Tagline, logline, pitch are the hardest writing ever

A PLOTTER SHIFTS WORD ONE TO CHANGE WORD LAST

One of the hardest tasks a novelist faces is answering the question:

“What is your book about?”

And every writer will face that over and over and over.

I’ve saved this post from Writers in the Storm since 2013.

When the novel you’re trying to describe is going to be as long as Gone With the Wind, and tops out over the course of a trilogy at around a half-million words, reducing ‘about’ to a few words is a feat that brings most writers to their knees.

The lucky ones, traditionally published, probably don’t have to/get to make these decisions (for which they trade complete control of their work and pitiful royalties forever) – because their publisher makes the decisions for them (usually without much input from the writer), and then, again for the lucky ones, uses the results to market the book.

I’ve known since the beginning

Which is why I spent a long time learning exactly how to achieve the ending I wanted for Pride’s Children: and ran scenarios from beginning to end over and over until the beginning made the ending, in my mind, inevitable – and I was ready to write the definitive version.

The process is a time loop for plotters like me, and doesn’t determine the words readers will ultimately get – only the story that I want to leave in their minds, the life lived, the consequences of the choices, the necessary paths.

As in a play, what the theater-goers see as spontaneous and happening before their very eyes needs to be so completely memorized and rehearsed that the actors never say a word out ot of character.

Other people write differently; this is how I do it.

What I’m trying to say here is that I have many versions of tagline, logline, and pitch, created and struggled with over the years since 2000, but I’ve never comfortably answered the question of ‘about’ when asked, and stutter like an unprepared schoolgirl when it comes up.

But I hadn’t dared. Which seems silly.

Those who forget the past (or ignore it) are condemned to repeat it

All that happens is you have to keep doing it, over and over, like Groundhog Day or Russian Doll, because the question doesn’t go away.

Can’t go away – as long as there are readers.

Why now, halfway through NETHERWORLD?

Because I am exhausted from fighting this particular battle, and stuck in the deep chasm of having to write what I planned to write way back then.

Because challenges not faced come back to haunt you.

And because I think I got it.

Finally.

Sidetrack for a minute into the writer’s greatest fear: Appearing ridiculous

Also sometimes known as biting off more than you can chew.

And choking on it.

But what I didn’t know in 2000, when what I’m about to post was almost as clear as it is now, except that I wasn’t sure, hadn’t put in the hard work to make sure, that I could come anywhere near to achieving what I was setting out to do.

As you probably know, mere appearance never works.

Failure is fine – there is no shame in attempting to become an astronaut, and not making the cut (I did, and didn’t). But you have to try, and you can’t skip steps. And you can’t wish for proficiency when what you need to do is find a way to learn (ie, the 10,000 hours trope, which is really a lot more hours if that’s what it takes).

Delusions of grandeur, Impostor Syndrome, Fear of Failing

They take their toll.

Why does it matter so much?

Because the world has removed so much of what I can do that what’s left is pitiful.

Because I have this one thing that I value, that keeps me sane, called writing.

And where I have all the control and all the responsibility, because not a word goes out without my say-so.

So I thought about all of this, and worked on it for months, and then let it sit.

I’m ready to let them be public, even though some will not be fully realized until the end of Book #3:

**********

Tagline: Pride’s Children is

The Great American Love Story.

Logline:

To safeguard a powerful actor, a damaged writer must first salvage herself.

Pitch:

When a reclusive bestselling novelist crosses paths with the rising actor of his generation, she finds her capacity for obsession is not dead. The friendship that develops when his next movie films near her rural refuge, and he fulfills his promise to visit, creates a challenging bond that threatens to destroy her. But when America’s Sweetheart decides she’s the one who will engender with him Hollywood’s supreme dynasty, can the writer navigate the razor’s edge from friendship to forever love, and save his unborn children?

Mission statement: what you are trying to achieve

To make the mainstream reader live three lives so closely from the inside, right behind the eyeballs, that reading Pride’s Children is a roller-coaster ride which makes the ending inevitable and utterly believable.

**********

For better or worse, they are now on record.

The writing proceeds.

30 thoughts on “Tagline, logline, pitch are the hardest writing ever

  1. marianallen

    Distilling the essence of a book — especially a looooong book — is frustratingly difficult. Pride’s Children is, indeed, a great love story. LOVE story, not Romance. Romances are fun, but they don’t make me go, “Oh, my HEART!” no matter what character is hurting. PC does.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      There is much more coming – I’m looking at the whole book when I write these, and now that the pressures are lowering in the real world, getting much more done every day.

      I have had good teachers; I’ve always read with that concept in mind: what makes something good, how can I learn from it, what is the essential part?

      And then: how can I imitate, refine, improve – and how can I increase the degree of difficulty?

      You inspire me.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Widdershins

    Congratulations! 😀 … you can cross that task off the list. 🙂 … what I found was that once I had pulled enough teeth and that first blurb was written I would come back to it every so often and refine it, without losing a single tooth. 😀

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  3. joey

    Those are all good. See, this is why you’re writing!
    I read one source that suggested the basic outline WAS the pitch. If you can’t write a good pitch, then why write the book? I will never forget that, although I no longer remember the source 😉

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      A new person you meet, who says, “Oh, you’re a writer. What do you write?” doesn’t want and shouldn’t get anything but a short pitch which either intrigues them into looking you up – or not.

