Fair or not, there may be no better sales tool for writers than a successfully written query letter. And there’s no more important skill to writing successful queries than learning how to write a query hook.
Some writers do such an amazing job with their query letters that they’re used to hook an agent then hook an editor then hook a sales team then hook book buyers and eventually even hook readers–as the copy on the back or interior cover of the actual books. Those are seriously powerful words.
Querying can be a thrilling experience. From the first day you send out your first batch of queries, to your first requests, to some valuable feedback, and then to finally a match made! No matter what you’ve experienced, your goal is to hook a fantastic agent who adores your project, and someone who will work hard for you and fight for your special place in the literary market.
Learn how to accomplish just that with agent Katie Shea Boutillier as she explores exactly what agents are looking for in the upcoming How to Hook an Agent: Queries and Beyond webinar. In the webinar, writers will learn what is important in a query letter, how to create an outstanding hook, how to create a fast-pace manuscript, handle book concept, and more! Plus, each attendee is invited to submit their query and first five pages for a personalized critique.
How to Write a Query Hook
I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the manuscript by any means, but tools like the query help the gatekeepers want to learn more (and get into that manuscript), just as tools like the cover design and copy help entice potential readers. So what makes for a successful query hook?
Whether dealing in fiction or nonfiction, answer these questions:
- What’s the one thing your book will help readers accomplish?
- What’s the unique selling point of your book?
- What does your book have that readers want?
Simple as that.
What’s the one thing your book will help readers accomplish?
Will it help them understand their relationships better? Find more success at work? In life? Make all their dreams come true? Provide an escape from reality or a hearty laugh?
Your book may serve multiple purposes, but successful queries and hooks are able to hone in on that one purpose that rules them all. In a novel, for instance, there may be several secondary characters and subplots, but there is usually one main story arc. That should be your focus in the query.
For nonfiction, what’s the overall goal for the book? It may help with several scenarios and/or problems, but who is it helping and how? A clear identity will make the book so much easier to sell.
What’s the unique selling point of your book?
This ties into the answer of your first question. But it takes the answer to another level, because you have to know your competition. You have to know what’s already out there on the market that is similar to your book and how yours takes it to another level.
Saying something like, “I wrote another book on this subject that everyone else has written about,” will not help your book find success. However, saying something like, “This book takes a revolutionary approach that will help parents connect with their children in a way they never thought possible,” gets you much closer to success, especially if you can back up the bold claim with your manuscript.
For novels, it might seem all stories have already been written, but they haven’t, and you need to let agents and editors know how yours takes a fresh spin on a familiar (or unfamiliar) yarn. Build excitement!
What does your book have that readers want?
Essentially, this is the question that a good query answers: What does your book have that readers want? You can answer this by focusing on the book’s qualities, but also be sure to identify your target audience and establish that there’s a real desire for your book and/or that there’s a black hole in the market that only your book can fill.
If you have numbers and stats (something quantifiable), that’s the best. And it may be as simple as you have 100,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram. But even if you don’t have a social media account of any sort, it pays dividends to establish your target audience and how your book serves them.
Answer these three questions and distill it down into one or two opening sentences in your query, and voila! You’ve got a killer query letter hook that any agent or editor will admire.
Then, you just have to complete the rest of the query letter and write an amazing manuscript that delivers on all your query’s promises. But those are goals for another blog post.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community. He edits the Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market books, writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, maintains the Poetic Asides blog, co-hosts a podcast for writers with Brian A. Klems, speaks at conferences, leads online webinars and tutorials, and so much more.
Robert is also the author of Solving the World’s Problems, a poetry collection published by Press 53. A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, he’s been a featured poet across the country at poetry events in Austin, Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta, and more.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.
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