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Write a movie-style logline for your book

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

What is your book about? The dreaded question. The answer is most likely 'a HELL of a lot - do you have two hours?' People don't, so you need to be able to sum your entire book up in a sentence. And often that sentence - (along with your title, subtitle and your name) is what gets the attention of an agent or publisher. Below we unpack examples of loglines and how to write them for novels and non-fiction books.

You can start your entire book with a logline - which is also actually a premise. But most often we leave this to the end when your agent (or friend) yet again says... 'I am confused, what is it actually about?" Grrrr. Why don't they get it? Can't they read the proposal? Well no, most people want to grasp an idea in a second, and chose if they want to engage more with it or not. This is part of the writing process that comes long after you have sweated those drafts out. But once the book is written (and that can take a decade) you need to change gear. This is when you finally lift your head up from the editing, writing and rewriting into a whole new phase in the journey of becoming an author. You are about to shift from writer into sales person. Let's have some fun with that. You are going to write a LOGLINE for your book. This is a concept that has trickled through from movies but is commonplace now in book publishing. It is similar to an “elevator pitch” in which you sum up your entire book (or story) in one sentence. These are hard as hell to write, but they are critical elements that will go on your book pitch. Some people claim that loglines should be less than 25 words. I don’t think publishers and agents count the number of words; I think they want to understand the core story in one sentence. How do you squish your 80 000+ word masterpiece into one line? Find the keywords. In some books this can sit on your cover, but it most certainly will go on your proposal. My rule - make it simple enough for an eight year old to grasp. No long words. No complex arguments. The most simple one is possibly the best. Like.... This diet book will show you how to lose belly fat and change your life in 10 weeks. Bam. IN A NOVEL For decades I have referenced Graeme Shimmin's Killogator Logline Formula for this. You this formula. In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) caused by (an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).

  1. The Killogator formula works best if you write the SETTING, PROTAGONIST, PROBLEM, ANTAGONIST, CONFLICT and GOAL down separately first, before trying to combine them into a sentence.

  2. If you set your story in present day in a normal town or city, then there’s no need to include SETTING, as the reader will assume it.

  3. Don’t use characters’ names. So, for example, instead of “Kitty Geisler,” use “A resistance fighter in Berlin” or instead of Harry Potter you would say 'an 8-year-old orphan' Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind After his girlfriend erases him from her memory, a heartbroken man does the same. However, as she fades from his mind, he realises he loves even the memory of her and fights to hang on to what little remains of it. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll When a curious young girl falls down a rabbit hole, she finds a strange world of riddle-telling creatures and meets a bloodthirsty queen. - Little Miss Sunshine: When a wannabe child beauty queen learns that a spot has opened up in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant, she convinces her dysfunctional family to make the cross-country trek, despite her father’s (and society’s) protestations that she may not have what it takes to win. NON-FICTION * The logline captures the your main idea or question/your main character/the conflict they’re going to face/the stakes if they lose. We’re talking short and high-level concept. * This sentence can use puns or clever wording to intrigue the reader. It should make them want to read the book or learn more. It often teases the reader or poses a question to them. There is no formula. Just make your best effort for now. * Do not use character names. * In a memoir - write it as if someone else is saying it about your book (see the examples below). In my Shoes by Tamara Mellon tells the story of the Jimmy Choo founder's jaw-dropping life in the fashion business. A Life on our Planet (David Attenborough) Rainforests cleared. Species lost. Earth imperiled by climate change. But he knows what we must do to save the planet. Fall Out: A Memoir of Friends made and Friends unmade by Jane Street-Porter. Friends. Everyone needs them. Especially when relations between you and your family are less than perfect. Find Your Extraordinary by Jessica Herrin shows that you don't need to have it all to live an extraordinary life - you need to have what matters most to you. WRITING TASK Do your best and come up with at least five loglines with totally different angles and styles. Don't just rehash the same words that you really like in a different sentence structure, chose totally different words for each one.

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