WINNERS: The One-Sentence Summary Contest

Wow! We had nearly 500 entries in last Wednesday’s contest. I’m thrilled, because this means 500 of you worked on creating a concise summary for your book, something most writers find difficult. But it can be done, right? I hope this served as a helpful exercise for you.

Of course it was very difficult narrowing down the entries. Don’t feel bad if I didn’t choose yours. There were quite a few really effective ones in the mix, but I was only able to choose 1 out of every 100 entries, so the odds were high.

Of course, choosing the winners was an exercise in subjectivity. But notice that the summaries I chose each present an interesting scenario and a clear conflict. Occasionally they break the “formula” but are still successful because of they way they use humor or intrigue to build interest in their story.

NOTE: Tomorrow I’ll do one last post on one-sentence summaries, offering critiques of some of your entries and a few more tips. (Please email me if you DON’T want your pitch critiqued on the blog.)

Thanks everyone for participating, and again, I really hope this gave you the motivation to create a rockin’ summary of your book in 25 or fewer words!

Here, with my brief comments (and in no particular order), are…


Peter Robertson serves on the jury for the trial of a murder that he committed.

RG says: This is very simple and doesn’t say anything about what happens, but the premise is interesting enough in itself that I’d want to hear more.

When a dangerous romance puts two teenage girls on opposing sides of a supernatural war, they must choose between their lifelong friendship and the survival of the human race.
~Audry T

RG says: I like when circumstances put people in the position of having to make impossible choices. This one has friendship, romance and a supernatural war—lots of potential for a good story.

A boy who remembers his past lives finds the girl who’s always shared them, but this time she doesn’t remember him and he must earn her love before she forgets him forever.
~Wen Prior

RG says: A nice description of a promising romance story. This summary is very clear on the protagonist, his goal, and the stakes.

In 1823, one freed slave surmounted the seemingly impassable barriers of gender, marital status, and race to become the first single woman missionary of the American Missionary Movement.

RG says: Sounds like a terrific true story about a fascinating woman in history.

A girl discovers her geneticist father is covering up multiple secrets, all of which are named Jason.
~Jill Williamson

RG says: Couldn’t help it, this made me laugh. There is a lot of information hiding behind the words “geneticist” and “Jason.”

Winners: Please email me!


(I did not include the authors’ names on these, sorry.)


→ After a series of devastating losses, a southern girl moves back to her home state of Georgia to take a job in the wine business, discovering that a bottle of wine, paired with her best girlfriends, can solve almost any problem.

→ Just moved to Luling, “the armpit of Texas,” because of her Dad’s job, a preacher’s kid with a reputation for accidental miracle-working decides to break all 10 Commandments to get him fired and her family sent back to their old hometown, where her best friend is waiting.

→ When her precious, stolen song flies up the country music charts, a music teacher battles the thief–a famous Nashville songwriter who threatens to steal her heart as well.

→ When a staircase portal opens in Madison’s backyard cavern, she is drawn into a strange new world where a haunting family mystery begins to unravel and she must defeat the evil Mourgla bent on destroying this beautiful place.

→ When a cloning project reintroduces the pandemic that wiped out the Ice Age megabeasts, a veterinarian and a CDC investigator battle to keep humans from becoming the next target for extinction.

→ When a successful geneticist wakes up as her own experiment’s newest success, she must battle her amnesia and new animal instinct to find the truth about why she’s involved–but she won’t like the answers.

→ Failing to escape the witch’s oven, a young girl falls through a portal to a dangerous world and spends years searching for the trail of breadcrumbs that will lead her home, despite the interference of the goblin king who would claim her for his own.

→ Two PhD students win a competition and find themselves in a French Chateau with a diamond, a thief and a murderer and the sneaking suspicion that maybe they shouldn’t save the day.

→ A killer finds the perfect place to hide: within the mind of the man chasing him.

→ When tween angel Gabby is assigned to protect her school nemesis, she quickly discovers what can happen when you hate someone to death.

→ Magically transported to the wilds of Africa, an unmotivated high school freshman must save a species on the brink of extinction, without becoming extinct himself.

→ Camellia Stafford finds that going home again gets complicated when she gets caught between the sexy ghost haunting her bedroom, and a gorgeous neighbor encouraging her to chase her dreams.

→ Emma Carter must fight for sanity and life against both seen and unseen enemies when she and her friends are kidnapped by a sick, game-obsessed stranger who is bent on transforming them into real-life characters from an online game.

→ To save her home and the eleven other Webbed Worlds from being destroyed, Ayana must journey to far off lands to discover the secrets of the Dark One and break the enchantment that is siphoning the magic of the Web.

→ A struggling teen falls for a handsome plane crash survivor, only to discover he might be an alien and she might not be exactly human herself.

→ The aborted come back angry, and the only one with a shot at stopping them is a rural cop with a secret identity.

