books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hooks, Loglines, and Pitches: What Every Writer Needs to Know


Some nice news: This blog has been nominated for the Top Writing Blogs Award by ECollegeFinder.org !


If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to start sending that masterpiece out into the marketplace, you’re going to run into words like “hook,” “logline,” and “pitch.” The terms come from the film industry, but they’re becoming standard in publishing as well.

So what do they mean? Are they just sexy terms for a synopsis? 

Not exactly. The distinctions often blur, but here are the basics:

LOGLINE is a term that once applied only to screenplays, but has been creeping into the literary world. It consists of one or two sentences describing the story’s premise, like a film description in TV Guide:

Here’s the basic formula for a logline:

When______happens to_____, he/she must_____or face_____.

“When Dorothy Gale gets tornadoed to Oz and accidentally squashes an unpopular head of state, she must find a wizard to help her get home to Kansas, or be killed by the ruler's evil sister and some nasty flying monkeys.”

A HOOK is longer—a paragraph or two giving the characters, premise, and conflict, like a book jacket cover blurb. (Skipping the cover blurb accolades. Self-praise doesn’t just sound narcissistic, it screams “clueless amateur.”)

The hook should be the main component of a query letter to an agent, editor, or reviewer and is essential for your back copy or Amazon blurb.

The Wizard of Oz is a middle-grade fantasy novel set in a magical land where much of the population suffers from self-esteem issues. When Dorothy Gale, a Kansas farm girl, arrives via tornado, she accidentally kills the ruling witch.

The witch’s powerful sister wants Dorothy dead, but Dorothy only wants to get home, which she cannot do until she finds the right traveling shoes.”

Or you might want to try the “Hook Me Up” formula of the late, great Miss Snark (I suggest stating the setting first, especially for fantasy or sci-fi.)

X is the main guy; he wants to do_____.
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do_____.
They meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don't resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it's L squared.

Don’t take the “bad guy” reference to mean you need to make your novel sound as if it has a Snidely-Whiplash-type villain. The antagonist can be anything that keeps the protagonist from his goals, from a wicked witch to the hero’s own addictions. If you want to read more on antagonists, Kristen Lamb has a fantastic blogpost, “Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker.”

A PITCH can contain either or both of the above. You can make a pitch in writing or in person. It tells—in the shortest possible time—what your book is about and why somebody should buy it. This is what you memorize before you go to that Writers’ Conference, hoping you’ll get trapped in an elevator with Stephen Spielberg or an editor from Knopf.

When composing your pitch, you want to answer these questions: Who? Where? What’s the conflict? What action does the protagonist take? What are the stakes? How is it unique?

To get started, it's fun to play with Kathy Carmichael’s clever “pitch generator” This is fun and amazingly useful. I’m so glad to find it’s still going strong after six years.

Here’s her generator’s pitch for the Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is a (x) word fantasy novel set in the magical land of Oz. Dorothy Gale is a Kansas farm girl who believes a legendary wizard can help her get home. She wants to return to Kansas to be with her Auntie Em. She is prevented from attaining this goal because her transportation vehicle is sitting on a dead witch, she’s being attacked by flying monkeys and her traveling companions are a little dim.

Hooks, loglines and pitches should all be composed in the present tense, starting with title and genre.

None of the above should be confused with a SYNOPSIS, which is a detailed run-down of the complete plot. (But not too detailed. Lots of submission guidelines ask for a one-page synopsis these days. More on that in another post.)

In all three, you also want to convey the tone of your book:

You can have a humorous logline:

“When the romantic adventures of a southern belle are interrupted by an icky war PLUS her goody-two-shoes-BFF steals her boyfriend, Scarlett whips up a fabulous outfit in order to seduce Mr. Wrong, who in the end, doesn’t give a damn.”

Or punch up a coming of age story by emphasizing high-stakes conflict:

“With his life in constant danger from the monstrous carnivore Snowbell, young Stuart must fight for his life, and prove once and for all whether he is a man or a mouse.”

Or go for the thrills by emphasizing the most dangerous scene:

“Marked for death along with his companions, a toy rabbit must learn to cry real tears in order to save himself from being thrown into a burning pit by the boy loves.”

