Kindle Forum banner
1 - 13 of 13 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
145 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In reading some of the recent threads, advice from some of the more successful indies often includes "write hooky books". I'm not disputing that books with solid hooks are more likely to be successful (although I would be interested in any insights about how to market/promote non-hooky books that still have compelling, intricate plots and characters).

What I'm really curious about right now is: what makes a hook, and does it vary by genre?

As I was thinking about hooks, I found that it was easy for me to imagine hooks for the romance genre, probably since it seems like tropes are so heavily used by writers and often relied upon by readers to find books they want. So a hook becomes, as I understand it, trope + spin. The familiar thing plus the unique spin that this book puts on it.

In other genres, tropes aren't seen as much like a good thing (or so it appears to me). So maybe for them it would be more like: familiar thing + spin.

I think having that familiar thing up front gives the reader something to latch onto right away, so their attention doesn't wander by the time you get to the second part of the sentence. It can also serve to immediately turn off people who probably are the wrong audience. Then, if they're on board with whatever the familiar thing is, you offer up the spin to show them why they should read *this* book instead of all the other ones with that familiar thing.

"It's a Cinderella retelling, but--"
Wrong reader: "Pass."
Right reader: "Tell me more."
At which point, the wrong answer is, "That's it," and the right answer is something interesting, like, "she turns back into a man at midnight."

So it's easy for me to come up with hook ideas for romance, because tropes are common and appreciated and usually immediately imply what the romantic conflict/plot is, but how are hooks different for other genres? Or are they different? Maybe I'm just not thinking the right way about them.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,337 Posts
I don't think it's really tropes per se, even in romance (which is what I write, but I also write suspense, mystery, women's fiction along with it). It's what's special about the book. That it's got a funny premise, or that it sets up a conflict the reader can instantly grab hold of. That it's set in a cool part of the world. The hook is simply what's intriguing about the book. It shouldn't just be in the blurb. It should be reflected in cover/blurb/title somehow, and it should grab the reader in the Look Inside also. Hooky titles really help!

A hooky premise is part of it, but hooky writing is what makes the reader buy the next book. Especially the beginning and ending. It's about keeping the reader turning pages and making them sad the book is over. And it's a technique, not magic. You can pay attention to it and get better at it. I keep working on it, myself.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
145 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you for your insight, Usedtoposthere. I'm still not sure what you mean by 'hook' if it applies to every aspect of the book. By your definition, how is 'hooky' any different than simply 'interesting'?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,686 Posts
I think 'hooky' is also another name for 'high concept', which seems to boil down to a concept that sets the stage for the story in a single sentence. For example: What if you lived in a little town in Alaska - where the nights can last for a month at a time -- and a gang of vampires came through just as the sun was setting? (30 Days of Night) You get the big picture of what the story will be about just from that one sentence.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,337 Posts
Grabby. Page turning. Getting the reader’s attention with the premise (the hook), reinforcing the hook with cover and title, and then hooky writing. I wrote an article about it once. If you google how to be hooky, it will come up. All aspects reinforce each other.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
145 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
ShayneRutherford said:
I think 'hooky' is also another name for 'high concept', which seems to boil down to a concept that sets the stage for the story in a single sentence. For example: What if you lived in a little town in Alaska - where the nights can last for a month at a time -- and a gang of vampires came through just as the sun was setting? (30 Days of Night) You get the big picture of what the story will be about just from that one sentence.
Yes, I've heard the 'high concept' thing, too. I think one thing that may be difficult for writers who are new to publishing is that any story can be boiled down to one sentence, but that doesn't make it hooky or high concept. I read a book once which was described as "the long retreat, in space", but that didn't mean anything to me, since I don't know what a 'long retreat' is. I would describe the plot as, "After a battle, a starship retreats." Because that was what the entire book was about. I wouldn't call that high concept, and I didn't find the book interesting, but it is a popular book with a certain audience. Could we say that a high concept story can not only be boiled down to one sentence but also that the sentence states or implies what the central conflict of the story is (and that said conflict is interesting or high stakes)?

Usedtoposthere said:
Grabby. Page turning. Getting the reader's attention with the premise (the hook), reinforcing the hook with cover and title, and then hooky writing. I wrote an article about it once. If you google how to be hooky, it will come up. All aspects reinforce each other.
I'll do that; thanks. Reinforcing each other ... That's interesting.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
479 Posts
The 'hook' is what makes a consumer click the buy button. The hook is you proving you're the same, and not an outlier. It's got nothing to do with uniqueness.

