Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you look for in a logline?

Question: Authors read about the need for a condensed hook, a one or two sentence summary of a novel's premise that will inspire an interested party to read more. What do you look for in a hook? What should an author incorporate in a hook?

This is a great question, and I devote many pages to discussing this in my free e-book, How to Write a Great Query Letter. The short answer:

It is important for an author to prepare a logline (sometimes referred to as a “tagline” or as “a one (or two) sentence summary”), because some agents will ask for it, because it will help you condense your query letter, and perhaps most importantly, because the act of condensing your 300 or 400 page work to a mere one or two sentences is a pivotal exercise for every author. The process will force you to examine your work in a whole new light and to ask yourself hard questions about what it is really about. It will also help you understand your work from the perspective of those who will have to market it, whether it is an agent, editor, sales rep or bookseller. And it will force you, creatively, to face the very essence of what your work is about.

The question authors most fear is, “What is your work about?” When confronted with such a question, we usually either find ourselves at a loss for words, or find ourselves spending ten minutes poorly explaining our work. It is the rare author who can summarize his own work instantly, without blinking, in a pithy manner, with eloquence and brevity. This should be your goal. If you can get to the point where you can achieve this verbally, in a social situation, then you will have reached the point where you can achieve this on the page. Writing, after all, is merely thought applied to paper.

From an agent’s perspective, specificity is all. This shouldn’t be too surprising, because all good writing is specific. As I discuss at length in my book, location, time period and comparison are three vital tools that will help you get there. You can write “My novel is set in America,” or be more specific and write, “My novel is set in New York,” or go further, “My novel is set in East Harlem.” The more specific you get, the stronger the imagery. You could write, “My novel takes place over a short period of time,” or “My novel takes place over a three day period in 1842.” 1776. 1812. 1945. McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Mobile, Alabama. Reykjavik, Iceland. Dates, locations and time frames can tell us so much, and with little space. A relevant comparison to a successful book in your genre will help complete the picture, and do so in few words.

As you work on your logline, it may even spur you to reconsider revising your work itself. In this way, we begin to see how the process of creating a logline can be far more than just a marketing endeavor.


  1. This is not directly related to the logline, but I think it's important. I have purchased your book, The First Five Pages, and found it to be very valuable. I wonder, however, how likely it is that an over-worked literary agent (or editor) would have the time to read those first five pages. I would like to know what you think of making the first five sentences (or paragraphs, if need be) as vital and as impossible to ignore as the those five pages.

  2. Hello, a Hollywood production company has asked for the hard copy of my script but i'm not sure if I should bind it? tx, TY


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