The first topic of discussion I’d like to tackle regarding book proposal writing is what’s called the “subject hook” or “book hook.” Like the opening lines of a magazine article or book, your subject hook should hook, or draw your reader–in this case, an editor or agent–into your proposal.  The subject hook is crucial to your chances of even having your proposal read, so don’t take it lightly. It’s worth the time spent to revise–again and again.

The subject hook will be found in your proposal’s introduction. The introduction will be the very first thing that the editor will read, so it needs to be strong in its entirety. In the into, you will prove to the editor that your book has focus, that it has sound organization–or plot, in the case of fiction, that it has an audience who will buy it, and that you are the one–the only one–to write it.

If you can’t sell the editor on these different aspects within your first few paragraphs, there will be no reason for him to continue reading. The subject hook is your very mechanism for pulling the editor into your opening paragraphs.

Let’s look at the components of a good subject hook:

1) Ideally located within the first two paragraphs of your introduction. Sometimes you may need to provide your reader with necessary information leading up to your hook, in which case it couldn’t be one of your first two sentences. Don’t bury it too deep, though. Remember, you’re relying on it to pull your reader into your proposal. Too much background info and you’ll lose the interest of your reader (just like in a poorly written novel).

2) Can take many forms–get creative! A hook can be a quote, a statistic, a question, or an anecdote–anything that will get your point across in a lively and memorable way. Try to match the form of your hook with the type of book you’re writing: anecdotes work well for humor writing, for instance, while stats and quotes might be best for a how to or research-intensive book.

For fiction, a hypothetical question may work well, depending on your story: ” ‘What would do you if you woke up in a dark alley without any recollection of how you got there?’ That’s the first mystery Susan had to solve. The second was what happened to her family.” For a fiction book hook, offer the editor a teaser to let him in on the premise of your story. Be sure to whittle it down to the bare bones of what the story is about.

3) Needs to be short. Most good book hooks are only one or two sentences long. Remember, you’ll have the rest of your introduction and your entire outline to go into depth about your book. You want to provide just enough info to get your reader interested in what you have to say. You’ll actually say it later!

4) The hook must stay focused on your book’s subject. It’s easy to wander into the territory of talking about your expertise in your subject or why your audience is going to love it, but there will be plenty of opportunities within your proposal to mention those things. For now, it’s all about the subject: What exactly is your book about?

If you can answer the question above in as few words as possible and in as creative of a way as possible, you will have a successful book hook!

Here’s a sample of a subject hook from a book proposal that sold:

How High will be the first book to describe the nine characteristics of highly resilient people and show readers how to acquire them by building on skills and attitudes they already have to achieve optimum resiliency.” (Taken from How to Write a Book Proposal, Michael Larsen.)

Preceding the book hook was a short paragraph describing what it means to be a resilient person. The hook is short and to the point, and after reading it, you know exactly what to expect from the book.

If you’re currently working on a book proposal, take a look at your subject hook. Or, if you didn’t know you had to have one, re-read your introduction and decide where one would be best placed. Work on an interesting and succinct way to tell your reader what to expect from reading your book.

Now, write it again, cutting out any unnecessary words. Now, give it to someone else to read. Ask if he or she can tell you what your book will be about from reading your hook. Set it aside, and pull it out a week from now. Still like it? If not, write it again. Get it as close to perfect as you can before making it a part of your final proposal.

In my last post I discussed some tips for getting your memoir down on paper. Today I’d like to talk about how to increase your chances of getting it published.

First, I’d like to say that these tips can apply to either self-publishing or mainstream publishing. In many aspects, the rules of the game are the same. Even though you don’t have to beg and fight for a publisher to get your work into print if you self-publish, either way you’ll find yourself doing the majority of the publicity for your book.

1. Find your book’s unique hook . This is similar to determining how to differentiate your memoir from all the others that have your same theme as you’re endeavoring to write your book. But when it comes to presenting your memoir to a publisher or marketing it after it’s published, it’s essential that you are able to pinpoint how and why your book is different from your competition. Otherwise, you have no way of making it stand out on the shelves or on the pages of Amazon.com. Again, find the unique angle your book has, and market toward that. Make sure your potential audience knows exactly why your book is different–and better–than the others as they read the back cover.

2. Make sure it has universal appeal. While on one hand your memoir needs to have a fresh, unique angle and hook, at the same time it must contain a universal theme. If your story is so different that only 1% of the population could relate to it, publishers will know that sales will be slim. Here the key is to hone in on how your unique story can be made to appeal to a variety of readers.

If you’re having a hard time locating its universal theme, keep backing up from your story to determine how best to generalize it. When you boil your story down, what is it really about–what’s the root? Is it a divorce story? Is it a get-rich-quick story? Ask yourself what underlying currents are in your story that a majority of people can relate to. Then, make sure this comes through in your proposal, or in your book’s marketing material, if you’re self-publishing.

3. Plan ahead for a platform. An author’s platform is the buzzword in book marketing nowadays. Because memoirs are personal stories, unless your readers already know you (or of you), who would be interested in hearing your story? It’s your job to create a buzz not only for your book but also for yourself. You do this by establishing a platform for yourself (and therefore your book) long before the book gets published.

You can do this through websites, blogs, writing articles about your topic, or having speaking engagements. The more people you can get in front of on a regular basis who represent your target audience, the better chances you have of catching a publisher’s attention. But platforms don’t magically materialize overnight. It takes time to build a platform for yourself, so start early!

4. Get objective critiques. No matter what you write, you should always have it go through a critiquing process. I believe memoirs should be subjected to even more rigorous critiquing than other work. Because you are so up-close and personal with your memoir, it can be very difficult to look at it objectively. As writers, we tend to see what we want to see–especially when the story is about us! Many people who write a memoir will show it to their family and friends to get their opinion. This is fine, but definitely don’t stop there. Because they know you, they’ll be as subjective as you are!

Take your memoir to people who don’t know your personal story. Find out if you really have a story to share. Make sure it’s interesting to those who don’t know you. And determine if you’ve done a good job at telling your story. Only then will you know if it has any potential with publishers; or, if you’re self-publishing, if people will actually buy it.