Other times, you may have to invent a hook. This may strike you as silly. If it’s a good story, it should stand on its own, no gimmick necessary, right? Sure, if you’re writing about an injured hiker whose life was saved by a courageous dog, that may be enough to pique the interest of an editor and a reader. But in most cases, editors will want to know, “Why will our readers care about this story now?” Let’s repeat the key words in that statement: “why,” “our readers,” and “now.”
Anniversaries and observances are common hooks. Every year when May rolls around, headlines trumpet Mother’s Day-related stories. In July, it’s Independence Day. October is breast cancer awareness month. In September 2006, it was the fifth anniversary of 9/11. If your story is related to a bicentennial, you’ve struck gold.
That answers the “why now” question. Another way to hook readers is to spell out in your query letter or your story’s lead what’s in it for them. For example, I recently wrote an article for a doctors’ magazine on places like MinuteClinic that are popping up in supermarkets and pharmacies to treat people with common minor ailments without an appointment. Doctors are busy people, so I had to make clear immediately why they needed to read my article: “Quick-access clinics are becoming a reality. Better learn to compete.” Why should the magazine’s readers care about my story? Because they may be losing patients to these types of clinics.
Now, we’ve all seen published stories that have no apparent hook. These are often the evergreen articles I discussed in the May column. So why would an editor purchase an article that’s not pegged to a specific time of year or to any new information? Packaging. Just like a beautifully wrapped package can entice us to open it even if we know it’s only socks from Aunt Millie, an attractively packaged article can sell a tired topic.
Bridal magazines are masters of packaging. They cover the same topics over and over and over again. I once pitched an article on bad bridesmaid behavior. A topic as old as time, right? Except I packaged it as “The Five Most Common Bridesmaid Personality Types.” Suddenly, an old topic became fresh again. Thanks to a clever hook, a potentially dull article became interesting again.
Get creative when trying to come up with hooks for your articles. Repeat to yourself, “Why should readers care about this story now?” What would make someone in a supermarket checkout line read your article instead of the six next to it? What would make an editor buy your story immediately instead of filing it for later? The answer is your hook.
Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at http://diaryofanewmom.blogspot.com. She also teaches the six-week e-course Personal Essays that Get Published.