Last week in our Self Publishing series we talked about the Book Cover, the first (and oftentimes only) chance for a book to make an impression on a potential reader
But what happens after the cover catches the reader’s attention?
Jilly’s post on Monday about the Dreaded Synopsis got me to thinking about some of the other elements you need in order hold a reader’s attention, once you’ve caught it
Loglines, taglines, high-concept – these are all tools that can help you position (and market) your story to your audience. Although we are looking at this through the lens of self-publishing, they are important regardless of the publishing path you choose.
“A logline is a brief (usually one-sentence) summary the central conflict of the story, often providing both a synopsis of the plot and an emotional hook to stimulate interest.”
Well that sounds easy, right?
Distilling hundreds of pages of story down to a sentence or two is a very tricky proposition. To do so, you need to really know your story – who your characters are, what their goals are, and what is getting in their way. You need to be able to take everything you know about your story and distill it down to the bare bones. With a logline, you’re not attempting to tell your story, you’re attempting to sell it to a potential reader.
“A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.” ~ Titanic
One screenwriting site I came across said that “a logline is the DNA of your story. If you can’t make it work it may be because your story doesn’t work.” Harsh, perhaps, but if you can’t get the basic idea of your story across to a reader, how can you expect to interest them enough to open the book and start reading?
Here are some fun sample loglines I came across in my research today:
“An alcoholic ex-superhero searches for his daughter after she is kidnapped by his demented, jealous former sidekick.”
“To save his reputation a secretly celibate frat-boy must sleep with 15 women by the end-of-semester party.”
Okay, they may not be stories I’d want to read, but they clearly tell who the protagonists are, what their goals are, and what the stakes are.
Here are a couple more examples that really would (did) catch and hold my attention:
“Minerva Dobbs knows how to work the odds. Calvin Morrisey always plays to win. But when they face off, neither one is prepared because when real life meets true love, all bets are off.” Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
“Three determined young ladies vow to give three of London’s worst rakes their comeuppance—but when these rogues turn the tables, who truly learns a lesson in love?” ~ The Rake, Suzanne Enoch
If you’re looking to try out a logline of your own, you can post it on Logline It! and get feedback from complete strangers. Who wouldn’t want that? Or you could just post it below in the comments.
“a catchphrase or slogan, especially as used in advertising”
While a logline gives the basic idea of what a story is about, a tagline is more of a marketing hook. It gives a feel for the story, and evokes an emotion, rather than providing details. Think of the kind of catchphrase you would see on a movie poster or in smaller print on the cover of a book – that’s a tagline.
“In space, no one can hear you scream” ~ Alien
“Don’t go near the water” ~ Jaws
“Collide with destiny.” ~ Titanic
“A daring ruse leads to love” ~ An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley
You can also create a tagline for your author persona, which you would then use on your social media sites, as part of your email signature, and on promotional materials. In this case, the tagline would be a catchphrase or slogan that differentiates your from other writers. It should be memorable but flexible enough that it still fits as you continue to grow as a writer.
“Get in bed with Delilah. Everyone else has.” ~ Delilah Devlin
“Romance novels with big, beautiful heroines” ~ Pat Ballard
“The Grandmaster of Adventure” ~ Clive Cussler
“Grown-up love stories, because we’re never too old for a little sexy romance.” ~ Nan Reinhardt
“Love and laughter on every page” ~ Karen Hawkins
The most distilled version of your story is the basic concept. By using familiar ideas/characters/etc., it identifies what other stories yours is similar to, while still providing a differentiator. Defining your concept can be particularly useful when trying to decide how to position your book in the marketplace.
A recent Hallmark movie that I saw could be summed up with the following concept statement:
“Pride & Prejudice meets the Kennel Club” ~ Unleashing Mr. Darcy
For my own story, The Traitor, the concept was “A melancholy Regency Cary Grant meets Jo March.” Okay, needs work, but hopefully you get the idea.
