Hook, Hook, Where’s the Hook?

In an effort to complete this weekend’s self-assigned task of drafting a pitch, this morning I got up and walked straight over to my bookshelf (shelves, really). I was looking for books that were similar to the one I am trying to fine-tune and eventually publish, and ones that hooked me with their jacket copy. This was tricky. First I had to eliminate all of the non-fiction, reference books, and fairy/folk-tale anthologies. Half the shelf, right there. Then I had to eliminate anything that was recommended to me (the Heinlein, Ship Breaker), given to me (H.P. Lovecraft), that I bought because it had a gorgeous cover (Heather Dixon’s Entwined, Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath), or that I read because I had already read and liked something else by the author. Something that grabbed me primarily with copy.

There wasn’t much left.

What I do have are three YA novels: one fantasy, one science fiction, one contemporary (well, it was contemporary at the time). I will post the jacket copy here, properly credited, and cross my fingers in hope that no one sues me.

Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas. YA Contemporary, Copyright 1996 Aladdin paperbacks.

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH STEVE YORK?

    Houston, Sophomore Year

    Steve is on top of the world. He and his friends are the talk of the school. He’s in love with a terrific girl. He can even deal with the astronaut – a world-famous hero who happens to be his father.

   San Diego, Senior Year

Steve is bummed out, drugged out, flunking out. A no-nonsense counselor says he can graduate if he writes a 100-page paper. And in telling how he got to where he is, Steve discovers how to get to where he wants to be.

   What grabbed me about it: I don’t recall. I first read this book when I was in high school, around 1999, and I have since bought several copies to loan out and give to friends who have all loved this book. What I like about the copy looking at it at 26 (as opposed to 13) is that it is plainspoken. Concise. In drawing the sharp contrast between Steve’s sophomore and senior years, the copy makes me want to know not so much what’s the matter with Steve; it makes me want to know what happened to Steve. To find that out, ya gotta read the book.

Uglies, Scott Westerfeld. YA Science Fiction, Copyright 2005 Simon Pulse.    

Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellant ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks, Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather rish life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world – and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

What grabbed me about it: It’s not concise, like the spartan copy of Rats Saw God, but it does tell you what you’re going to get. In fact, the copy takes you nearly a third of the way through the novel to get you hooked. Generally I don’t like that, but this novel is a slow-starter and it needed that treatment to keep you reading. I suspect The Grove might need the same treatment.

BornConfused Tanuja Desai Hidier. Copyright 2002, PUSH (an imprint of Scholastic Inc.)

Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. She’s spent her whole life resisting her parents’ traditions. But now she’s turning seventeen and things are more complicated than ever. She’s still recovering from a year-old break-up and her best friend isn’t around the way she used to be. Then, to make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy”. Of course, it doesn’t go well…until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web of words and music. Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. 

This is a story about finding yourself, finding your friends, finding love, and finding culture – sometimes where you least expect it.

What grabbed me about it:  The voice of the copy. I feel like I know who Dimple is after reading ony a few hundred words: confused, slightly rebellious, artistic, struggling with her identity. For me as a reader, that last line isn’t even necessary. I was already hooked. I should add that this book has a horrible cover, bold colors and gradients mashed with a grainy photo. I doubt I would ever pick it up in a bookstore. I found it cruising Amazon, where copy is king. Books in which the copy has a strong voice grab me every time (Feed, by M.T. Anderson is a great example, on the copy before it won an award, at least). It’s also the reason why I picked up Twilight, read the copy, and put it back down ten times without remembering once that I had already seen it. Weak voice.

What has all of this helped me figure out? That my aim should be to write a concise pitch with a healthy dose of my main character’s voice that carries the reader far enough into the plot to get them hooked. This pitch would get a reader like me to read my book, and that’s all I’m aiming for. I think my next move will be to take these three examples of jacket copy and re-write each for my novel (Mad-Libs style).

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2 responses to “Hook, Hook, Where’s the Hook?

  1. What an interesting analysis! Though I haven’t read any of the books in the examples, based on these pitches, I would like to.
    I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with for your pitch, and no, you can’t read mine! I seem to be terrible at these, but I’m eager to learn. 🙂

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