Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Novel Done, Soundbite? Handle? Aargh!!

Think writing a synopsis is hard? Try writing the soundbite, the blurb, the handle. This is my least favorite part. Sol Stein defines the handle as "A short description of  the book designed to evoke interest in it." Note, designed to evoke interest in it. Note, short. Note, description. How is this even possible?

A good handle shows how a reader will benefit from reading the book. For instance, the handle for my first novel is:  "Uncut Diamonds is Steel Magnolias with Mormon characters."

What this means: If you like Steel Magnolias, a rambling, character-driven story about women dealing with life's challenges and somehow coming out on top, with humor, tragedy and pathos thrown in, then you will enjoy my book. The clue "with Mormon characters," is meant to pique the interest of those intrigued by Mormons, who have been very much in the news the past few years. This book will give readers an inside look into a Mormon family.

Another thing about a handle is SHORT. Basically 10 to 15 words, max. My handle above is 8 words, a bit short, which can be a problem. Why? Because if it's too short, one has the inclination to expand on it until before you know it, you've spouted off for 5 minutes about your book and eyes glaze over. (As I know from sad experience.) It should be short, but not too short. Mine would be better at 12 words, but I can't figure out what 4 words to add. Adding the genre can be a useful tool in describing the book. YA Paranormal, Chick Lit, cozy mystery, lesbian literary-- these all give a crystal clear picture.

A handle boils down to one enticing phrase that captures the essence of your story, often using a familiar movie or book for comparison. Can't find the right phrase? Try listing a number of phrases that summarize your book's benefits and substance, and narrow it down to that perfect combination. Voila, you have your book's handle. Sounds easy, doesn't it? *laughs hysterically*

Here's a few phrases I've come up with as I struggle with creating the handle for House of Diamonds:

* Two sisters, married with children, are best friends, yet in different phases of life. Can their relationship survive the trials each must face?

* Cindy and Marcie are sisters. Something is wrong with Cindy's baby. Marcie, the experienced mother of seven, doesn't want to say anything and worry her sister.

* Marcie, mother of seven, finally gets an opportunity to realize her dream of being a published author. While her sister Cindy, mother of two, discovers something terribly wrong with her baby.

 You can see why I'm struggling. None of these actually fit the requirements. They aren't short, descriptive or enticing enough. The marketing guru for WiDo is working on this, but anyone who wants to try a hand, please feel free! I'm stumped.

And if you have an awesome handle for your own work, please share it in the comments!


  1. Hmmm... how about : Two mothers, one one the cusp of opportunity, the other making terrible discovers. Can their relationship withstand their personal trials?

  2. Summer, ooh that has potential. Thanks, wow and you just spun that out so fast. I wish I had that talent.

  3. Yup, I'm intimidates. Glad I'm not anywhere near this point yet.

  4. That should read "intimidated!"

  5. Book "handle" blurbs are very, very tough. Trying to get everything said in 15 words-aack! I've never been able to do that well. I'm better at book jacket blurbs that can be 250 words or less. This gives you more wiggle room. Good luck! I really like Summer Ross's!

  6. Handles are tough for me, but I really like Summer's suggestion.

  7. How about this: (Thanks to Summer!)

    Two women, one facing opportunity, the other facing tragedy. Will their friendship endure?

    It's down to 13 words. Is it enticing?

  8. Probably a bit long but this is what I came up with?

    Two sisters – one of them living a dream, the other a nightmare. Is the bond between sisters really the strongest?

  9. "Two sisters" instead of "two women" maybe???

    Oh but I do like the "two women, one facing.."etc. though.

    Yay!! What a great outcome!

    Take care

  10. Your handle is shaping up so well--now I want to read the book :-)
    I like the word "sisters" instead of women as well.

  11. Yep, I like your new handle. It's enough to pique interest :)

  12. Really? You guys like it? It piqued your interest? The reason I changed it to women was so readers would understand it wasn't 14 year old girls with their opportunities being a date with the hot guy and their tragedy being a date with a not so hot guy.

    I could say: Two women, sisters and best friends, one facing opportunity the other tragedy. Will their relationship endure?

