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A Crash Course on Being a Hooker PART I

One might think standing on a corner to support my writing addiction for thirteen years helped make me a better hooker, but it really didn’t. Only writing every day did that. However, my part-time job as a crossing guard did provide lots of time to brainstorm. 🙂

It’s that time of year again, when hundreds of writers are finishing and polishing entries for RWA®’s Golden Heart® contest. As a seven-time finalist and two-time winner of the GHt® award, I’m frequently asked what elements I believe sets a winning contest entry apart from the rest. Naturally, my answer is, “Talented writing and an intriguing premise.” However, if you’ve ever judged the GH, you know there are lots of entries with those qualities that never make the cut.

To give a manuscript the best chance of becoming a finalist (or to be successful with readers once it’s published), I believe the most important thing is for an entry to make a good FIRST and LAST impression.

It only makes sense that a positive first impression will leave judges and readers anticipating an enjoyable read, and they will therefore be more forgiving if they find something slightly negative in your entry—whether it’s a typo, minor characterization flaw, or overuse of a purple word. As a result, it will take a much more glaring problem to change their opinion for the worse.

At the same time, if you have a typo in your first sentence the reverse will be true. The judge will probably start looking for additional problems, so creating a bad first impression can put an otherwise great entry at a big disadvantage.

This is why hooks are so important in writing contests and in attracting buyers for your book once it’s published. You need to snag the judge’s or reader’s interest from the beginning and continue reeling her in all the way to the end. Then finish with a great hook that will leave her with a positive overall opinion and screaming for more.

What’s a HOOK? a newbie might ask.

HooksA hook in publishing is anything that will catch a reader’s interest and lure her into—buying a book, reading it, continuing to read it, or buying the next book. Hooks are utilized as marketing tools, which can be anything from a high concept plot, a catchy title, a book cover, back cover blurb, to an author or reviewer’s endorsement.

Authors use hooks in their writing by including passages designed to grab the reader’s attention and keep him/her turning the pages. An effective hook will  attract, intrigue, and entertain by teasing the senses, adding humor or wit, raising questions (make the reader want to know more), or evoking emotion (shock, horror, compassion, the ability to relate, etc.) It should make the reader feel something or react.

A good opening hook should reflect the genre and subgenre and establish the tone of the book, which can be funny, thought-provoking, insightful, action-packed, suspenseful, spooky, dramatic, emotional or poignant, lyrical, reminiscent, or evocative. I’m sure there are other tones that escape me at the moment.

And lastly, an opening hook should foreshadow and set up reader expectations. This is how the author makes promises that had better be fulfilled by the end of the book, or he/she will end up with a lot of unhappy readers.

But wait!

Before writing that first compelling line to draw the reader in, you need to bait your FIRST hook. Real ‘hookers‘ use revealing clothing, make-up, and come-hither glances to tempt and attract men. (My alter-ego, L.L does that too, but we won’t discuss her.)

If you recall, I mentioned that, in the publishing industry, the bait or initial hooks for a book are very similar—a provocative title, an eye-catching cover, and a compelling back-cover blurb that leaves the consumer eager to read the novel. Unfortunately, in unpublished writing contests,  the author only has her title to lure the reader and make that first impression.

Think about it. What’s the first thing you do when you receive a group of entries to judge? If you’re like me, you scan the titles and probably start reading the most appealing one.

From my numerous years as a finalist, I recall several fellow GH sisters who I suspect had a slight edge in the Golden Heart because of their great titles. Here are several examples of those I found especially memorable:

The Naked Duke, by Sally McKenzie

His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, by Delle Jacobs

Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

The Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans

First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones

A Most Improper Gentleman by Elisa Beatty

The Proper Miss’s Guide to Bad Behavior by Anne Barton

If you study RWA®’s Past GH Winners list,  you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice most of the titles that won are highly  provocative, witty, humorous, emotional, or intriguing. That’s not to say they weren’t also damn good books, but so are a LOT of GH entries that never get nominated. By the way, most of these books were published with their original titles.

So before entering your manuscript in a contest (or submitting to an editor), find a group of creative people to help. Brainstorm together to come up with the best possible title for your book that is extra witty, cute, sexy, emotional, or whatever you would like to make it unique—with emphasis on the EXTRA. Titles need to be a little over-the-top to get attention. It’s best if they reflect the ‘high concept‘ of the book.

Here’s a funny story. My hubby and I were brainstorming titles with my CP and her spouse for her sci-fi romance that involves interplanetary travel. We came up with some real doozies. In the end, my hubby won the prize when he suggested the most unforgettable title of all. Starship Bootie Call. Unfortunately, the book isn’t a comedy so my CP couldn’t use it, but we still laugh about it. I still think we should collaborate and write a spoof with that title.

Okay, back to our crash course in hooking.