Maybe in trad publishing with enough heft behind your release you could push your unique thing onto the publishing scene in the here and now. MAYBE. Maybe if you were self-publishing and built an audience five or more years ago you could get your unique thing into many hands. But, that ain't self-publishing today.

What makes them click 'buy' on a self-published product today is if your book looks like something else in the subgenre they liked, and the book they liked is probably liked by many others, meaning it is probably among the bestsellers in that sub.

Which means the hook is what makes your book look like the top sellers in your subgenre. This means hitting readers' pleasure centers, i.e. the tropes, and making your book physically look like the top sellers as well. There's a reason most of the bestsellers lists have covers that are similar, and plots that are similar too. It's not a coincidence.

Writers tend to overemphasize story craft. Hooks aren't about craft from a writing skill or storytelling skill standpoint, nor are they about you as an individual author or what makes your story unique, but rather they're about a "ensuring story events and tropes unfold in similar fashion to top sellers" standpoint. You're in the service industry, servicing readers with dopamine hits via well-established, well-worn tropes-to-the-vein pathways.

Take Urban Fantasy as an example:

Just about anyone can have a bestseller in that sub. Really, same can be said for every other subgenre as well. But, using UF for this example...

Snarky heroine fights supernatural baddies, dash of romance optional. Read and study a bunch of top sellers until you get down percentages of when/where certain tropes/story events occur.

Writing isn't writing anymore, it's physics and math.

Yes, you have to put words together in a coherent manner, but that's something most people can do. If you can write an email, you can write a fictional book chapter competent enough that enough readers will abide, so long as you're giving them what it is they're actually after when they buy a given book in a given subgenre.

So that means, from there it's about knowing the tropes, knowing what readers are looking for in terms of dopamine hits for that particular subgenre, and ensuring you give it to them amongst the paragraphs you're typing, providing the snarky, snappy dialogue that goes along with them so long as that's what the given subgenre dictates.

Then you pay good money to package the book with a cover very similar to other bestsellers. Same for the blurb. Then you price competitively.

Then it's just a matter of how much you're willing to spend to brute-force your way into gaining visibility.

If you're brand new, without much of a mailing list, without a network of other big sellers willing to share/swap lists or do boxsets, etc - prepare to spend hours on keywords and ad-crafting, and thousands on bids to try and elbow your thing-that-looks-very-similar-to-countless-other-bestselling-things onto the lists high enough that you're earning a decent income. Note: you will be trying to outspend and outbid content mills that are in all of the most profitable subgenres, so expect to shell out big-time, if you're not already established.

Rinse, repeat... voila, you're killing it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6,337 Posts
I'm going to out myself some and use a recent series I wrote as an example. Not that it's the bestest thing evah, but it's the one I know. :)

(And yes, I'm procrastinating. We're buying a vacation home, which is super exciting and something I never imagined being able to do, but the process has been a little fraught and annoying. I'm supposed to be writing this new book that I already started and that I really like, but my thoughts are spinning and I can't make them stop. So I am spinning them here instead! Who knows, perhaps they will be helpful to somebody.)

OK. Onward. I wrote this series recently, New Zealand Ever After. (As usual, breaking up the books with other series in between, but oh well, I'm hopeless that way.) I called it New Zealand Ever After because I don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that "New Zealand" is my hookiest concept. (Though the historical-reenactment reality show worked really well too. Probably my most "high concept" book, and the one that reached across the "romance" aisle most effectively.)

So. New Zealand Ever After. Series title chosen because that is Hook 1. The "Ever After" tells you it will be a happily ever after book. The covers convey (1) sense of place (they're all beachy, but not generic-beachy); (2) Again, positive feelings will abound; and (3) Fun. (That's the font.) No people. So now my hook is "New Zealand fun read, but not necessarily "pure" romance." The subject matter of the covers is a little women's-fiction-y, but the font isn't. More contemporary fiction. Lower angst. Some romantic comedy.

Individual book titles. Each of them has the word "Kiwi" in it. If you've noticed, New Zealand is a place with high "positives" right now, and people actually know now what "Kiwi" means. That's title + series title reinforcing the hook. The titles, though, aren't necessarily "romancey." They're more snappy. Kiwi Rules, Stone Cold Kiwi, Kiwi Strong. Together with the covers, it's more "fun fiction about New Zealand" and possibly "longer, more complex story" and less "short romance."

