Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No Hook? Only One of the Top 10 Reasons for Rejection.

Five Scribe Readers, I learn so much from Lois Winston.  An industry professional, she graciously shares all she's learned.  She's blogged with Five Scribes about The Top 10 Reasons a Manuscript is Rejected.  Now she's expanding upon it.  Read it and Learn...Please welcome Lois Winston once again to the Five Scribes.
As both an agent and a published author, I’ve taught online writing workshops, given presentations at conferences and to writers groups, taught continuing education courses on writing, and published countless articles on writing, including a couple on Five Scribes. Many writers have approached me over the past several years, suggesting that I publish a book on writing. I recently decided to do just that, Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected.


If that title sounds familiar to some of you, you probably read my guest post here last January 18th when I wrote about rejection. I ended the post with a list of ten reasons your manuscript is rejected. I’ve taken that list and expanded it into chapters for my book. Today I’d like to discuss one of those reasons for rejection – no opening hook.


As writers, you have a very short window of opportunity to catch an editor or agent’s eye. We read thousands of submissions each year, and if we’re not hooked within the first few pages, we don’t bother reading further. We don’t have the time or patience to plow through pages and pages of filler, back-story, needless descriptions, and weather reports in search of where your story really begins.


If that sounds blunt, it was meant to be. Publishing is a business. If you want to sell your book, you need to submit the very best book possible. Once upon a time, decades ago, editors and agents had the luxury of taking writers with raw talent and grooming them into publishable authors. That was back before publishing houses were gobbled up by corporate conglomerates where all decisions are based on the bottom line. Sadly, it’s the bean counters who rule publishing these days.


This means in order to succeed, you need to write a book that grabs the agent or editor from page one and make her want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next.


How do you do that?


Not with back-story, filler, needless descriptions, and weather reports. Open your book with narrative action and/or interesting dialogue. Plunge your reader right into the scene. If back-story is necessary, you can add it in as the story unfolds, but do it judiciously. Don’t dump huge paragraphs of back-story into your book. It trips up your pacing.



Don’t subject your readers to laundry list description of your characters or the setting. Describe only that which is essential to the plot at that moment. Leave the weather reports to Sam Champion. If the weather plays an integral role in the story, find a way to weave it into the narrative by how the characters’ react to it.

Movies often open with a panoramic camera sweep of the setting. In five seconds a viewer becomes grounded in the location of the film. As a writer, you’d have to craft several pages of prose to describe what your eye sees in a few seconds on the screen. Remember that old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s never more true when it comes to description. You don’t want to open your book with a thousand words describing your character from the color of her hair down to the color of the nail polish on her toes. You don’t want to describe the room from the drapes to the carpet to every knickknack on the shelves. You want to plunge the reader right into what’s happening. You want to make me and every other agent and editor want to become so involved in what’s happening to your character that we can’t stop turning pages to find out what happens next.


Want to learn more? Top Ten Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected is available as an ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Questions for Lois?  Comments.  Questions or comments will enter you in a drawing to win an digital download of TOP TEN REASONS YOUR NOVEL IS REJECTED. 



Nook buy link:


Apple iTunes buy link:


Smashwords buy link:


Kobo buy link:



Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Death By Killer Mop Doll was released last January. Crewel Intentions, an Anastasia Pollack Mini-Mystery, is available now. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse will be a January 2013 release.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning crafts and needlework designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at http://www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.



Marguerite Hall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marguerite Hall said...

I just bought my copy a week ago and have found it to be very informative. I think it was the first time I ever found the genres broken down in such a detailed way. When I first started writing, I asked several groups what was the difference in the mystery genre and always got the same response, "read them and get a feel for each genre." I, however, needed the black & white guidelines (although I know that rules can & will be broken). I cannot thank you enough for putting together this book!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks so much, Marguerite. One of the reasons I wrote the book was because I was once that newbie writer who knew nothing. I remember being at my first writers conference and asking what the difference was between category romance, single title romance, and mainstream. I received the same sort of reply. Not helpful at all!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Lois, welcome to Five Scribes once again. What an important topic Margurite mentioned right out of the gate. Know your genre. Also study the lines accepted by said publisher and agent.

But to have someone in your position define them: Priceless!

Kaki Warner said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing--hope you don't mind if I pass it along.