→ At the start of WWII, a young woman must battle her parents for the freedom to chase her dreams, and her sister for the man she loves.

→ A disfigured modern-day prophet must overcome his own despair in time to seal one of the seven mythical gates of hell.


→ A generation of women struggle with the most important decision of their lives, and learn there is no one “right” way to be a good mom.

→ In the Amazon jungle, evil spirits and malevolent shamans need to be kept in check, and when the vulnerable Wilo tribe realize their witchdoctors are not up to the task, they seek help from a surprising source.

→ Although you might not expect to find mirth around the mortuary, this author’s stories of growing up in a family of undertakers demonstrate that there can be fun around the funeral home and a few profound points to be gathered as well.

→ When a hospice worker’s own frail mother turns annoyingly chatty about the past, the nurse must choose whether to kill her softly (and not with her song!) or to live with the horrible consequences of the old gal’s mouth gone mad.

Q4U: If you entered the contest, what was was it like creating your one-sentence summary?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  7. Anonymous on June 12, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    >Sorry about the tone of my previous comment. I get defensive when people dismiss the genre I raised myself on, but I shouldn't forget that it's hard to find the best books in a genre you aren't familiar with, which naturally leads to a negative impression of the genre as a whole. Some authors really do use the freedoms of fantasy and sci-fi to better explore certain aspects of the real world – for instance, fantasy is excellent for exploring the impact of myth on personal and societal development, sci-fi has the whole utopia/dystopia subgenre, and both have more opportunity to present the fear of the unknown than realism. There, that's my reasonable, unemotional argument. Sorry again for the first one.

  8. Anonymous on June 12, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    >Oh, silly other Anonymous! Speculative fiction existed long before the unfortunate Twilight craze – quite a bit of it with more innovative philosophical, sociological, and psychological content than the average work of mainstream fiction.

  9. lynnrush on June 8, 2010 at 9:21 AM

    >Congrats to you all!!

  10. Anonymous on June 8, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    >Again I'm getting tired of hearing and reading about paranormal and fantasy and supernatural elements in fiction. The REAL world is interesting enough without adding fake make-believe characters and situations. And you too Rachelle have fallen into the Twilight trap? Enough, already!

  11. Steve on June 7, 2010 at 10:24 PM

    >I used one I had previously written. I had thought it was in response to Nathan's post, but I find I did not post it there.

    But, anyway, I found frustration in not being able to put more detail into describing the conflict storyline? Why? Because the novel itself is plotted episodically. I imagine some would say that a series of episodes is not a genuine novel in any case. But my reading background is old-school science fiction, in which it was a common practice to take shorter pieces which had been published independently (in SF pulp magazines, for instance) and paste them together into a longer work.

    So what conflict should we summarize? Dealing with the loss of her brother to an IED in Iraq, at about the same time her drummer Jimmy loses his mom to cancer? Being kicked out of her Contemporary Worship band for writing and performing the very angry song "Blessed Are the Hypocrites"? Having her scholarship canceled at the exclusive Forest Academy after performing a benefit concert for the underground rebel-art website Forest Fire? Her sophomore year adventures at Wood City Central High "the armpit of the system"? (This is not yet plotted).

    Multiple stories – the hits just keep on coming.

    So the only way to condense it into 25 words was to express the over-arcing plot/theme in very general terms.


  12. justajo on June 7, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    >What was it like creating my one-sentence summary? It was a blast, man! And liberating! I had been laboring under this burden for months, actually years when it came to my epic-length novel. But once I did it with my little novelette, which I submitted, I was amazed at how easy it was. Using Rachelle's tips and Nathan's template, I was loosed from the bonds that has kept me from seeing how it worked. Okay, I've waxed a bit silly here, but doing this really was a learning experience and I thank you, Rachelle, for holding your competition.

  13. Shelby on June 7, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    >Well … hmm.

    Should I take this as first rejection.. I dunno. No, really, congrats on the winners and the honorable mentions.. there ARE some intriguing pitches there.

    I hope you critique mine tho.. feedback is good (I think).

    Really fun exercise. Let's do it again 🙂

  14. lexcade on June 7, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    >!!!! honorable mention! awesome! ty 🙂

    it just kinda rolled out. i've been working on my one-sentence pitch for a while, but that was the best one i'd come up with so far. thanks for the contest! and congrats to all the winners! can't wait to read those books!

    *sorry for all the exclamation points…this was exciting, and fun!*

  15. kalincasey on June 7, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    >Congratulations to the winners and HMs. Thanks for the contest, Rachelle.

    To answer the question about how it felt: Scary. I wasn't feeling so confident about it.

    I'd just composed my one-sentence pitch following Nathan Bransford's recent advice on the matter, but I think it needs work. Like a couple other folks mentioned, I got too hung up on making it fit the 25-word count. I have a longer version that's quirkier and a bit funny—characteristics that reflect the book. I should try to develop those things more.