    Is that one better? It's longer at 16 words, and doesn't seem quite as concise. I'm not sure.

  13. Oh just read Brigid's comment, I like the word bond.

    Two women, sisters and best friends, one facing opportunity the other tragedy. Will their bond endure?

    I like bond instead of relationship. Thanks Brigid :)

  14. Hey, KG! OMG, yes. This is the absolute worst. Have you seen Nathan B/Rachel G's little formula for writing the one-sentence pitch? I use it, but often end up w/what you're going for.

    In case you missed it, here's the formula w/example:

    What it should include:
    ? A character or two
    ? Their choice, conflict, or goal
    ? What’s at stake (may be implied)
    ? Action that will get them to the goal
    ? Setting (if important)

    ? Keep it simple. One plotline, 1 or 2 characters.
    ? Use the strongest nouns, verbs and adjectives.
    ? Make the conflict clear but you don’t have to hint at the solution.

    In your one-sentence summary, try not to pitch a theme. Pitch what happens. Examples of themes:

    This book explores forgiveness.
    This book looks at the thin line between right and wrong.
    This book explores the meaning of independence, and asks if it’s really possible.

    Here is Nathan Bransford's simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: "When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest]."

    Examples of one-sentence summaries:

    Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    • A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. (Thanks Randy Ingermanson for this one.)

    ? Character=boy wizard
    ? Conflict=battling the Dark Lord
    ? Stakes=his life
    ? Setting=none
    ? Action=wizard training; avoiding the same fate as his parents

  15. LTM, many thanks for this awesome comment! I've seen this formula and find it very difficult to use with character-driven novels, thus my agonizing struggle.

    Here's my final offer:

    "Two sisters, one facing opportunity the other tragedy. Will their bond endure?"

    But again, it emphasizes theme (the bond between sisters) rather than plot twist.

  16. And I thought a synopsis was hard! The new handle sounds good to me.

  17. Two sisters instead of two women would be a good summary. Your story really resonates with me Karen. Especially since my sister and I do not get along. Let me know when your book is due to be published. I will purchase it.

  18. This post is just what I needed. I have a signing Saturday and I really needed help shortening my pitch. Thanks!

  19. I'm late to the game, sounds like you're pretty close to a winner, but I'm here so I might as well say something, eh?

    I was just going to say that the initial attempts seemed to be too close to the story, but you've taken a step back and I think you're on the right track now. This one is sounding much better.

  20. Vicki, That's the essence of why it's so hard to do these suckers. We're too close to it, and we can't figure out how to put the essence of our story in 15 words!!

    Kathi, I always need help shortening my pitch. Good luck with your signing!

    Andrea, Your comment validates the effectiveness of this handle. By George I think I've got it.

    Belle, I'd rather write a synopsis any day than one of these things. See how I needed everyone's help?

    You guys are all the bomb! Thanks for everyone's help and feedback.

  21. I have no clue but there is a commenter that seems to have it down pat. Great post.


  22. Good luck! That sounds like a tough task. It's taking a query and boiling it down even further.

    Okay, I'll try.

    Ugh. I've been trying for five minutes. 10-15 words?

    "A murderous mist puts Eve and Adam on a quest to save civilization from itself."

    I'm leaving out Eve wrestling with her feelings about Adam, but I'm out of word allowance!

    For you:

    "If Cindy tells her sister, Marcie there's something wrong with her baby, will their relationship survive?"

    It's 16 words.

    Good luck!

  23. I LOVE your handle! I was more thinking of the formula for your blurb--I find it hard to use for coming up w/ONE sentence, but it does help me put together a 3-5 sentence blurb... Ha! :D

    Anyway, left you an award on my bloggie blog... check it out, ya'll~ ;o)

  24. I like the second two because you use examples to show us what they sisters are dealing with...

    I totally suck at this part too.

  25. Oh gosh, I have just got through the synopsis and now find there is a one line pitch to write!

    One writer, one pen. Writer puts down pen. The end. LOL LOL

    I think your final say is a good one by the way.