After you’ve come up with a title that will really grab the judge’s or reader’s attention, you need to really HOOK ‘ER—not just with the first line, but with the entire opening page. I always try to position a great hook in the very last line of the first page so the reader develops extra enthusiasm to continue reading. Once you’ve promised an entertaining story, you naturally need to deliver, but creating the anticipation of greatness is half the battle.

Come back next month for PART II of this Crash Course on Being a Hooker, which will offer tips on crafting that all important first page.

Now I have a favor to ask of you that will be a big help to me. A lot of my readers who loved The Parent Pact have been e-mailing me, requesting a story for three of the secondary characters in that book—Sabrina, Luke, and BJ (a/k/a Ben). I hope to release this “love triangle” novel by November, but I need a kick-butt title for it. I don’t want to use a Christmasy title because I’d like the option to market the the book the rest of the year with a matching non-holiday cover, much like I have with No Exchanges, No Returns. In November, that cover will go back to red and green and the baby will be wearing a Santa hat again.

I have a couple of good ideas what to call my next release, but I won’t share them because I don’t want to  send you down the same  track my train of thought is already running on. Here’s the high concept, blurb, and cover to fire your creative process. Please feel free to comment on each other’s suggestions if you think one is particularly good. And keep in mind my author brand is Steamy Heartwarming Romantic Fun!

On her wedding night, Sabrina will share the bridal suite

with one of her brother’s best friends.  Which one?  She has no idea.Who's the Groom Background

Sabrina Fitzpatrick helped plan her dream wedding last year—for her brother and his wife. Now, she wants her own Christmas Eve ceremony. She’s tired of waiting for commitment-phobe, Detective Luke Marino, to realize she’s been crazy about him since puberty. Consequently, when Luke’s billionaire friend asks her to marry him, she’s compelled to accept BJ Elliott’s proposal, especially after he suggests their impending marriage might induce his idiot pal to finally step forward. Unfortunately, a week later, adrenaline-junkie Luke risks his life again and ends up temporarily confined to a wheelchair.

BJ would love to give Sabrina an unforgettable wedding night, but he fears she’ll never be happy with him if she doesn’t resolve her feelings for his buddy, first. Therefore, even knowing he could lose her, BJ persuades her to become Luke’s live-in nurse—offering her one last chance to convince the man she loves to take BJ’s place at the altar (which BJ doubts his friend will ever do). If nothing else, he hopes Love’em and Leave’em Luke can convince Sabrina he’ll make a lousy husband.

Luke has two secrets not even his best friends know. The first is he aches for Sabrina with every fiber of his being. The second is he loves her enough to spare her the heartbreak that being his wife would undoubtedly entail. Much to Luke’s dismay, his resolve to resist his buddy’s fiancée is tested after Sabrina steps in as his nurse and starts prancing around in nothing but his threadbare T-shirt. If he surrenders to her seduction, it may destroy his relationship with BJ. And, worse still, if he gets a taste of loving Sabrina, how can he ever stand by and let her marry his friend?

I can’t wait to read all of  your ideas. On Sunday night, I’ll do a random drawing from all of the suggestions and the winner will win a digital copy of my box set containing The Memory of You and A Little Bit of Deja Vu, which are the Prequel and Book One from my Return to Redemption Series. If I decide to use your inspired suggestion for my new book, I’ll send you a free digital advance copy of Sabrina’s story right before it’s released.

Laurie Kellogg is a two-time winner and seven-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award, the winner of Pacific Northwest Writers Association® Zola award, and a Romantic Times® American Title I finalist. She began writing to avoid housework and has since resorted to naming the dust-bunnies multiplying as fast as real rabbits while she plots love stories that are Steamy, Heartwarming, Romantic Fun! Laurie also writes red-hot romantic comedies under L.L. Kellogg, which she’s branded as A Little Naughty and a Lot of Fun!

48 responses to “A Crash Course on Being a Hooker PART I”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great post, Laurie! (and thanks for the shout out for my title!! I’ve got to get that Improper Gentleman out into the world soon.)

    The premise for the new book is fabulous…my head was spinning trying to figure out which guy it should be. Hmmmm….have to think about title possibilities. Sadly, I’m no good with contemporary titles. There has to be something in there about Choice. “For Better or For Worse.” Or maybe something in the form of a question? “Which Man for Sabrina?” “Which Man in the Wedding Suite?”

    BTW, if anyone ever publishes a book called Starship Booty Call, I will be first in line to buy it.

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  2. I would definitely want to read The Improper Gentleman, so get it out there! I love bad boys–especially historical ones. The mores of the time give heroes so much more freedom to be truly Alpha while still remaining heroic.

    I thought of For Better or Worse because it would really fit the book for reasons not in the blurb. Unfortunately, there are already about half a dozen romances with that title. I like to try to choose a unique title or at least one that hasn’t been used more than once and not too recently.

