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Create Your Own Familiar

We've been traveling around the country visiting schools and at each one the students have created their own Familiar Story.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Telephone

GUEST POST on Market My Words

There was an old game we would play on the bus back in my summer camp days called “Telephone.” I’m sure you’re familiar with it. You would start by whispering a sentence into someone’s ear, and then they would whisper it to the person sitting behind them, and so on throughout the bus. When the message reached the person in the last seat, they would repeat what they heard out loud. So, if you started by whispering, “I took my girlfriend to the zoo today and saw pigs wrestling in the mud,” the last person might announce something akin to “My girlfriend is such a pig that she should wrestle in a zoo.” And everyone busts into a fit of giggles.

Now imagine you’re a literary agent or an assistant editor or an editor. A writer pitches you their manuscript idea over the phone or in a query letter. In order to get that idea sold, you will have to relay it up the ladder to your boss, and then to their boss, all the way to the person at the top of the company who can say, “Yes.” It’s no different than the game of telephone you played on the bus when you were 8, except now there’s nothing funny about your idea getting mangled and people passing on your ideas.

I’ve read a lot of query letters from aspiring writers pitching the ideas for their book manuscripts or screenplays. And most of them would be darn near impossible to pitch up the ladder. Before anyone ever reads the first page of your manuscript, I can guarantee that you will already put yourself head and shoulders above your competition if you can summarize your idea concisely so that it can navigate its way through the telephone game.

How? With a winning log-line. This is a Hollywood term. I don’t know if people in the book world use it as often – maybe here it’s referred to as a synopsis – either way, the principle is the same. Log-lines are where good, sellable ideas begin. They are the short blurb in TV guides that tell you what a program is about and help you decide if you’re going to watch it. On a cold call or in a query letter, the log-line is what’s going to determine if the person on the other side is going to read your manuscript or not.

Yes, ultimately it will be all about good writing and execution. Of course. That goes without saying. But I think people underestimate how hard it is to even get that gatekeeper to read your material in the first place. So why not stack the odds in your favor, and have that killer one-liner to hook a reader?

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