Ever wonder how the best authors catch people’s interest? Why do readers pause on some books longer than others as they choose which one to buy? It’s the author’s hook—that first page, paragraph, sentence, even title—that ensnares the reader from the start and makes them want to know more. But the hook does more than just catch a reader’s eye. It’s necessary to set the narrative tone and form your book’s premise. Without a hook, a book can fall flat or lackluster at the start, and many people decide whether or not to keep reading based on the first page.
In this blog, I will show you how to:
- choose a good title
- start with a strong first sentence
- develop a powerful hook
What are other authors doing?
There are countless examples of successful books with strong hooks, but some are famous for them. Take One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez for example: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
This sentence brings so many questions to mind:
- Who is Colonel Aureliano Buendía?
- Why is he facing a firing squad?
- And how can he be thinking about ice at a time like that?
Or take Joseph Heller’s book Catch-22. Not only does the first line, “It was love at first sight,” set the ironic tone of the story and intrigue the reader. So does the very title, now a coined phrase about the paradoxical conundrum of a problem and its solution being so interconnected that it can never be resolved.
These two hooks beg the questions:
- What did the narrator fall in love with?
- And will his problem ever end?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson has another great hook: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” This puts the reader right at the start of the action and sets the premise for the book, as it follows Raoul Duke and his attorney on their drug-infused journey through Las Vegas. Immediately the reader can grasp the narrator’s perspective, and it also makes the reader wonder what the narrator is doing taking drugs in the desert.
So how do you make your own hook capture people’s attention?
Pick a strong title.
Picking a strong title is a good place to start. Titles that relates to your story or something intrinsic within the narrative is important, but so is a title that might pique reader curiosity. A title like The Killing Place will hint to readers that the book is violent but also make them wonder what this place is and why there is a specific place for killing. A Walk to Remember takes something ordinary, a walk, and turns it into something intriguing as it suddenly becomes a distinct walk worth remembering. The Final Showdown indicates an ongoing conflict but also makes this conflict different from all the others, as it’s the last one.
Titles make books jump off the shelves at readers. Good titles convince the reader to open the book.
Craft a strong first sentence.
A strong first sentence is the hook that makes readers want to learn more, so catching people’s attention is important. Starting a book with something ordinary, “Kelly stood by the stove, frying eggs for breakfast,” is less likely to make them want to continue reading. “Anna woke with a start at the cold touch of steel against her throat,” on the other hand, gives a sense of urgency to the book. Successful authors use a variety of ways to hook their readers.
Start in the action!
Starting in the middle of the action is a strong tactic, as it gets the ball moving and starts the book out at a quick pace. If your main character is shouting for a bucket of water as they beat at a kitchen fire with a towel, it generates the urgency of both putting out the fire as well as understanding how the fire started in the first place and why it got out of control. Compare this to a man sitting in his office, waiting for the day to be done. Not only is the character waiting. The reader is left hanging, waiting for something to happen and wondering why they should care. Action generates energy, and that energy encourages readers to find out what comes next.
Grip the readers' emotions.
You can hook readers through facilitating an emotional connection. Put your protagonist in a situation that challenges their character; plop the heroine into the middle of her breakup scene. Start out by informing the protagonist their mother just died or their fiancée got in a car accident. These situations are emotional for your protagonist and relatable for readers. No one likes to be broken up with, and we all dread the loss of loved ones, so readers will sympathize with your characters and want to see how they handle the situation and recover from it.
Go for shock value.
Utilize a shock factor. People are drawn toward dramatic scenes. They slow down on the highway to see the aftermath of car accidents. They stop to watch two people in a fight. This fascination with spectacles is a part of human nature and can be used as a tool for catching people’s interest. So, what’s the most devastating thing that could happen to your protagonist? Now how could it get worse?
Keep things a mystery.
Leave your readers with a question: Who? What? Where? When? Why? What happens after the dead body is found? When did the relationship go so wrong? People search for answers when they read. So by posing questions, you make them want to turn the page and keep going.
And by leaving some details until later, you keep the plot moving forward. Hook the reader first with the action, then fill in the necessary information as you go. People don’t necessarily need to know where the desk is and how many chairs are in the office when the main character meets her boss—and future husband. The interaction between them, the electricity as their hands touch for the first time, the butterflies in your heroine’s belly when their eyes meet, that’s what’s important.
Hooks sell books!
A good hook is key to a book’s success. It can mean the difference between a reader skimming the pages and wanting to read the book. Many readers set books aside if they don’t get hooked by the end of the first page. They like to search for their answers, and posing good questions will keep them on the line. Hooking your reader will make your book more saleable, as your readers will know what they have to look forward to, and they’ll want to turn the page. Now that you know how to pick a good title, catch your reader’s attention with a strong first sentence, and establish a powerful hook, get out there and write!
Need some help writing your perfect hook? HotGhostWriter has a staff of practiced, knowledgeable writers who are ready to help you make your book a success.