Thursday, April 23, 2009

Short story hook question

There's been lots of talk about how important a good hook is for a novel--because that leads to better query letters, etc., and that way people have a good grip on what you're writing.

But how about with short story queries/submissions? As a rule, you put your whole story into the mix and let the magazine decide based on the story. Some writers don't even put a cover letter in their submission package, let alone worry about a hook. However, would they be better served with a cover letter telling all pertinent details of self and story (word count, etc.) along with a hook line like the one you'd use for a novel? Obviously, the sentence would be shorter, at the very least.

For example:

Dear SuperMagazine,

Enclosed please find "The Story Aaron Told", a short story of 2,000 words. It's a story-within-a-story about two writers figuring out the mystery of 'where stories come from' as they decide the fate of Paolo, their character, and the twin babies he sews together.

Etc. so on a so forth,
Jenny SuperWriter

When I was an editor, I admit to not reading all short story submissions to the end and disregarding 'animal' poems out of hand. Sometimes I didn't even get past the first paragraph of a story before going, "Not happening". I realize so many things depend on the writing of the story itself. But what if I'd had a really great hook telling me what the story was about? Would I have finished some of those disregarded stories? Would the writer have turned it all around and impressed me?

What do you guys think?--and how have you submitted short stories? Cover letter? No cover?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, it's been so long since I submitted a short story I can't remember.

    That first paragraph thing was true for me back in my editing days as well. (FYI, we didn't ask for cover letters.) Since we only accepted stories up to 2k words, I would read the whole thing even if I said "no" in the first paragraph. I never changed my mind on the stories I said "no" to early on in the reading. I often changed my mind on ones that had a good opening paragraph but lost it later on. No matter how good the query was, it wouldn't have made a difference.

    I guess my answer is a bad query can sink a good story, but a good query won't save a bad story.

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