Theresa said...

Hi Lois,
Welcome to the Five Scribes! Terrific advice.

As contest coordinator for The Sandy and judge for several other writing contests, I've often wanted to make authors read advice like this before they are able to submit their work to the contest. Then I realized, for many, it's a matter of experience to be able to spot these faulty beginnings.

It's hard to evaluate one's own work. I'll specifically ask my beta readers to watch for stuff like that 'cause I KNOW that I'm often too enamored with my own story to catch things that are obvious to readers.

Can't wait to get your book!

Maddy said...

Thank you for that useful advice. As a newbie, I'm also struggling with the genres and cross-overs.

Lisa Potocar said...

Hi Lois! Thanks for caring enough about authors to write a book that helps guide us into the best position for acceptance rather than rejection. Marguerite's comment is definitely a teaser for wanting to pick up a copy of your book to see what other sage words you have on the subject of rejection. I especially appreciated your analogy of treating the opening lines of a story as a camera does a scene. I shall tape “a picture is worth a thousand words” next to my computer as a constant reminder.
Thanks, Donnell, for hosting Lois Winston.

Lois Winston said...

Happy to have you pass the link along, Kaki!

Hi, Theresa! One of the hardest parts of writing is being able to become objective about your own work.

Thanks for stopping by, Maddy. Hope the info helps you. Remember, every successful author was once a newbie in need of an education.

Thanks, Lisa. Hope you find the book helpful should you decide to buy it.

Heather said...

What a great post thank you! I KNOW I struggle those first couple of chapters making sure my readers are hooked and then making sure I keep them hooked throughout the book.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by, Heather. Realizing you struggle with something is the first step in being able to overcome the problem.

June Shaw said...

Lois, I know what you've said here and am grateful for the reminder. I just told too much in the opening scenes of my WIP and knew I was doing it. You've made me determined to go back and punch up the scene to make it the best it can be. Thanks!

Diane Kratz said...

Wonderful post. I don't have this book but will get it. I belong to a couple of critique groups, and have to critique others work. For me this is hard. I don't like hurting others feelings, so I don't feel like a give a very good critique.

What would you look for when you critique another's work? Can you name some things for me? Please...

I know the first 3 chapters should sparkle, and to look for dialogue and ending hooks, anything else?

Thanks in advance,
Diane Kratz

Lois Winston said...

Diane, one of the things I look for is a voice that really captures me. Many writers achieve technically perfect manuscripts, but if the voice of the author doesn't grab my attention, it doesn't matter how perfect the writing is.

If you do buy my book, you'll find many other suggestions that should help you critique others.

Remember, if you tell someone their work is wonderful when it's not, merely to spare their feelings, you're really not doing them any good. In many ways you do them harm. Writers need to know what works and what doesn't work in order to produce a manuscript that has a chance of selling.

Lois Winston said...

Glad I was able to reinforce what you already knew, June! :-)

Mary Marvella said...

Lois, I think I have a spot on my "book shelf" for this book!

Lois Winston said...

That would be lovely, Mary. Thank you so much!

E. F. Watkins said...

I'm reading a book now that I picked up for free at the newspaper (a discarded review copy). It's a novel by an author who shall remain nameless, but she's had a couple of major adult best-sellers. This is a YA book set in the 1960s, when I imagine she was growing up. I started it with interest and am continuing because she's a good writer, but I'm amazed it got published because it has virtually no plot. Nor is it really "literary." The cover-flap copy suggested a kind of hook, but that conflict hasn't really appeared much in the story. I'm sure the book was just put out because of the success of her adult novels. I guess my point is, I really miss that "hook"!

Lois Winston said...

Eileen, often in publishing it's more about who you are than what you've written. One of the major complaints I hear from readers of series books is that after a certain number are published and the author has gained a huge amount of success, the books all start to read the same. Only the names and places change. But big names are usually a guarantee of huge sales, so the publishers will publish anything with the author's name on it.

Cheryl said...

"Start with the action" - that's what I've been taught, and it's been a useful piece of advise. Grab the reader and pull them into the rest of the story. The backstory and setting can wait until after you have their attention.
Thanks for writing this must needed book.

Lois Winston said...

That's exactly what I keep telling writers, Cheryl! Thanks for stopping by.