July 1st, 2006

Describing a novel concisely

A feature of modern book retailing ever since I came into the publishing business nearly thirty years ago, is that any book where you cannot succinctly say in a few words what the book is about, and what is unique about it, is likely to fail. For the reps cannot get it across in the 30 seconds or so that a bookseller takes to decide if they want to buy it or not.

In the case of non-fiction books, this is not such a difficult problem to overcome. e.g. “it’s a new diet book, that offers a high fiber approach to weight loss.” In the case of fiction, it can sometimes be very difficult to offer such a concise account of what the book is about. In the case of established authors, the bookseller of course, knows and understands something of the author’s track record, but especially with new fiction authors, publishers routinely print extra proof copies, to give away to booksellers and those who promote books in the media, so that they can read the work, given that a brief description can not do justice to the novel.

A facet of the past ten years or so, is that one is constantly asked to compare one novel with others - and such pressures end up forcing some into invidious and absurd comparisons. “It’s a sort of cross between the Bible, War and Peace and Harry Potter.”

In the case of The Legend of Dagad Trikon, how can one realistically and briefly, describe a novel with the following elements?

Climate change.
Good versus evil
Saga, quest.
Epic
Apocalypse
Gnosticism
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
Excalibur
Holy Grail
Knights Templar
Catholic Church
Chastity
Virginity
Crusades
Cathars
Marriage
Cairo
Moscow
Washinton DC
Delphi
New Delhi
Riverdale, Bronx
Iceland
Glaciers
Gods
Mount Kailash
Archangels
Music
Divine Music
Soul Music
Sahara
Hanuman
Gabriel
Michael
Meditation
Yoga
Self-Realization
Transcendence
Transformation
Joy
Fulfillment
Success
Satisfaction
Eternal feminine
Divine Mother
Germany

Maybe if someone knows, they’ll let me know.

5 Responses to “Describing a novel concisely”

  1. Paresh Kiri Says:

    Mans attention has been always outward, inner-space holds the key and this book gives you the key, take it if you dare?

  2. Steve Says:

    Hi Alan, interesting to see that the book business works in a very similar way to the film business. In the flim biz what you describe is referred to as “the meet” and the prevailing wisdom is that they can be useful if “the meet” conveys an accurate image/feel of the script you are trying to sell. “The meet” can pique interest but the real currency in the script world is the logline described by one lit. agent as, “A one- or two-sentence description of the overall idea of the story. It’s the main goal of the story that you want to convey to your audience.”

    So for example, Spy Kids - After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids! or:

    My Fat Greek Wedding - Toula’s family has exactly three traditional values - “Marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, and feed everyone.” When she falls in love with a sweet, but WASPy guy, Toula struggles to get her family to accept her fiancĂ©e, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.

    Essentially the log-line should convey a protagonist who has to overcome a challenge (catalysed by an inciting incident) to reach a specific goal that he MUST attain or he/she/the world/humanity etc will suffer the consequences=what’s at stake. (The MUST bit of the log-line is actually missing from the examples above but essentially it makes for a stronger log-line).

    I’m only on page 50 so I wouldn’t be able to create a log-line for Dagad Trikon but a concise log-line that encapsulates the esence of the story will be more useful than the “meet” that you describe which I agree can be meanignless. Even though the book may cover a myriad subjects from Climate Change to Germany the story should theoretically be able to be conveyed in one or two sentences. If this is what is required ;-)

  3. STEVE Says:

    Just to continue the discussion of the log-line and its close cousin the tagline. Although both may be much maligned in some quarters as marketing tools for a short-attention-span world the reality is that they actually require some skill to write.

    On www.scriptsales.com there is a whole section where screenwriters upload and ask for feedback on their loglines in order to come up with 1 or 2 sentences that will encapsulate their story in a pithy, accurate and engaging way. Being concise and to the point has always been a challenge in the realm of language.

    The tagline requires even more skill and more creativity. Just look at these movie taglines:

    Alien - In space no-one can hear you scream - brilliant, it conjures up a clear image that immediately resonates.

    Full-Metal Jacket - In Vietnam the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks.

    What’s clever about this one is the word play - suck referring both to explosions which create vacuums and the usual slang usage of the word. The wordplay forces you to linger awhile and play with words in your mind combined with your own mental imagery which is of course the intent of the marketing ruse - to capture your attention - and the longer, the better.

    This is one I saw recently for an animation film that made me chuckle:

    The odd are about to get even - again word plays, puns that are memorable and, in this case, funny but also convey something about the story. These guys must be outcasts or it’s a fish-out-of-water story.

    Marketing tools maybe, but one has to admire the creativity behind such slogans which have now seeped their way into everyday language such as, “Be afraid, be very afraid” (The Fly) and “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13).

    Now a tag-line for Dagad Trikon - that would be a challenge! A contest idea perhaps ;-)

  4. admin Says:

    Any suggestions for a tag-line for Dagad Trikon would be most welcome. A contest? Well let’s see how many suggestions come in and we’ll take it from there.

  5. Steve Says:

    So, after some brainstorming and feedback from Alan we’ve come up with a tagline for Dagad Trikon:

    “In the latter days, man has to conquer his greatest enemy - himself.”

    Of course we also mean “herself” but somehow the “man” and “mankind” felt clumsier so we ended up using “man” and “himself”. Any better suggestions are of course welcome :-)

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