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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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All Because There Was No Driver On the Top

I’ve known authors over the years who balk at boiling down their book to a few sentences. “I”m not good at it,” they cry. I’m sympathetic; it’s extremely difficult to do, and may be impossible when you are in the middle of it. It takes time to figure out what a book is really about, as they are often about so many things. But it’s critical if you want to hook someone. Just imagine yourself at a party. You discover someone writes. You ask, what is your book about? They reply with a five minute plot description. I would guess that by the end of thirty seconds you find yourself wishing you were never born. Now imagine the writer responding, “It’s about a woman who kills her therapist.”

Can you you give me one sentence about your book?

90 Responses

  1. Solving life’s problems using Nehemiah as a model.

  2. Two intelligent, talented and emotionally crippled Black women try to forge a relationship outside of their art despite the fact that one is the product of the other’s rape.

  3. Involved in a love triangle between his sister and a hot truck driver, a possible schizophrenic finds God.

    • Changed “involved” to “mixed up.” Gosh, with one sentence, every word counts!

      • Probably just me, but I’d take care to clarify the legs of the triangle. We’re talking the brother with the trucker and the sister with the trucker, right?

      • Well, yes. But from the brother’s POV, it’s also he and his sister — too complicated for one sentence, I think.

  4. He lived; he suffered; he died.
    The End.

    Okay, really:
    A sheltered southern belle gradually reinvents herself after befriending the ex-con her husband hired to murder her.

  5. A girl who jumps off her family tree

  6. An agitated, irritable, potty-mouthed psychiatrist in his late thirties is trapped inside the cavernous bowels of his mentally retarded brother.

  7. A sixteen-year-old girl with a B average and a body count.

  8. You’re so right that it’s hard to do when you’re in the middle of it. I thought I did a decent job encapsulating my w-i-p, but when I saw the description my editor had submitted to Publishers Marketplace, I realized I wasn’t even close. She nailed it …

    A mousy movie critic accidentally unleashes the ghost of writer Dorothy Parker, whose caustic wit and wisdom helps change her life in all kinds of unexpected ways.

  9. An ex-urban wife and mother finds out what happens when she gets her wish.

  10. A gay respiratory therapist with a deathwish. (More anon.)

  11. The growing pains of a string quartet.

  12. WIP — The Voice in Maggie Feigenbaum’s Head: A sweet, funny teenage girl helps her friends by killing the creeps who have wronged them.

  13. A woman falls in love with a man, makes a deal with the devil to get him (metaphorically speaking) and then finds out she made a horrendously horrible irrevocable deal, for both her and her beloved, and must try to save them both.

  14. “I don’t know yet.”

  15. Kid escapes death camp but can’t outrun his own darkness.

  16. An Inside Look At The Highly Competitive and Political World Of Children’s Birthday Parties In Los Angeles.

  17. boy pulls a mermaid out of Lake Michigan …

  18. OMG. ding! ding! ding! Absolute helplessness. My book is about surviving in the wake of absolute helplessness.

    I could kiss you Betsy!

  19. The two elderly women from Downing Street mistook the three alien heads for cabbages; and thus the whole of the English Empire changed at the first full moon.

    • Hold the phone now. Did the elderly women cook and eat the alien heads because they thought they were cabbages or were they just fooled into thinking that these alien heads were harmless because they thought they were cabbages?

      Think I might prefer to read the former, not sure what that says about me…

  20. A teacher accused of sexual abuse is the only hope for a single mom and her four children facing a stalker on an isolated Missouri farm.

  21. Read this last night and note this morning this post has been edited deleting the bits that kept me up
    care to comment

    • The cut part was quite different from what other agents have told us, and I wonder if I’ve been poorly advised in the past. I like what Betsy suggested and finally have a one-sentence hook.

      • The cut part also described a required bio impossible for most first time book publishers to meet.

      • Isn’t it better to know, CJ? I’m taking it as sound advice and getting my ass on every piece of lit or committee related to my book I can. I’ve also started making a list of experts to contact who might be willing to read my ms and endorse it. I figure it can’t hurt and the most they can say is no.

