Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm on to you.

You guys are better at this hook thing than you've been letting on. Some more hooks, and some homework.

1. You enjoyed the author's other work.

Someone asked about the hook of Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and as far as I can tell its hook is: Laurie Halse Anderson. If you write two books as good and as popular as Speak and Fever 1793, you too can stop worrying too much about hook.
I'm reading The Spellbook of Listen Taylor, and so far I'm having some doubts. But I had to pick it up because The Year of Secret Assignments was fun.

2. Humor.

Now let's be clear, a book has to be really funny to survive on this hook alone. I see lots of manuscripts in slush from people who seem to think being mildly amusing is enough. It's not. Ginger by Charlotte Voake is mildly funny throughout, and has a good punchline. But it's also about dealing with a new sibling, and that's something parents actively request in bookstores.

3. Something to figure out.

People love puzzles. From The Trek to Where's Waldo, from Chasing Vermeer to The Puzzling World of Winston Breen... not to mention, of course, all the mystery novels that are presented as mysteries. I love Peter Abrahams' Echo Falls series. But Absolutely Not is an example of a book with a cool puzzle aspect that needed another hook to bolster it.

4. Audience participation

There's some overlap with the last category, of course. But aside from figure-this-out participation, there are many kinds that are so great for young kids. Whether it's a refrain they can join in on, or a word that they can guess comes next from the rhyme scheme, or even a chance to point out where the illustrations are contradicting the text, kids love to be involved. eg Bob, I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, and Do You See a Mouse.

How about some audience participation right now?: What are the hooks in Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?


Andy J Smith illustration said...

Very cool! THANKS, EA!

This list serves as good reminder of potential hooks. I try to make sure I am satisfying some of these (and some of the hooks below) when I have come up with an IDEA for a PICTURE BOOK and am in the fledgling stages of fleshing out the story. If I only have one, I try to add a second without forcing them. It has to feel natural.

Some other hooks i try to instill...

-Onomatopoeia - kids love making silly sounds and hearing them. It's just another way to engage them.

-Riddles/Asking questions for the reader to answer

-Word play (like Runny Babbit)... I think kids often wind up talking in this manner even after the book is closed, which might help them want to open it again

-Secrets that only the reader is in on. Like in Amelia Bedelia or Knuffle Bunny

-Open ended or circular stories as in the If you Give a Moose, Mouse, etc a Cookie, Muffin, etc...

-Physical Interaction (not as in pop-up/novelty books although certainly not exclusive from that)... more like needing to turn the book to view the illustrations at different angles.

-(One of my favorites), breaking the "invisible wall" between reader and story/character. Often the characters will address the reader and include them in the story. Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka/Lane Smith are masters at doing this simply and effectively.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Some of what you've named are nice elements to include in a book, but not are hooks. Onomotopoeia is not something that inspires people to pay money for it. Neither are the physical interaction you mention or breaking the wall between book and reader. As I say, these are nice things to have--don't get rid of them. But they're not your hook. The other stuff you mention could be hooks, depending on how (and how well) they're done.

Anonymous said...

I'd hate to get this wrong, but I would think that the hook for Edwina is the question of whether or not she actually is extinct. What happens if the little boy is right?

What a great book. :)
Is it wrong that I still enjoy good picture books at my age?

Deirdre Mundy said...

And "How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight" has a couple of hooks for the book-buying parent

1. JANE YOLEN. We all grew up on her.... now she's writing a book for our child

2. Engaging Illustrations

3. Rhyme done well.


5. "Bedtime Book" -- While the market is flooded with these, you can always use one more...

6. Reasonably SHORT bedtime book... so "Read it again, Mom!" is do-able, and it holds the younger child's interest.

As for Edwina -- The mystery (is she or isn't she)

The humor -- A dinosaur who bakes cookies?

Once again, the illustrations -- a picture book with bad illustrations is a No-go...

Conflict, Tension and Resolution -- a complete story arc in just a few words!

My one HUGE issue with the hook-thing is: I can see why someone would want to buy a finished book in the bookstore from a wellknown author/ great illustrator..

But how does that work when you're querying with a picture book manuscript?

1. Author recognition --None

2. Illustrations -- Only in the reader's head. And in a query, the editor can't really see if your text lends itself to illustration or not.

As far as I can tell, the hooks for a query letter would be

1. reasonable word count
2. Interesting sounding plot
3. Author credentials
4. Well-written query that mentions a few aspects of your book that appeal to the target age-group and their parents

Then there are the anti-hooks.... (I get a lot of grief for this one over at SCBWI, but......)

1. TOO LONG. As a mother, I will NOT buy (or even check out from the library) a picture book with HUGE blocks of text on every page. I don't want to read 4000 words without a break. My kids don't want to listen. If I want to read them a chapter book, I'll read them a chapter book... with chapters of a sensible, kid-friendly length.

2. HUMDRUM Illustrations. If the fairy tale book looks exactly like every other fairy tale book in the world, why should I bother spending MORE money on it?

3. FLIMSY CONSTRUCTION -- I want it to last at least 6 months in a house with 3 kids under 5! I'm especially fussy about "Lift-the-flap" books -- some seem designed to break on the first read-through!

4. Too Edgy -- When my kids are older, yes, as I enjoy slightly edgy picture books. But my 4 year old DOESN'T.

5. Cubist-style illustrations -- Makes the youngest kids cry.....

6. Bad Rhyme and Metre. If I read a book through and can, in 45 seconds, think of a million ways to improve the poem, it's a no-go. If we've received one as a gift and the kids insist, I WILL substitute words that actually work.

7. Super-Didactic, Inspirational, or "Dealing with an Issue" related.

If it reads like something the school guidance counselor would have read to my 5th grade class, It's NOT going to make it home....

Oh.. and one last hook that I find regretful, but unfortunately looms large in my house:

Contains a popular TV or movie character.....

Though the Dora books reallyt aren't as bad as I would have thought... and at least they're short... and the kids like all the exhortations to "Jump! Reach! Bend! Count!" ... of course, the 2 year old has started adding Spanish to her constant monologue....

Sean McManus said...

It's hard to use humour to get someone to pick up a book because it's hard to communicate it, unless the book's central idea is inherently comedic. You can intrigue people with the puzzle and tell them who the author is, but people usually only know the book's funny once they've read it. This is particularly true for adult novels, where the marketing department seems to slap the word 'hilarious' on just about any novel in which nobody dies, devaluing the description along the way.

Andy J Smith illustration said...

EA, I guess you are right... some of the things I added aren't really HOOKS per se. Like you said, some of them are good, but don't really push a purchase.

I am making a cheat sheet list of hooks to peruse when generating ideas to see where/how/when I can try and generate interest (I guess interest in a book where the potential buyer/reader knows very little about the actual story... is that a good way of saying it?... Elements that fullfill a child's psyche?)

Would you say hooks are more for the buyer/parent or for the child in the case of picture books? I suppose both need to be factored. said...

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