Episode 29

Write Your Opening Hook

As promised, we will begin our discussion of Act 1 of your story today. We’re also talking about what you have in common with Stephen King, the antitrust lawsuit against Penguin Random House, and the assasination attempt of Salman Rushdie.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"In Ireland, again!" by bzur

"Back To 95 [Remix]" by Humans Win (formerly Lance Conrad)

"Searching For A Sign (30 Seconds Intro)" by Simon Jomphe Lepine

Rosemi Mederos:

Hello, how are you? Or should I say, dia duit, conas atá tú? Thank you for joining me, America’s Editor, for another Writing Break. We are headed to Ireland today, and my excitement can hardly be contained. As promised, we will begin our discussion of Act 1 of your story today. We’re also talking about what you have in common with Stephen King, the antitrust lawsuit against Penguin Random House, and the assasination attempt of Salman Rushdie.

The bookstore we are visiting has a wee cafe, so let’s head there first.

Welcome to Woodbine Books located in Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, Ireland.

ndie Bookshop of the Year for:

The shop has taupe-colored bookshelves, lovely picture windows, and carefully selected gifts and greeting cards. My favorite part is the bit of bright green carpet in the children’s section. It’s the kind of detail that will stay with a child for life.

Now that we are here, let’s belly up to the coffee bar to discuss some publishing news.

The US Department of Justice versus Penguin Random House trial is on, and the US government is showing all kinds of concern for something it doesn’t seem to understand. First, a quick overview: the US Department of Justice would like to stop the proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, claiming that the merger would be bad for authors.

And by “authors”, they seem to be referring only to those writers who receive an advance of at least 250,000 dollars.

Literary agents try to get their authors hefty advances because most books do not earn back their advances. One literary agent testified that only about 20 percent of her authors earn out their advance and that it can even take 3-4 years for that to happen. Meaning that about 80 percent of her authors do not make any money on their books except for what they get in advance. This is why a big advance is important to authors.

One way that these big advances are achieved is by putting manuscripts up for auction and letting the publishing houses bid on them. One of the points the US Department of Justice is trying to make is that allowing Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster to merge means that these two publishers will no longer be bidding against each other and driving up the bidding. Fair point.

So far, the publishing houses have said they will still pay out big advances because the literary world wouldn’t stand for it otherwise.

et’s harken back to June of:

Is it cynical to say I don’t trust any pinky promises made by Big Five executives? (Full disclosure: some of the Big Five are my clients, and everyone I work with is professional and trustworthy. Still, we sign contracts for each title I work on.)

Considering that most authors make $15,000 to $20,000 for the entire life of a book, this antitrust case isn’t really about the average writer. The US Department of Justice claimed that creativity and art will be stifled by this merger, and then they proceeded to stifle creativity and art by dismissing the many masterpieces that have been self-published. Furthermore, I believe that the future of publishing is self-publishing and hybrid publishing, so as important as this case is for future antitrust lawsuits in other industries, I hesitate to spend too much time discussing the business of traditional book publishing.

m House and Penguin merged in:

Earlier this year I told you about Brandon Sanderson’s $50 million Kickstarter campaign, and this was presented in court last week as an example of how traditional publishers have underestimated self-publishing as competition.

However, the US Department of Justice does not seem to have a grasp on how desirable self-publishing is to authors, and in court they underestimated the number of self-published titles released per year and overestimated how much marketing traditional publishers do for their titles.

who successfully defended the:

Stephen King testified against the merger saying that competition is a good thing, but he noted that he started off at small independent publishing houses and worked his way up to bigger deals with bigger companies.

To me, self-publishing is the modern launching pad. Options like crowdfunding, Wattpad, BookTok, IngramSpark, and Kindle Direct Publishing were not available when Stephen King began publishing 50 years ago. If Stephen King were starting off his writing career today, I bet he’d create some creepy TikTok videos and have a spooky Substack.

Still, King testified in what he felt was the best interest of all writers, which is a noble act for a wildly successful author who has had works published by both Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Those two publishing houses genuflected to this honorable King by refusing to cross-examine him.

One last point of interest: When King took the stand, he introduced himself by saying, “My name is Stephen King. I'm a freelance writer.”

I bet you didn’t know you had the same job title as Stephen King.

Salman Rushdie was about to give a lecture in Chautauqua, New York last Friday when a man rushed the stage and stabbed the author 10 times. Security and people who were there to attend the lecture rushed to the stage to stop the attack and apprehend the attacker. A medical doctor was in attendance and was able to administer aid until Rushdie was airlifted to a Pennsylvania hospital where he underwent surgery. He was placed on a ventilator and might lose the use of his right eye.