    • Okay, tonight, the ten commandments of query letters according to me. Sorry for cutting. I never do that.

  22. A 19th century woman knows she is her husband’s equal, isn’t shy about saying so and finds herself committed to an insane asylum.

  23. After running into a man from her past, a young woman reconsiders what part she may have played in a close friend’s suicide ten years earlier.

    I get so flummoxed when people ask me what my novel is about at parties. And I don’t get flummoxed easily…

    • I get flummoxed too, you’re not alone! Mostly because when I try to describe my book out loud, it just sounds so odd. But then I think of authors like Stephen King etc …. think how odd it must sound when they try to describe some of their work out loud!

      • I notice the more “literary” a book is the harder to summarize let alone in a sentence. The language, the language. Movie pitches have had a negative effect on publishing.

      • The last one was even worse I’d be all ‘it’s kind of a coming of age story um, about a young woman trying to find herself in the big city, but it’s not like ‘chick lit’ you know, not that there’s anything wrong with chick lit ha ha! Candace Bushnell is totally my guilty pleasure! Anyway there’s a love triangle and someone in it is gay and um, anyway what do you do? *nervous laughter*

        Sometimes I just tell people that it messes with my creative process if I talk about what I’m working on while I’m wokring on it. That probably makes me sound like an asshole but at least it’s concise!

  24. A suicidal woman living in the aftermath of her son’s murder is brefriended by an impetuous gunrunner in WWII Finland.

  25. An emotional wreck of a therapist, a solitary mountain, and a Trailside Killer victim who wasn’t killed hook up in an attempt to prove–or disprove–that beauty can coexist with violence.

  26. A rookie detective investigates a link between homicide case files and confronts the agents of Good and Evil.

  27. A Eurasian adoptee’s search for love and identity exhumes not only secrets from the past, but the skeleton in the family closet.

  28. Investigating whether it is possible to find resolution in situations that lack answers, as discovered through a three decades old unsolved mass murder in Alaska.

  29. In a quaint little town in the North Cascades, an FBI agent is discreetly investigating a spate of murders, disappearances, and rapes that seem linked to a man whose DNA is not, strictly speaking, human.

  30. A young sorceress has her powers stolen by her own mother and now she must figure out a way to keep the world safe from evil without magic.

    Oh dear. My WIP sounds so lame when boiled down to one sentence. Oh well, another MS to banish to the box under the bed.

  31. A small-time thief has a chance to hit it big, but she falls in love with the woman she’s supposed to steal from.

  32. Does everyone feel like the one sentence reduction distorts the genre it fits into when actually written?

    Does anyone understand that sentence?

    • Yes, I understand, Bethany. I’m writing historical fiction and was thinking the same thing earlier.

    • One sentence is fun and interesting and bullshit. ‘An annoying prince plumbs the depths of wangst after the ghost of his father reveals that he was assassinated, then everyone dies.”

      The question is, what are you trying to -do- with the one sentence. I suck at describing my books (“The one where Greedy Smurf learns a lesson”) but I don’t get invited to parties, so this isn’t a problem for me. Are we trying to impress? Get laid? Get away? Get an agent?

      I hope I’ve commented enough to definitively establish that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but I think you’ve gotta pinpoint the premise or the conceit, and to hell with being respectful of the story and honest about the genre. You’re trying to attract an agent, right? Remember that they don’t see colors and shapes the way humans do, just dollar signs.

      • It’s about the pitch. Pitching to an agent, an agent pitching to an editor, an editor pitching to the sales force, the sales force to the accounts, the publicist to the media, etc. You’ve got to get it down. Is is bullshit? Maybe, but I’m sure Shakie had to pitch Hamlet to the producers at Stratford Upon Avon. There’s writing and the sad business of it. I don’t give a shit about much, but if a few of you or more got anything out of this blog that brought you closer to writing to the top of your game or getting published and enjoying that particular misery, then I would be happy. ANd I wish I saw more dollar signs and dollars. A lot more. Like enough to get a Jaguar and an apartment at the Pierre.

      • Betsy behind the wheel of a Jaguar? Relieved I live in Ohio.

        But being at the top of my game is my goal. Thanks, as always.

