Monday, December 2, 2013

Hooks and Titles

Enchanting the reader with gentle persuasion begins with seduction. The first hook is showing our well-chosen title large enough to be read on an online display no larger than a postage stamp. The second is the hook itself. Not to be forgotten examples:

“The last camel died at Noon.” Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
“Midnight in the garden of the dead...” The Devil’s Punchbowl, Greg Isles
"I was six years old the first time I disappeared." Vanishing Acts, Jodi Picoult.

Each of these hooks is compelling, poetic and contains vivid imagery. Many good hooks evoke a double entendre. How do we do that?


Authors are singular people, not given to social frenzy, so the cocktail party approach: “Hey I’m writing a book and I’m looking for a word for…?” won’t provide a likely source. We writers are more inclined to draw gems from our inner places.

Brainstorm yourself. Play devil’s advocate to your own title selections—rapid fire. It won’t matter that the losers drop to the floor, Out of the ashes will come your perfect hook or title.

When I was asked to come up with a hooky title for my recent “How I became a writer…” on Linda Rettstatt’s blog, I remembered how much time I’d spent in the slush pile before landing in a bookstore with my romantic suspense, Mortal Coil, “Slush to Mush” came to mind.

Cutline editors for books and cartoons or magazine covers go through the same creative process. A recent example in graphic art would be Chris Christy’s silhouette appearing on the cover of Time, entitled, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. Those who felt that was an insult have forgotten the reference to having an unspeakable secret or concern in the family and not talking about it for fear of giving it credence. Time’s cut line/title was a brilliant, double entendre: “always there, always a factor”. If we don’t talk about the New Jersey governor and his influences and his example of plain speaking, might he go away? He’s not just fat; he’s bigger than life and threatens the lackluster candidates, who might be more qualified but pale, overshadowed by his presence. (This is not a political observation but an example of Time’s clever imagery.)

Speaking of picking titles, I was thinking about all my favorite recipes. If I were to collect them, what would I call that tome?

Seventy-seven Deadly Dishes
Dinners to Die For
The Complete Collection of Cholesterol Cuisine
Killer Quiche
Rogue Range…

For the writer, there are no wasted words. The cardinal sin is to waste our readers’ time. Our finished products must sparkle from Title, to Hook, through Chapter One to The End. We must deliver, but first we must draw them in with a good hook.

Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and the 2011 Book of the Year, Kill Fee, and sequel, Medium Rare. Daughters of the Sea is available from MuseItUp Publishing in e-book or paperback. Watch for Morning After Midnight, coming in January. Visit Julie’s Web site at


Marsha said...

Great post. Good reminder about that first line!

Big Mike said...

Always try to do the same thing with my tag lines, e.g. leave them asking, "what the heck does that mean?"

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)