Or give the overall premise:

"When the adopted son of Kansas farmer discovers he’s a strange visitor from a another planet, he tries to save the world, one clueless girl reporter at a time, in spite of opposition from an assortment of megalomaniacs armed with green rocks." 
(What is it with heroes and Kansas?)

When you’re composing, don’t forget to weed out clich├ęs. Here are some overused phrases to avoid:
  • little did he know
  • comes back to haunt her
  • race against the clock
  • web of deceit
  • determined to unmask
  • wants nothing more
  • spins out of control
  • torn apart by
  • vows to expose
  • world falls apart
  • forced to confront
Whether you’re writing a logline, hook or pitch, remember that less is more. Keep it short. And keep working on it. These few words are as important as any you’ll ever write.

It’s a fun game to play with classic stories. Anybody want to jump in with loglines for their favorite books? (or your own?) I’d love to see more!
*********

Next week we have a very special guest. Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward, will be talking to us about her personal experiences with rejection. Catherine has also announced she is giving one of her special limited-enrollment workshops on the weekend of February 4th. She'll be teaching the secrets of self-editing. Every participant will get personal editing advice on a WIP from Catherine as well as the members of the group. The workshop will be held in her own studio in gorgeous Cambria, California. In true "Pay it Forward" spirit, she's only asking that you pay what you can afford. This workshop will fill up quickly, so contact her soon if you're interested. Further details at ryanhyde@cryanhyde.com.  If you don’t live on the Central Coast, there are lovely places to stay in Cambria, so consider a weekend vacation. One of my favorite places to stay is the Cambria Pines Lodge —very affordable at this time of year. It has gorgeous views and gardens and is only five minutes from Catherine’s home (no, I don’t get any perks for recommending them.)

Indie Chick Anthology fans: Read Prue Batten's story about her encounter with an amazingly clueless agent on the Indie Chicks page.

43 comments:

  1. Awesome post. I'm bookmarking this. I knew about the pitch but didn't know about these other terms. It's my goal to make it to one big writer's conference this year at some point. I'll need to be prepared for it for sure.

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  2. Learned loglines from Save the Cat! (Great book.) Hooks and pitches I'm not great with, but guess it was enough to get a publisher. (After many tries.)
    And my blog was nominated for Best Writing from eCollegeFinder as well! I guess they didn't actually read any of my posts...

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  3. Another enjoyable and useful post. This is very timely for me, Anne. I just sent my manuscript off to an editor, and now getting down to the business of composing a query letter for my agent search. Great advice, and I love the link to the pitch generator.

    BTW, it's because of all the thoughtful information you've passed along that as a first time author, I'm going to start with the traditional route.

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  4. Here's a logline:

    "If you thought the internet was safe from the undead, you were wrong. Find out what happens when mummies blog."

    www.themummiesofblogspace9.com

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  5. And let's not forget these skills come in quite handy when composing cover copy for Amazon and Smashwords for those of us who are self-published. Great post, thanks Anne.

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  6. Anne, this is just fabulous! It all relates to the ability to write a punchy sentence. It's a talent that has other extremely important applications: Every writer needs to be able to write the grabby first line of a book (or chapter) that will draw in the reader and the killer "out" line at the end of a chapter that will keep the pages turning.

    Not an art, but a craft. Learnable but never easy. You simply can't phone in these essential parts of a query, blurb, or, as Amazon calls it, a Product Description.

    This post is an indispensable guide to tools & techniques every writer must master.

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  7. Michael--Every writer can benefit from the right writers conference. And even if you're just at your local bookstore, it's great to have a good pitch.

    Alex--Congrats on being a fellow nominee. I think there will be a bunch of "top blogs" so we can both win. Even published writers need to know how to pitch to potential customers, so it's a good thing to practice, no matter where you are in your career.

    Shelley--I'm glad you're taking my advice. A lot of the success stories we're hearing about indie publishing only applies to people like Konrath who are already established. It's a lot harder when you're just starting out.

    William--When mummies blog...I'm scared already. LOL.

