Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tuesday Tips: One Ring To Rule Them All and Thirty Words to Sell The Merchandise

*Plus a funny story*

When I was at Harrogate Crime Festival last summer, one of the panels I attended was How To Get Published In The Crime Fiction World. Internationally-known agents, large and small book publishers and booksellers weighed in on what aspiring authors could do to improve their odds of getting a book into print.

One of the things they said was that you needed to be able to take your story and break it down into one sentence.

Essentially, they said, Hamlet is the story of a young man who must decide whether or not to avenge the murder of his father.

Then, they added, it’s about a lot more than that. But that’s the thrust, the main plot.

I’m bashing my head against a wall, working on my own plot sentence. Yes, Sandra has to hand in a blurb – a 30-word blurb – that will be used to make my book stand out from all the others at Book Expo.

30 words. If you’ve read my posts on an average day, you know how hard this is for me.

It gets better. I’ve got to pare it down to 25 words for my CWC membership page. 25 words! Talk about parting the Red Sea and walking on dry land…

So, I’ve managed three variations in playing around today.

27 words
An accidental death leads to murder and when Tymen Farraday and Lara Kelly investigate, Lara’s life is threatened. Then evidence points to Tymen’s scandal-ridden police department’s involvement…

28 words
An accidental death leads to murder when Detective Tymen Farraday and reporter Lara Kelly investigate and when evidence points to Tymen’s scandal-ridden police department Lara’s life is threatened.

29 words
When Lara Kelly and Tymen Farraday investigate a suspicious death it isn’t long before Tymen’s scandal-ridden police department is implicated.

Or before they become the target of the killer.

All seem incredibly thin to me, but hey, what’s a writer to do? The write-up I have on my website doesn’t even begin to touch on most of the subplots in the story, and I think it’s thin.

This, this is impossible.

But it’s something to bear in mind when you’re writing. What would be the plot sentence, that one sentence you could use in a quick pitch as the agent of your dreams waited for the elevator doors to open? How will you keep the busy man or woman glancing at their watch frantically, tapping their toes, from getting on the elevator, or at least dragging you on with them?

Now, tell me what you think of these examples. Please. I’m begging you. Because this is pure hell, and I’ve got a deadline.

Not sure if I've ever posted this before. It's my effort to be more like my husband - I'm working on a selective memory. Still, it's a funny one...

Calling in sick to work makes me uncomfortable. No matter how legitimate my excuse, I always get the feeling that my boss thinks I'm lying.

On one recent occasion, I had a valid reason but lied anyway, because the truth was just too darned humiliating. I simply mentioned that I had sustained a head injury, and I hoped I would feel up to coming in the next day. By then, I reasoned, I could think up a doozy to explain the bandage on the top of my head.

The accident occurred mainly because I had given into my wife's wishes to adopt a cute little kitty. Initially, the new acquisition was no problem.

Then one morning, I was taking my shower after breakfast when I heard my wife, Deb, call out to me from the kitchen.

"Honey! The garbage disposal is dead again. Please come reset it."

"You know where the button is," I protested through the shower's pitter-patter and steam. "Reset it yourself!"

"But I'm scared!" she persisted. "What if it starts going and sucks me in?" (You know, I'd say this. Just to piss evilkev off.)

There was a meaningful pause and then, "C'mon, it'll only take you a second."

So out I came, dripping wet and buck naked, hoping that my silent outraged nudity would make a statement about how I perceived her behavior as extremely cowardly. Sighing loudly, I squatted down and stuck my head under the sink to find the button. It is the last action I remember performing.

It struck without warning, and without any respect to my circumstances. No, it wasn't the hexed disposal, drawing me into its gnashing metal teeth. It was our new kitty, who discovered the fascinating dangling objects she spied hanging between my legs. She had been poised around the corner and stalked me as I reached under the sink. And, at the precise moment when I was most vulnerable, she leapt at the toys I unwittingly offered and snagged them with her needle-like claws.

I lost all rational thought to control orderly bodily movements, blindly rising at a violent rate of speed, with the full weight of a kitten hanging from my masculine region. Wild animals are sometimes faced with a fight or flight syndrome. Men, in this predicament, choose only the "flight" option. I know this from experience. I was fleeing straight up into the air when the sink and cabinet bluntly and forcefully impeded my ascent.

The impact knocked me out cold.

When I awoke, my wife and the paramedics stood over me. Now there are not many things in this life worse than finding oneself lying on the kitchen floor buck naked in front of a group of "been-here, done-that" paramedics. Even worse, having been fully briefed by my wife, the paramedics were all snorting loudly as they tried to conduct their work, all the while trying to suppress their hysterical laughter.... ... and not succeeding.