Blurbs. Here's where I explicitly state the hook. Each book contains one or more tropes (I'm bad about recognizing tropes, but even I can see that), but the hook is not the trope. Here is the tagline of each blurb. (I always do taglines. That's the hook, or it suggests the hook.) Oh--and each blurb has a peppy tone that suggests some humor and lightness--that the story will be delivered with a lighter touch. Reinforced by the font on the cover.

Kiwi Rules: I may have lost my leg. I may have lost my job. I didn't have to lose my courage.

Stone Cold Kiwi: Falling in love can be bloody inconvenient. (This one doesn't explicitly state the hook. You have to read the whole blurb for that. Here's the hook: "Beginning to fall for the much-too-charming, not-quite-available, stone-cold-beautiful Dr. Matiu Te Mana, on the day he delivered the third of those children on the grass outside Dunedin Hospital, a few short minutes before my marriage began its spectacular and very public final implosion? Possibly tricky."

Kiwi Strong: People who say "love is trust" probably didn't grow up in a cult.
This book has a little more serious tone. Blurb reflects it.
I chose the title "Kiwi Strong" and wrote the book pretty deliberately to appeal during a pandemic. (to me and to readers.) I wanted a title and a blurb that suggested triumphing over adversity. The cult is the hook, but the triumph is the appeal.

And then, in each book, I tried to write a really, really grabby first & second chapters. I tried harder than with any series before to really start each book off with a bang. That is part of the hook too. As in, "Get your hooks into the reader and make her want to keep reading."

I hope that helps explain what I mean by each thing reinforcing the other.

I have personally never understood things like tropes and hooks and high concept very well (I'd never heard of a trope until I probably had seven or eight books out), so I may be off the mark on what the accepted wisdom is. However, that is how I think about it and do it. I have never deliberately studied the market, I don't understand beats or whatever that is or elements that must or must not be in a romance (other than the happy ending), and I go for tone in my covers (and work with a designer who understands the market and how to convey the tone I want while still producing a clickable cover) rather than trying to make the books look like somebody else's.

Not saying my way will work for anybody else, but it's worked well for me.

 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,169 Posts
This may be a minority opinion, but I think "hooky" and "high-concept" are just phrases that are used as a catch-all, when there is no definitive, agreed-upon definition. One person's hook is another one's trope, or cliche, even.

To me, hooky simply means an intriguing story or concept, or some... twist... that makes a story unique. Since romance has been used as an example, we can say that "boy meets girl, boy and girl encounter conflict, boy and girl overcome conflict and live happily ever after." While that is, at its most basic, the foundation of just about every romance ever written, this would be a lousy description or pitch. But if the writer explains that if Boy and Girl get married, another person will have to die as a result, that's a hook.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,125 Posts
.

+1 a hook is the intriguing difference that makes buyers press the 'ship it to me now!' button.
Readers are in Amazon looking for their favorite genre with familiar tropes and the hook makes 'this book' more attractive than 'that book'.

 
Joined
·
286 Posts
ShayneRutherford said:
I think 'hooky' is also another name for 'high concept', which seems to boil down to a concept that sets the stage for the story in a single sentence. For example: What if you lived in a little town in Alaska - where the nights can last for a month at a time -- and a gang of vampires came through just as the sun was setting? (30 Days of Night) You get the big picture of what the story will be about just from that one sentence.
This is 'hooky' IMHO. :)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
169 Posts
Usedtoposthere said:
OK. Onward. I wrote this series recently, New Zealand Ever After.
And then, in each book, I tried to write a really, really grabby first & second chapters. I tried harder than with any series before to really start each book off with a bang. That is part of the hook too. As in, "Get your hooks into the reader and make her want to keep reading."

I hope that helps explain what I mean by each thing reinforcing the other.

I have personally never understood things like tropes and hooks and high concept very well (I'd never heard of a trope until I probably had seven or eight books out), so I may be off the mark on what the accepted wisdom is. However, that is how I think about it and do it. I have never deliberately studied the market, I don't understand beats or whatever that is or elements that must or must not be in a romance (other than the happy ending), and I go for tone in my covers (and work with a designer who understands the market and how to convey the tone I want while still producing a clickable cover) rather than trying to make the books look like somebody else's.

Not saying my way will work for anybody else, but it's worked well for me.
Jinx. I was studying your New Zealand Ever After covers yesterday... and your description of hooks is perfect.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,306 Posts
Hooks are relative. "Hooky" writing to me is active, and fairly fast paced, and reasonably descriptive where it's not active and fast paced.

I.e., interesting to read. You hopefully have a 'hooky' plot, but then most acceptable tropes are based on something like that.
 
1 - 13 of 13 Posts
Top