Writing a One-Sentence Summary
Let’s discuss the one-sentence summary, also known as a logline, a hook, or a one-sentence pitch.
What: About 25 words that capture your novel, memoir, or non-fiction book.
Why: To get someone interested in reading your book.
When to use it: The start of a query, book proposal, or anytime someone asks you, “What’s your book about?”
What it does: A one-sentence summary takes your complex book with multiple characters and plotlines and boils it down into a simple statement that can be quickly conveyed and understood, and generates interest in the book.
What it should include:
→ A character or two
→ Their choice, conflict, or goal
→ What’s at stake (may be implied)
→ Action that will get them to the goal
→ Setting (if important)
→ Keep it simple. One plotline, 1 or 2 characters.
→ Use the strongest nouns, verbs and adjectives.
→ Make the conflict clear but you don’t have to hint at the solution.
In your one-sentence summary, try not to pitch a theme. Pitch what happens. Examples of themes (what not to do):
This book explores forgiveness.
This book looks at the thin line between right and wrong.
This book explores the meaning of independence, and asks if it’s really possible.
Here is Nathan Bransford’s simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. (Thanks Randy Ingermanson for this one.)
→ Character=boy wizard
→ Conflict=battling the Dark Lord
→ Stakes=his life
→ Action=wizard training; avoiding the same fate as his parents
What about the one-sentence summary for non-fiction?
Answer the question: what’s your book about? This is the problem, the issue, or the topic of your non-fiction book. And it needs to have a “hook” or something that will immediately capture attention. As an example, I’ve taken a well known book by Brené Brown and constructed a possible one-sentence hook for it:
In my non-fiction book, Daring Greatly, I dispel the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness, and I show how it is actually our most accurate measure of courage.
There are always numerous ways to express your book in a single sentence, so I recommend you create 10 or 20 different ones, before settling on the best angle and combination of words.
Sharpen those pencils and get to work!