It’s time to dust off my tackle box and head out to my favorite fishing hole. Unlike today, when I was a kid, there was a fishing season in Utah. My family always got together for the season opener. I remember waking up before daylight so we could be the first ones in our spot. We clearly should’ve been granted squatter’s rights, or at least first cast into the lake.
The number of anglers lining the shore on opening day rivaled the number of those waiting in line on the day after Thanksgiving these days. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but in those days, it wasn’t uncommon to never see another angler all day. So we were shocked to see another person within fifty yards on the opening, and everyone competed for the same spots. The rules were clear—the first people out got the best spots and therefore caught the most fish.
In order to catch anything, I learned to tailor my tackle to make it appealing, and fishing for different species required different tackle. Since I was a kid, prone to line tangles—fishing for trout from the bank at our favorite reservoir—I required a certain kind of rig. My dad started with a bubble for weight, then a swivel to keep the bubble from sliding off. He tied a hook on the end of a leader and a loop at the other end. Next he’d clip the leader into the swivel. I’d fill the bubble with water, bait my hook, and cast in.
When I got older, I noticed that Dad used two hooks tied at different ends of the leader. The loop was tied between so each hook hung at different levels. This gave him the advantage of multiple kinds of bait, and increasing his chances of catching fish. I wasn’t allowed two hooks because I was, well, as I said above, prone to tangles.
In my dad’s tackle box, there were many kinds and sizes of hooks. Different hooks for different reasons. The key to catching fish was in choosing the right hook for the type of fish and the location.
One time as a Boy Scout, I got bored fishing for Pike below the dam at Yuba Reservoir. I noticed the Perch came up next to the shore. I dropped my hook in the middle of them and immediately caught one. Now, you should know, Perch in those days were trash fish. They are considered to be delicious now, but old prejudices diehard. Anyway, somehow I noticed that if I dropped a bare hook in the water, the Perch would take it, and hook themselves. It was easy, and we had great fun feeding the Perch to the Seagulls.
Now, I’m passing the legacy on to my daughter and I don’t have to wait for the season, but I learned something this week. I attended the League of Utah Writers meeting in Provo where Jeffrey S. Savage (J. Scott Savage) taught about hooks in query letters. I had a rare moment of clarity, and began to think of metaphors and similes. I decided to share a few with you.
As writers, we are fishermen. We submit our manuscripts, hoping to catch the eye of publishers. There are different kinds of publishers just like there are different kinds of fish. The hook we use depends on who we are submitting to and what kind of bait we have. With any luck we will catch a publisher and land a book contract.
In workshops and conferences, we’re taught the value of a good hook. As in fishing, we’re only as good as our tackle. Unlike the perch I caught with a bare hook, a publisher isn’t liable to bite a hook that isn’t appealing. So we need to use bait that will entice and lure someone to read our manuscript. We must write a first paragraph that will make the reader want more. We must write the second paragraph so they will continue. But first we must get them to read the first paragraph.
We do this by baiting the hook in our query in a way that explains the story, but more than that, it must be enticing, it must make the publisher want to look at the first paragraph.
Jeff talked about four elements to look for in a query and explained why they are important:
- Who is your protagonist?
You must decide so your readers will have someone to care about.
- What is your protagonist’s noble, goal?
What must be accomplished? What is driving him/her to the end?
- What stands in the way of reaching the goal?
What major obstacles stand in the way of number two?
- What happens if the protagonist fails?
It has to be dire circumstances. There has to be a real consequence.
If the answers to these questions are sufficiently intriguing, your query will be noticed. You can also use these questions when plotting your next book. If you can dream up great answers, you may have the beginnings of a best seller.
Good luck in your writing and your fishing (submitting)—see you next week.