The most important part of your book is your “book hook.” This is a distilled, one-sentence description of your book and the reason it’s the most important thing is because it’s the thing that gets people to read your book.
Your book hook may become your subtitle or part of the description, or feature prominently in other places on or in your book. It will change how you write your book, design the cover, and tell others about your book.
The term “book hook” came from reading Brendan Kane’s book Hook Point: How To Stand Out In A 3-Second World, in which he explains, “If you can’t capture people’s attention in that first three seconds, or whatever short time period you have with them, then you can’t get them to pay attention to the rest of your story, products, or services.”
Brendan wasn’t talking specifically about books, but he might as well have been. Unless you can capture someone’s attention quickly and hold it long enough to give them more information, information that makes them say, “I need to read this book,” then nobody will. The key idea that captures your ideal audience’s attention and gets them to take a closer look at your book is your book hook. Once you create your book hook it will help you choose the right title and subtitle, design the right cover, and write the right content. That’s why it’s more important than any of them.
Here’s how a hook point works:
1. YOUR IDEAL AUDIENCE…
Who would it be, if you could choose anyone?
2. HAS A PROBLEM…
Or an opportunity. A critical one. A game-changer. What is it?
3. THAT THEY THINK ABOUT EVERY DAY…
What do they say to themselves all day? “If only I could…”…what?
4. UNTIL THEY HEAR YOU SAY…
What would make them think, “Wait! This is related to my problem!” (in under 3 seconds)
5. WHICH MAKES THEM BELIEVE YOU CAN HELP THEM…
And that belief triggers them to reach out…
6. SO YOU HELP THEM…
How can you help them quickly and efficiently?
7. WHICH MAKES THEM WANT MORE…
Repeat steps six and seven over and over again, to infinity, or until you reach your goal.
Here are examples of hook points for well-known books:
What’s the problem the audience for James’ book has? They can’t seem to get the stuff done they want to get done, and they aren’t becoming the person they want to be. And they’re busy. “Oh! Here’s a book that will teach me how to make small changes that won’t take a ton of my time, but will give me big results! Maybe this is the key to my problem…”
Brené’s readers struggle with perfectionism. They feel guilty about not being perfect, and they feel guilty about feeling guilty, since that’s also not perfection. Then someone comes along and says, “Imperfection is a gift. You can let go of that need to be perfect and you can let go of all that guilt you feel, and you’ll actually have a better life.”
The previous two books had titles and subtitles that were effective book hooks, in and of themselves. Outlive’s subtitle, “The Science and Art of Longevity,” isn’t a great book hook. First, “longevity” is not a word anyone uses when pacing the floor at night, thinking of their Big Problem. Nobody says, “If only I could figure out longevity.” They say, “I want to live longer.”
However, “The Science and Art of Living Longer” also wouldn’t be a good book hook. Yes, lots of people have strong desires to live longer, but there are too many books making this promise. It’s too generic and so it doesn’t hook your attention.
Part of what makes Peter’s book interesting is his graph that shows how many people decline gradually in their physical and cognitive abilities over time and then die a long, slow, lingering death. By contrast, Peter shows how someone who follows his formula can expect to live a long life with very little decline, either mentally or physically, and when they die, it will happen quickly. Nobody likes to die, but dying quickly at the end of a long and active life sure sounds better than the alternative. Plus there’s shock value in “die suddenly.” It doesn’t sound like the type of thing someone would use as a marketing slogan, which causes us to wonder what new information the book might have for us.
To create your hook point for your book, or your book hook, follow these steps, adapted from Kane’s book:
HOW TO CREATE YOUR BOOK HOOK
Grab the attention of your ideal audience in three seconds or less. Inspired by Brendan Kane’s book Hook Point: How To Stand Out In A 3-Second World.
STEP 1: STUDY WHAT WORKS
Look at the titles and subtitles of some of your favorite nonfiction books. Especially look closely at any books that are similar in any way to your book. In addition, look at people, products, and brands who are marketing to the same audience as you. Observe those that successfully grab your attention and analyze what words and ideas are triggers. Also analyze those that don’t work. Make a list of all the effective book hooks and other hook points you can find.
STEP 2: CREATE YOUR OWN
Imagine someone from your ideal audience saying, “If only I could…” as they describe a problem or opportunity before them. You have the exact solution they need. How would you tell them you’ve got it in three seconds or less?
To help brainstorm, copy your favorite hook points from Step 1 and modify them to fit your book. You may not end up using any of these, especially if they’re too similar to the originals, but it will help create new ideas that are wholly your own.
STEP 3: TEST & REFINE
Contact ten members of your ideal audience and use your favorite book hook on them. Don’t tell them you’re testing your book hook, just test it. Say, “I’m writing a book about [insert your book hook] and you’re a member of my ideal audience for it. Can I ask you a few questions?” Then ask, “Would this book be a must-read or nice-to-read, based on how I introduced it?” Don’t turn this into a yes/no question—you need them to think about their answer and tell you what they’re really thinking. Then contact another ten people from your ideal audience in the same way with your second favorite book hook, and so on.
As you get feedback, refine your book hook as you see fit, and keep testing it until the people you contact say, “Yes, please! I need this book! When will you finish it?”
What’s your book hook—your one-sentence description of your book? I’d love to hear it.
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