  16. Karen Yuan on June 7, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    >This was an AWESOME exercise!

    Congrats to all the winners!!

  17. Jay DiNitto on June 7, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    >Mine didn't make it at all. Yay!

    Portermaker's is definitely good, though.

  18. Jay DiNitto on June 7, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    >Mine didn't make it at all. Yay!

    Portermaker's is definitely good, though.

  19. Katy McKenna on June 7, 2010 at 6:12 PM

    >The great thing about Rachelle's contests is how much can be learned from studying the entries. I try to guess which ones Rachelle will choose and WHY, and find I'm getting better at identifying the elements that make agents and editors sit up and take notice. I too am thrilled to be among the honorably mentioned! Thanks, Rachelle, for another fun contest and thanks to everyone who took part…..By the way, I do not remember reading a single Amish pitch, or did I just miss it? What's THAT about?

  20. Tina Pinson on June 7, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    >I didn't win or get honorable mention, sooo… I'm heart broken and I will never post again…

    Just kidding.

    congratulations everyone.

    I sometimes wonder if I'll ever get the knack of the tagline down pat, I find them kind of tough. But I keep plugging away.

  21. Gwen Stewart on June 7, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I spent a long time crafting my tagline, but when I typed it into your comment box it looked wordy. So the one I entered was written "on the fly". I'm not unhappy with it, but now I wonder if my carefully-crafted one was better! Writing is fraught with second-guessing, and I get the feeling that never goes away. Anyway, I'm delighted that I got HM among so many fantastic entries.

    Mike, I think you bring up an interesting point. I noticed immediately how many entries were speculative and fantasy…and it made me wonder if this contest is a good representation of Rachelle's inbox in terms of genre breakdown. If so, it seems like many writers have very active imaginations! 🙂

  22. T.J. on June 7, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    >So I'm sad I didn't win…well, a little. I actually didn't expect to win. But I like the one sentence summary. It's the perfect way to answer: "What's your book about?" I wish I knew how to make mine sound more exciting, but I wonder if I don't have quite the story I was going for. Or, as you can see, I have the tendency to be long-winded and maybe my sentence was too long. Either way, it was an awesome contest.

  23. PicardyRose on June 7, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    >I found it easy and helpful to sum up my novel. But it amused me to notice — again — how embarrassed I am to be writing about vampires. It seemed like a lie to leave them out, though.

    Congratulations to the winners!

  24. Mike Duran on June 7, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    >Once again, speculative fiction rules. Three of the five winners have speculative elements — a "supernatural war," "past lives," and clones. And over half the Honorable Mentions — "a staircase portal," a "witch’s oven," a "tween angel," a "sexy ghost," an "alien" crash survivor, and "the seven mythical gates of hell." Really, Rachelle, you gotta start repping more speculative fiction!

  25. TraciB on June 7, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    >Congrats to the winners and honorable mentions.

    As to what it was like to come up with a one-sentence, 25-word summary, it probably shouldn't have been as difficult as it was. Maybe if I hadn't been hung up on staying within the word limit, it would have been easier.

  26. Sylvie on June 7, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    >I found it really hard to narrow it down to a single sentence, but apparently I didn't do too bad – ended up as one of the honorable mentions! 🙂

    Thanks for having such a neat contest and making me work my writing muscles even more!

  27. Ladonna on June 7, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    >Congratulations to all the winners.

  28. Beth on June 7, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    >Congrats to the winners and the honorable mentions (and I'm psyched that I was one of them!)! This was a great idea, Rachelle! Great learning experience!

  29. Erika Robuck on June 7, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    >Congratulations, winners! It helps me with mine to see so many good examples.

  30. Crimey on June 7, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    >Congrats to the winners. These were some really strong pitches. Great contest, Rachelle.

  31. Shmologna on June 7, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    >It was hard. I'm naturally wordy 🙂

  32. Elizabeth Flora Ross on June 7, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    >At first I thought it would be hard, b/c I write nonfiction. But I realized that involves all the same elements. Once I broke it down to the key ones you discussed, it was a piece of cake. And it helped me put my book into better perspective.

    Thanks for the Honorable Mention! I'm tickled pink. Never entered a writing-related contest before. You made my week! 😉

  33. Jil on June 7, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    >Reading all the ones who wrote before me made it even harder as they all seemed so boring due to the sameness of format. I really wondered how you, Rachelle, did it day after day, but, when I read the ones you chose, I appreciated them. I guess you have a trained eye – and of course know what you are looking for. This was a great lesson. Thank you

  34. Lyla on June 7, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    >I loved reading these! Congratulations to the winners, and thanks for the great contest, Rachelle!

  35. KC Frantzen on June 7, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    >Thank you Rachelle and all the winners! Those are some great stories, and others that are probably just as great but need more polishing.

