January 21, 2013

Oh Susanna - What Is The Difference Between A Hook And A Pitch?

All right.

Someone around here has been just a little asleep at the switch (and I won't mention any names, but it's the person in charge so I think we all know who THAT is!)

What with all the holiday high jinx and shenanigans the lists got neglected and I have discovered in the last two days of posting that:

#1 we are nearly out of pitches for Would You Read It - we are only scheduled through mid-February - so if you have a pitch you'd like some friendly and constructive input on, as well as a potential chance for it to be read by editor Erin Molta, please send it my way! (Please use the handy Email Me button in the righthand sidebar or send to susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com and put Would You Read It in the subject line)

#2 we are COMPLETELY out of Oh Susanna questions!  Today's is the last one!  So if you're wondering anything about anything to do with reading, writing, or teaching picture books - great choices for a child with a certain need, what to do on a school visit, what book would complement your teaching unit on apple picking, etc... please send those my way as well!  (Please use the handy Email Me button in the righthand sidebar or send to susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com and put Oh Susanna in the subject line)

and #3 it's only 12 days until Groundhog Day and SOMEONE (ahem ahem) has not thought up an excellent hair-brained scheme for Phyllis's celebration!  What is the world coming to?!

As of this moment, the person in charge will be put in time out and forbidden to have chocolate for two days hours minutes while she contemplates the error of her ways!

Meanwhile, here is today's Oh Susanna question:

What is the difference between a hook and a pitch, or are they the same thing? 
I often get these two confused. When I took a pb class the instructor taught us how to write a hook. But when we pitch our idea to the editor or agent, we're pitching our hook, right? 

I'm glad you asked, Tina, because this is an important distinction to understand, and a tricky one that can easily be confusing... as you will see by how convoluted my answer is :)

A hook, as I would define it, is essentially the opening of your story.  It's a well-contructed first line or two of writing that draws your reader in and makes her want to turn the page and find out what happens next.  It usually includes the main character and sets up the problem that character is going to have to deal with, making the reader wonder, well gee whiz!  How is Janie going to deal with that bully on the school bus (or whatever.)  For example:

"My hat is gone.  I want it back." (I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen)

"One hot summer in Itching Down
Four million wasps flew into town."  (The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord)

"Last winter I found a penguin.  He told me he'd been flying.  But... penguins can't fly."  (Learning To Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser)

These are all hooks.  They are the opening sentences of stories, and they set up the main character and the problem for us immediately, making us want to find out what happened to that hat, or how do you cope with four million wasps, or why would a penguin say he'd been flying when it must be untrue... or if it IS true, how did he manage it?  They make you turn the page.

A pitch, as I would define it, gives more of an overview of your story.  It might include the hook concept, but it will give a little more detail in a descriptive way, as opposed to quoting direct lines.  A pitch is still quite short, and is usually a teaser - trying to pique someone's interest without giving away the resolution of your story - but it's purpose is a little different from the hook's.  While the hook is part of the actual writing that draws your reader directly into the story, the pitch encourages someone to want to pick up your story to begin with.  For example:

Carrie's pitch for Would You Read It from  July

Working Title: Singin’ Sam, the Ice Cream Man
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
Pitch: Sam loves dishing out ice cream to his favorite customers. But when a rival ice cream truck shows up on his corner, Sam must find a way to out-sing, out-scoop, and out-serve the competition to keep his customers — and himself — happy.


Dana's pitch for Would You Read It, also from July

Working Title:  CJ's Tiger
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 4-8)
CJ has always dreamed of having a tiger for a pet, so he is thrilled when he awakens one day to find that his cat “Tiger” has transformed into a real tiger. However he soon learns that having a pet tiger is a lot harder than he imagined when the day turns into one big catastrophe!

Both of these give you a sense of what the story will be about, whetting your appetite and making you want to read it and find out how Sam will keep his customers and himself happy, or how owning a tiger turns out to be trouble.  But they are essentially descriptions of the story, not the writing of the story itself.

If you pitch to an editor or agent, you are most likely pitching the concept of your hook - the great idea behind your story... up until the point when she asks to read it :)  Then she'll get to read your hook!

Does that make any sense?  I hope all our devoted and very clever readers will chime in with their thoughts on hook and pitch definitions and what the differences are!!!  And if anyone has any great ideas for celebrating Groundhog Day I am open to suggestion!!! :)

Have a delightful Monday, everyone!  (Especially if you are excused from school/work today! :))


  1. Oh Susanna, you always have the right answers! Now how can we get more questions for you? This has been such a great feature, so I have a feeling readers will step up with their questions. I am thinking of some myself. And yes, more pitches please!

  2. Very clearly explained, as usual. =)

  3. I like your explanation of the pitch and hook! I understood it well.
    You might be getting an email soon from someone you know... :)

  4. She, who shall not be mentioned, does tend to run on a crazy schedule requiring extra chocolate rations to alleviate memory-lapses!

