Friday, November 18, 2011

On Authors' Peculiar Susceptibility to Hooks

Perhaps it all started when Dr. Seuss rhymed about a nook with a book on a hook--his secret marketing advice to writers--though it's more likely hooks have been doing extra duty as symbols and metaphors ever since that day long ago when a proto-fisherman noticed an oddly shaped bone and said, "I wonder ..."

As writers, the sort that trade words for money, our literary livelihood ultimately depends on how often we're read. In order to catch as many readers as possible, reel them in, and leave them in the bottom of the boat gasping for more story, we're admonished to deploy a wide variety of hooks.

If you've had more than passing exposure to the community of commercial writers, the first thing that comes to mind when we say, "hook," is either a pirate captain or a pithy one-liner, carefully designed to compel you to read more. Story hooks often take the form of an improbable juxtaposition (like, "I always hated warthogs until the day I turned into one,") that force the reader to wonder how such a thing could be true.

There are many other kinds of hooks: covers, tag lines, jacket copy, author blurbs, reviews, book trailers, bookmarks, and so on. In fact, a good story is filled with hooks, large and small, that pull the reader deeper into the narrative.

Hooks are all well and good for readers, but they pose a subtle but real danger to writers: we hear a hook and instantly imagine the story we would write and then get jealous because someone else has already written it.

It's part of the more general grass-is-greener phenomenon. We look at other's success and think how their assets would solve our problems, being complete unaware of the problems they have that their assets can't solve (e.g., you may be rich but in poor health).

So appreciate and use hooks for what they are: ways to draw readers into your story. And remember, writers, as you try not to be jealous of either a book or its hooks, that you can't create the perfect hook without the perfect book.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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