Thursday, May 19, 2011

What is a Hook (Notes on Jeff Savage and James Dashner)

James Dashner
Jeff Savage

These are my notes on the team taught Jeff Savage and James Dashner class called Hooks that Get You Published:

The hook. The part of your fishing tackle that catches the fish. In your query letter, the hook is the part that--hopefully--catches an agent's attention. James Dashner and Jeff Savage discuss how to create a hook, possibly the most important paragraph (or maybe two) in the process of selling your novel.
First off, if you ever have occasion to see either of these men, I highly recommend it! If they get to present together, all the better! Jeffrey Savage is the author of A TIME TO DIE, and James Dashner is the author of THE MAZE RUNNER. Their presentation was entertaining and informative. I only wish I'd been there for the whole thing! I only have one blog post worth of notes for these guys because I'd just returned from my lovely pitch session. 

Without further ado, What is a hook?

  • Tells enough of your story to "hook" an agent or editor.
  • Doesn't try to tell the whole story.
  • Captures the voice of your story (for instance, in MG, you might say, "Brett's mom isn't even looking for work anymore, which totally sucks.")
  • Shorter is better (typically one or two paragraphs).
  • Don't start with a hypothetical question.
  • Make it clear what is unique about your story.

Parts of a Hook

The Protagonist:
What makes a strong protagonist? Are they likable? Intense? Funny?

The Goal:
Why must they have a goal? It's not the circumstances, but the action. It must be born of need. Main characters can (and often should) have conflicting goals.
(e.g. You've Got Mail: She's trying to save her business; he's trying to put her out of business, yet they fall in love.)

The higher and bigger the obstacles, the better!

Each action has consequences. Don't forget to note these in your arc and take every opportunity to ratchet up the tension.

Obviously, their presentation was way better than this, but somehow in my post-pitching euphoria, I forgot to write all the brilliance down. Hopefully this was a nice refresher for those of you about to write query letters or pitches for your own upcoming conference. 

Good luck!!

Afterglow is launching an epic BEGINNING OF SUMMER GIVEAWAY next week with TEN AWESOME PRIZES including a couple ARCs and one personally signed book. Details to follow if you're following Afterglow Book Reviews.

You've probably heard of All 4 Alabama, disaster relief literary auctions. Bidding is going on all week, but ends on a few items tonight. You still have time to bid on my favorite item, Michelle McLean's debut picture book, A Magical World, published under the name Michelle Raynor. There are plenty of other amazing items for bidding, too! 


  1. I've been thinking about hooks a lot lately, so thanks for this post!

  2. Great reminder! sounds like it was an awesome conference. :)

  3. I like how this was broken down! Thanks for the tips :)

  4. Thanks Katrina! I missed that workshop. Another great resource for writing a query hook is You can go through their archives and see actual feed back on real queries. I learned a ton.

  5. This is a great breakdown of a successful hook. Thanks for sharing, I missed this class! Those two guys are always entertaining. :)

  6. Great notes!They are simple but effective!

  7. So glad it was a good refresher for you guys! And Angie, Shallee, I am loving your notes on the conference, too. There were just too many awesome classes going on at the same time! Thanks all for stopping by!


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