There's no major hook without revealing the secret
A few years back, YA Lit Chat, held a Pitch Slam weekend. Authors submitted a pitch of 2 -3 sentences to 3 agents and these agents then responded and they chose 5 pitches that they wanted to see the entire manuscript for. It was a very interesting exercise and one common thread I noticed amongst the agent responses was that they wanted authors to reveal the secret of the book.
I was surprised to read this. Firstly, it suggests that agents want to know the hook. Secondly, it suggests that authors don’t want to reveal it.
I had to ask myself if the reason authors disliked revealing the hook was because we feared that the agents or publishers would not bother to buy the cow when the milk was being given away for free. Or is it that agents and publishers needed to see the connection the reader would make with the characters and their conflict?
Characters and conflict are the two most important aspects of any novel. Who the story is about and why there is a story to being with is the foundations of any novel. Without conflict and characters there is no story. However, as a writer of a YA novel The Bird With The Broken Wing, which has a major twist at the end, I am not about to give away the secret because I want my readers to feel pleasantly surprised when they find it out themselves. Yet I am aware that the twist comes at the end and I have to get a reader interested in wanting to read my book in the first place.
But if there is no major hook without revealing the secret, how does a writer create the perfect pitch?
Firstly, what is a pitch? It’s a two or three paragraph description of the book which sets the scene, genre, basic premise and creates intrigue. Check the blurbs on the back of novels for their description. Some are vague. Some are like the prologue and the story kicks off from the end of the blurb.
Here are a few examples of books blurbs to give an idea of what we writers present to the world of readers out there.
The inner jacket blurb for Linger by Maggie Stiefvater is this:
Once Grace and Sam have found each other, they know they must fight to stay together. For Sam, this means a reckoning with his werewolf past. For Grace, it means facing a future that is less and less certain.
Into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, whose past is full of hurt and danger. He is wrestling with his own demons, embracing the life of a wolf while denying the ties of being human.
For Grace, Sam and Cole, life is a constant struggle between two forces - wolf and human - with love barings its two sides as well. It is harrowing and euphoric, freeing and trapping, enticing and alarming. As their worlds fall apart, love is what lingers. But will it be enough?
Linger is a truly great read, though all I know from the blurb is the name of the characters and not much else.
The blurb for Evernight by Claudia Gray is this:
She's been uprooted from her small hometown and enrolled at Evernight Academy, an eerie Gothic boarding school where the students are somehow too perfect: smart, sleek, and almost predatory. Bianca knows she doesn't fit in.
Then she meets Lucas. He's not the 'Evernight type' either, and he likes it that way. Lucas ignores the rules, stands up to the snobs and warns Bianca to be careful - even when it comes to caring about him.
"I couln't stand it if they took it out on you," he tells Bianca, "and eventually they would."
But the connection between Bianca and Lucas can't be denied. Bianca will risk anything to be with Lucas, but dark secrets are fated to tear them both apart...and to make Bianca question everything she's ever believed.
This book even admit that it holds secrets. But the agents want us to reveal them. Seriously, what is a writer to do.
Angels may not reveal themselves to mortals. But when the mortal Rachael’s watching over is hurting, how can she stay hidden in the shadows?
Guardian angel Rachael becomes trapped with the mortal she’s been assigned to watch over. Unable to watch him suffer, she decides the only way to free him of his inner demons is to break the rules about becoming involved, revealing her true identity, and applying divine intervention. But what choice does she have? Without her help, his soul will be trapped forever. Then a stranger appears, giving Rachael reason to wonder if his is the only soul in need of saving...
It took me ages to come up with a blurb that didn't give too much away.
The blurb for the BookTrailer of The Bird With The Broken Wing goes like this:
Angels are bound by rules. Don’t reveal your true identity. Don’t apply divine intervention. Even if the mortal you’ve been assigned to watch over is hurting.
He is a soldier, haunted by his past. What he has seen and done is unforgiveable. Without the angel’s help his soul maybe lost forever.
The unexpected appearance of a teenager threatens to undo the angel’s attempts to save her mortal. This girl thinks she has escaped her demons. But they won’t let her forget what she has done. What none of them realize is that she is the key to their freedom.
When mortals make mistakes they’re forgiven. When angels make mistakes, they’re forsaken.
To me, too much more than what is revealed in the above two blurbs would screams Spoiler Alert. Could I have revealed more of the story without spoiling the twist at the end? I'm still not so sure. The movie, The Sixth Sense, would not have worked so brilliantly if we were all told the twist up front. What would Star Wars be if we knew that Darth Vadar was Luke’s father right from the opening credits? A savvy reader can anticipate the twist and still enjoy it when it comes. But nobody likes a spoiler alert either. So what does a writer do?
When I put my reader’s hat on I recognize that there are millions of books out there, and the blurb is the one indication of whether I want to invest my time and money to read it. The trick for authors is to reveal enough to entice someone to want to read the story, yet not too much that it reads like a laundry list. There are classes on perfecting the pitch to agents and publishers and perhaps this is perhaps one of the most important parts of the writing process that new authors should take the time to learn. I’m not saying mine are brilliant. I’m as stuck as anybody else on how to tell entice a reader to select my book from the millions of others on the market. But as there are literally thousands of pitches sent to agents and publishers each week, the pitch needs to do its job.
When I read through the selection of responses to pitches from Pitch Slam Weekend from YA Lit Chat, it is clear that many writers (and I must include myself amongst this lot) are afraid to give too much of the story away when pitching to agents and publishers. We feel that by revealing the secret that nobody will want to read our book. If the pitch/ synopsis / blurb are too vague, then will the reader be bothered to read what we have spent months or years crafting? If the pitch is too detailed, will the reader gain anything from reading the book? Perhaps what I and many other writers should do is to allow the writing to speak for itself and to let the agent or publisher decide if they like the story.
A small selection of responses to pitches from Pitch Slam Weekend are:
· Tell me what the secret is, and that will make me decide whether to pursue this book.
· Don’t keep secrets in your pitch.
· There's a fine line between leaving enough of a mystery to intrigue the editor or agent and not telling them enough. Since I don't know what the secret is here, I'm not sure what makes this different enough to stand out in the market.
· To really hook the reader, though, you might need a few more details so we have some idea of the direction of the story.
· I do wish you'd alluded to why she distances herself a bit more, however.
· I just found this too vague. It's another example of a query that left me wanting to read more because I didn't understand what was happening, not because I was so utterly compelled.
· It sounds like there could be something compelling here, but it's too vague to get a strong grasp on it.
· I'm sorry, but I have no idea what your book is about, much less its genre.
· This is another one where it seems the secret is the major hook, so if you don't tell it--if it's not revealed until the end--it's going to be hard to draw in readers.
Perhaps the lesson here is tell the entire story to the agent or publisher, but write an intriguing blurb for the reader.
On another note, it was scary to see just how many writers are out there. This was only YA writers pitching their novel ideas. There are probably fewer stars in the sky than there are writers on this planet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.