Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA. Kelly gives each client personal attention, including editing. She’s in the top 10 of the Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, a two-time nominee and this years winner for the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” Award, and her agency is Romance Writers of America recognized. Kelly is also President and CEO of Underdog Press.


In case you’re behind on the happenin’ lingo, that phrase means “awesome”! And if you wanna to be an awesome full-time writer (who can afford to eat), you’d better learn what a “hook” is, and when to use one.

Hook: anything that catches; snares; traps. Something that attracts attention or serves as an enticement.

A snare. A trap. Attention. Enticement. Aren't those words ya want people to think about when reading your story? (If you have even half a brain, the answer is yes.) Okay, so when do ya use a hook?

Your first sentence. Yep, your first sentence should be your first hook. I know an editor who’ll read the opening line of a submission, and if it doesn't grab her, file 13 grabs the submission. (Said editor’s name shall remain in the vault, as no one can bribe me to divulge. Pammer, put away those Trader Joe’s Lowfat Cheespuffs right now!) Yeah, so that editor is an extreme case. Regardless, hooks are a vital tool to get a reader interested, and then keep them reading.

Here’s an example of an opener without a hook: Jackie McCall looked at the blue sky. Yawn! Do we care why Jackie is looking at the sky? I don’t. (Nothing personal, Jackie.) We know what color the sky is. Even the choice of color word is boring. Blue? You know how many hues of blue there are? Neither do I, but there’s plenty. You get my point. That sentence has no interesting components. (Yes, I wrote it, but I wrote a boring sentence on purpose. I struggled, but finally came up with something ho-hum.)

Let’s try harder, shall we? How about: Veronica Hayden awoke with a smile on her face and a loaded gun under her pillow. This sentence provokes questions we want answers to. Why is Veronica smiling? Because she has a loaded gun under her pillow? Why does she need a firearm? Is she in danger, and will having a weapon “ready to go” give her a sense of security? (Yes, I wrote that sentence as well, but I cheated. It’s the first line of the romantic suspense I was writing when I switched to agenting. Sorry to deprive all you readers of my brilliant prose, but I had a higher calling. Sending out tons of rejection letters is sooo rewarding . . .) My point is, a reader is more likely to continue reading if you give them a reason to.

Personally, even if your opener doesn't prod me to continue, my conscience does. (Anyone out there know how to get rid of a conscience?) So, on we go. Where else is a hook imperative? The last line of your chapter.

We’ve all been in bed with a good book. (Ofttimes better company than a bad man, unless the bad man is Colin Farrell. Sorry, lost my train of thought for a moment.) Okay, so you’ve read to the end of a chapter and thought, “This is a good place to stop.” You stick a bookmark in the pages, toss the book on

the nightstand, flip off the light, and drift into blessed slumber. NO! NO! NO! Bad writer! Bad! (If I saw that punctuation in a submission, I’d tell the writer they were overusing exclamation points, but, hey, I can do what I want. Oh, the power . . .)

A writer wants a reader to be half-asleep and still haveta turn the page to start the next chapter. You want your reader to jar awake because your book fell out of their hands and thumped to the floor.

Let’s revisit Jackie and the last line of one of her chapters: Jackie walked into her house, threw her purse on the table, sat in front of the TV, and thought, I had a great day! That’s a great place to stop. The writer listed everything necessary for the reader to grasp the setting, we know Jackie’s day is over and what kind of a day she had. All wrapped up, neat and tidy. NO! NO! NO! Jackie’s day ended, and so did the action. Why would the reader want to turn the page?

Let’s give the last line of one of my “real” chapters a shot: Oh, God—I’m going to die. A moment of suspense occurred before this line, but even standing alone you can see the difference from the line above. Is this person really going to die? Why does she think she’s gonna die? Aren't ya “dying” to know? (Sorry, couldn't help it.) Do you care about the TV, or her handbag? (Well, if she’s toting one of the custom bags I design . . . sorry.)

Is using a hook anywhere else all-important? (Yeah, when I’m onstage doin’ anything. Ya gotta force me off.) How about a cliffhanger ending that leads a reader to wait impatiently until the next book in the series comes out? If the book isn’t part of a series, how about a line that completes the story in such a satisfying way, the reader has to read your next book, no matter who the characters are? The reader troops into Barnes & Noble and demands the latest Kelly Mort—ah, the newest Nora Roberts novel. Doesn't matter what the title is, she wants the author. That’s the pinnacle of success.

Now all you writers sit, throw your mind junk outta the trunk, and dream that author is you.

Did I hook ya?

Kelly Mortimer