Great Hooks from Books

by Amber Lanier Nagle

Having trouble composing a killer hook? Sometimes when I’m stuck, I study how other authors started their stories. Here are a few very notable hooks from my book cases and the virtual shelves of my iBooks and Kindle:

  • “First I had to get his body into the boat…I had lain awake all night, trying to imagine how I would get him off the bed and down the stairs and into the row boat, since he weighed at least a hundred and fifty pounds and might have gone stiff.”  —Rhian Ellis from the first page of After Life
  • “I was on fire.”  —Jeannette Walls from the opener on page nine of The Glass Castle
  • “It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shear’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as though it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.”  —Mark Haddon’s hook from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”  —Alice Sebold’s opener from The Lovely Bones
  • “Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa came to our house for his early morning snort of whiskey, as usual, and said to me, “Will Tweedy? Go find yore mama, then run up to yore Aunt Loma’s and tell her I said git on down here. I got something to say. And I ain’t a-go’n say it but once’t.”  —Olive Ann Burns from the first words of Cold Sassy Tree
  • “All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was late June 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward.”  —Laura Hillenbrand from Unbroken: a WWII Story of Survival
  • “She was old all my life. Even when I was sitting in the red dirt, fascinated with my own toes, Ava’s face had a line in it for every hot mile she ever walked, for every fit she ever threw.”  —Rick Bragg from the prologue of Ava’s Man
  • “When I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I’d been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour…”  —Donna Tartt from The Goldfinch
  • “…Out of a six-year-and-two-month sentence to the state prison at Milledgeville, I served it all—August 1954 to October 1960. I was crazy a while, and then I wasn’t, and then I was. That’s how it went. One second I’d be a free man—with Susan beside me and the boy on my lap—and the next I’d be awake on my back and looking up into the dirty light coming through my cell window.”  —Judson Mitcham from The Sweet Everlasting
  • “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end.”  —Jonathan Franzen from The Corrections


Take a look at a few of your favorite books and add to my list of interesting hooks by leaving a comment. Tell us why you like the hook so much. And please don’t forget to give credit to the author and title of the book.


Amber Lanier Nagle is the author of Project Keepsake ( and two eBooks (Southern Exposure and Have a Seat). She’s also the editor of Northwest Georgia’s Good Life Magazines and contributes to many national and regional magazines. Learn more at

Golden Rule of Writing

by Amber Lanier Nagle

by Amber Lanier Nagle

Two years ago, I read Chuck Sambuchino’s post (Writers in the Storm Blog) titled, “How to Support an Author’s New Book: Eleven Ideas for You.” I found myself jumping out of my chair with arms lifted high, shouting “Amen, Brother!”


I think about this topic all the time. I call it, “The Golden Rule of Writing,” which is, “Do unto other writers as you would have them do unto you.” It’s about reciprocity—please help me get the word out about my book, and when your next book is released, I’ll do the same for you.


Don’t get me wrong—most of my friends and fellow writers have been extremely caring and helpful as I‘ve worked tirelessly to promote Project Keepsake. But a few of my friends and writing buddies have not helped at all. In fact, a few of my writer friends have vanished from the face of the earth, and I’ve been wondering why.


But as I read Sambuchino’s post, I had some revelatory thoughts—maybe a few of my friends think I’m upset that they haven’t bought a book, and maybe they just don’t know how they can help me, aside from making a purchase. I’ve tried very hard not to push any of my friends into purchasing my book, because I know the content of Project Keepsake doesn’t appeal to everyone. I’m fine with friends not buying a book. Really.


But there’re are many other ways to help a writer/author/friend promote his or her projects other than buying the product. I’ve listed Sambuchino’s suggestions below, and I’ve added a few more to his list.


HAND OUT YOUR FRIEND’S PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL—Give her business cards, her book marks, her sell sheets, her postcards to your other friends, family members, and coworkers who may be interested in her book or scheduling her for a presentation at club or church meetings.


SHARE CONTACTS—Hook your friend up with your other friends in the media business (newspaper editors, feature writers, radio personalities, television hosts, etc). Introduce them. It’s very hard to cold call a media contact and get noticed, so your introduction could make the difference. I also share names of contacts at bookstores and libraries with my other writing buddies. It saves them time.


SHARE INFORMATION—Clubs are always looking for interesting speakers. If you hear that Rotary, Kiwanis, or a book club is looking for an interesting speaker or guest, share that information with your friend. If you learn of an upcoming writers conference that fits your friend’s project, send her the link or remember to tell her about it.


ATTEND AN EVENT—Whether it is a book launch party or a reading at the public library, attend at least one of your friend’s events and bring someone along. I once had a poorly-attended book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Rome, Georgia, along with ten other local authors. I was pleasantly surprised when two of my writing friends—the late Wayne Minshew, and founder of Calhoun Area Writers, Karli Land—showed up to hang out with me. It would have been a lonely two hours without them.


