I believe it is safe to say almost every book is purchased before it is read. Or, at the very least, the decision to read it is made before it is read.
Wow, we are mining the depths of Dan’s publishing wisdom today.
There’s a reason aspiring and even experienced authors are encouraged to create a one-page pitch sheet for their books. If you can’t explain your work in relatively few words, you need to go back to the keyboard to figure out how to edit your description.
Principles for Condensing
Every single book generates interest for an agent, a publisher, and finally a reader with relatively few words of explanation. Certainly, you need to have more detail available than only a few words for agents and publishers, so they can dig deeper to make their respective decisions. But for readers, you are asking someone to invest money and time into your book; and you don’t have all the words in the world to convince them.
Condensing everything from an 80,000-word book into 80-100 words of descriptive copy requires you to use a good number of generalities, simply out of necessity. The text on the back cover of a book is often 80-100 words. Online descriptions are usually just as short but give some opportunity for longer entries, but not much.
Brevity in your descriptions should be practiced and perfected. And a good study of keywords is important for every writer.
Example of Condensing
Milo Frank wrote a popular business book about 30 years ago on the importance of getting to the point. He was born in New York City and served in the US Marines during WWII. After the war, he worked as a talent agent for the William Morris Agency. He went on to be head of Talent and Casting for CBS Television and later for Cinerama. He became a producer of independent movies, later writing How To Make Your Point in Thirty Seconds, then working as a business consultant to major corporations. (Copies of the book are still available; click link) Mr. Frank died in 2004.
As a talent agent and a television-casting head, he likely needed to interrupt many aspiring actors or actresses in the midst of elaborate self-explanations with, “You’ve got 30 seconds; tell me who you are and why you should get this part.”
Hence, he was well versed in how to get a lot of information into a small amount of speech or text and was eager to teach others how to do it.
Benefits of Condensing
While you might want to explain all aspects of your work, agents and publishers look for a small number of keywords and phrases to help them understand at the outset.
When you create a one-sheet for presenting your book, you are entering into a process infused throughout the publishing process.
And, by the way, your pitch to an agent or publisher should never, ever be, “Just read my manuscript!” There’s a time for that, but you first need to create interest by using a few words.
You can’t tell a book by its cover; but you sell a book by its cover, both front and back, with relatively few words. That’s all the reader will ever know before deciding to read it.
The patient agony of pruning
manuscript to sonnet-length
has brought me close to swooning
and has taken all my strength,
for how can such condensation
reflect complexity within?
It’s literary devastation,
and where on earth do I begin
to pen that gruesome thing?
But here’s a thought just come to mind
that might take root and wing,
that in reversal I might find
an antidote to feeling cursed;
next time I’ll write the one-sheet first.
This made me smile, Andrew. Especially the last line. haha!
Thank you, Dan. Writing those 80-100 word teasers IS challenging.
I spent a couple hours at Barnes and Noble just reading back covers—particularly in the Christian non-fiction section—before going home and attempting to write mine.
People took a variety of approaches to their back covers. I found a hardback book with a blank back cover. Maybe it had the publisher’s logo.
I imagine you’ve written about examples you’ve received on what works well and what not not to do in a one-sheet. I will do my research in your blog archives before making that request.
Kristen Joy Wilks
So true! When I buy a book, I’ll read the back copy. If it is interesting, I flip to the first page. But if that back copy is not interesting, I’m done. The exception for me is fantasy. I almost never find the back copy of a fantasy novel to be interesting (too much “chosen one” “fate of the world” “mythical sword of destiny” stuff) so for that genre I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt and turn right to the first page. I enjoy reading fantasy, but even my favorite authors seem to write eye-roll-worthy back copy. The only reason they get some wiggle room is I’ve read some fabulous fantasy books that friends were raving about that had abysmal back copy and that has stuck with me. So, all you non-fantasy authors have to hook be with the back copy!
The most crucial information every mentioned and never taught. I wish I’d know about this book early on, not only for writing but for general conversation and business.
You sold me on the book. Thanks Dan.
Great post, I laughed at your beginning. That’s about the sum total of my knowledge. My editor long ago told me to sum the entire book into 15 words. It starts with a ‘what if’ statement. (What if) A scientist and special ops soldier work together to find a cure for a new Ebola. (16 words pared to 14 by removing 2 words. But it has to be unique). How many biohazard books are out there right now? Rework it like kneading bread to make it a unique story.
WHOA that was hard. Then she told me to condense it into 8 words. LOL
These are the tagline and logline.
My favorite logline comes from “Aliens.” ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ Eight words which tells you the two genres: sci fi and horror.
The exercise of crafting that short pitch taught me so much. With my first manuscript, I realized I couldn’t capture the main character’s goal, motivation, and conflict in a short blurb…because they didn’t exist! After major revisions, the process was much easier.
Thanks for this! I’m putting How To Make Your Point in Thirty Seconds on my wish list. (Both the book itself and my wish to know how!)