Dec 16, 2022 • 48M

Friends Don't Let Friends Write Books Without Hooks. Episode 343

But what does that meeeeaaaaaannnnn?

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen.
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Hooks, tropes, high concept. Comps. The publishing world tosses those phrases around like juggling balls, and I for one (as usual it’s KJ here) had a hard time understanding them for ages, especially the idea of a hook.

But now I get it. A hook, in short, is the thing that gets someone—agent, editor, reader, movie-goer, etc—to say, following a one or two sentence description of the book: SOLD. Fiction, non-fiction: same deal.

So a hook COULD be high-concept. (What if a kid wished to be Big? What if you woke up and discovered your whole life was a TV show with you as the unwitting star?). It could also be a mix-and-match situation with a pair of comps or a single comp (Cujo, but a cat).

Or it can steal from something high concept: The Princess Diaries, but with the Japanese royal family (Tokyo Ever After). Groundhog Day, but in Brooklyn with a girl in the ‘80’s whose dad is now sick (This Time Tomorrow).

Sometimes the hook is right there in the title. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Dial A for Aunties. The Gift of Failure.

The thing about a hook is that it’s rarely the full story. It’s a “come for the X, stay for the Y situation”: you pick up the book because you love a good restaurant reality show family battle, but then it’s the small town story that keeps you reading. Or it’s just that there’s a lot more to the story—as Sarina says, the whole “but then what happens?” A hook does not make a book—and a lack of hook does not mean a bad book. It’s just a whole lot harder to tell you what a book without a hook is about, and therefore to sell it. It can be done. But I, for one, am not doing it again.

Have you written a book with a hook—or without one? Wondering if you’ve got hold of a hook or a trope? Is there a particular hook (hello, “but in publishing”) that always gets you? We’re chatting in the comments—or head for the chat itself to see what else we’re talking about. You can also find us on Facebook.

Books and Links from the Pod:

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing Podcast

A Very Merry Meet Cute, Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone

The Bromance Book Club, Lyssa Kay Adams

In a Holidaze, Christina Lauren

Beach Read, Emily Henry

Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire

Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, Leila Philip

Listen, World: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America’s Most-Read Woman, Julia Scheeres & Allison Gilbert

The Chain, Adrian McKinty

The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz

Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, Girl, Forgotten

Episode 71 Building a Relationship with Your Bookstore


Jess: Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, Leila Philip

Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire

Ghosts of the Orphanage (March 2023), Christine Kenneally

KJ: A Very Merry Bromance, Lyssa Kay Adams

All I Want for Christmas, Maggie Knox

Witchmark, C.L. Polk

Sarina: Pieces of Her, Karin Slaughter

The Night Shift, Alex Finlay

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