being targeted.

        Well, that’s a start for you to work with. The ending details might not be a 100% accurate, so I’d like to know whether Morrighan has an inkling of what M.I.C.A’s plan is or why they are being attacked. If so, you need to at least hint as to why M.I.C.A wants them gone. You don’t need to reveal everything, of course, but you need to give the reader a clue.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much for offering to do this! You get special Karma points for sure! I’m struggling with my adult SFF hook:

    Scarlett is abducted into intergalactic human trafficking and, despite the odds, falls for fellow abductee Garren, but their burgeoning relationship is put to the test when they are sent to compete in a gladiatorial style combat ring.

    Like

    • Ooh, Karma points are always fun. 🙂 Thanks!

      Oh, this is kind of the Hunger Games in space! Actually, I’d be tempted to pitch it like that. You know one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen? When they pitched the movie Alien as “jaws in space”.

      As for the pitch, I’d cut “despite the odds”, as it’s vague and the difficulties of the situation are already implied.

      Also, are they competing against each other or other people? Is the issue “can they both survive” or does one have to kill the other?

      If you can clarify that, I actually think your pitch is already very strong.

      Like

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