The Logline – the Secret Holy Grail to a Successful Query?

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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Lately I’ve been consuming a lot of websites, YouTube videos and blogs about how to write a good query letter.  A lot.

I’ve studied dozens of examples, read tons of advice, made copious notes, and I’ve learned only one thing for sure: writing a novel is nothing like writing a query letter.  And not as hard.

I know you should research the agent you are writing to and show you have done so.  I know you should spell their name right and thank them for their time.  I know the letter needs to fit on one page.  I know it should be no more than 3-4 paragraphs.  I know the synopsis shouldn’t be more than 250 words.  I know it has to better than the 200 other queries your agent of choice reads that day.

But something I didn’t know – because most of my sources didn’t mention it – is that the first paragraph should also contain a logline.  The logline is a single sentence that tells the agent the who/what/when/where/why of your novel.

Yes, I said single sentence.  Because distilling your novel into 250 words isn’t hard enough.

But the more I think about it, the more I think this may be the golden ticket to creating a successful query letter.  People talk about hooking your agent, but they don’t say how to do that.  The logline seems to be a perfect solution.

If you do it right.

No, I’m not teasing you; I’m here today to give you some pointers on how to write a perfect logline, to hook your author.

First the bad news.  It seems like there is a pretty strong consensus among agents and seasoned writers that if you cannot condense your book into a single sentence, there is something wrong with your book.  I know: How do they know?  Well, because they’re agents and seasoned writers, for one.  But it makes sense if you think about it.  Most successful books are about one thing, one conflict, one goal, one thing at stake.  There can be subplots and twists and turns along he way, but if it doesn’t boil down to a single key conflict you will likely lose your reader.

But that can be good news, too.  If your book does follow this traditional structure, you can distill it down to a single sentence.  And here’s how you do it.  Answer the following seven questions about your book.  You may have to take a couple of runs at this to get to the heart of your book.  And you may have to suppress the urge to include your favorite subplots and surprise twists.  But you will get there.

1.  What genre is the book?

2.  Who is the main character?

3.  What makes her unique?

4.  What is the inciting incident?

5.  What is your main character’s goal?

6.  What is the major conflict your character will face?

7.  What is the consequence if the main character fails?

I’ve done this with my own book, and I’ll show you my answers in a moment.  But first, here’s the synopsis (those 250 words) so you’ll understand the answers I came up with.

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier is a daydreamer. She sees faerie-folk among people the way her friends see animals among the clouds. But life in the suburbs is about as far from her dream of being a princess as you can get. Besides, her mom says there are no such things as faeries and ogres and pixies, and if she doesn’t buckle down and get serious about her schoolwork there will be Consequences.

That’s when a mysterious old woman tells Cat the fae were real but they’ve blended in until they’re almost human, and Cat can see them because she’s one of them. Oh, and since she has this “fae-dar” she could become the last princess of the fae. Now Cat must earn the crown before a goblin changeling with sinister magic beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out. With the help of Mr. Goldschmidt, a dwarf clock-maker, Nanny Schumacher, a brownie housekeeper, Hunter Alfson, an elfin archery instructor, and many others she meets along the way, Cat learns what it means to be fae. Then the goblin reveals the devastating truth: Cat is descended from trolls, not faeries, and nobody wants a stupid troll for a princess. With her dreams and her world shattered, Cat must make a choice: be a troll and stop the power-hungry goblin from becoming prince or trade the crown for a spell to make her forget she’s a troll … and everything she’s learned about the fae.

Now here’s how I answered those logline questions:

1.  What genre is the book?
Middle grade urban fantasy

2.  Who is the main character?
12-yo Cat Brökkenwier

3.  What makes her unique?
Her fae-dar; she can see those of fae descent, where most people cannot

4.  What is the inciting incident?
Cat learns the fae are real, not her imagination, and that she might become their princess

5.  What is your main character’s goal?
To unite the fae and become their princess before the goblin prince beats her to it

6.  What is the major conflict your character will face?
Cat must choose between being a princess – and a troll – or making a deal with the prince to give up the crown in return for a spell that will make her forget that she is a troll

7.  What is the consequence if the main character fails?
The prince will rule the fae – and possibly the humans, too – as a tyrant

After about a dozen false starts, here is what I ended up with:

A homeschooler with the ability to see fairytale creatures living among us must abandon her dreams in order to stop a ruthless changeling from using his magic to rule both worlds.

Now I’m going to sit on this for awhile and take it out and look at it in fresh light.  We’ll see if it sticks.

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Comments
  1. Kathryn Clark says:

    That’s interesting. 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever seen an agent say that they want a logline at the beginning of a query. (I have seen people talk about a “hook” sentence to get you interested in reading the rest of the query, but that’s something else entirely.) I agree, though, if you can’t describe your novel in one sentence, you’re probably doing it wrong. *makes mental note to start working on one*

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  2. […] the Writer’s Digest website — about writing query letters — and was introduced to the concept of the logline. A logline is a 2-3 sentence thumbnail of your novel which you put in the first paragraph of your […]

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