Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Fast Pitch

As we wait patiently for more queries to come in (revisions on Evil Editor's blog get rerouted to here, or you may send your query directly to phoenixsullivan @, I thought we could try our hands at writing one-sentence pitches.

Several agents have blogged about the importance of having multiple vehicles readily available to talk about your book -- everything from a logline to a paragraph to a full-blown query and synopsis. Of particular importance, if only for dazzling guests at cocktails parties, is the one-sentence logline or hook. I won't recount what others have said perfectly well and then some, so go read agent Rachelle Gardner's advice and critiques, which are fairly comprehensive, then come back here to put what you've learned into practice.

How to write the hook sentence
Examples of good ones and why they're good
Examples of less-good ones and how they can be improved

If you haven't experienced the true delight of condensing your 100,000-word story down to fewer than 30 words, then you probably still have a full head of hair and hope for the future. Agonizing over a query is nothing compared to trying to boil down the essence of your book to little more than the length of a tweet.

So post your results in the comments and feel free to comment on everyone else's.

Sorry, no contest or prizes like Rachelle offered. But my log line got an honorable mention, so I'll start us off by reposting it here:

When a cloning project reintroduces the pandemic that wiped out the Ice Age megabeasts, a veterinarian and a CDC investigator battle to keep humans from becoming the next target for extinction.
Looking forward to seeing YOURS!


fairyhedgehog said...

This is hard!

vkw said...

Magic returns bringing the promise of great power, instead it brings unimaginable evil; the world's only hope is in a reluctant thief.

I think I could do better but I gave myself five minutes - I think I may over think things . . so, there ye be.

LSimon said...

Doing nothing by halves... I came up with 3.

Someone wants to usurp the Faery Court's throne, and Mandi is in their way.

Half-fae Mandi has never been of interest to the Star Court, but when a plan to overthrow the throne comes to light, she may be their only hope.

When half-fae Mandi finds out her father was murdered by a supernatural creature she goes hunting for the bitch, unknowingly throwing herself into a tangle of fae political intrigue.

Michelle4Laughs said...

Here goes. I hope it is not too general.

A princess fighting a debilitating illness is further shunned at court when clues to her sister’s murder point to her, forcing her to attempt a journey through rebel controlled lands in a dangerous bid for a cure.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I could do this:

Tommy struggles to learn how to be a vampire while avoiding the school bully and the gang thirsty for a taste of his half-human blood.

But it loses all the humor.

Then there's this one:

Tommy's half-Italian, half-Vampire - he loves garlic, but he's allergic to it.

Which has some of the humor and light tone, but none of the plot. I did use that once and got a laugh from a senior VP.

Lots to think about.

This is just a small change, but I think it's heading in the right direction:

Garlic-lover struggles to learn how to be a vampire while avoiding the school bully and the gang thirsty for a taste of his half-human blood.

But still too serious.

Matt said...

I've tinkering for a while, but I haven't been able to come up with anything I'm proud of. Better wait till my story is complete so I know what angle I want to come at it from.

Phoenix said...

@FHH: It IS deceptively difficult, isn't it?

@vkw: One thing I've seen with a LOT of these one sentencers is that writers will squish several concepts together to make it one sentence and end up with grammar issues. You have a comma splice in yours, so it doesn't read as smoothly as it could. I'm not sure "the promise of great power" is needed here since power can go either way: great or evil.

@LSimon: I like option 3 best. Perhaps "unwittingly" rather than "unknowingly"?

Option 1 seems a bit too general -- we don't know whether Mandi is a good obstacle or not.

Option 3 doesn't seem to give us enough of a unique hook and the phrase "comes to light" makes it sound a tad passive.

@Michelle4Laughs: I'm wondering if this is strong enough. "shunned" seems a bit of a weak response to murder, and I'm not clear how being accused of murder leads the protag to trying to find a cure for her illness.

@Sarah: I do think you need the humor element in yours. Here's what I came up with:
Tommy's Italian half loves garlic, but that's only the first of the troubles for a half-vampire schoolboy who just wants to fit in.