    Of course, I don’t know if using a popular title will give a book spill-over sales from the other books with the same name. Maybe Diana Layne can tell us. Her book The Good Daughter is listed with a lot of other novels with the same title.

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  3. June Love says:

    Great post, Laurie! I absolutely love the premise and blurb of your new book. You’ve already “hooked” me. I want to see which one she ends up with…I know who I want her to end up with, but if anyone could change my mind, it would be you.

    As for titles: Not one of my strong suits. I liked Elisa’s For Better or Worse, but after reading your comment, I understand why you are hesitant to use it. Hmmm. I’ll have to give it some thought. I’ll also have to check back and see what others have suggested.

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    • Thanks, June. A LOT of readers have been asking who she ends up with. If you think about the nature of romances, I think you can figure it out. Of course, the guy who loses in this story is going to need a very special woman to heal his heart.

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  4. HI Laurie,
    I generally think of the hook as a high concept, but you’re right, the hook can come in many forms. Thanks for a great post!

    And what a fun concept for the new book! For the title, I’m leaning toward something like Torn Between Two Lovers–wasn’t there an old song with that name? Is Sabrina seriously planning to marry BJ or is she just trying to push Luke into a decision? For Love or Money? Groom by Chance. Groom by Design. Groom by Default. The Indecisive Bride or The Undecided Bride.

    Don’t know if any of that helps, but I always need to mull titles over for a while. If I think of anything today, I’ll let you know. Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Jackie. They’re all good suggestions, actually most of them or a variation are on the list of twenty I came up with. It was only when I got to about fifteen that they really started getting creative. So I guess that ‘rule of twenty’ they talk about to generate unique ideas actually works. If you have any other ideas, I’d love to see them.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Ha! For Love or Money was the title of my 2009 GH Finalist. But don’t use that title, there are about 20 other books with that title. 🙂

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      • I know. I considered that title until I looked on Amazon. The other problem is, Sabrina has absolutely no interest in BJ’s money. It’s one of the reason’s he loves her. So that title really doesn’t fit the character even though her two options are For Richer or Poorer, but that title has been used a bunch, too. I’m looking for something that isn’t so obvious or cliche.

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  5. LOL, Laurie. Your first line had me gaping, like “what?!?!” 😀 So, yeah, that was a good hook. And I love what you said about “baiting” the hook with a good title, cover, or whatever you can to make a good first impression. Great tips!

    As for your upcoming release – wow, what a conflict!

    Title suggestions? Hmmm… When I propose titles, I usually look carefully at keywords the author used in her blurb. Here’s what I got…

    All She Wants
    Prompting the Proposal
    Proposing the Dream
    Sweet Surrender (or Suite Surrender – LOL)
    Altar-nitives (okay, that’s a joke, but I found it amusing….)
    A Billion Reasons Why
    The Husband Proposal or The Husband Hunt (a play on the Parent Pact, but I think Hunt sounds a little desperate)
    Loving Sabrina

    Good luck! Sounds like a great book. 🙂

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  6. Actually, I really like Altar-nitives. It’s cute and catchy. Unfortunately I’m afraid to use hyphens or any odd characters in a title because I think they do wacky things on the retailers sites. When I used the accents in my title A Little Bit of Deja Vu, I had some problems. If I was going with a holiday title, I’d like the All She Wants and add For Christmas. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  7. Hope Ramsay says:

    Great post on hooks, Laurie. You are a master at them, too.

    And I love the premise for the new book. But, sadly, I’m terrible at titles. The only thing that comes to me is:

    The Husband Game.

    (Sort of like a play on the old show The Dating Game.)

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  8. Elise Hayes says:

    Ok, I’m terrible at titles. At first I thought “triangle” or “three” should be in your title somewhere, since that’s the core premise of the book. But then I realized it’s a romance with a HEA and the book is going to end with two people together, not three…So, hey, I dunno.

    A Triangle for Two? (nah)
    Tangled Proposals? (nah)
    The Right Groom (hmm…I kind of like playing with ‘right’)
    Will Mr. Right Step Forward?

    Or what about that line in the marriage ceremony about speaking now or forever holding your peace (if thing get that far in the book)

    Man, this is hard!

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    • Tell me about it, Elise. That’s why I’m asking for suggestions. I really like Forever Hold His Peace. That’s definitely in the running because it fits so well. THANKS!

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  9. Thanks, Hope. I like that. It’s cute and a little different.

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  10. Liz talley says:

    The Altar Agreement

    Bride for a Day

    The Marriage Trap

    I Do, I Don’t

    A Groom for Sabrina

    A Wedding Knot

    A Reason to Wed

    That’s all I got for now but the post was fab!

