The Self-Working Hook

An email I received recently:

Here's a quick testimonial,

Monday night, I met with a friend to catch up and talk a little about magic. He's been learning a few things so I brought both of us a deck and "Self Working Card Tricks by Karl Fulves" just so he'd have some easy tricks while he learned to handle the cards.

We were at a bar and as the night went on our waitress saw the cards and book each time she came to check on us. They weren't terribly busy, so when she brought the checks, I used Peek Backstage but using the book as icing. "Hey, we're trying to learn magic, can we try a trick if you have like a minute and a half?" 

I kinda expected her to half-heartedly sit through one but she seemed genuinely interested in seeing a trick. So I performed a short magician-in-peril type plot where the card in her hand becomes hers, all the while consulting my "Self Working" book. I ended it with "It says: 'If the card she stops on isn't her card, then have her turn over the card in her hand'"

Great reaction, only did the one so we didn't hold her hostage, and all the credit went to the book. 2 minutes later another waiter came over and said "I gotta see this trick". 

10/10, would recommend presenting yourself as amateur at the bar table.


Yes! I use magic books all the time as a Hook. There is really no more natural segue from someone saying, “What is that?” To you saying, “Oh, it’s something I’m working on for my nephew’s birthday [or whatever reason]. Can I try something out on you?”

Hooks make the transition into an effect feel essentially seamless. The reason they’re not a more popular concept in magic is because the best ones take the “power” from the magician. Obviously, sitting around with a self-working card magic book is not a power move. In fact, it probably undermines your actual level of skill. And that’s not a look most people who perform magic tricks want to portray. But for me, a magic book makes an ideal segue into performing

I’m not suggesting you go around with The Art of Astonishment stacked up on your table at Starbucks, but there are a few benefits to carrying something like the Karl Fulves book mentioned above.

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  1. It’s small and slim. It may even fit in your back pocket. When people see it, it draws attention, but it doesn’t obviously demand it.

  2. It’s a perfect gift to give someone on the fly if they show an interest in magic. I’ll buy a few copies at a time to have some to give away.

  3. If someone picks it up and flips through it, they’re unlikely to stumble on any important secret of magic.

  4. It misdirects their suspicion. When I use a self-working book as a hook, I don’t actually perform a self-working card trick (at least, not generally). And I’ll take advantage of the implication that they don’t need to be on guard against sleight-of-hand.

  5. Here’s something I would never have realized until talking about it with laymen: The phrase “self-working” magic can be very intriguing to people who aren’t familiar with the vernacular of learning magic. Erase what you know about magic. You see a book entitled, “Self-Working Card Tricks.” What would that even mean? And then someone says, “Yeah, let me show you something unbelievable. I have no idea how it works.” That can seem almost believable. If it’s something that works, “by itself,” the implication is that it doesn’t need the performer to direct it.

Okay, but what if I show them something and then they say, “Let me see where that’s written up in the book. I want to try it.”

That’s a possibility. For that reason, I generally don’t present it as TW does in his email to me, where I’m constantly referencing the book. I just use it as a hook. They see the book and ask something about why I have it or whatever, and that propels us into the conversation. I only imply that what they’re seeing is straight from the book, but I don’t reference it. If, at the end, they say, “Okay, show me where that is in the book,” I’ll spend a minute or so looking for it and then say, “Hmmm… that must be in Volume 2.” The book has already served its purpose of naturally guiding us into the trick.