Story Hook Examples: The Best Way to Get Readers to Read

The word “hook” is used a lot in the literary world. Unfortunately, this can complicate things quite a bit. Especially because there are two kinds of hooks that people discuss when talking about books. There’s the type of hook that’s best used in marketing your book, and there’s one that’s used at the very beginning of your book to pull the reader into your story. 

By the end of this article, you’ll know all about both types of hooks. And, if I’ve done my job, you’ll know how to craft both types effectively. 

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What a “tagline” hook is.
  2. What a story hook is.
  3. Examples of each type of hook.
  4. Tips for writing your hooks.

What Are the Two Types of Hooks?

When people in the publishing industry talk about a “hook,” they could be talking about two different things. There's the tagline hook, which is essentially a one-to-three-sentence blub about the book. It's not a synopsis because it doesn't include any spoilers. The point is to “hook” potential readers (or publishers) and make them want to learn more about the book (or buy it). This is sometimes called the elevator pitch or simply the tagline. 

The other type of hook serves a similar purpose, but it's found on the first page of the book. It's the very first thing readers see in the story. The hook is there to engage the reader and make them want to continue reading. This can be a single line, two sentences, a paragraph, or an entire opening scene. 

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Now that you know about the two different kinds of hooks, let's dive into some examples before we get to tips on crafting your hooks. 

Tagline Hook Examples

Here are some “tagline” hook examples from different books. They're all short, somewhat vague, and designed to be intriguing. 

1. All the Sinners Bleed by S. A. Cosby

“A Black sheriff. A serial killer. A small town ready to combust.”

2. Cross Down by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

“Alex Cross is gravely injured. Only his partner and friend John Sampson can keep him safe . . . and get justice.”

3. Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

“Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders from New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Yarros.”

4. The Diviners by Libba Bray

“Something dark and evil has awakened…”

5. Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

“Hiding her own dark past in plain sight, a TV reporter is determined to uncover the truth behind a gruesome murder decades after the investigation was abandoned. But TWENTY YEARS LATER, to understand the present, you need to listen to the past…”

Tagline Hooks Explained

You'll often see these kinds of hooks displayed on a book's detail page on Amazon or even on the book itself in hardcover or paperback form. Most often, you'll see them directly above the book blurb, although sometimes they will be at the end of the blurb and include a call to action. 

You may notice a quotation hook on many book pages (or covers). These quotes are designed to do the same thing, but they have the added benefit of social proof and credibility–particularly if the quote is from a big-name author. 

These types of hooks are designed to pull the reader in and get them to open the book, or perhaps click on the “Look Inside” feature to read the first page–where the other hook takes over. 

How to Craft a Tagline Hook

You have several options for crafting tagline hooks. Plus, there are some great ways to test them to see which one resonates with people the most. 

Tip 1: See What Other Authors Are Doing

One great way to get inspiration for your tagline is by perusing books by other successful authors in your genre. Copy and paste the taglines you like into a document to use as inspiration. (Obviously don't use anyone else's tagline as your own.) I'd suggest getting fifteen or more. This will give you a good idea of what's working for authors who write books like yours. 

Tip 2: Search Reviews

For further tagline hook inspiration, look at your book's positive reviews. Your readers are a great source for this because they naturally use language that's likely to resonate with other readers. A look at your four and five-star reviews could also net you a few quotes you could use in your book marketing

If your book isn’t out yet, you can still study the reviews of similar books by other authors. The language reviewers use can really help to inform your tagline.

Tip 3: Get to Writing

It can be tempting to just bang out a tagline that's “good enough” and then get back to working on your current book. However, I suggest you set aside an hour or more with the express purpose of writing at least a dozen potential tagline hooks for your book. This is where reader reviews and inspirational taglines from other authors come in handy. 

Try a few different structures: one-, two-, and three-sentence hooks. You generally don't want your tagline hook to be more than three (short) sentences.

Tip 4: Test Your Taglines

Out of your dozen or more options, choose four or five that you think are the best. There are a few ways to test these. 

You can poll your email list about which they like best. You can ask your author friends or even family members. Or you can use them in Facebook ads. (Or you can do all three!)

If you have a little bit of money to spend, using your tagline hooks in Facebook ads can be a truly valuable experience. Whichever one gets the most clicks, when used as the first part of the Primary Text on your ad, can tell you which one is best to put on your book page. 

Now, let's discuss story hooks. 

Story Hook Examples

Once the reader's curiosity has been piqued by the “tagline” hook, they'll probably open the book or do the digital equivalent. This is where a strong story hook can seal the deal and get the reader to purchase the book. 

So, let's look at some examples of strong story hooks. 

As you read through these, think about what each hook does in terms of grabbing your attention, adding intrigue, and hinting at character. 

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

2. Die Trying by Lee Child

“Nathan Rubin died because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing that wins you a medal in a war, but the split-second kind of blurting outrage that gets you killed on the street.”

3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

4. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.”

5. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

“There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me – not forever, but periodically.”

6. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

8. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

9. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

“Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

10. Cell by Stephen King

“The event that came to be known as The Pulse began at 3:03 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on the afternoon of October 1.”

Story Hooks Explained

Hopefully you can see why the story hooks above are engaging. Of course, there's no such thing as the perfect hook that will bring you all the readers. The goal of a hook should be to grab as many readers in your genre as possible. 

But given the differences in reader preference, you would go crazy trying to craft a hook that would appeal to everyone

And focusing too much on the hook would also be a mistake. It is merely a tool—a very important tool, but still a tool. After all, you can have the most effective hook possible, but if it's not followed by a good, well-edited story with engaging characters, then the reader won't make it through the book. 

And as indie authors, our bread and butter is read-through and reader loyalty. 

So how do you craft a good story hook? I’ve included five tips below to get you started. 

How to Craft a Story Hook

The manner in which you craft the narrative hook will depend on several factors, not the least of which is genre. And there's more than one way to grab the reader's attention.

Tip 1: Present High Stakes

You may have noticed that the first three narrative hook examples shared above have to do with death. There's a good reason for this. Death creates an engaging hook. It's one of the three major stakes that pretty much all novels are about, when you get right down to it: external, internal, and philosophical. Death is a clear external stake. 

But death is just one example of why hinting at the stakes to come is a great way to hook the reader. And the best part? The stakes don't have to do directly with your main character. In fact, the book mentioned above, Die Trying by Lee Child, starts with the death of a very minor character when he has a run-in with some minor bad guys. This is enough. 

So don't be afraid to put your best foot forward and address what’s at stake (or at least hint at it) in the first paragraph of your novel

Tip 2: Use Your Voice

Your author voice is unique. Even if you're still working to develop that voice, perfecting it with each novel or short story, you can bet it's unique. And you can use it to create an engaging hook. 

One thing that several of the hook examples above do is present a strong voice from the start. Most of them do this in addition to presenting high stakes and/or one of the other tips mentioned below. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket does this very well, warning the reader by mentioning that there is no happy ending to the story, and doing so in a strong voice. 

The Fifth Season by M.K. Jemisin also does this well in just two sentences, dismissing the end of the world as uninteresting.

Tip 3: Start in the Middle

You've probably heard this writing advice before, and it's essential for crafting a strong hook. Sometimes, we worry about setting things up for the reader, giving them backstory and exposition so that they'll be better prepared when things start to go wrong for the characters. 

In most cases, this is a mistake. Hook writing is all about drawing the reader in, and you can't do that if you're bombarding them with backstory while nothing is happening in the story's present.

Take the hook example from The Secret History by Donna Tartt: 

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” 

What if she started before Bunny died, while the snow was still falling and there were still weeks to go before they realized the gravity of their situation? This would put the story in danger of getting bogged down in details. But as it is, we have a dead character and a bad situation. She's “starting in the middle” with her great hook. 

Tip 4: Use Humor

If it's appropriate for your genre, humor can make for a strong hook. If you can make the reader laugh with your first sentence, paragraph, or page, then you've got the reader's attention. 

The hook example from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams is an excellent illustration of this:

“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

This kind of irreverent humor is one reason why the Hitchhiker's Guide series is so wildly popular. This hook also has a strong voice, which definitely helps. 

Tip 5: Reel Them In

Once you have the reader's interest with the hook sentence (or scene), it's important that you keep it. This means that the hook has to have something to do with the story to follow. It's not a good idea to simply throw a scene into the beginning of your story that has nothing to do with what follows. 

For example, if I were to write a scene in which a character gets killed on the way to work one morning, it could make for a good hook. But if that character's death only served to make the protagonist late for work with no other significant consequences, my readers would probably feel cheated.

While the hook doesn't have to directly involve the protagonist, it should indirectly impact them in a significant way, at the very least. 

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It's also important to keep the pace going. You can sprinkle in exposition and backstory as you go along, but be judicious about it. Once the reader is on the line, they still could wriggle off the hook if they're bogged down with pages and pages of backstory or character history directly after the hook. 

Only give the amount of backstory that is absolutely necessary to keep the story moving. 

Tagline and Narrative Hooks: Conclusion

As you can see, the two “hooks” of the literary world are indeed very different. Although not impossible, it would be unlikely for anyone to write an opening hook that could also be used verbatim as a “tagline” hook. 

And I'd even argue that you wouldn't want to. One needs to be crafted with your marketing hat on, the other with your author hat on. They take different mindsets, but as a writer, you have the skills to craft them. 

With narrative hooks, ask your beta readers for feedback. It doesn't have to be the entire book. You can just give them the first page or the first chapter and ask if they want to read more. 

With “tagline” hooks, you can do something similar by asking your email list. You can also spend a little bit of money on Facebook ads to see which one works well!

When you have these two hooks working together, you can climb the charts and build a following of fans who will look forward to every book you release.

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