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  11. Kim Law says:

    Brilliant post on hooking! And you make a very good point. When I’m judging for a contest, I always grab the one with the title I like best first. Not sure I’d ever thought about that.

    I’ll give your book some thought, but right now I’m heading out and I can’t do drive by titles!! Good luck!!

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    • Thanks, Kim. I have to work hard at not forming strong impressions during the first page or two of reading a contest entry, because very often authors need a running start before they hit their stride in a book. And although the opening might not be great, the rest sometimes turns out to be phenomenal. Not often, but it does happen.

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  12. Janet Gardner says:

    Title suggestions: Heart Decisions
    Wed by Heart
    Why Not Me

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  13. danielle estes says:

    i like your post Laurie im not to good with ideas like this i like several that others posted but im gonna through one out there

    Her Heart Wins

    The Heart Decides

    anyway thanks for a great post

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  14. Vivi Andrews says:

    Ooooh, I love brainstorming titles. How about…

    The Back-up Groom
    The Borrowed Bride
    The Stand-In Groom
    Tempted to the Altar

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      I like “The Back-Up Groom” (but, of course, that only works if the back-up guy gets her, and I’m not sure who is going to win out).

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    • Vivi, I was so hoping you would join in. You’ve come up with some great suggestions for titles in the past. I really like Stand-in Groom. That definitely in the running.

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      • Vivi Andrews says:

        Or maybe…

        Wedding Bell Temptation
        The Replacement Groom
        The Engagement Bargain
        The Engagement Arrangement
        The Bride’s Secret Love (almost as good as a secret baby!)

        Those were my real suggestions – now for the silly ones!

        The Three Wedding Ring Circus
        For Whom the Garter Falls

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  15. Rita Henuber says:

    Some GREAT titles offered. We all know I suck at titles so I’ll just sit back and see what you pick.

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  16. Laurie, too busy to comment extensively, but WOW do I love the premise of your next book!! What an unconventional plot for today. It’s rare in romance to actually wonder who the hero will be, and it makes me want to read on.

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    • Thanks, Jamie. The relationship between the three guys (Sabrina’s brother and his two best friends) is what inspired me to write these stories. I just love their backstory. And you have to know once readers find out which suitor doesn’t get the girl, they’re going to want to know how the third guy finds his happy-ever-after.

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  17. Gwyn says:

    Intergallactic Bootie Call was the name, as I recall, but I chose The Starship and The Sword—which could explain the confusion. Either way, it works. Dave is such a hoot. I remember when he said it, I gaped for a good minute before cracking up. Hubble had no delay. I thought he was going to fall right out of the chair onto the porch! Fun day.

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    • You’re right of course. I don’t know why I wrote Starship. Probably because that IS what you chose to use in your title. I’m getting so many good suggestions, I may have to do a poll on the Ruby loop to choose the most popular one.

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  18. Kate Parker says:

    I love Intergallactic Bootie Call. I want to read it!

    How about Finding the Best Man or Choosing the Best Man – one will be the groom and the other no doubt the best man. I know, if you have to explain it, it’s not good.

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    • Me, too, Kate. I think it could be hilarious. I like Choosing the Best Man, it was one of the possibilities I had considered. After I get a list together of forerunners, I need to search Amazon to see if it’s been used for another book.

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  19. Great post, Laurie! And I am looking forward to your next lesson in Happy Hooking!

    LOVE the premise of your book!

    I’m not very good at titles but let me see :

    Between the Devil and His Baby Blues

    (of course that means at least one of these guys has to have blue eyes)

    The Bridegroom Buffet

    ( I think I’m hungry!)

    Abundance at the Altar ? (okay that’s just BAD)

    Two Grooms, One Chapel, No Waiting

    Her Heart Knows

    For Sabrina’s Heart

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    • Thanks, Louisa! Abundance at the Altar made me laugh, so maybe it’s not so bad after all. I like Bridegroom Buffet, but I think I’d need more than two potential grooms for it to make sense.

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  20. Becky Gilbert says:

    Hoodwinking a Dude and Other Forms of Hanky-Panky

    (because she’s going to have to use some trickery to land the man she really cares about, right?)

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  21. Caryl says:

    Good post. Great info and loved the “hooker” theme. 😉

    How about “Tangled Triangle” or something along those lines. Doesn’t have much to do with the wedding or Christmas theme, but I’ve never heard of a book by that name.

    Good luck!

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    • I think someone else suggested that, too, Caryl. The only problem with it, is I’m afraid readers will think it’s a menage a trois story. And there’s no way these three are hopping into bed together.

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  22. I’m sorry I forgot to post the winner before I went away on a short vacation.

    The winner of the box set is Danielle Estes. I’ll be emailing you Danielle.

    I’ve decided on a title which I’ll post next month during Part II of my Crash Course on Becoming a Hooker.

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