Sunday, May 02, 2010

Why Is Your Writing Hot?

Anyone who travels knows that USA Today has a Thursday book section. I used to look forward to it in my government treks to DC, St Louis and other US cities when the Feds paid my tab. Any chance I can, I grab a copy. A friend brought  me a copy of that section this week, and as I read information about the top ten book sellers, my light came on.

What It's About

The page posts the title, author, publisher, and all the standard stuff, but then they print two paragraphs, or rather, two sentences. One is entitled "What It's About." The tell-tale, one-sentence elevator speech goes under this heading. You know the line - the one you're supposed to be able to rattle off like snapped fingers when someone asks what you're writing. The one most of us don't  have. Some of them seemed milk-toast to me, but that's because they allowed themselves a second shot in the next line entitled Why It's Hot.

Why It's Hot

The first line summarizes the book in no more than twenty words. This second one, however, snared the reader. Let me give you an example in nonfiction, then again with fiction.

Spoken from the HeartSpoken From the Heart - By Laura Bush
What it's about: The former first lady shares her life story, from her childhood in Midland, Texas to her years in the White House.
Why it's hot: The notoriously private Bush opens up about subjects she has not discussed publicly, including a high school car accident - she was driving - that killed a star athlete at her school.

Bam! as Emeril would say. The world knows this lady is reserved, polite and Christian. Here we learn she killed someone? Like that's not a Law and Order ta-dum-dum.

Heart of the MatterHeart of the Matter - By Emily Giffin
What it's about: In Giffin's fifth novel, the lives of two young mothers converge after a tragic accident.
Why it's hot: Giffin is on a bestselling streak, and filming has just begun on the movie version of her first novel, Something Borrowed, starring Kate Hudson.

Why wouldn't we want to read fiction by an author that has so remarkably established herself in book and movie, particularly with an A-list actress?

I read all ten of these mini-reviews, and two more on books for young readers. Look at this one on John Grisham's attempt at kid's lit.

Theodore Boone: Kid LawyerTheodore Boone: Kid Lawyer -  By John Grisham
What it's about: Theodore, a 13-year-old amateur attorney, unwittingly becomes involved in a high-profile murder trial.
Why it's hot: Grisham, kind of the legal thriller, writes his first children's book. Opposing counsel, watch out!

Note sometimes it's the first line that snares you - at other times the hot line does it. Regardless, take your work and prepare a two sentence review/blurb for it, using this format. Not a one of these reviews was over 50 words, yet I guarantee they drew in readers and made them buy books. Can yours?


Malcolm R. Campbell said...

As writers, we need to be that brief and pithy about our own books rather than saying, um, I always wanted to be a writer, and this story has been in my head ever since Ms. Johnston's high school English class where she encouraged me not to be so wordy.

Susan said...

Enjoyed this information, Hope. Thanks. Sincerely, Susan

Anonymous said...

kate hudson is not a-list.
just because someone has a streak of best sellers does not mean tney are even good. we all know there are plenty of books out there that are good for toilet paper. not toilet paper reading.

i love your blog and i understand the point of your post. but let's not get carried away here...

Karen Lange said...

Great info, Hope. Helps break it down even better. Thanks a bunch!

Janet Hartman said...

Linda Rohrbough taught me the two sentence summary in her workshop last fall at the NCWN conference. (She calls them "log lines.") It made sense to me. When I shared the concept with my writers group, you should have seen them taking notes! Several from the group have told me they revised their pitches and query letters to use this approach.
At, there is a free article about the second line.

Mike said...

Good info as always - thanks for keeping us informed and keep on putting out the tidbits!