Archive | March, 2008

What’s Your One-Sentence Summary?

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.

What Do You Call This Drink?

We’ve now wrapped up a long series with Cindy Martinusen Coloma on her “Puzzle Method” of writing a novel. I’ve gotten permission from Cindy to put all those together into one long article, which I will post on this site soon. That’ll give us all a permanent record of what she said, and of course it’ll give me a chance to put my imprint on it, because I’ll insert some comments and structure.

A few of you had comments today:

Gerhi wrote:

And now a question (and possibly an idea for what to cover next Randy – hint): In my novel I have scene that takes place in the toilets of a Mall.

But I’m not sure toilets are the right thing to call them. Loo’s doesn’t seem right, lavatory is worse. Is it Men’s and Ladies or what.
We used to talk about the little boys room and the little girls room.

So, the question in two parts: what do you call a public loo in America, and how do you deal with these regional language anomalies?

Randy sez: These are usually called either bathrooms or restrooms in America, although there are rarely baths in them, and anyone who tried to rest there would likely be arrested.

Regional language anomalies happen all the time. A classic example is this one: What do you a carbonated drink? Some people call it “soda”. Some call it “pop”. Others call it “coke” (even if it isn’t Coca Cola). It really depends on where you’re from. Different regions call it different things. You can find a map showing the regional variations here.

What do you call it? I’m particularly interested to hear what it’s called outside the US.

Robert asked (regarding the two domains I posted yesterday):

Those are fun web addresses! Technical question on this … what method do you use to forward them to your site?

I’ve been confused on whether you do it “temporary” or “permanent”, and if permanent, what method. I’ve heard you can be dinged by the search engines because they think you are posting duplicate content when you actually are not.

Randy sez: I bought both domain on GoDaddy and pointed them at this site. I don’t remember if they’re permanent or temporary. I don’t know exactly what the method is. I don’t think I’m being hurt much by search engines for duplicate content, because this site has at least 42 keyphrases that rank in the top ten on Google. (I learned this by fiddling around with the very cool site at

In other news, the parachute of the famous hijacker D.B. Cooper may have been found recently, and it’s only a few miles from where I now live. Some of the money he had when he parachuted out of an airliner in 1971 was found in 1980, also a few miles from where I live, but in a different location from the newly found parachute. So who knows?–he may have survived. Now if only the rest of the money were sitting somewhere on my property . . .

We’ll begin a new topic tomorrow. I haven’t decided what it will be yet. Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Cindy’s Puzzle Method, Day 8

Today, we’re wrapping up a long series of guest blogs by Cindy Martinusen Coloma on her “Puzzle Method” of writing a novel.

Cindy writes:


We’ve reached the last step in the puzzle method. It’s pretty much the same for any method of writing – the final polish.


* Set the book aside for 1 or 2 weeks if possible.

* Print & Read (aloud if possible) – reading it in hard copy will allow you to see more mistakes and

* Give another polish.

* You have a completed novel now. Now CELEBRATE your accomplishment – treat yourself to something great. You deserve it, and no one but you and other writers will understand the accomplishment fully (so don’t be disappointed, but DO treat yourself!).

* Now share the book ONLY with readers you trust to tell the truth: a critique group, professional reviewer, or take it to a writer’s conference. Read the editing books (Self-editing for Fiction Writers is one of many) and work hard.

* And remember you may be polishing and revising till the end of your life – just kidding, sort of.

And there it is! You have a novel!

I hope this helps those of you who have been struggling to fit into other methods.

I struggled for many years until finally I trusted what worked best, then I started analyzing it. Keep experimenting with your writing, always push yourself to something a little harder than you think you can do, and keep breathing life into words. Because really, every time you write a sentence, you’re gathering word puzzle pieces and creating something of wonder.

Thanks for this opportunity Randy. It’s been quite an honor and a wonderful experience!

Randy sez: Thanks, Cindy, for sharing your method with us all. Let me note a recent comment:

Camille wrote:

When this course is finished, I really want to go over it as a whole. I’ve been too busy on other stuff to focus on it all and only got bits and pieces, and I can see now what part of the process I can use now as I near the end of my novel. Your archives are supernaturally backed up, right Randy??

Unless there is another way to pull these together as a whole, I want to copy/paste these posts all together into a neat, formatted file, if that’s okay with Randy and Cindy. I won’t charge much for it (kidding!). And if it’s okay with you guys, I’d be glad to share it with anyone else who also wants it all in one file. Is that okay? Would homemade cinnamon rolls tempt you to say yes?

Randy sez: I’ll ask Cindy about that, since she owns the rights to the Puzzle Method.

By the way, check out a couple of domains that might be of interest to you all.

Wonder who owns Can you guess?

Also, look who grabbed Doesn’t that make you mad? 🙂

Cindy’s Puzzle Method, Day 7

Today we’ll pick up another installment in the “Puzzle Method” by Cindy Martinusen Coloma. This is installment #7 in the series she’s doing with us.

Yielding the floor to Cindy:


Time frame – week to a month

As you read this, I’m in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains about to begin 5 days where the subject will be writing. There’s something rare and amazing about Mount Hermon, and it’s been 6 years since I’ve been here. My husband of less than a year is here for the first time, so I’m excited to share this with him and to be on faculty for the first time.  Okay, back to the Puzzle.

Reminder – this method is for “Advanced Fiction Writers” – those who have read a lot, know story, and have worked at the craft. Otherwise, the structure of a story will not be understood and so all those pieces will be like when you first open a puzzle box. But with this group, “advanced” seemed a given.


* NOW start with chapter 1 and go from beginning to end. Some parts will be sent to the cut file (but don’t just delete them) and other sections will surprise you with a vivid way to raise the stakes. But now you’ll smooth it out.

* This is when you can compare your story to The Writer’s Journey, or other structures if you wish.

* Be sure to check EACH scene to make sure it PROGRESSES the story. If it doesn’t, move it to the cut file.

* I mentioned this earlier, it’s amazing how much easier it is for me to connect and add needed scenes when I create this way.


* From Chapter 1 to End – Edit and rewrite

* Again, check each scene for story progression

* Within each scene check paragraphs and sentences – tighten and cut unnecessary interior monologues, descriptions, etc.

* Check for development of characters  – each should evolve and be changed from the beginning to the end (unless your story is about a character who fails and doesn’t change)

* Check balance of narrative and dialogue, action and raising of stakes against development of character, setting and plot.

* Finish editing, revising, & polishing

Randy sez: LOL, the Puzzle Method is starting to look a lot like REAL WORK. The truth is that you have to do the hard work of analysis sometime. You can either do it up front or on the back end. Let me emphasize that there is no “best method” that works for everyone. There are “best methods” that are best for certain people and are not so great for other people.

Your mission (and you have no choice but to accept it) is to find the “best method” which works best for you. When you do that, writing will be a joy and a delight. If it’s not, then look around for somebody else’s “best method.”

We’ll conclude next week with Day 8 of Cindy’s Puzzle Method.

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