Why the One-Sentence Summary is SO Important

Can you tell me what your story is about in one sentence?

Let me be more specific.

Can you summarize your story in a single sentence of fifteen to twenty-five words? If you can’t, it’s time to get to work.

The one-sentence summary is a tool every writer needs to have on hand. When an agent or editor asks about your story, this short string of words is what they want to hear. Not the rambling, mumbled mess I managed to push past the boulder lodged in my throat when I attended my first writers conferences back in my newbie days.

The one-sentence summary goes by several names . . .

  • hook
  • logline
  • elevator pitch
  • one-sentence pitch

I learned another one yesterday: blurb. That’s the term my agent, Rachelle Gardner, used when she asked me to send her the brief description of my book, which she’ll use when she submits the sale announcement that will appear in The Latest Deals listing on Publishers Marketplace.

Did I freak out? No. Well, truthfully, I did stare at my computer screen for a minute in a state of slack-jawed disbelief, but only because Rachelle’s request was one more proof that she really did sell my book. I didn’t dream the whole thing.

Once I shushed the giddy little girl in me and got myself under control, I went to work.

A one-sentence summary is a vital sales tool, so I’d spent time drafting one. Lots of time. Too much time? I don’t think so, considering the fact that this sentence can put a gleam in a publishing pro’s eyes if done well or cause him to glance at his watch and force a polite smile in place if done poorly.

I tend to be a wordy writer, so preparing a pithy one-sentence pitch that will wow anyone who hears it is not one of my strengths. I turned to the experts.

Three posts that teach how to create an effective one-sentence summary

When I received Rachelle’s request, I snagged the one-sentence summary from the proposal, polished it until it shone like the chrome on Gwynly’s classic MGB roadster, and sent the blurb to her. Well, not one. I sent her six possibilities and invited her to work her magic because her editing skills are top-notch. And because I’m a wee bit of a perfectionist.

.

.A well-crafted one-sentence summary can . . .

  • Catch the attention of an agent
  • Catch the attention of an editor
  • Catch the attention of book buyers
  • Catch the attention of readers

The announcement of my sale on PM will be the publishing world’s first glimpse of my upcoming book. That little ol’ blurb, short as it is, can create interest in the story, which is why it’s so important to have a well written one.

* * *

Do you have a one-sentence summary you’d like to share?

Do you have a one-sentence summary success story?

Do you have tips you use to create great hooks?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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13 Responses to Why the One-Sentence Summary is SO Important

  1. Jessica says:

    Eeek! And you’re not giving us a glimpse? LOL
    No success story here, but I do like trying to come up with one. Having a one sentence line really helps highlight the main points of my story.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Jessie, you are so right. If we’re able to distill our story into a one-sentence summary, we’ll get a clear picture of the basic plot set-up. I didn’t write my summary until I’d finished the book. In the future, I won’t write a story until I’ve created my logline because, as you said so well, having one “helps highlight the main points of my story.” Determining the essence of the plot beforehand will force me to see if my story has a strong enough wow factor to capture a reader’s attention.

      (Sorry about being a bit of a tease. Truth is, I’ve signed a legal and binding contract, and I don’t know yet what I’m able to share and when.)

  2. Wendy says:

    I love working on these bad boys. Sometimes it takes weeks to nail it. I’m so excited b/c I finally came up with something I like for my sixth novel (I’m diving in on next month).

    I’ve read the links and they are what helped me with mine. Great post, Keli. You rock my world. 😀

    ~ Wendy

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Wendy, sounds like you’re someone I could turn to when I’m stumped with my summaries since you enjoy writing these “bad boys.” (Love that.) How cool that you’ve got such a good one for your next novel already. I wish you well as you begin writing it.

  3. This one-sentence blurb has been haunting me for a while. I prepared one that I thought was GREAT. I posted it and a kind blogger sent me an email explaining what ALL was wrong with it. As she pointed out its shortcomings, I agreed with her entirely. I have tried again. My last revision wasn’t better than my first, so I have now written this version for this post. Feel free to criticize. 🙂

    Parents of eight-year-old David must cope with the reality that their son has been kidnapped, while their five-year-old daughter, rendered speechless by trauma, cannot tell what she might know about her brother’s abduction, all of which plays out in unexpected but heartwarming drama as young David strives to get back to his home.

    Thank you for the opportunity to grapple with this challenge once again. Blessings to you…

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Carol, it sounds like you’re like me and find it challenging to pare a story down to the essential elements. It’s great that you have friends who are willing to help you hone yours. I find it educational to watch how another writer, one who’s not as attached to the story as I am, can find the nugget that will showcase our story, craft a succinct one-sentence summary, and polish it until it shines.

  4. Tamika Eason says:

    Love this post and I created a bookmark for all the links! Since I’m a bit wordy this is a sure challenge for me:)

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Tamika, you’re not alone. I’m a charter member of the Wordy Writers Club. Being forced to describe my story in a single sentence is tough, but when I realized that I’m really only describing the set-up, that helped. The blurb Rachelle and I used in the proposal only covered what takes place in the first three chapters. This made sense to me sense to me when I thought about the fact that I don’t want spoilers in my loglines.

  5. I’ve found Randy Ingermanson’s suggestions particularly helpful, but I’m still re-working my blurbs, having trouble getting them streamlined to the essence in a single sentence that I can say without having to snatch a breath midway. Just when I think they are brief enough I decide I’ve lost the crucial theme. ::sigh:: Back to the drawing board.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Carol, kudos on doing all you can to refine your blurb. Randy explains things well. Too bad he’s not on call to help us all with our summaries, isn’t it? =)

      I wish you well on your blurb. I’ll offer a bit of advice in the hope that it helps. Sometimes taking a break can work wonders. The subconscious will continue to process the information, and when we return to our projects with fresh eyes often we can see just how to tweak things to achieve our goals.

  6. territiffany says:

    I want you to know how much I enjoy reading about this process and seeing what you have to do and how you do it. I chuckled when I read you sent more than one! LOL I don’t tend to be wordy but sometimes I don’t capture my thoughts in words as well–I am wordy when I talk–not when I write!

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