It’s been quite a while since we talked about one-sentence summaries of a novel. In recent weeks, several folks have emailed me to ask when I was going to blog about this again.
If it’s been too long since you thought about one-sentence summaries, you can find the full scoop on my Snowflake page.
Let’s remember why a one-sentence summary is so valuable. By the way, this is sometimes called an “elevator pitch.” The theory is that if you’re at a conference and you meet an editor or agent in the elevator and they ask what you’re writing, you have time to say maybe fifteen words before the elevator dings open. This could happen, although it really is taking the small picture. There are SO many other uses for the one-sentence summary.
Let’s review those now. Remember that you need to sell your novel 7 times in order for it to be a commercial success:
1) You sell the idea to your editor.
2) Your editor sells the idea to the publishing committee.
3) Your editor later sells the idea to the sales team.
4) The sales team sells the idea to the buyers for the bookstores.
5) The buyers sell idea to the staff in the bookstores.
6) The staff sell the actual book to customers who come to the store.
7) Your readers sell the idea to their friends (this is called “word of mouth”)
The important point is that your book simply won’t do very well if ANY of those links in the chain don’t work (unless you get massively lucky). And please notice that only one of those links (#6) actually involves selling the BOOK. All the other links involve selling the IDEA of the book.
And you sell an IDEA with one sentence of just a few words. Trust me, your readers are not going to memorize a 200 word pitch when they tell their friends about this great book they just read. The typical reader will give a rambling account of the book UNLESS you give them something short and pithy and brilliant that they can use instead. Most often, that “something” is a one-sentence summary, although it can in principle be a title. Your readers are not marketing geniuses. They will not spend hours to figure out the perfect marketing hook for your story. You need to give that to them.
You do that by giving it to your editor, who can take it from there. Before you give it to your editor, you need to figure it out yourself.
At the most recent conference I went to, in Mount Hermon, California, I spent 8 hours mentoring a really lively group of 10 writers. I also spent half an hour with each writer in private appointments. Some of these appointments, we spent the whole half hour brainstorming up one-sentence summaries for their novels. I had required all of them to submit a one-sentence summary before the conference. With few exceptions, their sentences weren’t all that good. So it was fun to brainstorm up some improved versions. Thirty minutes thinking about a one-sentence summary may be one of the most productive half-hours you’ll ever spend. You may even find that you actually understand your book better when you have a great one-sentence summary.
So here’s my question for today: What’s your one-sentence summary?
If you’re bold, post it here. I’ll read all of them, and I’ll critique those that I think will be most educational to my loyal blog readers.
This is always a fun exercise for everybody, so go ahead and think hard about it, even if you don’t want to put up a comment here. You may be surprised at what you learn about your story.