What’s your log-line??

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Writing a novel is a huge endeavour. Work, work, work, work, work. And worse, when the novel is done, there’s the whole new challenge of attempting to sell it.

Who sells well? Salesmen. And not because they are soulful, thoughtful, imaginative, word-loving creative types. They sell well because they can communicate in a whole different way. The novelist needs a completely new creative skillset to find a market for the novel they worked so hard to produce. It doesn’t always come easy.

Pitch, elevator pitch, long pitch, short pitch, log line, book blurb, mini-synopsis: these are all similar (and summary) creatures I’ve been trying to get to grips with.

Things got a bit easier recently when I came across Jasmine Walt’s neat challenge to produce a log line and gave it a try. She wrote:

If you don’t know how to write a logline, there’s a resource to help you here

Okay, so it seems that a lot of people don’t actually know how to write a log line. If you’re one of those, click on the link– it’s really helpful. Most of you won’t, since you think you know how to write one. Recognizing that, I decided I’d post a list of what I’m looking for:

1. Character: who is the MC? I don’t care about the supporting characters much; mention them in passing if you have to, but don’t go dropping a bunch of names because that will confuse the reader. I only really need to know who the MC is.

2. Conflict: What problem does your character have to overcome?

3. Stakes: What are the consequences if your character fails?

Specifically for number three, these don’t have to be spelled out completely. Sometimes it’s not necessary to do so; the reader will draw his own conclusions as to what will happen. As with anything, the rules are flexible. The important thing is knowing when they work and when you need a bit more wiggle room. But seeing as how most of the log lines I’ve seen are super vague, it’s best to be as specific as possible.

For The Licenser, here was my first attempt:

In Restoration London an ambitious writer pursues the truth about the lying preacher Titus Oates, but in doing so neglects his young wife, leaving her vulnerable to blackmail and forced to become a spy in her own home.

Spot any problems? Jasmine did. She replied:

That’s pretty darn good! I’d shorten the bit about the preacher though– maybe just say ‘investigates a lying preacher’. One, because the shorter your logline is the more readable. Two, because it’s inadvisable to introduce more than one character name in such a short space. Readers these days have a short enough attention span as it is. Oh, and I’d also cut the bit about ‘neglecting his wife’– it goes without saying that he leaves her open to attack when you tell us about the blackmail.

Now here’s the trick (I think). I didn’t know Jasmine. She didn’t know me. She hadn’t read my book so she had no preconceptions. And so I just followed her advice, without questioning it, to see what happened.

Here’s version two:

In Restoration London an ambitious writer pursues the truth behind a Catholic terror plot, but in doing so leaves his young wife vulnerable to blackmail and forced to become a spy in her own home.

Much better! I liked it and Jasmine liked it too. If you are brushing up your sales material for your novel, her log-line advice might be worth a try. And if I’ve piqued your interest in The Licenser, the opening chapters are right here!

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