      • Yeah, but you don’t give -one sentence pitches-, do you? Remember, we’re writers: if you tell us ‘one sentence,’ we don’t think ‘short and catchy,’ we think, ‘are semi-colons allowed?’

        What I mean by dollar signs is, agents want the catchphrase that SELLS. There’s no poetry here–thank God.

        “A boy pulls a mermaid out of Love Canal,” bang. “A deformed woman learns to love her body through S&M,” pow. But look at Bethany’s (not to pick on you, Bethany, though you do need more Noisettes on the website). She’s trying to jam too much of her story into the ‘one sentence,’ instead of going for the cheap money shot. “An elegant black woman learns to love the daughter conceived by rape,” or whatever.

        And I think the only person who doesn’t know how much your commenters are getting out of your blog is you.

      • We sometimes talk about a book that pitches itself. This is where the title says it all, or the sub-title. The fewer words it takes to convey what a book is about, or what the reading experience will be, the better. I do try to keep it short and sweet. Some editors want to gab, other are like, just send it. I do whatever it takes to put it over as best I can. I once pitched a book by saying that I doubted anyone would buy it because it was so eccentric. I had three bidders out of four. I just failed to sell the most commercial property I’ve ever gone out with. Well, I’m an editor in agent’s clothing. I think I do see the poetry. But I really like to make money for my writers; some of them see dollar signs, too.
        August: I adore you and you are very kind to say that people are getting something out of this motherfucker. Yesterday was the second highest comment day; very exciting. BL

      • More Noisettes?! How very DARE you!

        No, but that is my problem. I’m trying to tell what the book is about, trying to be true to the POINT of the book… none of which seems to be genuinely conveyed in a pitch. Is there a happy medium; should we assume editors and agents realize there’s more than meets the eye when often it seems they don’t give you that benefit?

        The book I wrote is the book I want to describe. I didn’t write about a woman learning to love the daughter she bore out of rape. I wrote about two women living out their remarkable identities, despite the fact that the society into which they were born forces one upon them. And they’re also related and, oh yeah, also estranged.

      • Bethany: Then why not turn exactly that into your hook? “Two estranged cousins (or whatever) live out their remarkable identities, despite the fact that society forces one upon them.”

        I think you’ve just written yourself a pretty good Hook, though I’m no expert. 🙂

      • I wouldn’t assume that editors and agents are gonna give you the benefit of anything except the recycle bin. That’s why I’m not convinced that a pitch sentence–or paragraph, or a query letter–is the place to be true to our art. Agents and editors -ask- for honesty and truth, because that makes their job easier, but making their job easier isn’t -our- job.

        Your job as a writer, at this point, according to me (and remember, I’m the literary genius trying to sell Bakugan tie-in novels) is making them want to read the first few pages. That’s all. Ask yourself, ‘how would some glib asshole marketer convince a harried agent to read this book?’ Then write that. The beauty of your prose will do the rest.

      • Well. Damn these wild, young hearts.

      • August, I should admit: I do entirely understand and believe what you’re saying. I’ve therefore got to take meds for my Tourrette’s so I don’t keep trying to yelp out the entire and unadulterated story and also wear a strait jacket to disable my attempts at peeling back my skin. To avoid all this, I’ve just been very patient and sane. Which may have been harder. But that’s the road I took.

      • “An annoying prince…then everyone dies.”
        Good one.

        “A sheltered daughter of a proud plantation owner learns through harsh experience during the Civil War that she must now be the strong one in her family, to hold onto their land and find a new way of life when the war is over.”

        “A young lady in England who believes she need never marry yet feels she should play matchmaker for others discovers that she may have set up a situation where someone else will the marry the man she finally realizes she loves.”

        That IS hard. And mine are coming out — “learning,” “discovering”….Is that OK? Don’t know.

        My novel, “Wondering About The Questions Of My Time,” is about starting over, seeing things differently, seeing the light, figuring things out.

        Is THAT okay? don’t know.

  33. In a quiet town in New Mexico, a young oracle, despite her strange visions and foreign emotions, is determined to prevent the end of the world.

