Every line of a query letter is crucial, but the hook is the first part of the query that an editor will read, making it the most important. Most readers tend to move on to something more interesting if the first few lines of an article don't grab their attention. It only makes sense—and is plainly obvious--that an editor won't finish your query letter if you fail to grab his or her attention from the start. Much like the “mission statement” of a job resume, the hook of a query letter is your chance to yank the editor in and then use your writing skill to discuss succinctly how exactly your article is relevant, engaging, and interesting to the publication’s readership.
You can employ a proven hook when writing your next query letter. Each hook comes with its own context and set of benefits. I have listed the five recognizable hooks below, along with tips on when and how to use them.
1. The Problem/Solution Hook
This hook shows the editor that your article provides a valuable solution to a problem relevant to the publication’s readers. By explaining the problem and its impact on potential readers, you lay the groundwork to prove your article's relevance. The second half of this hook, the solution, strongly highlights that relevance. By the end of your hook, you should have convinced the editor that your chosen topic truly affects readers, and that your article provides a definite solution for which readers will be grateful.
Here is an example of the problem/solution hook:
It could happen suddenly, at any time, all it takes is a slip on the bathroom floor. You might think it wasn't too bad but painful enough to have it checked. At the hospital you find out you've broken your wrist, then you find out why….
Osteoporosis is common; all too common. It is estimated that 25%-30% of all women will break or fracture a bone because of osteoporosis, and by the age of 75, 50% of women have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis does not need to be a consequence of aging, however. It is largely a preventable disease. So how you keep the bone thief at bay?
Research has shown that keeping healthy bones depends more on preventing calcium loss than on increasing calcium intake, in fact, eating too much calcium in the absence of other nutrients may actually lead to osteoporosis.
2. The Informative Hook
The informative hook starts with a few slices of interesting and unusual information, then leads into the rest of the query letter by explaining why that information is relevant to readers. Editors respond well to this type of hook because it enables them to present fresh and unique information to their readers. When you begin your hook with a fact or statistic that goes against conventional wisdom, you're more likely to pique the editor's curiosity and get him or her to read the rest of your query for further explanation.
Here is an example of the informative hook:
Toe walking is very common among children with special needs, particularly those with autism, sensory integration issues, and cerebral palsy. (1-7 per 1,000 for CP) It is also one of the more misdiagnosed conditions for children without cerebral palsy, with doctors telling parents the child will "just grow out of it" or even worse, that surgery is required. If it is ignored, the child's ability to run will be affected as well as the back muscles, not to mention social acceptance by one's peers.
3. The Question Hook
This hook can transform the problem/solution hook or the informative hook into an even more persuasive hook to grab an editor's attention. By presenting a problem or a specific piece of information in the form of a question, you are actively engaging the editor's thought-process. This is a powerful persuasion tactic because you force the editor to think about your question to which he or she probably doesn't know the answer. The more interesting and trivial your question, the better chance you have at making the editor read further to find out more.
Here is an example of the question hook:
Do you crave pancakes for breakfast? When you eat out do you find you can’t get through dinner without succumbing to a decadent dessert? If you eat one cookie are the rest of them calling from the cupboard? If this sounds familiar you are not alone.
For many of us there are times when it seems an impossibility to forego our favorite foods. Some people even find certain foods "addictive." But why do we have these cravings for specific foods?
4. The Personal Experience/Anecdote
Stories told from a first-person perspective are often real and engaging. Readers generally relate well to these personal, experiential stories. The personal experience hook demonstrates your credibility by presenting the topic of your article in the context of a problem you've handled personally.
Here is an example of the personal experience/anecdote hook:
For nearly 10 weeks toward the end of my first pregnancy, I was put on bed rest (or as I like to call it, “bed arrest”) due to preterm labor. Several of my female friends admitted they were actually jealous of my newfound downtime, but let me tell you from first-hand experience, bed rest is no fun after the first few days. It fact, for a type-A personality like me, it's downright stressful.
5. The Attention-Grabber
This hook has the potential to turn your query letter into a success if used correctly. The “attention grabber” is a unique piece of information, an unexpected question, or even the opening paragraph of your article that surprises the editor and leaves him or her wanting to know more. Remember, the hook should relate to the rest of your article. If the subject matter of your article only tangentially relates to this hook, the editor will feel misled.
Here’s an example of the attention grabber hook:
Almost all parents have been through it – the sharp cry in the middle of the night, the fever, the tugging on the ear. In fact, ear infections account for over 35% of all pediatric emergency visits in the U.S. And ear infections that become chronic are even more frustrating for parents trying to get to work every day. While there is nothing worse than having a child up crying all night, parents are now being told doctors are prescribing too many antibiotics. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that when antibiotics are given for ear infections, the disease isn’t shortened and they fail to prevent reoccurrences. In fact, reoccurrences were found to be higher with antibiotics, plus they can kill the good bacteria along with the bad. What are parents supposed to do, just let their child suffer?
Each hook has the power to be incredibly effective at quickly engaging the editor, but a hook's job is only to encourage the editor to read on so you can sway him or her by a powerful pitch. No matter how finely crafted the hook, if the rest of the query letter is boring and poorly organized, your hard work will end up as just another stack in the slushpile. Think of the hook as your chance to playfully and skillfully tease the editor with a preview of the engaging thought and style of the article to come.