Somehow I lived through it all.

A few days later I finally made it back in to the office, where colleagues tried to coax an explanation out of me about my head injury. I kept silent, claiming it was too painful to talk about. Which it was.

"What's the matter?" They all asked. "Cat got your tongue?"


Stuart MacBride said...

I'd go for the 29 word one - the others try to do too much. You don't have to describe the whole story, just hook people into it.

Plus your 29 one keeps a feel of mystery. Though you could probably trim the trailing line and stick it onto the end of the first.

And I find it very hard to do the sentence summary thing too. One word, yes, a whole sentence, no. So rather you than me!

Sandra Ruttan said...


Thanks Stuart.

One word for Cold Granite? I can just imagine...

Bernita said...

Agree with Stuart.

That "incident"!!!

JamesO said...

Likewise, 29 words has it. You might end the last sentence 'before they become the killer's next target.' - that shaves off two words.

Paring things down to the bone is no fun at all. I thought a four page synopsis was hard enough.

Bernita said...

If you do - based on # 29 -
"When Lara Kelly and Tymen Farraday investigate a suspicious death, the scandal-ridden police department is soon implicated, and they become the killer's target.
- 24 words.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bernita, you're frickin' amazing!

I'd swear at you, I'm so happy, but you're such a nice person.

Okay, now I have a 30 word limit blurb, and a 25 word limit blurb. Yahoo!

Anonymous said...

I think a public selling blurb, especially this short, is fundamentally different than a book jacket or agent query blurb.

My own opinion is that you are dropping precious words in the word count on character names that the public with not remember anyway. I'd stick to concepts and beef up the "accidental death leads to murder." Reading this phrase cold, I'm not sure how that happens. Perhaps expanding the "lead to" concept with a touch of detail would sharpen the hook.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hmmm, good point.

Truth is, the investigation begins with a video that appears to show a woman falling to her death, but there's no body. The reporter gets enough to write a suspected suicide piece, the cop looks into it and when they do find the body, it isn't too long before they have enough to persuade them it was murder, but maybe not enough to proceed to court.

As they get deeper into the investigation, more people are murdered...

See, it's very complicated, and you're trying to get people interested without giving away the story.

Which isn't easy.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have a better idea now. I thought you meant that an accidental death causes a murder to occur later.

Here's a quick crack at it from a fresh reader:

When a reporter sees a video of a woman falling to her death, she wonders, suicide? But where's the body? Teamed with a detective, she digs only to uncover more than she bargained for. The hidden trail of a killer.

**It's too long and suffers from a few cliches, but maybe it'll help in some way.

Bernita said...

Well, if you don't want names, then:
"When a journalist and a cop team ( join) to investigate a suspicious death,the scandal-ridden police department is implicated and they become a killer's target.
-25 words.

Or:When a journalist-cop duo investigate a suspicious death, the scandal-ridden police department is implicated, and they become a killer's target.
-22 words.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh man.

The 30-word blurb is more about selling to book purchasers for bookstores and libraries.

The 25-word blurb, more about to the readers.

So, what does everyone say now? God Bernita, you're amazing. I hadn't even tried the 25-word one yet...

Bernita said...

Meanwhile my own stuff sucks.
Just hope it helps.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I think your 29-word one will do just fine, made me interested.

Trace said...

I like the third one, Sandra. I think it's really good.

Vincent said...

Picking a few adjectives that might be completely unsuitable, you could also do something like:

'A suspicious death leads an intrepid journalist and hard-bitten cop across police department corruption and into a murderer's sights' (20 words)

Writing tag-lines is always agonising unless you start off with a super high concept.

Gabriele C. said...

I also like the 29 word version best. And Bernita's. I'll have her condense my books into one sentence. :)

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Sandra, you're going about it all wrong. You need to grab the reader's full attention. It's easy. Watch.


Ten words. Twelve if you throw your name in there.

Bernita said...

Vincent's is good.

I'll do it in one word, Gabrielle.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh my, go out for a lunch appointment, look what's waiting when you get back...

You guys rock! Stephen, you owe me a keyboard.

But now I'm going to play around! It really helps to have fresh perspective - we authors are too close to our work!

Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, LOL.

James Goodman said...

I also like the 29 word version best. This is right up there with writing a brief synopsis for me...it sucks.

Someone should start a service (a legitimate one) that will take your book, read it and provide both the hook sentence, a brief synopsis and a detailed one.

I know I'd become a regular. :D