Toolbox 10: To Hook is to Engage

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


As writers, we’ve all read about hooking our readers. It starts by grabbing their attention with cover art, and book blurbs. Then piquing their interest with the first sentence and sealing the deal with each following chapter.

Hooking readers is not a magic trick

It’s industry lingo for connecting with other people.

We read about hinting at what’s to come. Or weaving a sampler of our abilities into our first chapter, offering a taste of our style and voice. It’s suggested that we create characters that are likable or at least relatable. Drop readers into the action and not into mid conversation. Forget about description if it’s more than a paragraph. No info dumps. No backstories. No lengthy explanations.

All these rules we stress over make it clear: there’s no sure recipe.

Consider this

People naturally connect through sharing. They gather over meals, call, or texted. Verbal or written words spouting about the latest happening. What’s exciting?

Finding love at any age is thrilling. Someone driving another crazy, even in a good way, is worth seeking a sounding board. What about dreams, regrets, and everything in between? Most of us don’t try to keep it quiet.

Unless it’s a secret, all of us need to share. Besides a few good manners, we have no rules on reaching out. One advantage remains however, when face to face, we can see if we’ve engaged our listener.


A spark in our chests burns bright with anticipation. Our eyes shine and our breath catches in our throat. This feeling… this rush hits us when we have something exciting to share.

Engagement happens everywhere. It’s being done right now over a backyard fence, or at the grocery store among the breakfast cereal. Gossip spreads for a reason. Curiosity draws people together in masses.

And writers? What do they have?

a story to tell

Some of us write details that spin a story into a comedy of errors. Others express a volcanic venting, or heart pounding encounters. All stories, personal or otherwise, come from the same place. We forget sometimes because our stories take a while to get right. We want to perfect them. And as we work, our enthusiasm may slip.

They don’t seem new and fresh because we’ve reread them twenty-thirty times. We’re human and humans get tired.

But never forget

If the public is able to entertain over a coffee cup, we have no excuse. Before you release your work, make sure the reason you began the project is still thriving within its pages and each carefully chosen word shines as bright as your eyes.

When polishing your early chapters, what do you focus on? I’m dying to hear.

More on the subject:

A quick note: I’ve reached out to the Nelson Police Department and they promised to bet back to me. The communication has begun. Yay, me. “\o/”

56 responses to “Toolbox 10: To Hook is to Engage

  1. spunkonastick

    With my earlier chapters, I’m trying to bring out the flow that happens in later chapters. I think a lot of us stumble around those first few chapters, trying to find the hook and the rhythm.

  2. I’m so glad that you decided to reach out again. Sometimes we have to just vent, and when we do, we find the courage to go at it again. Believe me, I vent a lot in private and then pick myself up and start again.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

  3. I’m glad you got in touch with the police department, and they acknowledged you! First contact is set! Yay!

    As I’m editing my memoir, and need to cut thousands of words, I leave in the chapters and sections that still have me excited (and in suspension, despite knowing the outcome), and I find ways to cut the other, more boring ones. Every section and story adds to the book in a certain way, though. So, while all this sounds like common sense, I’m still having a hard time hacking away at it.

    My perfect memoir has the reader hanging at the end of every chapter and has them devour what follows. Writing in a compelling way (or letting the true life stories do this), remains the trick!

  4. Enjoyed this thoughtful post. I’ve always balked at the term hooking a reader. In my mind, I picture a fish hook, a very painful and deadly object. How about grabbing a reader? Um, I guess grabbing could hurt too. Inviting a reader? I don’t know. But capturing their attention with the right words from the start is sometimes painful for a writer!! I think a unique circumstance gets my attention as a reader. So no ho-hum beginnings, but something intriguing, dangerous, funny should do the trick.
    JQ Rose

  5. I try to find the character depth and emotion of the story and I want to carry it throughout.

  6. Great post! I think that as writers, sometimes we get so wrapped up in the rules and mechanics of writing that we forget to just tell the story. And yes, yay you! on reaching out to the P.D.

  7. That’s great news! I think for me, a really great first line in a chapter keeps the fire burning and the pages turning. I want to know more. πŸ™‚

  8. Pulling readers in is definitely important, though recently I’ve read more than one story that excelled at baiting the audience, but struggled with a proper payoff. Once the reader’s hooked, one must not disappoint.
    And, eventually (unless the story is very short), everyone needs a break, and I think it’s good to include a few natural stopping points as well, so that audiences don’t find themselves rushing through, only to find that they’ve stayed up way too late, or can’t read at all, for fear of putting the book down only to realize their alarm is about to go off.

