Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One Sheets in One Shot

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.
Due to formatting issues, I couldn't load images of my one sheets, directly to this blog post, but if anyone would like to see some examples please e-mail me at our inky address: inkwellinspirations (@) gmail (.) com
Now I'm turning it over to you all. 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?
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?
Leave a comment with your e-mail address included (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address) and we'll enter you in a drawing.


  1. Hi Lisa! Great job exploring and explaining THE DREADED one sheet. It's right up there with the synopsis. I wonder which one is worse.

    My one sheet experience was recent as I prepared for the ACFW conference.

    I looked at some, including yours, and figured out a layout. "okay, this is going well." Then I had to write the blurb part. HELP!

    It's a good experience, like practicing your pitch, or getting a root canal. After all my work, practice, and having people review it, when I finally handed one over to the agent across the table, I learned I'd forgotten to lead in with the setting and time period. Ooops.

    Live and Learn.

    I think I might try to have a complete stranger read one and tell me what they think the book is about and if it sounds interesting.

  2. The blurbs are actually pretty easy for me. I always think of my books in terms of premise more than plot anyway.

    I had a harder time with the formatting because my photoshop was down, and I don't know how to do diddlysquat on microsoft word. After I little helping hand from Gina, I discovered my twelve-year-old son is a whiz on microsoft.

    Plus, I now have my photoshop back, so life is good. I love doing the graphics. I learned how to do graphic design to save me from the dreaded secreterial duties when my husband had his own web design company for a few years.

    I recently had a lot of fun playing with a graphic for my new contemporary novel. I found a beautiful free picture of a girl dancing on the beach as a silhouette with a rainbow scarf, but you could tell she was wearing a bikini. I added a dress and some artistic touches, et viola!

    Okay, I'm rambling now, which probably means I'm procrastinating from something else.


  3. Do you buy books based more on the cover art or the back cover blurb?
    A: A cover may catch my eye, but it's the blurb on the back that determines whether I want the book or not. Author names are a big if not bigger draw for me.

    Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy only to wonder if they were describing an entirely different story?
    A: Most blurbs described the book.

    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?
    A: N/A
    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  4. yeah...once i figured out that whole "blurb-is-not-a-summary" thing, life was easier. i'm much better at hooks.

    The Character Therapist
    charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com

  5. Hey all, sorry I'm checking in late. I was called for jury duty, but didn't end up having to serve.

    Deb, I can totally relate. I've done I don't know how many and still tend to forget crucial info. So it's always a good idea to get another set or six of eyes on your one sheet before you pitch it for real.

    Carmen, I'm with on the blurbs to. They make or break my purchase. I have very few auto buys. The title and cover will catch my eye. But the blurb determines whether I buy or not. I don't even usually read any of the story, which is probably silly.

  6. Cover art catches my eye; blurbs reel me in. I rarely read excerpts or first pages. If I like the blurb, I'll give it a try.

  7. The one sheet. A work of art in and of itself.

    It's all good practice for when you're published and have to post blurbs of your books on your website, your blog, your newsletter and on all the interviews you do.

    A one sheet does NOT include a summary, that is sooooooo true. That is left for synopsises (synopsi?)
    Catch the flavor, terror, quirky first person wit, laughter, cowboys, sweet Amish-ness, vampires, whatever.

    Not too much to ask.

  8. Excellent post, Lisa. And quite pertinent to me today, as I'm shoving, I mean, delicately putting together a one-sheet. Ugh ugh, a thousand times ugh!

    I always buy books based on back cover copy. I try to not be persuaded by covers, lovely or otherwise. Case in point, I just bought "Bluegrass Christmas" by Allie Pleiter, a LIH. The first sentence took me by surprise, because it's about a cockatoo. I told my family about the compelling, cockatoo-y first line, and my daughter said, "Well, there is a cockatoo on the cover, Mom." Yep, there was. I hadn't even noticed. I just liked the back cover blurb. So maybe I should start looking a little more closely at covers!

  9. Forgive my typo. Bluegrass Christmas is not a Love Inspired Historical. It's a Love Inspired. Contemporary. Ok, I need some coffee.

  10. Mary do you mean to tell us that the agony that is the blurb, never ends?

    Darn! I guess I'd better practice up on these one sheets then so that I've got it down by the time I need any of those other things.

  11. Lisa,
    Great topic! My tip for doing a one-sheet borrows from Randy Ingermansen's snowflake method. Write a hook for your novel, expand to a short paragraph, then develop into a synopsis.

    The short hook--and the short paragraph--should find a nice home on the one-page.

    I do get graphic-minded friends to help me with a design (Dineen Miller, wavin' to you!) just in case my hookee has listened to Jamey Johnson's new hit, "In Color," and believes that horrible lie that a picture is worth a thousand words! LOL


  12. Great one-post about a one-sheet! Thanks, Lisa.

    Carmen, we bookshop alike.

  13. Hi Lisa -

    Most of my book decisions come from reading about an author or one of their books on a blog. Once I sample their work and enjoy it, I'll pick up another of their books without hesitation.

    The suggestion to use a template for a one-sheet is excellent. I went this route, and it worked out great. Too bad, writing the actually one-sheet wasn't as easy. I'm still recovering and not satisfied with the finished product.

    Susan :)

  14. Great advice, Lisa. I'm a little more comfortable with one sheets now, but I'm not ashamed to cry for help. (BTW, when I cry out, it's right to Lisa, who does fab one sheets.)

    As for book covers... I'll never forget the book I read in highschool in which the heroine had blond hair. Problem was, the girl on the cover was a brunette. Ooo, that bugged me. When I shop for books, covers draw me in. It's not the main reason I buy a book, but it might be the reason I pick it up in the first place.

  15. Hi All!

    I usually buy a book based on the back cover blurb.

    I love this post! I had to put together a one-sheet(my very first one)for ACFW conference last month.
    I was on the first-timers loop,and everything was going so well, until I seen the scary words..One sheet.Ugh!
    I checked out many, many, many samples, until I found one that I liked and with the helpful advice of a dear friend...I put one together.
    I made it through my first one sheet, and now I'm working on my proposal and that dreaded synopsis. Ugh again!
    But this post and all the comments have been a wonderful, helpful source.
    Thanks Everyone! ~Debra Collins

  16. Lisa, I'm totally fascinated by the one-sheet idea. I haven't sat down and put one together yet, but I'm going to give it a try.

    I've bought covers based on the blurb, but I do always check the first few pages to see what tense it's written in. There are, however, a few authors whose books I'll buy based solely on their name.

  17. Hey Lisa, this is terrific. I'm going to post a link to my Prairie Chick sisters, some of who are heading to a writing conference soon.

    Thank you for the clear, consise directions.


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