Back Cover Copy
The last thing I want to touch on today is the book’s back cover copy; the blurb on the back that gets a reader interested enough to open the book and start reading. In the comments of Monday’s post Jennifer Windrow stressed the importance of incorporating the story and style promises in your opening paragraphs, to catch and hook your reader. You want your back cover copy (or brief online description where you are selling your book) to do the same thing.
Scanning the books on my shelves the back cover blurbs typically (indirectly) answer the following questions:
Is the story light or heavy?
Who is the protagonist (and antagonist, if that is not a secret)
What type of story is this (mystery, paranormal, vampire, romance, etc.)?
What is the time period (contemporary, historical, futuristic)?
Some hint about the conflict
Of course some of the books had no back cover copy at all, but those were typically well established authors who used their author photo to capture attention, rather than a blurb about their story.
An example of a back cover that I thought did a very good job of catching my attention and getting me interested enough to start reading was Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score. It’s a little long, but I liked the way it progressed from the introduction to the title reiteration at the end.
This is Jane.
A little subdued. A little stubborn. A little tired of going out on blind dates with men who drive vans with sofas in the back, Jane Alcott is living the Single Girl existence in the big city. She is also leading a double life. By day, she’s a reporter covering the raucous Seattle Chinooks hockey team-especially their notorious goalie Luc Martineau. By night, she’s a writer, secretly creating the scandalous adventures of “Honey Pie” . . .the magazine series that has all the men talking.
See Jane Spar
Luc has made his feelings about parasite reporters—and Jane—perfectly clear. But if he thinks he’s going to make her life miserable, he’d better think again.
See Jane Attract
For as long as he can remember, Luc has been single-minded about his career. The last thing he needs is a smart-mouthed, pain-in-the-backside reporter digging into his past and getting in his way. But once the little reporter sheds her black and gray clothes in favour of a sexy red dress, Luc sees that there is more to Jane than originally meets the eye.
Maybe it’s time to take a risk. Maybe it’s time to live out fantasies. Maybe it’s time to . . .
See Jane Score
Next week we’ll be turning our attention to what’s inside the book.
For now, do you have a logline, tagline, or concept for any of your stories or any good examples from other stories/authors? Feel free to share in the comments.
Jenny’s is three sentences, which I think breaks the basic rules, but the logline doesn’t break the ultimate rules, which is: charm the reader into buying your book. She’s got two great elements in there: major conflict and wordplay. And dare I add, hope? Plus, it rings true. The story is definitely going to deliver on the gambling aspect.
Sometimes people indulge in wordplay, but there’s no real truth behind it. And that’s fine for fun, but perhaps not the best way to engage with people you hope will be repeat customers.
The first two sample loglines are intriguing, but they are very plain. They don’t engage in any kind of word-twist that really engages the reader and draws him/her in. I might judge that those people know how to write character, they might know how to plot, but I’m a little dubious about their ability to write.
Maybe that’s unfair; a lot of people need more room to develop. But I do like to see a zinger in a logline, so if a writer is strictly long-form, maybe s/he better ask a friend for help in summarizing.
Just my two cents today. My brain is a little fuzzy today, and I’m not seeing the other sides very clearly.
Michaeline – I like the word play aspect too; gives me confidence that the story is fun and entertaining. Hard to judge a whole story on a logline though; that’s a lot of pressure to put on a handful of words. No wonder it is so hard to come up with a good one.
I hated Titanic (found Jack and Rose completely unbearable) so that may be coloring my interpretation, but egads that logline is dull! I mean, it’s not incorrect, but I don’t think it fits well with the tone of the story. Something like “A wealthy young woman throws away her engagement for infatuation with a penniless charmer (artist?) aboard a doomed voyage” seems closer to what they wanted to portray (and is actually one word shorter, although possible has more characters and might not fit in TV guide or wherever.
Of course fans of the film might take umbrage at my voice of words. 🙂
At any rate, it’s clearly much easier to logline somebody else’s work than your own!
Peggy, I agree that the logline is a dull one, though the fact that I didn’t like the movie may be coloring my opinion as well. I would love to hear some examples of good
loglines. Researching them for this post was harder than I expected.
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