    Seekerville blogged on this very subject last month so that made it easier. It is a difficult process to select the exact words necessary.

    So, I keep learning.

    Thank you again! Hope you now have some excellent proposals on the way to you too!

  36. Heidi on June 7, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    >Thank you for this opportunity, Rachelle!
    It was hard to boil a 90,000 word book down to one sentence, and I didn't think I could do it. This contest made me take the time to really think…What IS my book about?
    Honored to be one of the HM, congrats to the winners!

  37. T. Anne on June 7, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    >Huge congrats to the winers and honorable mentions! This was no easy feat. I need to sit down and write about fifty different versions of my one sentence summary and see if I can perfect my hook. Can't wait to read tomorrow's post!

  38. Sarah N Fisk on June 7, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    >I had one more-or-less memorized from a contest a few weeks ago. However, I had to enter on my cell phone and I realized yesterday I had a typo! So if you choose mine to critique, I'd be delighted if you just ignore the first "young."

    It should be: When supposedly-extinct demons kindap every adult Mage, Fire Mage Miranda must partner with a young Holy Warrior for a cross-country rescue mission.

  39. mary bailey on June 7, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    >For me, personally, I was hooked too much on keeping it within the boundaries of 25 words. Although I accomplished that part of it, I realized I had been way too generic in my description.

  40. fivecats on June 7, 2010 at 8:00 AM

    >this contest gave me a lot to think about. paring down my story to its barest of bones and balancing what details were necessary to have the story make sense, took me much longer than i had expected. (i never was satisfied with any of my sentences and, therefore, didn't enter)

    i ended up coming up with two ideas from this contest:

    1. It's easier to come up with a single sentence before starting to write. (that way i don't get bogged down in the details of the story that seem so vital but probably aren't)

    2. I should ask someone else to come up with the one-sentence description for my stories. (it seems much easier to clean someone else's house, doesn't it?)

    thanks for the challenge. it was a good learning experience!

  41. Teenage Bride on June 7, 2010 at 7:57 AM

    >Wow! These are really great. Although I started following your blog after the contest had already been closed and therefore could not enter, these summaries certainly are helpful.

  42. Wendy Paine Miller on June 7, 2010 at 7:50 AM

    >Congratulations winnners and Honorable Mentions. Enticing stories.

    Trying to weed out the necessary from the unnecessary and working to sculpt one sentence that best summarizes an entire plot stretches brain muscles.
    ~ Wendy

  43. Timothy Fish on June 7, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    >"What was was it like creating your one-sentence summary?"

    It was absolutely the hardest ten seconds of my life.

    Personally, I don’t see anything difficult about saying what a book is about. We do it all the time after we read someone else’s book. Other people may not agree that it makes an interesting story, but there’s nothing particularly hard about doing it.

  44. JeffC on June 7, 2010 at 6:57 AM


    I draw some solace in that there was no mention of teen vampires.

  45. Terri Tiffany on June 7, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    >I feel pretty good that I would have picked one of the winners!:)) It's hard hard hard to narrow down a book into one good sentence. I need more practice!

  46. Adventures in Children's Publishing on June 7, 2010 at 5:57 AM

    >Congratulations to everyone who won, as well as all those who entered. There are fantastic ideas here!

    Rachelle, your exercise was beneficial for all. In that spirit, writers that are eager for another round of competition are welcome to come check out our contest that opens Thursday! Thanks for a great contest Rachelle!

  47. Jessica Nelson on June 7, 2010 at 4:53 AM

    >Congrats to the winners and HMs!

    It's hard, frustrating, to create a one-liner that piques interest. Great contest, thanks!

  48. Kelly Freestone on June 7, 2010 at 4:30 AM

    >It was hard, but fun!
    I really enjoyed pushing myself past the usual.
    It was hard to get the contest out of my mind, though. I continuously thought about it. lol
    Congrats to the winners.
    And thanks, Rachelle for pushing me 😀

  49. tessaquin on June 7, 2010 at 3:26 AM

    >I found it most difficult to chop it down to 25 words or less. I have several versions of the one-sentence summary, but the other ones are more than 25 words…and one is two sentences.

  50. Tabitha Bird on June 7, 2010 at 3:08 AM

    >Congrats Wendy! WOOO HOOO! Can I just say that I have read this book and it totally ROCKS! Some agent out there needs to grab this girl before another agent does! This girl can write like nothing else and the story has you loving her characters like they were your best friends. Well done Wendy!

  51. Wen Prior on June 7, 2010 at 2:53 AM

    >Oh my goodness! I'm one of the top five, thank you Rachelle!

    I was lucky creating my one-liner. I had the story, the two paragraph summary and the entire plot pop into my head at once. I've had that sentence ready since before I began writing the book in November. It's not usually that easy!