A Surefire Hook

This is an exercise I invented the other day when I should’ve been working on my novel. I tried to come up with a list of surefire hooks, subjects that have an irresistible appeal to a vast number of readers. A novel that incorporates one or more of these hooks, I thought, is sure to attract some interest, even if it’s a terrible book. I used gut instinct alone to compose the list. Some subjects just seem to be universally popular.

The first hook on my list is Albert Einstein. I thought of this one because my first novel, Final Theory, was about Einstein, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the book sold fairly well. Who doesn’t like Einstein? Well, the Nazis didn’t like him, and neither did J. Edgar Hoover, but other than that, the guy has pretty widespread appeal.

The second hook is Marilyn Monroe. I’m surprised more books haven’t been written about her. Yes, her appeal was mainly visual, but her story was also pretty interesting. And she was a good actress too, at least in some of her movies. I thought about adding Elizabeth Taylor to the list — she was an even better actress — but I’m not sure her appeal is as deep and wide. Would just about anyone want to read about her?

Two U.S. presidents made my list: JFK and Lincoln. Everyone loves those two. Look at the popularity of the recent Stephen King book (11/22/63) and the Steven Spielberg movie. President Washington seems harder to warm up to. The audiences for FDR and Teddy are a little narrower too, I think.

Even in this secular age, the Bible is still a damn good hook. If you can work Jesus into your fiction, God bless you.

War can also be a good hook, but it really depends on which conflict you choose. The Civil War has the most appeal, I think, followed by World War II. I love books about the Vietnam War, especially Tim O’Brien’s novels and short stories, but I think they have more of a niche readership.

Babe Ruth also made my list. My favorite part of Dennis Lehane’s novel, The Given Day, was his fictionalized Bambino. And at the last minute I added Elvis to the list. I know at least three novels with the title Heartbreak Hotel.

It was a fun exercise, but then I ran out of steam. (And I had to get back to writing my novel.) Please feel free to add to the list or tear it up, as you see fit.

8 thoughts on “A Surefire Hook

  1. I believe that most of my sales of SEAsoned were because there was a yacht on the cover. The hook came long before the first paragraph.

    I hope your list rings true as my next WIP deals with JFK’s shooting and what would happen if a family member today suspected dad was the second shooter.

    Hooks seem to come and go in popularity (like vampires). It seems like treasure hunters was big for awhile than waned, same with conspiracy theories. The challenge lies in finding a hook that will interest you the writer as long as the reader so if you choose Marilyn Monroe to write about, you better like her enough to spend 575 hours with her.

  2. Marilyn Monroe makes an appearance in my next Irish Jimmy Gallagher fight story. Nice to know I picked the right cameo. Maybe she should get in a cab with Einstein.

  3. Or maybe we just use actual hooks, with barbs. People pick up a book, it gouges their flesh, they can’t put it down because it’s too painful to pull the hook from the flesh and no on likes to cry out in public, and now since they’ve got blood on it they have to buy it.

    Just check with me… marketing guru here.

  4. There’s nothing wrong about including a dog.

    Another sure-fire winner is to have about four or five Rotties come running around the corner and chase the bad guys. Everyone likes that.

    I have a Pressa Canario and some big sidewinders in my work in progress. That’s just in case I sell the film rights.

  5. What about plot hooks rather than character? The “Jane Everygirl finds out she has special powers” is a very popular hook from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games to 50 Shades of Grey.

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