@Matt: Looking forward to seeing yours when it's ready!

Michelle4Laughs said...

I adjusted it, but now it feels long and awkward. Help!

While fighting a debilitating disease, Princess Kindar is further isolated at court when she is suspected of murdering her sister, now she must attempt a dangerous journey in a bid for a cure that can restore her status, allowing her to find the true killer.

Michelle4Laughs said...

Sorry I tinkered and I like this version better.

Born with a debilitating disease, Princess Kindar is further isolated at court when she is suspected of murdering her sister, now she must journey in a dangerous bid for a cure that can restore her status, and allow her to find the true killer.

Matt said...

A princess born with a debilitating disease searches for both a cure and her sister's murderer.

Matt said...

By the way, Michelle, that line would work better if you named the disease.

Case in point:

A princess born with MS searches for her sister's murderer.

If the disease is fictional it'll still work. No need to explain it.

Matt said...


In a school for vampires, a half-human struggles against bullies out for blood.


Mandi searches for the fairy who killed her father.


Armed only with her silver tongue, a street performer must close the gates of hell.

batgirl said...

I've been watching a published friend experiment with book trailers (hours of fun finding these on youtube) and that's a similar process. So this is what I came up with as trailer text for my first:
To free her brother and save a kingdom, Mylla must untangle The Willow Knot.
and for The Cost of Silver:
Hunted by witchfinders, Tom turns to the undead. All they want is some of his blood--and his soul.

The second one might do for a logline, but I think the one for Willow Knot is too vague. It would work as a trailer with the right images.
Check out Maggie Stiefvater's book trailers for beautifully enticing wordless images, by the way.

Sylvia said...

Somewhat related:

_*rachel*_ said...

These stories are currently being worked on or... not worked on. But the practice is good.

this year's NaNo:
Annie's a minimum-wage superhero trying to track down a man with evil plans, but first she's got to go through her genius nemesis--who's honest, kind, and totally dreamy.

When the mastermind of last year's bloody slave rebellion escapes prison, her hostage is the country's most ardent abolitionist and the slave hunter chasing them down is her free-born sister.

When Deirdre bungles into another world on a quest to find a prodigal son, she's mistaken for the woman whose face nearly started a war.

vkw said...

Matt that was very, very good. I like it. Thank-you.

I also came up with this - It's two sentences not one but I've read that's okay.

Ehlana, a thief gifted with extraordinary language skills, lives in a world where magic returns, bringing with it the promise of unimaginable wealth and power. She learns that it is being used for unimaginable evil, and she must sacrifice herself to banish it again.

Matt wrote this: Armed only with her silver tongue, a street performer must close the gates of hell.

Phoenix said...

Awwk! I've neglected you all. Thankfully, Matt was here to fill in.

@batgirl: I think The Willow Knot one just needs a bit about what Mylla's brother needs to be freed from. He's been transformed into a hart, hasn't he? Maybe just something about him being witched or spelled or whatever term works best for your world. Otherwise, it sounds as though her brother is trapped in the same plight as the kingdom.

For The Cost of Silver, I think I'd like to know what the undead will do for Tom -- or what he expects them to do. All they want in return for X is some of his blood -- and his soul.

And Maggie's stuff IS great.

I've done a rough cut of a trailer for Sector C that I'm pretty happy with. Now to just be able to use it...

@Sylvia: Thanks for the link!

@Rachel: Girl, you've got this hook line down cold! I love the "minimum wage" description of your super hero.

@vkw: Hehe... I bet you have issues with authority don't you (as in pushing boundaries)?

I'm not sure the language skills in your version feel connected to the plot the same way Matt's version connects it.

I'm not sure how to use both her skill and her sacrifice in a short hook. I came up with:
When magic returns to the world bringing with it the promise of wealth and power, the thief Ehlana must sacrifice herself to banish it before it can be used for the ultimate evil.