  9. Yea about the Nelson Police Department! When writing/revising my first chapters, all those “rules” you mentioned are in my head, and they’re nagging at me, and I’m always worrying that they’re impeding my creativity, making my story more stilted than it should be. I think I needed the reminder that being engaging doesn’t always mean following the rules. A lot of authors don’t follow them, and they do quite well. It’s a balance?

  10. This is a great post. Sometimes, writers are in such a hurry to tell the reader the whole story that suspense goes out the window. We don’t need to know what that girl was wearing. Or the detailed backstory of how she got that pygmy goat. Or what winter looks like on the windswept hills.

    The art of suspense is as much about what you don’t say. An agent I know described it like this–he wants a story that makes him lean forward and say, “And then? And then?”

  11. Great tips. I usually let the rules — erm, guidelines — tag along when I revise.

  12. I think this is so, so true – “…make sure the reason you began the project is still thriving within its pages…”

  13. Louise@DragonspireUK

    I tend to think really hard about where I start my first chapter and those all important first lines. I originally started out writing from one characters point of view, but I’m going to change it around because there would be more action from another characters perspective!

  14. Loni Townsend

    I used to be a terrible infodumper, but I’ve gotten a lot better an paring back the details to only those that spark interest. But I find what hooks me is the author’s voice and usually a curious situation.

  15. I do like to start my stories when the action is starting or about to start. πŸ˜‰ I do that because I like and prefer it as a reader.

  16. Good post. Getting readers hooked early is key. I try to put an element of suspense or mystery in the first chapter without disclosing what’s to come. I also try to introduce characters early through dialogue and their actions.

  17. Writing a good hook often feels like catching smoke. Thanks for sharing your insight

  18. In my first few chapters, I’m trying to introduce the case as well as make the characters relatable. I write urban fantasy/crime stories, so I’m trying to set up the case while gently introducing them to my world. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I’ve often heard it said by agents and editors that they won’t read past your first page if you don’t hook them–you have to come in strong with your best work! That doesn’t necessarily mean kicking down the door, but it does mean bringing something interesting and making the reader want to know more.

  20. Victoria Marie Lees

    As you’ve said, Anna, there are so many ways in which to hook the reader. The trick is to keep them reading. And that’s the difficult part. You offer great advice here. Megan is right. Unfortunately, if we don’t begin with a bang, no one will read further to see how good the story gets. Thanks for sharing this!

  21. I think I write to connect so your post this month is very dear to me. I can’t really think of anything to say because you have already said it so well. Thanks so much for sharing, and yay you for reaching out again and succeeding!

    • I forced myself to reach out because of the wonderful comments. They were so supportive that the fear went away. I’m so lucky to have all of you. πŸ™‚

  22. In my early chapters I review to ensure the protagonist has a clear goal and that I’ve given the reader just enough information about the character to understand what’s happening but not be overwhelmed. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  23. Great post, Anna! Engaging the reader seems to be the holy grail for authors, but I think you’re right: there’s no fail-safe, cookie-cutter recipe… At least not one that works for everyone. Maybe a bit has to do with finding the right audienceβ€”and that in itself is a whole ‘nother story, isn’t it?

    Thanks so much for the visit over at Michelle’s Writer-in-Transit on IWSG day for my bit on nonfiction, and for the encouragement. Hope the month is going fabulous for you so far!
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

  24. The characters need to matter. The story has to be important. We need to keep to reader in mind constantly when writing. We have to grab them early, make them curious and do whatever it takes for them to turn the page.

    Speaking of first page, that’s huge. That is our one big chance of catching them and holding them to the end.

    I read a lot and I’m constantly asking myself why one book held my attention while the other didn’t. A lot of it comes down to excellent writing and that is something I work hard to do. I’m not there yet, but hopefully some day.

    Great content. Thanks!!!

  25. I had been thinking about revising the first chapter of book 1 and I think this shows I need to do it. Thank you.

  26. A good hook is so important. These days, I tend to put books down after a few pages if I’m not hooked in right away.

    Yay that the police department got back to you πŸ™‚

  27. Its good to at times follow the rules but then they are there to break them as well!

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