One Sheets for the Faint of Heart
By Lisa Karon Richardson (Reposted)
I'm reposting this article because once again conference time is upon many of our writer friends. One of the newer and more daunting pieces of information that we're being asked to produce in order to sell our work is a One Sheet. So here's a look into the heart of author angst!
Readers have no concept of the pain we go through for our art. *moan*, *sigh*, *whine* I’m not talking about the effort we pour into our manuscripts. I’m talking about everything that has to happen after we type the end. The prospect of selling a manuscript is often more daunting than producing it. For the uninitiated, (i.e. the sane) a one sheet is a document an author puts together to aid in the pitch/sale of their book. It contains a few easy components, the authors name and contact information for example. From there it’s all down hill.
For some reason we can write a 90,000 word novel, but we’re stumped when asked to condense it to a couple of paragraphs. We become deer staring mesmerized into the headlights of an approaching car. And don’t even get me started on graphics. It’s enough to send a poor writer screaming into the woods.
Let me share a few thoughts that may make tackling the ravening beast of a one sheet a little more doable.
First, don’t worry about graphics. Sure they can enhance the overall feel of the product you’re presenting, but don’t get sucked into the notion that they are essential. Also be wary of trying to do it all yourself. Poorly applied graphics can do more harm to your cause than even a witty tagline can help. First impressions are important in preparing a reader to receive what’s written. Why else would publishers spend so much on developing great cover art for their products? That said, don’t be afraid to use a template. Most word processing programs now come with some sort of function that makes it easier to produce brochures or newsletters. Often they’ll have a few samples of each. Take advantage of these tools that can make your task easier. You can delete elements that don’t work, change colors, etc. All with the comfortable knowledge that the overall design is pleasing to the eye, and even if it doesn’t wow it also doesn’t put anyone off. It will enable your words to get a fair hearing.
The blurb (or as I like to call it, the blob, because of its horror inducing capabilities). At first glance it looks harmless but beware. This small block of text can mire an author in indecision and suffocate their creativity. Typically 8-12 sentences long, this is where you describe your book in such breathtaking prose that an editor will leap across the interview table in their haste to sign you to a contract before anyone else can snap you up. Or at least it shouldn’t stink so bad that it makes them hold their nose.
The most important bit of advice I ever received about one sheets came from our own Gina Welborn. Drum roll please. The blurb is NOT a summary. Ta da!
It’s sounds so simple, but I spent vast amounts of energy on trying to boil my plot down to its essence while still including the spiritual arc, story arc and character arcs. The result wasn’t pretty. A disjointed glop that made little sense to someone who hadn’t yet read the manuscript.
The purpose of a one sheet is much like the back cover copy of a book. We want someone to buy the product we are selling. We have to intrigue the reader enough that they want to know more. That’s it.
‘But how?’ I hear you say.
Use strong language. And I don’t mean swear like a sailor. Pick the most evocative and powerful word you can to convey your idea.
Make sure it is proactive. Instead of everything happening to your character, tell what they do about it.
Focus on the main character or two, the inciting incident that puts the story in motion and what is at stake.
Be specific but not too specific. Just like this advice! Seriously, though no one cares that your heroine’s name is Elizabeth Catherine Anne Margaret Seaton. It’s not a hook because it doesn’t give any sense of the story you are trying to tell. But if we talk about a ‘mail-order bride’ or an ‘outlaw’, you get a mental picture that also tells you something of probable setting and genre. By the same token ‘Cold War spy’ provides a totally different image and feel. So what defines your character?
Study up by browsing the bookstore shelves, or for that matter, your own shelves. How did the professionals do it? What sort of techniques can you identify? This is a particularly good exercise if you know what house you intend to target.
Have you ever put a one sheet together? Was the process painful or easy peasy? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?
Do you buy books based more on the cover art or the back cover blurb?
Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy only to wonder if they were describing an entirely different story?