    Anne--Absolutely. Self-publishers have to be just as good at pitching--to customers, reviewers, and, if you've got paper books, to bookstores. And yes, as Ruth mentions, that all important "product description" on Amazon.

    Ruth--Thanks. You're right that it's a craft that can be learned. Knowing the basic formula helps a lot. I should have added "product descriptions" as a category, shouldn't I?

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  8. This is such a useful post! Thank you!

    I am so bookmarking this. One of the most difficult things to get around your head is the terminology of the publishing world.

    I think I've used those cliches a million times!

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  9. Awesome post - must confess I never knew about any of those things before now, he he! Thanks Anne!

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  10. Thank you Anne! This is very timely for me and you've touched on some points I haven't seen others mention. Bookmarking this...

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  11. I'm with Charley. They've been on the outside of my mind, but I had no idea how to do one. This post has totally been bookmarked under Query help. :}

    And now, I played with the pitch generator. I tweeked it a bit, but here's a pitch/blurb for the book I'm hoping to start sending out next year (it's got some major revision to go through first).

    Sarah's Phoenix is a 50,000-word fantasy novel in which Sarah Smith, a school teacher and farm girl, from this world travels to Vervell where her belief in hard work and friendship goes a long way. All she wants to do is live a peaceful life and create a new family to replace the family that she has lost. Unfortunately, the enemy kingdom of Azure has set out to conquer Vervell. Can she and her new friends stop a war from breaking out between the two kingdoms?

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  12. You may be interested in my post from yesterday.

    http://www.escapewithdollycas.com/2012/01/07/e-books-copyrights-and-piracy-oh-my/

    I am hoping blogger will share or write their own posts.

    I would love to hear what you think of it.

    Lori

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  13. This is just great, Anne. Thanks so much for posting it. I'm printing it out and planning on posting a link to it on my blog.

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  14. You know, Anne, this is one of the most understandable and helpful posts on hooks and loglines and pitches I've ever read. I'm going to use it for one of my books that I'm sending out queries for right now.
    THANK YOU.
    Patti

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  15. Anne, I am so glad to be back from my break and spend another great sunday her at your blog. As usual you have given us great information and I thank you for so much time and care in each of your posts. I can see how you were nominated :) This is a keeper for sure!!

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  16. Fantastic post, Anne.

    I recently discovered your blog and love it, a goldmine for writers.

    I've linked to it from mine today.

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  17. Further evidence, if needed, of why this blog is a must-read for writers, whatever stage of their career they are at.

    Great post!

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  18. I'm also bookmarking this post for later. I have to start working on my pitch and log-line if I'm going to get my WiP out there in June.

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  19. Anne,
    Thanks for posting Prue Batten's story. I'm honored to be among such great company. Loved her A Thousand Glass Flowers.

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  20. Thanks so much Anne for the time involved with this post. Weeding through all the definitions in this very new-to-me world of publishing/writing has been tough. You have made it clearer.

    Your examples? Hilarious.

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  21. Fabulous, informative, most excellent post. Thanks.

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  22. Bookmarking this post!

    I'm so glad I started following your blog. You share such great info - thank you!

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  23. Great post, Anne. As you know I believe in using loglines even at the beginning of a work to guide the writing process. Loglines at this stage are not set in stone but capable of change as the story progresses and they can be terrific guides to writing the first draft. Hooks as well. Some of my loglines turn into hooks along the way as bits of plot and turning points are added. (I’ve saved this post along with others as you never know when you’ll need to do a pitch. Great job as usual!)

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  24. Great information! I love how you guide us through the mystery of the writing and publishing world with such wisdom and humor. Helpful, clear and darn entertaining!

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  25. Kamille--Learning about the publishing world is just as hard (and just as important) as learning stuff like the correct use of commas, isn't it?

    Charlie, angela--Glad I could help.

    Cathryn--Sounds intriguing!

    Lori--I'll try to get over there. Running really late today.

    Rosi--Thanks much for the linkage.

    Patricia--I'm so glad it helped.

    Florence Fois--I'm sooo glad Blogger is finally letting you comment with your real name!

