Monday, January 28, 2008

Hook vs Gimmick

So, suppose my agent tells me that a publisher is looking for easy readers with strong hooks, like "pirate mom" or "dancing dinosaurs." What's the difference between a hook and a gimmick?



Good question.


A hook is the reason a reader decides to buy (or read) a book.


A gimmick is an attention-getting element that does little more than get attention. It is a contrivance that seems to add value without actually adding value. It distracts the consumer from the question of whether she really wants the product in her hands.

So while there are many, many hooks that are not gimmicks, all gimmicks are meant to be a form of hook.

I don't think I agree that the subject of a book can be a gimmick. It's the subject. If you aren't interested in buying a book about pirate moms or ballet dinosaurs, you aren't going to be distracted from that lack of interest by the fact that the book is about pirate moms or ballet dinosaurs.

What your agent (and the publisher) want to remind you of is that the goal of any early reader is to be appealing enough to get a child (for whom reading is difficult) to read it. That means it needs a hook that is not

1. great writing (because they can't discern great writing yet)
2. sparkly covers or novelty elements (because early readers are low budget) or
3. name recognition (because they do not recognize author names yet)

...and that leaves you with topic. You have to give them topics they know they want: dinosaurs, sports, ballet, pirates, superheroes, goofy jokes and puns, etc etc.

10 comments:

moonrat said...

i love that there's an associated vendiagram.

The Eyeball said...

And this post is why I love this blog.
You've HOOKED me, baby.

Erin SE said...

wow! This was a really clear explanation; well thought out. Thanks

Anonymous said...

second the Venn diagram. Awesome.

Eric said...

Good article. Thanks.

nw said...

Thank you very much! I'm the one who asked the question and I really appreciate your thoughtful answer. (BTW, I wasn't arguing that those were or weren't gimmicks; I just have heard lots of pro-hook and anti-gimmick talk and I wasn't too clear on what the difference was.)

nw said...

p.s. Can you give an example of a gimmick?

Joni said...

The explanation sounds good in theory but I'm left wondering about some specific examples:

The Cathy's Book approach: Gimmick?
Hugo Cabret: Hook?

(If my assumptions are correct, what's really the difference between using graphics in a novel and using interactivity in a novel, then? Neither has much to do with the core story. Is it just a matter of the value judgments concealed in hook vs. gimmick?)

Books written in IM: hook or gimmick?
Scratch n' sniff ERs: gimmick? or hook?
Googlie eyes, die cuts, etc: gimmick? (I'd say so, but those googlie eye books sell enough to perhaps call that a hook?)
Urban vampire books: started out as hook, has turned into gimmick?

Thoughts from any and all commenters welcome on this...

Adrienne said...

Hey EA! I just wanted to let you know I really have been enjoying this blog! I discovered it last week, and have slowly made my way through the archives.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I'm linking you from my slightly more humble blog (I'm not sure to be honest how much traffic that will give you, but it never hurts right?), and wanted to make sure you were cool with that!

all best!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Of course you can link to me, or anything else you like. :)