Taking Your Query From Good to Great: Part 3 – Hook and Internal v. External

Welcome to Part 3 of this blog series! You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Once again, I’ll be referencing these three queries.


Joy McCullough-Carranza

Rebecca Petruck

First, let’s talk about “HOOK.”

giphy (4)

No, not that Hook. *sigh*

The hook for your book. Specifically, “What makes your book different?” Because, let’s face it, the basic absolute generalities of your story? It’s been done before. So you need to let us know why your book is special. You want to boil your book down to a compelling line. Something to “hook” the reader. I saw a lot of queries that I think were trying to do this, but instead of giving me a compelling log line, they gave me a paragraph, which was more like a very brief query and then launched into the actual query. It felt like reading the same thing twice. Don’t do this.

So let’s look at how the hook is conveyed in the three queries above.

Mine is in the first line: Kate’s grandma says there are three rules for Everyday Magic: Believe, Give, Trust.  This is the hook of the book. This is what makes it different. It isn’t just about reuniting with a dad or slowly losing a grandma to Alzheimer’s, it’s about believing in this Everyday Magic that you find out later “binds families and heals hearts.”

Joy’s hook is hidden a little bit more, it isn’t the first line. (See, you don’t have to start with a log line.) It comes here:  But now Natalia gets to show Winnie around, and Winnie’s not just new—she’s also blind.  See, becoming friends with the new girl at school? That’s nothing very new or different. But…what if the new girl is blind? How will that change things? HOOK!

Rebecca’s is also a little different. She slips her hook into the paragraph where she also gives the statistics of the book. coming-of-age story set in the world of 4-H steer competitions. (I’m from Minnesota–we know cows.) It begins when eighth-graders Diggy Lawson and Wayne Schley discover they have the same father. STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is the tale of how the boys go from being related to being brothers.  So the hook here is a little bit about becoming a family. Finding out somebody is actually your half brother. Wow. But the other part of the hook is that all of this is happening against the backdrop of 4-H steer competitions. Now that’s different!

So hopefully that gives you an idea of how to work your hook into your query. Remember, if you’re going to start with a log line, make sure it really is a line, not a paragraph. Don’t briefly summarize the story and then give me the whole query over again.

Now let’s talk really quick about balancing internal and external goals and stakes in your query. The majority of your query should focus on the external parts of the story. That’s what is moving the plot along. But that doesn’t mean you can’t slip in some of the internal, and if you go back to my last post about personalizing the stakes, you’ll see basically what I’m about to tell you here.

Your query should focus on external goals and stakes, but if you paint your character in the first paragraph of your query and give us insight to what they really desire (external AND internal) then when you get to the end of the query, you can once again refer back to those internal goals/stakes. But only ALONG with the external stakes/goals. Make sense? I tend to write three paragraph queries (plus two paragraphs for personalization and bio.) So for me, the second paragraph is all about external stakes, but the first and third paragraph are where you can work some of the internal part of the story in (and you should, in my opinion. It makes it more compelling!)


Okay, hope that was helpful. Remember, if you have more things you want me to cover, just leave them in the comments or @ me on Twitter. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about personalizing a query letter and writing the bio. 🙂

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