It could be just me, but it seems that Americans take a much more pragmatic approach to the production of literature than Europeans. All the most affecting books on writing I've read have come from across the pond, and most things I've read about writing from British authors tend to stress the more esoteric side of the process, or, as in David Lodge's excellent The Art of Fiction, take an approach closer to literary criticism.
The truth is, the last thing a writer who's wrestling with his text needs is esoteria – what he needs is an almost messianic clarity to guide him through his self-doubt and uncertainty. This is why I think writing books with an agenda, with an author on a mission, are the most useful to the practising writer – even if the advice isn't necessarily appropriate for the work, at the worst the argument can be tested and refuted and the writer comes through with a stronger understanding of his own work, at best, the messiah may just be right.
Les Edgerton in 'Hooked' keeps it simple – he's setting out how to advise you to write openings that will get you read, and eventually published. He doesn't pontificate, he's actually gone and asked a load of editors and agents about it, and publishes their responses. He's also been in the position of being rejected countless times, and shares his experience of how he's changed those rejected submissions around and actually got them published.
And boy, is Les on a mission – backstory, set-up, static description get short-shrift here – by his own admission he sometimes exaggerates for emphasis – but he makes his point well and powerfully. I particularly like how he takes examples from high literary fiction, more general fiction, and film. He's not afraid to look genius in the eye and attempt to deconstruct what makes it work, but he's not so high-brow he can't apply the same analysis to more popular works.
One thing Les is above all, is optimistic – he dedicates this book to all the writer's 'who didn't give up', and while he's playing to the gallery a little here, this attitude pervades the writing. He uses a phrase that particularly resonated with me 'if you're green, you're growing' – by which he means, if you're not perfect, you're can only get better – an encouraging thought if you ever look at your work and think it's appalling.
In summary, this is one of the best books on writing I've read, there are echoes of other writers here (Robert McKee particularly) but he adds plenty more and his particular focus on beginnings for novels makes this a must-have for any author serious about getting editors and agents to read their work.
Thoroughly enjoyed, and heartily recommended, but more importantly than that, reading this work and applying the ideas to my own writing has significantly improved it – which is, after all, what a writer is after.