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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Writing a "hook" - unsolicited advice from a not-yet published author

Researchers have said that people make decisions about a website in less that three seconds. That’s all you get for making a good virtual first impression. Publishers are only slightly more generous: they want their authors to hook an audience in about two sentences. (Now, if I have trouble saying my name in two sentences, who thinks I can actually condense my 60,000+ word book into 23 words?)

Despite my objections, developing a “hook” is a good exercise when you want to write a non-fiction book – as necessary (and hateful) as outlining. In fact, if you want to you pitch your proposal to a publisher, this “hook” is something they are explicitly looking for. They want to see how fast you can rope your subject and tie its legs.

It may feel impossible to do this - (book topics are as wily as young calves) - but it’s important because people will inevitably ask, What’s your book about? They want the Reader’s Digest version, not an extended essay.

I’ll admit that I’m still working on my “hook,” maybe because my topic is a bit more unusual. If I were to say I’m writing about motherhood, gardening, or the American expat experience in Canada, you’d pretty quickly catch my drift. But when I say that I’m writing a theological book about the importance of desire for the life of faith, people usually have one of three reactions:

  1. Huh?
  2. You mean sex?
  3. Are you talking about buying things?


I understand Person A’s response. If you’re not a person of faith, you probably don’t see any apparent contradiction between the terms devotion and desire. Or, if you grew up in churches like I did, you’ve heard truisms like this one: “God’s Word says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Obedience. Period. (Desire? Who cares. . .)

Really? I want to push that envelope.

Maybe it’s because obedience hasn’t always been that easy for me. (Nor for the Apostle Paul for that matter – see Romans 7). Our struggles may qualify both of us as really miserable Christians who kick and scream to do what God asks. It also may mean that we are human and that surrender is a process.

I don’t think obedience means numbly accepting God’s will, no questions asked. In fact, I think desire (and reflecting on our own will) is enormously important in a life of faith. Granted, we often want what is contrary to God’s will, and this something I intend to surface. But I think also think spiritual transformation is measured by a growing willingness to worship and obey Christ: not just that we do what God asks but that we learn to like it. In fact, the truest test of transformation is the extent to which our hearts are inclined toward a desire for God and for the things of God and enlarged with a greater capacity to love. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are profoundly simple: Love God. Love your neighbor.

I think this puts desire somewhere on the map of faith.

Where exactly? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

As of yet, I still haven't given you my two sentence (26 word) hook. Here's where it stands now. Let me say it this way.

Desire and devotion belong together in the life of faith. Just as the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” I ask, “Teach us to want.”

**Disclaimer: Anyone working on the not-yet complete draft of her first book has no business giving writing advice.