CRAFT AN EFFECTIVE ELEVATOR PITCH FOR YOUR FRIEND’S BOOK—Don’t just tell your other friends, “My friend has a new book out.”  Give them a little more meat. Say, “My friend, Amber, just published a collection of stories about keepsakes—a quilt, a pocket knife, a cake pan, a ring. It’s a really interesting book. She was recently on a magazine cover. The article talked about the whole project. The name of the book is Project Keepsake. It’s great!”


BUG A BOOKSTORE EMPLOYEE—Don’t look for your friend’s book. Go to the bookstore clerk and ask him about the book. They will find it in their system and lead you to the book. Your action will cause the bookstore employees to take notice of your friend’s title, and who knows? One of the employees may select it for their “Pick of the Month.”


FACE THE BOOK OUT AT BOOKSTORES—When you are at the bookstore, rearrange the books on theshelf so that your friend’s book faces out. This will help your friend’s book get noticed by passersby.


WRITE ONLINE REVIEWS—So many times, if a reader is on the fence about a book, a well-written, positive review will seal the deal. So take five minutes and post great reviews for your friend’s book on online sites at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. I’m not suggesting you lie. I am suggesting that accentuate some positive aspect of your friend’s book.


BE SEEN WITH YOUR FRIEND’S BOOK—If you have a copy of your friend’s book, carry it around with you sometimes and mention it to friends. Read it at the doctor’s office. Read it at the DMV. Read it at your kid’s soccer practice. Read it on the plane. Make sure that others see your friend’s book.


“LIKE” YOUR FRIEND’S FACEBOOK PAGES—The more “likes,” the better because strangers navigating to the Facebook walls will think, “Wow, I need to know more about this author and her book.”


SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES—Merely “liking” a post is not enough sometimes. When the author mentions the book or an event on Facebook, share the news with your social circles and include a small note about what the book is and why they should buy it. Sharing is an act of endorsing. My friend, Ruth Demeter, shared my post about the book event in Rome with her friends who live in the Rome area. I am appreciative. It’s all about exposure. And consider retweeting a friend’s book-related post with appropriate hashtags.


RESERVE A COPY AT THE LIBRARY—Again, the library employees will take notice of your friend’s book and may order additional copies or suggest it to readers.


CONSIDER SHARING EVENTS—If you are also a writer, consider sharing an event with another writer. I have shared my events with other writers/authors, when applicable. And I recently shared a fifteen-minute radio spot with another writer. I still had plenty of time to promote my book, and quite frankly, I think that including her made the radio spot more interesting.


BE ENCOURAGING—Being kind and encouraging is just what friends do. Ask your friend about her events. Ask how book sales are going. Ask if there is anything you can do to help promote your friend’s book. And then, just listen. Sometimes, new authors just need to know that their friends care.


Amber Lanier Nagle is the author of Project Keepsake ( and two eBooks (Southern Exposure and Have a Seat). She’s also the editor of Northwest Georgia’s Good Life Magazines and contributes to many national and regional magazines. Learn more at

10 Things I Learned At Writing Conferences

With all the planning going on for the Northwest Georgia Writers Conference, I thought it might be appropriate to share a great article that I read in The Writers Magazine. The author has listed 10 things they've learned at writing conferences.

I'll get you started with number one because I think this one is a biggie!

1. You’re not alone.

Writing can be a very solitary practice. But at a conference or workshop, you can experience that “I’ve found my people!” feeling, whether you’re in a group of dozens or thousands. Novelist Masha Hamilton says that it is an extraordinary experience to find “a camaraderie with people who live for stories and who care about words: their shape and their texture and their taste.” The network of people that you meet now can pay off well into the future. After making friends at a writing conference, playwright Mona Washington finds that she always has others to connect with at literary events and readings. When Olivia Olivia was applying to graduate programs, she reached out to workshop peers she had met at the Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA) conference and was thrilled to be “surrounded by people who were there to support me making whatever choice I needed to make for school.”

Quick and Easy Writing Tips

I've facilitated writing workshops for several years. During these workshops, I always ask attendees, "Do you want to take your writing to the next level?"

Everyone shakes their heads up and down. And so I offer these very basic writing tips to the room. 

  • Write. Write often. Write regularly. Be fearless. The more you write, the easier it is to write.
  • Read. Read a lot. Pay attention to how your favorite authors tell their stories.
  • Work with other writers. Ask for help, and when you can, offer your assistance to others.
  • Keep a notebook handy to jot down story ideas when you think of them.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with smaller projects to develop your writer’s voice (writing style), and build from there.
  • Use stronger action verbs in your writing. For example, The motorcycle ___________ down the street. Dozens of verbs will work, but think about what you really want to say. Zoomed down the street? Flew down the street? Dashed? Rolled? Careened? Swerved? Crept? Pulsed?
  • Add a dash of dialogue to dress up your writing. “Strong dialogue is the spice of life,” the best-selling novelist said.

Master these tips and your writing will go from good to great!

—Amber Nagle, CAW member, writer, editor, and author