Thursday, September 23, 2010


By Deb Werksman

I noticed in my recent pitch sessions that I'm getting a lot of pitches that are really plot summaries, rather than providing the kind of sales hook that I'm looking for.

Let me start by telling you why I need the sales hook.

When I find a project that I think we should publish (it meets all my criteria), I take it into an Editorial meeting where I present it to our publisher, editorial director, and all the other acquiring editors. I may be first in the lineup, I may be last in the lineup, I may have 1 project to present or I may have 10, and all the other editors may have 1 project to present, or they may have 10. We may have 1/2 hour for the meeting, or an hour for the meeting, or 90 minutes for the meeting. So I may have 3 minutes to present a project, or 5, or 1 minute.

The first thing I have to have, is a 2-3 sentence "hook" that has people totally enrolled in and excited about us publishing this book. What the hook tells them is WHY the reader will find this book a MUST READ. It tells them how I'm positioning the book in the marketplace, who the readership is going to be, and that the book is hugely saleable.

Now, let's say that everyone's excited and I get to make an offer on the book. The next part of the process will involve a series of meetings in which every book coming from every editor has to be approved to "launch" for that season. For launch meetings, I assemble:

*a 50-word Positioning Statement--for which the "hook" is the basis
*3-4 paragraph description of the book (expanding on the hook and giving a rudimentary plot summary)
*3 key sales handles--critical, one sentence each--this is where author's track record, the prominence of the subgenre, etc. come in
*comparative and/or competing books with their sales figures
*cover comps and direction for the design department
*character descriptions from the author, for the design department
*synopsis from the author
*proposed format (for romance fiction, almost always mass market format)
*proposed retail price
*proposed publication schedule (including when the manuscript is due to me, and when I'll be ready to turn it over to the Bookmaking group)

The launch materials later morph into the catalog copy and the catalog copy morphs into the back cover copy.

When our salespeople call on the buyers, they may have a 15 minute meeting in which to present 10 books. Sometimes all they have time for is to share the "hook" with the buyer.

That's why I say I need "a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences."

A plot summary just won't serve the purpose of a "hook".

I look forward to your questions!

All best,

Deb Werksman
Sourcebooks, Inc.


  1. Great post, Deb, on showing the difference between a plot summary and a hook. When I was trying to come up with a unique angle for my books--I looked at the back cover of books to read their blurbs. Even though blurbs are often plot summaries--some have excellent hooks. Some, I found, sounded like a very generic version of any romance story, and I realized then, they didn't entice me to look any further into the book. :)

    Now, if I could just figure out how to do these too! :)

  2. This was very helpful. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into the workings of the publishing side of things. I would love seeing an even more in depth view for those of us who can't imagine how much work must go into getting our babies ready for the bookstores.

  3. Good morning, Deb. Very helpful post!

    Is there a way that editors (or you in particular) prefer a synosis to be written? I still struggle with them. For me, it's like taking 300 pages of exciting character interactions and turning it into 5 to 10 pages of boring plot points in narative form. I fear I put everyone who is unfortunate enought to read my synopsis straight to sleep. Writing them is definitely not one of my strengths. Is there anything a writer can do to spice their synopsis up a bit? You know I like spice.

  4. The difference between a hook/pitch and a plot summary was the hardest thing for me to grasp when I started the query process.

    Your post helps because it shows how many people the editor must sell the book to, before it's ever sold to the public, and how short a period she has to do it in.

  5. Thanks, Deb! I would love to be a fly on the wall during those meetings and hear how people respond to various types of hooks. And I agree with Olivia - writing a synopsis is much harder than writing a 400-page novel! Once you finish writing the book, the work is really just beginning!

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Deb. It's helpful to know how synopses and character descriptions, etc. will be used.

  7. Fabulous insight, Deb! Clear and concise...I will be sharing the link to your post today with my writing groups. Thank you!

  8. If I ever wanted to be an editor, the aspiration has just evaporated into thin air. I have about as much affinity for thinking up hooks as I do for speed dating, but my guess is a book that lends itself to a hook is more likely to be a solid book than one with an amorphous, convoluted plot. Hmm.

  9. Deb: Great posting! You are extremely clear. Any chance you'd like to share a couple of hooks that really got to you--in a good way?

  10. Deb, you just made my job of teaching people how to write a synopsis and query SO much easier -- I'm going to send them straight over here. Thanks!

  11. Deb, as always you are so wise! I really enjoyed the concise way you explained the differences - and the reason why it's so important to get the hook right. Thank you for being so generous with your time here!!

  12. I'm sure everyone found this post helpful, Deb. I know I did.


  13. I can't echo Deb's comments enough--there are so many people that find the hook important. I think about when I go to conferences and while there are networking coffee breaks and things like that, most of the time, you meet a contact or potential bookseller on the fly, and having a succinct pitch ready to go is crucial! This helps everyone throughout the publishing process on so many levels. And, for all of the aspiring authors out there, think about being able to say what your book is about quickly when you have those elevator pitches :)

    Great post, Deb!

  14. Thanks for explaining the difference and a bit about the internal workings of publishing. What a great insight!

  15. When you explain it like this, Deb, it makes perfect sense. When you asked about 25 word pitches it taught me a lot about hooks. Before that, I also thought of a abbreviated plot summary.

    I appreciated WHY you have to have them and the insight in the process of buying. Thank you.

  16. Thanks for a clear delineation between hooks and summary plot points by showing how you actually use them. I find knowing how something will be used assists me in following through. I appreciate your sharing this.

  17. Deb,
    Love your post! I didn't even know what a hook was (other than on the end of a fishin' line) until Sourcebooks came into my life. You explained its purpose very well!
    Carolyn Brown

  18. Hi Deb. I really liked this post. Since I'm a newbie it gave me a great peek into what you have to do. I agree with Olivia as well. I think writing the synopsis is brutal. I usually write it after I've finished the book. Thanks again :)

  19. I have had this thought on my mind every since you had us pitch to you on this web site. I have worked and worked coming up with mine after all of the great feedback you had given me. This is a great post and for a pre-published author, it is valuable information. Thank you!!!

    I think back now to all of the queries I have sent out and understand why they may have turned my book down. :( After all of the good advice I have received, hopefully that won't happen anymore! ;)