The suspect, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has been charged with attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty.

tanic Verses was published in:

In 1989, just a few months before he died, Ayatollah Khomeini, the first supreme leader in Iran after the revolution, issued a fatwa. In short, he told Muslims to kill Rushdie and the publishers of The Satanic Verses. The book was banned, and attempts were made on Rushdie’s life, so he went into hiding for ten years, although he kept writing and publishing.

Meanwhile, in:

In 1993, the Norwegian translator was shot three times but survived. Also in 1993, a mob set fire to a hotel in Turkey in which the Turkish translator was staying. While the translator escaped, 35 people were killed and 60 were injured. These people had nothing to do with the book.


So, here we are, 34 years later, and Rushdie is stabbed by a person who wasn’t even alive when the book was released. Since the attack on Friday, sales of the book skyrocketed, and it is currently #1 in a few categories on Amazon. All of this to prove that the pen is still mightier than the sword.

Links to these stories can be found in the show notes of this episode and on WritingBreak.com.

Let’s take a breather before getting into our writing tips.

At this point in the episode, we usually discuss an independent author, but instead I want to recommend some podcasts to you. These recommendations are unsolicited and unsponsored.

First in line is A Tale of Three Indies in which three independent bookstore owners talk about books and interview authors. Dawn Behan, the owner of Woodbine Books, is one of the show’s hosts.

The second podcast I’m recommending is the award-winning show called Lidia’s Booktastic Podcast. This is a podcast hosted by 9-year-old Lidia Sweeney in which she tells other children about the books that she reads. She started the podcast when she was 7 years old, so she is a podcast professional at this point. Dawn at Woodbine Books had a hand in getting Lidia’s podcast underway.

Ken Sweeney, Lidia’s father, appears on Lidia’s Booktastic Podcast asking all the right questions about the books. He is a writer, editor, and award-winning podcast producer based in Ireland. He is also one of the founders and directors of The European Network, which is a media platform that supports aspiring writers and journalists from around the world.

The third podcast I’d like to recommend is Ken’s latest podcast, The Comfortable Spot, which is a series of conversations with interesting people from different walks of life. He, too, has a couch on his podcast’s cover, so all I can say is, great minds think alike.

I encourage you to give these podcasts a listen during your next writing break. Links are in the show notes.

Next up, an introduction to Act 1 of your story.

This season we brainstormed, identified the characters your story needs, and created character sketches. You have your premise and story structure, so now we are ready to take a look at the three-act structure.

One question I get asked a lot is, “How long should ct 1 be?” The answer is, as long as it needs to be. It’s the order of information and action that matters, not the length. In a few past episodes we discussed not putting in too much backstory and details that can bore your readers, and a good editor can help you identify when you need to pull back or add more. Additionally, if you incorporate checkpoints into your framework, it makes it easier to avoid writing too much or too little.

Each act has its own checkpoints, and I’ll be going into depth with you on all of them. The checkpoints for Act 1 are Hook, Backstory, and Trigger, in that order. Chronological order doesn’t have to be followed as long as the checkpoints are in order. For example, we hook the reader first and then provide backstory.

Next week we will look at Backstory and Trigger and put it all together, but this week I want you to work on your Hook. The Hook establishes at least one story question, such as: What is happening? What is the outcome going to be? What happened before? What is this person going to do? What sort of person are they? And in this case “person” covers whatever kind of character you have, whether it’s a mystical creature, an animal, an actual human, whatever.

The hook should begin as late into the story as possible; we’ve talked about that before. Your protagonist should appear in the hook, and the hook should have significant action and/or significant dialogue.

Before this break ends, I have a message for the pantsers, that is, the writers who do not plot their story but write by the seat of their pants. Meet me on The Overthinking Couch for just a moment.

Hi there, nice pants. Look, I know that you just want to get right into writing and not plot a darn thing. And if you’ve been following along this season, you might have done a little more preparation than usual, and maybe you even liked it. I’m not here to critique methodology. However you want to write is fine with me. But keep taking breaks with me, okay? The information I’m sharing will be useful to you during the revision process if not before, and plotters and pantsers alike have to undergo a revision process. I didn’t want to get into the nitty gritty of the checkpoints without acknowledging you and promising that I am not trying to make a plotter out of you. All I want is for you to know how to tell a great story.

As always, plotters and pantsers alike, you deserved this break. Until next time, may the most you wish for be the least you get.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.