    Spot on with your response today!

  5. Hi Susanna- Thanks for the clear explanation, and thanks for using my pitch as an example. :-)

  6. Maybe you don't have to come up with a new idea. Recycle. Do a do-over, like in the movie Groundhog Day. :) Then find a way to add in chocolate as a distraction!

  7. The hook:

    Someone around here has been just a little asleep at the switch (and I won't mention any names, but it's the person in charge so I think we all know who THAT is!).

    Uh Oh . . . someone's in trouble. What did they do???

    The pitch:

    What with all the holiday high jinx and shenanigans Susanna's lists got neglected and she has discovered that:

    #1 she is nearly out of pitches for Would You Read It.
    #2 she is COMPLETELY out of Oh Susanna questions!

    Oh, no . . . what is she going to do?

    As of this moment, the person in charge will be put in time out and forbidden to have chocolate for two days hours minutes while she contemplates the error of her ways!

    Susanna's in trouble! What can we do to help?

    Send her your PB pitches . . . share your hooks . . . or just toss her a bit of chocolate to tide her over. :D

  8. I think we can forgive whoever's in charge for their humanity and actually getting a little caught up in things. Yes, your two minute time out is up and thus I'm sending you some virtual Dove chocolate. Do eat it all up at once :-)
    I appreciate the hook and pitch difference discussion. I've gotten the two mixed up in conversations before. Now about the Would You Read it pitches...hmmm...

  9. Great post! I thought your answer was very clear, but I always love when examples are used, they help so much! Glad you didn't ban yourself from chocolate for too long! :)

  10. Well, I have never wondered about this question. But now I wonder why I have never wondered about it..... Thank you! I love knowing this.

  11. When I asked my husband this very question he started talking about golf balls and baseballs. I was so confused I needed chocolate to soothe my headache. Leave it to Susanna to be concise and clear so a simple mind like mine can understand. As for Phyllis - what if she 'auditioned' substitutes for aspiring forecasters (not necessarily all groundhogs)? i.e., And the winner wins CHOCOLATE!

  12. Great question and response. You nailed it!

  13. Are you sure you haven't done stand-up comedy? Your lines are hilarious!
    Thanks so much for the clarification...right now my brain is so overloaded and overwhelmed...Highlights contest, query letter for 12x12, January pb draft, tentative pitch for Susanna...which, what, when, how...will someone please remind me that I am retired now.:)
    Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

  14. Great question and great answer! I am another one who likes that you included examples. It sure does help with clarity!
    Sorry about the time out,and that you had to go two minutes without chocolate :-(

  15. Thanks, Susanna, for answering my question so clearly! You made it seem too easy that I'm wondering why I questioned it to begin with.

  16. This is great Susanna! I think I'm going to link everyone over! Love this post!

    And don't deprive yourself of chocolate. Even for two minutes! That's too horrible to consider!

  17. I totally understand the being asleep at the switch. (What? Not because I know from personal experience or anything. ;)) Your voice throughout that whole section cracked me up!

  18. Thanks for the great explanation between the hook and the pitch, Susanna. I remember hearing at one workshop that you should have hooks in the first line, the first paragraph and the end of the first page, and the beginning of each chapter and at the end of it. Heck, you should have hooks everywhere, so that your reader will keep reading. :)

    I can't believe it's almost Feb. How depressing!!!

  19. I passed on this post to friend who didn't realize there was a difference between a hook and a pitch.
    Looking forward to groundhog day! :-)

  20. Thanks, Tracy! And I hope it helps :) Phyllis and I are looking forward to Groundhog Day too. We are hoping it will be a little warmer than it's been lately so we won't freeze our tails off when it's shadow-checking time! :)

  21. Thank YOU for writing a great pitch and letting me use it, and I'm glad you thought the explanation was clear! The more I thought about it, the less clear it seemed to me! :)

  22. I'm glad you think I got it right, Iza! And I'm glad you like both features. I think some people will come out of the woodwork with questions and pitches when they know I need some... I hadn't asked (or checked!) for ages because I had so many... and then suddenly I had used them up! I will very much look forward to anything you have to contribute!

  23. Susanna, you're a riot! I'm so glad Tina asked this question. Your explanation was so helpful. This is the kind of amazing advice people will receive from your program. Clear, concise, with great examples. Thanks Susanna!

  24. You know, I think you're right Joanna! The fault may have lain in an under-rationing of chocolate! I shall have to be sure THAT doesn't happen again! :) Glad you thought the answer was on target... I felt a little unsure if it was clear!

  25. You're welcome, Tina, and it was a good question. It IS confusing. I'm glad if it seems easy now! :)

  26. Glad it was helpful, Penny. And I appreciate your sympathy - I BARELY survived the TWO WHOLE MINUTES!!!


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