I don’t like them and don’t want to see them. Or, as Dr. Seuss might write: I do not like them here or there; I do not like them anywhere.
Loglines, most often seen in movie advertising, are single sentences meant to capture the plot and spirit of a book (or movie, or TV show). So a logline for something like Harry Potter might be “At age eleven, Harry Potter begins his education as a wizard, and he must fight the evil man who killed his parents.” With a logline, a writer can answer the question, “What is your book about?”
Loglines are harmless in and of themselves, I guess, but for what I have to do as an agent, they’re useless. Agents don’t sign clients based on one-sentence pitches. A book that might have a great hook could fall apart in the writing. The aspect that the writer chooses to pitch in the logline might not be the thing I like best about the book. My usual response to a logline, when I hear one during a pitch, is, “And then what happens?” A logline only tells me one tiny detail about a book. A logline cannot build a world or show a great voice or give details as to how the characters work out their problems.
I’ve been to pitch sessions where writers are required to give them to agents, and while I’m not offended by this, I do question whether is a good use of the writers’ time. Loglines can be useful and/or fun on a book that’s already published. One I really love is the logline used on the advertising for Season 5 of True Blood: Bleed the Fifth. It’s a clever play on words for an already-established TV show. It’s fun because it means something to the show’s viewers, but it doesn’t try to accomplish what I feel that a logline ultimately cannot do: Get me to want more. For a book from a new author I’m looking to sign, I don’t want a logline. I want a fabulous query and killer writing.
From March 26-28, I’ll be part of the faculty for Writers Digest‘s “The First 10 pages: Science fiction and fantasy bootcamp.” The program will include a lecture from author Phillip Athans followed by an open Q&A with Phillip, me, and author Jay Lake. All attendees also have the chance to submit the first 10 pages of their novel and get feedback from the three of us.
To learn more and register, click here. It should be informative and fun. After all, how many times will you get to say “Here there be dragons,” and actually mean it?
“Are you an editorial agent?”
I’m never quite sure how to answer this question, as there’s really no industry standard for considering yourself to be one. But generally when asked, I answer yes.
I like to get down and dirty with a manuscript. Maybe I need better hobbies, but I find a certain level of satisfaction not just in giving big-picture editorial advice on a manuscript, but in doing line edits. I do feel that the devil can be in the details. While doing a line edit once, for example, I noticed that the author had a tendency to begin almost all of the dialogue with conjunctions. Little things like this can really add up and take the overall quality of a book down.
My procedure for editing usually goes something like this:
- Read the manuscript as is, start to finish.
- Go back to the beginning and start line edits.
- Fix incorrect SPAG (spelling, grammar, and punctuation)
- Suggest changes to dialogue, flow, paragraph structure
- While doing this, keep a separate sheet for notes on plot, characterization, and big-picture ideas
- Repeat until I reach the end of the book.
- Write an editorial letter talking about both the small and big picture edits.
In short, I explain my editorial philosophy as such: I don’t want to change a book. I want to make it the best possible version of what it already is. I take on clients’ books because I love what’s at the heart of them, whatever that may be. When writing an editorial letter, I do my best to be prescriptive, to offer solutions for the problems that are keeping the book from being the best it can be.
I’ve been asked if I have any special training in editing, and the answer is no. When I was in elementary school and junior high (yes, I went to an actual junior high, not a middle school), my English classes taught grammar and editing, and I not only found it interesting, but I had something of a natural ear for proper grammar. (This was a good thing, as I needed my English grade to offset my math grade so I could still come out with a decent GPA.) All I do when editing is mark what sounds right or wrong to me, and within that framework I consider what the audience for this particular book might like to see. It’s neither art nor science, just something I try to get better at with every manuscript I work on.
And yes, I use the Oxford comma, but I don’t get upset with writers who don’t.
The most important job your query can do is make me want to read your book. Sure, I make it sound easy, but here’s something I see way too much of that’s easy to fix:
It’s not that I mind a book with a lot of emotional turmoil and internal drama. As Stephen King so rightly pointed out in On Writing, our lives don’t have plots. I’m looking for women’s fiction, and this is a genre that tends to be more focused on emotional journeys and family stories.
Too often, I see queries that I end up passing on because they don’t tell me about any particular, life-shaping events that happen in the book. Our lives might not have plots, but your book needs something that at least resembles one. Queries will say things like, “Jane Smith realizes that she has to forgive her mother in the end.” The problem with this is that emotional development doesn’t equal plot. A book isn’t much fun to read when people are just sitting around talking. (I’ve seen a fair number of mysteries in the slush that open this way as well.) Your book doesn’t have to have an Eat Pray Love level of travel or high-stakes international escapades, but as the agent reading your query, I want to see something that will excite me, something that will make me want to invest time and emotion in your characters.
As you edit your query, check the verbs that explain the crux of your plot: If they’re ones that happen while a person is sitting down (realizes, sees, falls in love, understands), that’s not as exciting to read about. Let me know how the main character has to put him/herself on the line in order for the plot to happen. We all have to leave our houses sometime. Show me how that happens, and how it affects your main character.