Thursday, March 10, 2011

Contest Winners! And some advice on marketability...

So first off, we have our contest winners! Congratulations. I will email you to discuss prizes.

~Shirley A. will get a ten page/first chapter critique.

~Ali Cross won a copy of Incarceron.

Thank you random number generator, and thanks to everyone who entered!

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a book appealing to an editor or agent. For those of who who have queried, you know it can be very difficult to get the attention of publishing officials, especially without credentials. So here's the question: how do you create a hook that stands out among all the vampire paranormal romances and derivative dystopians?

For the past few months I've pondered this question, and I keep coming back to something Random House editor Chelsea Eberly said at the November SCBWI conference in Utah. We all know that a good story is much more than a hook, but your hook is what will immediately catch someone's eye, whether it be a publisher or a potential reader. Chelsea said she looks for two components of a hook: originality and desirability.

First of all, originality. You need something unique. For instance, when I queried Encrypted, I dedicated an entire paragraph to the concept of hidden messages in Buddhist prayer flags. There aren't many books out there with a focus on prayer flags (none that I know of, at least), so this helped distinguish my story from the myriad of others out there. So far I've had a relatively good response to my query letters, with more requests than rejections.

Desirability is the other key factor. Chelsea used the example of a book written about a child who's a serial killer. Original? Definitely. But it's not particularly desirable, and agents aren't likely to jump at the chance to represent a book they don't think they can sell. On the other hand, a paranormal werewolf romance is desirable, but in today's market it might not be unique. Unless you have an entirely new spin on a popular topic, it's hard to stand out if you're simply writing "trendy" fiction.

This is such a simple way to look at things, but I've found it incredibly helpful. Look at your own WIP. Is it original? How so? Can you summarize the supposed "hook" in a single sentence? If it is original, how about desirable? Is it a topic that people will want to read about?

In the current market, hooks are everything. Taking the time to develop your hook will give you a much better chance of eventually achieving publication.

1 comment:

  1. I totally forgot about that advice but it is so true and helpful! Thanks for the reminder. I also liked how Chelsea said that beautiful writing can be a hook, but I think it's harder to stand out in a slush pile that way.