      Your angst trying to summarize a trilogy which will be a half-million words or so when finished into a sentence or two is not their concern: and yours is not to lose a potential reader who might of liked what you write.

      Daunting, yes, but part of the job.

      The biggest problem is false modesty – the second biggest, inability to create ahead of time what is essentially advertising copy. I know – and every indie out there, and even some of the traditionally-published – that this question is going to come up.

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    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      For plotters, you literally can’t write until you have the premise and details locked down.

      I’m just so pathetically slow due to illness that the world keeps galloping by, leaving me in the dust.

      But the story came in a piece, ‘vouchsafed to ME,’ and I’ve been stuck with it all these years: there’s only one way out. I don’t know yet what I’ll do when it’s finished, but I do have several other things waiting.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Because I never give up. But it takes me so much longer than ‘normal’ humans that I wonder it I should.

          Then I realize THIS is about the only thing I can do with the life that’s left, and I’m going to do it until the good Lord takes me home or takes my brain.

          I believe they call that terminal stubbornness. 🙂

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  4. acflory

    Reading through this post I realised that there are one or two things I would gladly delegate to someone else. Not a publisher, thanks very much, but someone other than me. That ‘stuff’ is it.
    Congratulations on getting it done. It truly is a horrible job. 😦

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        1. acflory

          I have a wonderful beta who is also a scifi writer, and we help each other out. Unfortunately, marketing isn’t something either one of us is particularly good at.
          I’m more than happy to take on all the technical aspects of being a DIY Indie, but this is so not my forte. I’m rather envious that you can do it. lol

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          The thing is, I realized I already knew them – but was afraid to claim them. Which is silly, because they aren’t going to change. Oh, maybe a word here and there, but my biggest fear was always that someone else WOULD claim ‘The Great American Love Story’ BECAUSE I am so darned slow at writing – but that one is now over twenty years old.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris

    Once again, thanks for this very revealing look into how writers like you (plotters, liking to focus on details, etc.) do things. It’s something that feels completely alien to how I operate, so it’s something I can only understand vicariously.

    I mean, if someone asked me “What’s your book about?”, my likely answer would’ve been “If you can’t be bothered to read it and find out for yourself, you won’t get it anyway” 😛

    Of course, since I publish my books online, some sort of information needs to be transmitted to the prospective reader. Still, I put the art first. To give one example, since minimalism is my thing, the only thing prospective readers of The Other side of Dreams got was this:

    He ekes out a meager living battling society’s prejudices and a past trauma.She’s struggling with alcohol addiction.An unexpected lottery win changes their lives overnight, and they begin to travel around Europe, discovering more about themselves and each other.But soon the darker truth behind his past as well as her future will force an unexpected endgame.

    But it’s also a good Litmus test: if readers attracted by this get the book, it’s a book they’re going to like. If they don’t, then it’s not a book for them – and I don’t want them to read it.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Good luck telling people what NOT to read.

      But seriously: I want readers. Lots and lots of readers. Even if only 1% or 0.1% of the billion people on the planet are my kind of readers, that’s a lot of people.

      The other part of the message is taking ownership of what I have built into my novels, the kind of experience, and the kind of emotions I expect to elicit. I know, better than anyone, what I’ve layered in.

      That same message can have different depths, but I wouldn’t call most books with a love story, ‘The Great American Love Story.’ I wouldn’t even call GWTW one – there is actually no love going on in it – neither Scarlett nor Rhett seem capable of it, or change to be capable of it, and Ashley and Melanie don’t seem a good example for anyone.

      My education in the kind of story I’m writing came from two women, Charlotte Brontë and Dorothy L. Sayers, with the latter doing the better job (except that you have to dig it out of some so-so mysteries).

      If you don’t write for readers, why do you write novels?

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Chris

        “If you don’t write for readers, why do you write novels?”

        A totally justified question, to which I have an easy answer (as a result of my long and painful experience with the industry), albeit one that has to be delivered in a peculiar way – let’s see it as an allegory for the very process it tries to explain:

        I write for myself.
        I write for the art.
        I write for allowing this idea to materialize.
        I write so that I can look back at it and think, I did this, and it exists beyond spatial or temporal constraints.

        If there happened to be some few readers who’d like what I write, great. But I honestly don’t care. I’ve been published traditionally, I’ve seen what selling entails, and it’s just not for me. Or, to put it this way, I want selling to play by the art’s rules, not the other way around.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Your time, your life, your art – I was just curious.

          I’m in the opposite camp. This is hugely difficult for me. To get a couple of hours in which I can write at all, I have to spend most of a day of my life. The story itself is important (I’m not deliberately writing literary fiction, as I believe you are), and I want to affect a lot of people, but subtly, because what I have to say – that disabled people are actually people, with the same hopes and desires as everyone else – seems to be out of favor.

          That isn’t even the prime reason for writing, which is the story, yes, the love story. I think we have a lot of pseudo-love stories – and it annoys me to see people thinking a male billionaire/any young woman story has anything to do with the necessary qualities.

          I love that we can discuss things between authors. And I admire the reach of some of the stuff I would never read, much less write.

          But make no mistake about ME: I write for readers, readers who are like me. Because not everyone can write, can learn to write, or even wants to. But a few hours to immerse yourself in a story with a depth you like, that most people do all the time.

          Your life, your time, your writing – your goals, and only you know how much you satisfy them. Kind of cool, isn’t it?

          Liked by 1 person

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