Thursday, January 20, 2011

On The Hook Or, Why Every Book Proposal Has to Have One

By Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

I’m giving a talk on this topic next week at the San Diego Writers Conference and I thought I’d start a conversation here with our dear authors.

When I receive a book or series proposal from new (and sometimes seasoned) authors, the first thing I ask is: What is the hook?

By hook I mean: What is a 1-3 sentence pitch I can give my sales people that they can give the buyers, that answers the question “What is it about your book or series that makes it really stand out and grab the attention of potential readers?”

Here’s the sobering reality: The competition is extremely fierce. Last year over one million (1,000,000!) new titles were published. You’d need several lifetimes just to read all those books, even if you never had to do laundry or the dishes (or go to work)!

Packaging a work of art is of course counter-intuitive, but if we’re going to get your book into the hands of as many readers as possible, it’s got to stand out. It has to be positioned properly in the marketplace and that’s what the hook does. Your hook makes your book shout “Look at me!” “I’m a must-read!”

Even if your work is complex and straddles genres, you must position to one or the other. Where does your book fit in? Then: how does it stand out?


Robin Kaye’s contemporary romantic comedies feature alpha heroes who are the nurturing one in the relationship because every woman wants a man who’s as good in the kitchen as he is in the bedroom.

Sharon Lathan’s Pride and Prejudice continuations feature a sensual, romantic Darcy and Elizabeth inspired by Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFayden, amidst a wealth of unusual Regency historical details that you won’t find anywhere else.

Catherine Mann’s military themed romantic suspense series features the PJs, the most elite force in the US military, trained in high risk rescues—these guys are hugely manly, taking Alpha male to a whole new level.

Lydia Dare’s new Regency paranormal trilogy features gentlemen vampires—they’d never bite a young lady to whom they weren’t properly introduced.

Grace Burrowes’ Regency romances are beautifully written, reminiscent of Laura Kinsale or Georgette Heyer, and feature the sons of a duke obsessed with the succession. As he tries to force, manipulate or cajole his sons into marrying and producing an heir, each one finds a different way to avoid matrimony…until he loses his heart.

Terry Spear’s werewolf romances are so steeped in research on the way wolves behave in nature that her werewolves behave the way wolves behave in the wild—including pack dynamics and mating behavior.

One of the most important things your publisher can do for you is to position your book to succeed in the marketplace.

I can’t wait to see your single title romance in all subgenres: paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary and erotic romance. Send pitches/submissions to:


  1. Deb, thanks for the great post!

    When an author is pitching a new series to you, do you look for the hook of the series, or are you looking for the hook of individual books? Or do you take both?


  2. I always look forward to your posts. And I'm always amazed at how important the hook is to the future of the book. With the competition of a million books screaming "look at me", the hook is phenomenal. Thanks for keeping us reminded!

  3. Great post, Deb, but of course the first thing I did was said, "Uh-oh," to myself when I read the opening about the 3-sentence hook, and I'm thinking, did I do that this last go around? :)

    Thanks for reminding us to keep on our toes!!!

  4. Good Morning, Deb.

    Thanks for the informative post which is perfect timing for me. I'm putting together a couple of proposals for you.

    Off to work on my hooks!

  5. What I find so interesting about this process is that Deb, with her sharp editorial eye, saw a hook in my book and series that I, the author, hadn't originally seen or perceived. My hook idea may have been interesting (to me, anyway), but hers was interesting and marketable. ;-)

  6. Great post :) A million books last year?! Holy moly! It's easy to see why a hook is so important. It's basically your "elevator pitch" as an author.

  7. Was that a million romances, a million novels, or a million books including all fiction and all nonfiction?

  8. Really awesome post. I think it took me about 10 books to realize this because if I had good hooks before it was purely by accident.

    But I know I have a great hook for my new proposal, so I'm excited for you to look at it! :-)

  9. Deb, your blog was amazing - as always! You have such a great way of explaining the "why" of things in this business. Thanks again for sharing your time with us here on the blog site!

  10. Deb Werksman has rejected several of my works, but always has something nice to say along with advice, which keeps me writing. I have a paranormal in the works I intend to submit soon and hope she likes my 'hook'. I know many of her authors and their work...I want to be one of Sourcebook's authors, too!

  11. Hello Wonderful SB Authors. Deb just whirled out of here for a trip to California, so this is her assistant Cat. I thought I'd answer a few of your questions since she's on the road.

    Tracey - Deb looks for hooks for both books and series, but the individual book-hook is most essential.

    Mary Margret - That was one million-plus new titles published last year in all categories.

    Deb indded has a masterful eye for hooks and looks forward to reading your book submissions - and hooks! I'll end there since this is sounding a bit Dr. Seuss-ish.

  12. Not only does Deb like a hook for our books, she pretty darn good at being a hook! She hooked me on Sourecbooks the first time I talked to her.

  13. Thanks Deb, there is always something to learn from your posts. I've learned a lot about marketing in the past year!

  14. Sourcebooks authors ALL have that something special! And of course having an awesome editor does make a difference. :-)

    Hey Deb, swing up to Fresno while in California! Steve cooks a mean BBQ!

  15. It's wonderful to read the different pitches from some of the Casa authors, Deb. Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. I'm not sure why this is so hard for authors (myself included). I think it's difficult to get beyond my "art" to see my "market". I still struggle with it.