  34. Confessions of a stoner literary agent (but more Hodgman than Clegg).

  35. YA:
    Before the apple, Eve had a daughter.

    • I’m no expert, but I love this Trinity! The inuendo is great! I would buy it in a heartbeat. Hope you are having good luck with it. I’ll be keeping an eye out.

  36. Jeremiah’s life is changed because of a prophecy, but it isn’t about him.

  37. “A cynical heart attack victim forsakes her love affair with all things unhealthy, and recaptures a piece of her life she never realized was missing.”

    Have rewritten this as many times as the damn ms. Feel way more confident about the novel than the one-line pitch, although I suppose that’s better than the reverse.

    • sounds good to me, Sherry, but what do I know? It all sounds like TV Guide to me.

      • Ha! Love the TV Guide reference, especially since an editor told me she saw a previous draft of the ms “as a Lifetime movie–but a good one.” Have never watched the Lifetime network, but I decided to take it as a compliment, intended that way or not.

  38. My book is about what happens when a girl’s body image is forming at the same time her body is growing deformed from scoliosis, and how as a woman, she learns to fully inhabit and accept her misshaped body through S&M. At least for a few minutes.

    Oh. I cheated.

    • hey that’s my story…if i had a scanner i’d post a picture of my hideously deformed body (my husband said i looked like a dwarf with spina bifida, does that rise to the level of sadism?) my daughter found rummaging through a shoebox of old photos while we were visiting my insane parents last weekend…was diagnosed at age 12 with severe scoliosis, spent first half of my 13th year in the hospital, second half in middle school in a body cast that went from my earlobes to my ass…still don’t fully (or even partially, who am i kidding) reside within my misshapen body…

  39. A small town girl falls for a famous musician which throws her perfectly structured life into chaos.

    It’s SO much fun reading what people have written. I’m completely intrigued. I could never be an agent, I’d ask for fulls on everything and be buried in paper after a week.

  40. Me again, clogging the comments – I actually really liked Hamlet in one sentence. Thanks for the laugh.

  41. Out on submission w/ agents (fingers crossed!!)
    A divorced mom rescues her ex’s widow from foreclosure and the wrath of suburban gossip by taking her in and making her part of the family.

    A snarky, multi-pierced, California-bred college student finds the East Coast, starched and pressed father, step-mother-from-vegetarian-hell and preppie younger brother who don’t even know she exists.

  42. A cynical reporter goes into the deep wilderness of the Rocky Mountains trying to find the rumored haunt spots but finds not only ghosts, but her restored belief in mankind and love with one of the sexiest mountain men she’d ever met.

  43. Mr. Eclipse is about Philip, a high-level quadriplegic who miraculously becomes able-bodied by day but remains paralyzed at night.

  44. * I’m not sure that one sentence telling what a book is about means the same thing as one sentence condensing the story. Lisa’s pitch, “An ex-urban wife and mother finds out what happens when she gets her wish,” may be not quite suggestive enough to sell me, but the essential idea is clear: “what happens when she gets her wish.” I might want some hint of the tone: comic absurdity, tragedy, sparkling fantasy?

    * The idea of one-sentence pitches for literary classics is delicious and is likely to distract me for days. What’s Nabokov’s Pale Fire about? Very tough. Anna Karenina? Madame Bovary? (“She married one man but loves another” doesn’t quite do it.) The Seagull? The Golden Bowl?

    * Betsy’s post and the responses have helped me clarify the question, and I’m saving the whole page as a PDF for future reference. I’ll be pondering the 1SP for my memoir as I work, but I may just ask a trusted friend to tell me what he thinks it’s about.

    • John – Thank you so much for that feedback. This was the first time I’d boiled the story down (haven’t even begun to dabble with a query yet) so this helps me know what to add for the one sentence pitch.

      Hows this for a start for Flaubert’s signature work:
      Madame Bovary – A hard-to-satisfy woman finds that what she thinks may make her happy could turn out to be her ruin.

      This post and the comments have been one of my favorites so far.

  45. woman with ovarian cancer wrestles with whether to tell her two daughters their (missing-for-two-years) father is in the freezer

    a meditation on marriage and death

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