If you’ve ever written a one-sheet or sell-sheet for a novel then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
When I go to the ACFW conference next month in Denver I need to have a one-sheet read to go so I can pitch my novel to agents and editors. This involves condensing my 95+ thousand word novel into a 150-200 word description. Amazingly enough, this is not the hard part. 150-200 words is actually quite a bit to tell a short story, especially when you want to leave your reader guessing about parts of what is going on. You only want to tell the joke, not the punch line (so to speak). A lot of what you want to do it to convey a sense of tone (whether your book is a suspense piece, or a romance, or a comedy, etc). I had something already more or less worked up, so I didn’t have to do a whole lot with that.
The second part, is a biography. Do you know how hard it is to write a biography about yourself when you really don’t have anything to talk about? I’ll be honest. I read a good biography on the back of a book, and I copied it, just taking out the author’s information and inserting my own. It didn’t end up looking anything like hers by the end (mostly because she had more to talk about than I did, so I mine is way shorter and in some ways less relevant), but that’s how it started out.
The hard part doesn’t really even go on the one sheet. The hard part is the “pitch.” What I mean by pitch is not actually talking to people and trying to convince them to be interested in my story. What I mean is the ~25 word description of your book (sometimes called a “blurb”). This is a painful process, not just because you’ve put so much time and effort into this project only to have it reduced to a couple of sentences, but because there are so many things you have to take into consideration. You have to think about what information is specific enough to actually say something about your story, but not so specific that you’re wasting words. You also have to look at the tone that your pitch is giving off, does it reflect the tone of your novel?
Summarizing my novel down to 25 words is what I’m really struggling with; it’s too complicated. This is not any sort of ego trip for me. I don’t think that my novel is any more complex than another writer’s. I’m struggling because there are three main facets that I feel as though I need to address in my pitch: Jenna (main character 1)’s relationship with her estranged husband, Amanda (main character 2)’s relationships with the men she’s involved with (not simultaneously), and Jenna and Amanda’s friendship. Because I have two narrators (first person) who are both protagonists I feel as though I cannot ignore one character’s story for the other. And to address these issues without using names (because those are specifics that don’t really tell a whole lot about the story, according to what I’ve read) seems almost impossible (because to me using “Jenna” instead of “A woman” seems like a better use of my 25 words – not to mention avoiding potential confusion).
So I’ve finally come down to this:
Their love lives have never been enviable, but when Jenna’s long-estranged husband shows up out of the blue and Amanda falls in love with a very engaged, very good friend, things go from bad to worse (or maybe better).
It’s 39 words, but I’m thinking I can risk the extra words because it doesn’t seem too long to me. It also doesn’t talk about Jenna and Amanda’s friendship, but the best one that I’ve got that does that is this:
While their love lives have never been magical, best friends find themselves falling for men they never expected. But secrets threaten to tear their friendship apart.
Best friends, Jenna and Amanda, find themselves falling for men they never expected, just when secrets threaten to tear their friendship apart.
These are shorter, but I don’t feel as though they represent the tone of my novel quite as well…
In a blog that I read about one-sheets it said to worry more about the manuscript than the one-sheet and business cards, so I’ve handed that over to a friend of mine who loves to work on design stuff and I’m mostly concentrating on the copy for them and the manuscript itself… hopefully it pays off.