    Nicola--Welcome to the blog and many thanks for linking!

    Mark--We have to keep pitching, no matter how long we've been writing. Sad but true.

    Misha--Yup. This would be a great time to get started on that pitch.

    Barbara-Prue's story is mind-boggling, isn't it?

    Donna--Glad I brought clarity. That's what I'd hoped.

    Chura and Christine--Thanks!

    Tracy--I'm so glad you're here!

    Mindprinter--GREAT suggestion. Start with a logline and you'll save yourself a ton of grief later on.

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  26. Great post with great links! I'm bookmarking it and passing it along. :)

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  27. Saving this post in my "go back to" folder. Thanks.

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  28. Wish I had your wit, Anne! You're the master of Hooks, Pitches, and Loglines. These are wonderful, and I bookmark all such wonderful posts to refer to again and again. This one is at the top of my list.

    Yes, they're all vitally important. And I'll be clicking on the link to Kristen. She also writes amazing posts.

    I appreciate the time and effort you put in each week to give your blogger friends such great information. Your blog is definitely one of the Top Writing Blogs. Congrats on the award (and congrats to Alex also).
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

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  29. Laura, LD and Ann--Thanks for the bookmarks!

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  30. I put this link at the top of my query letter for the women's fiction, for next time I'm tweaking it. Thanks.

    I live near the central coast. I'll check out the workshop. Its been a long time since I attended one. Are you going to attend this years Mendocino Coast Conference?

    .......dhole

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  31. Good luck with that query, Donna. If you can possibly get to Catherine's workshop, do it. She's an amazing teacher. No writers conferences for me this year except the Central Coast one in September. Got a whole lot of new stuff on my plate. More about that on Sunday!

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  32. "Are they just sexy terms for a synopsis?" *snort* That is awesome. :0) Great post.

    Congrats on the nomination, by the way!

    -m

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  33. This is really useful - thank you!

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  34. This is really great. I need a log line for my indie and this gave me some great ideas.

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  35. I thrive on formulas, at least as a launching pad. You're a goddess.

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  36. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!
    Thanks for sharing your great advice. ^_^

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  37. Mary, Shoshana and Lee--glad I could help.

    Leslie--Nice to be deified on a sluggish Saturday morning :-) The formula does help, doesn't it? Not to follow exactly, but as a jumping-off place.

    Jackie--So glad it's helpful!

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  38. Hi, thanks for posting - this is great advice on how to package and sell stories. I often think this side of writing is a skill of its own and your post really lays out the issues clearly - thanks & good stuff!

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    www.matthewwright.net

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  39. great post, Anne. Linked it in this weeks The Funnily Enough.

    cheers,
    mood
    Moody Writing

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  40. Matthew--It's so true--and these days, a writer has to develop both sets of skills. Learning to build platform has become as important as learning to use an apostrophe.

    Moody--Thanks a bunch. Just checked out The Funnily Enough. Lots of fantastic links. Loved Janice Hardy's piece on cutting unnecessary scenes.

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  41. Late getting here, but this was a good post. Log lines are tough for me. I'll try your idea by filling in the blanks and see where it leads. Thanks!

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  42. Can I just cozy up under your wing and stay there, letting my pin-feathers mature into sleek, beautiful, sturdy feathers? I can grow fat on these delicious, nutritious tid-bits you have so thoughtfully prepared for me, growing stronger and more confident until one day--I soar!

    Props to you and your wonderful blog. I have spent much time here over the last few days, exploring links, pondering, learning...
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with the rest of us!

    I put you as my blog's featured "Blog du Jour" and may just have to keep you there...permanently. The house soup!
    ~Just Jill

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  43. Ellis--Thanks for the comment. Missed you there. I also notice the picture of Catherine has disappeared. I'd better put up another one.

    Jill--What a day brightener! I'm so honored to be your Blog du Jour. I sometimes wonder if any of this is worth it. When I find out my information has actually helped somebody, the craziness of this life makes a little more sense to me. (And BTW, all this info and more can be found all in one place, combined with the wisdom of Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde in our book How to be a Writer in the E-Age.)

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