You’ve written your book (or screenplay!). You’ve labored over it for months or years and polished every syllable until your masterpiece is ready to hit the marketplace. Now comes the hard part: finding someone — preferably an agent — to read it.
“Find” is actually the wrong word. What you really have to do is attract readers. And to attract readers you have to call on all your skills as a salesman.
“Salesman?” you cry. “I’m a writer not a salesman!”
Uh-huh. Glad you’ve enjoyed your stint in fantasyland, my friend, but it’s time to take a step into the real world.
At this point, you have a product that needs to be moved and there’s only one way to move it: Advertising. Any good salesman knows all about the benefits of advertising. From the biggest corporation with their multi-million dollar commercials to the guy standing on the street holding a sign for the local car dealer: Big Savings! Today Only!
Advertising is what any good salesman uses to attract buyers. You go to a used car dealer to see what’s available and what happens? The salesman comes over and guides you toward the latest lemon while he tries to smooth-talk you into buying it. And, boy does he make it attractive. It has the latest this and the latest that and it’s only been driven by a little old lady on weekends, and this baby purrs. His sales pitch is his advertisement.
And that’s exactly how you get people to read your book. Your sales pitch. You have to prepare your pitch both verbally and on paper and you have to present it with confidence and polish.
You’ve all probably heard of a Svengali Deck, otherwise known as TV Magic Cards. For those of you who haven’t, a Svengali Deck is a special deck of playing cards that allows the user to perform a dozen or more amazing card tricks without having to develop any sleight-of-hand skills.
In the old days, magician/pitch-men used to stand on street corners or at swap meet booths and demonstrate the wonders of this deck of cards by showing you an eye-popping trick. This trick would be brief and straight to the point — just enough to show off the virtues of the deck and get you digging for the cash to buy one.
When you prepare your all-important sales pitch to entice readers to your book, you have to approach it with the same economy and magic the magician/pitch-men use. You have to get your story across in a few simple words and those words must have eye-popping appeal. They must have that wow quality that forces the reader to say, “I’ve gotta read that!”
That’s where your logline comes in.
A logline is a one or two-sentence summary of your story. Probably the best place to find a sample logline is to look in your TV Guide or local equivalent, which are full of brief story summaries. But let me give you an example.
Since I come from a screenwriting background, where loglines are as common as beautiful young starlets, let’s take a look at a movie logline:
After he’s wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, a high-powered surgeon escapes custody and hunts down the real killer, a one-armed man.
This, of course, is from The Fugitive. Maybe not the liveliest logline in the world, but it tells you just about everything you need to know about the movie. We know who the lead character is, what his dilemma is and, most importantly, what he hopes to accomplish.
What we have above is essentially the spine of the story — the sentence the entire movie hangs on. Sure, we could talk about the relentless U.S. Marshal who is after the doctor; we could talk about the train crash and the chase sequences and the experimental liver drug, but when it comes to the logline, none of that really matters. We don’t have time for it.
Like that TV Magic card trick, your logline has to be simple and to the point and it has to attract the reader to the possibility of a great read. When I look at the above logline, I think, ‘Wow, that sounds like it could be an exciting story.” And, of course, we all know it is.
The anatomy of a logline is this: The lead character has a problem and must achieve a certain goal in order to solve that problem. Who, What, How. Who is the lead character, what is his problem and how is going to solve it.
Let’s take a look at The Fugitive again:
Who: A high-powered surgeon.
What: Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.
How: He escapes custody to hunt down the real killer.
Chances are pretty good that you’re scratching your head right now and saying, “But my story is much too complex for that.”
This may be true, but when you’re at a party trying to convince someone to read your book, you don’t have time for much detail. At least not for that initial grab.
After you have their attention, then you can launch into a slightly more complex version that really sells the book.
Let’s take a look at a fairly complex story: The Godfather.
We all know The Godfather is full of vivid characters and great subplots and big moments, but what really is the essence of the story?
Here’s what I get:
When his father is gunned down, a gangster’s reluctant son must seek revenge and take over the family business.
Who: A gangster’s son
What: His father is shot.
How: He seeks revenge and takes over the family business.
The story plays on a rich canvas, but it is much less about Vito Corleone, the Godfather, and more about Michael, the up and coming Godfather. It is the story of his ascent (or descent, depending on your POV) to the leadership of the Family. Much of the story leads up to the moment Vito Corleone is shot, then follows Michael as he gets revenge and eventually takes over as head of the organization. Everything in the story hangs on that simple logline or spine.
If you follow the usual marketing strategies, you’ll be sending out query letters and making phone calls and throwing your pitch at just about everyone in your path.
A really concise, well thought out logline will help you get the results you want.