The hook that sells the book

Yes. No. Maybe. What’s the hook that gets you to buy the book?

hook 2

That’s the question any author would love the answer to. As we scroll down the email from Kindle, Bookbub, The Fussy Librarian, etc, the first thing that catches our eye is the cover. Coming in at close second is the title or vice versa. Either way we know both are important.

Here are a few titles. What images do these conjure up? Would you be tempted to buy any based on the title alone? If so, which ones?

Forevermore – Tenderloin – The Baby Trap – The Brown House – Revision 7: DNA – Oenone – Waking Up Dead – Where’d You Go, Bernadette? –  Domingo’s Angel – The Palaver Tree – The Son – Phone Kitten – Legasea – Night Must Wait

As readers we can reject a book in seconds on cover and/or title. But, if either pulls us in we then take the time to read the description.

In the years that I’ve been writing and promoting my books, I’ve come to the conclusion that readers aren’t particularly interested in author interviews, or author bios, or book excerpts—at least not initially. I think readers, attracted by a cover or title want a quick book description that will entice them to download the sample.

The final decision is made after reading the first few chapters. Either the reader is irrevocably hooked and buys the book immediately or they know it’s a no go and they delete the sample. For some books, the reader may still be undecided after the sample. That’s when they likely go to the reviews, if they haven’t already read them, to help them decide.

So, if my theory is right, what constitutes a great book description? I have some ideas, but I’d like to know what readers think. What is the essential information you want in a blurb?

The blurbs below come from emails I’ve received – some from well known publishing houses. I’ve made no changes to the descriptions other than deleting author names, book titles, and character names to preserve anonymity.

  1. “In this #1 New York Times bestselling e-book, Z, an experienced foster carer, is pressured into taking Y as a new placement. Y’s challenging behavior has seen off five carers in four months but X decides to take her on to protect her from being placed in an institution.”
  2. “The sensational New York Times bestseller from X, is a gift for readers, an enchanting, luminous novel about the accidents, both big and small, that affect our choice of friend, lover, and spouse.”
  3. “X has discovered the perfect gift for her daughter’s twenty-fifty birthday: an ideal husband. Y, however, is fed up with her mother’s endless matchmaking and grading of available Iranian American bachelors.”
  4. “Z is a fast-paced mystery with a likable protagonist and an intricately woven narrative brimming with bizarre yet believable twists. The first in a series, the book expertly lays the groundwork for X, amateur sleuth, and her love interest, FBI Agent Y. X becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a summer intern at the limestone mine X manages near Z, Colorado (a breathtaking setting that unwittingly becomes an accessory to crime).”
  5. “This anthology of punchy short stories will grab your heart and your wallet and give them a good shake. The stories are set in the turbulent times of the post Global Financial Crisis world. Intriguing and at times twisted, these tales delve behind the facades of modern life to uncover the real struggles, hopes and dreams of ordinary people. Hopeful, insightful and at times humorous, Y is an engaging and thought-provoking work for our times.”
  6. “In May 2000, X is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can’t use, money he can’t spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, X begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books.”
  7. “Our world is being judged and we remain unaware. In a world filled with people, X is uniquely alone. The tiny glowing sparks filling her mind, representing the people around her, confirm it. Clueless regarding the reason behind her sight and her place in the world, X struggles to find an explanation. A chance encounter leads her closer to answers she’s struggled to find, and into a hidden society where fur is optional.”
  8. “It’s a mother’s worst nightmare: When X’s daughter suffers an unspeakable trauma, she whisks her away to a safe house where they begin the difficult journey to recovery. With over 100 five-star reviews on Amazon, a “thought-provoking and insightfully entertaining” tale.”
  9. “A USA Today bestselling author weaves a fun holiday romance with a “clever premise” (Booklist). When X finds herself catapulted to a future Christmas morning, will she be able reunite with her beloved husband and expected child?”
  10. “This deeply poignant bestseller charts the journey of two wildly different families united by their love for one young girl. As adoptee X searches for her place in the world, her relatives encounter love and loss across two continents. Written with “compassion and uncanny perception.”

I would appreciate a comment from you saying which of these, if any, would entice you to buy.

17 comments on “The hook that sells the book

  1. I like to know in a few words what the storyline of the book and dilemma of the main character is. The description should let me know what genre the book is too. I need to know if it’s a western, a romance, sci-fi, or history, etc. I haven’t been very impressed by the words, “New York Times bestseller.” Some of those books have been real garbage in spite of the “bestseller” comment.

  2. I must admit book covers attract or discourage me from looking further at the book. The title is second. If I’ve read the author and have liked their work, that can help sway me. Book jackets don’t get me to buy, but help me understand what type of book. When I write my reviews I try to keep them short, not telling the story, but give a glimpse of the conflict within the story.

  3. I think you and your commentators are dead right. Book cover and title come first, the blurb next but it had better be short and give 2 points: the genre and the central conflict. Anything else is too long…But all of that is a lot easier said than done.

    I agree that “best seller” references are irritating but they are, hum… inevitable if applicable of course. Sometimes, those books were briefly on a best seller list but didn’t stay there long, so I assume that the status is rather a variable one and indicates little about the true worth of a book! What’s more important is the hook, i.e. the type of book and conflict/challenge addressed.

    • Claude, I’ve been told that there are seminars and workshops that “teach” writers how to get their book on best seller lists by having everyone they know buy a copy on a specific date. How valid is that.

  4. The title is usually the hook for me because I grew up using the school, city, and university libraries, where the spines are the only thing exposed. So the title on the spine was what grabbed my attention. If the title got my attention, then I would read the dust jacket summary.

      • I don’t do digital books, only digital photographs. It’s still my own person library, which has over 500+ novels that I have not read yet, the city library (a branch is just a half mile from me), and the San Diego State Library (1½ miles from me).

  5. I’m with Anneli. I recently bought two paperback books with the same bold inscription on their front covers. The first few chapters of the first book bored me. I had no choice but to scan the rest of the book. The second I’ve not bothered to read. Maybe I will give it away.

    • Saying a book is a #!best seller doesn’t mean anything these days. It’s the substance of the book that counts so reading the first few chapters is best as that gives you a better idea. Only once, did I read the first few chapters and then buy the book, only to find out that it was terrible.

  6. One time I got a book from the Kingsville Public Library, started reading it, and complained to my wise old grandmother that I didn’t like it. She asked me how many pages I had read. Somewhere around ten. She said, “Keep on reading. Always finish what you start.”

    I used to pick a book by its title, then by the summary on the jacket, and then read the whole book before forming an opintion. However, Jim brings so many pre-published proofs home from Barnes & Noble that I kind of felt an obligation to read them.

    I eventually decided that if I didn’t like something, well, I was an adult, and I could decide whether or not I wanted to finish it. So now I give a book 50 pages or two chapters, whichever comes first. If I don’t like it by then, I give up on it.

    • When I was young I thought I had to finish every book I brought home from the library. Then one day, while reading a book I really disliked, I realized no one was forcing me to go on so I stopped!!

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