Synopsis, Precis, and the Dreaded One-Line Pitch

Last Friday was not only a slow day at work (no communications came through my queue at all, which is rare), but it was also a slow day in my imagination. Instead of writing any new material, I began to consider what I want to include in query letters, and how I am going to pitch my book.

As established in my introductory post, I suck at selling myself. Verbally, my enthusiasm is overwhelming, but I have trouble grasping how to promote my material to people who must weigh and measure it. (But I tell you one thing, it is far easier to write and revise a query letter than to generate a resume and interview for jobs!)

I generated a few one-line pitches, a couple of longer synopses, and a one-page synopsis. I had two major conflicts:

1.) I cannot decide whether to focus on my protagonist or my antagonist.

Even though the synopsis is about the plot, when describing the plot, I tend to focus on Rhodes and his actions, because he is so fascinating and well-rounded. On the other hand, most synopses focus on the protagonist, which would be Heather.

Here is one I came up with that resolved the issue:

Colossus tells the story of the selfless and quick-witted Heather Stokes, as she and three of her classmates are held hostage by the perverse and contradictory Avery Rhodes.

2.) Since Colossus is the first book of a trilogy, am I pitching the entire trilogy, or just Colossus?

This is a conflict because the setting of the first book is so contained, the reader gets little sense of Rhodes’s past, and does not know that he has been given a name as a serial killer. The fact that he has done this several times before is only implied (I have a scene in which Rhodes does reveal this, but I’m strongly considering cutting it). If I am pitching just the first novel, I don’t want to say something like “the serial killer known as The Phoenix.” I also don’t want to mention anything that gives away the end of the novel, which is practically impossible to do, especially given the name of the trilogy (which might be changed, since it is named for a seven-book series… the first book just decided it needed to be three parts. My alternate is Whispers and Screams).

A pitch for the entire trilogy would look like this (not a one-liner, I know, but still brief):

Colossus is the first novel in a trilogy of thrillers that follow the killer known as The Phoenix and his mounting obsession with one of his victims. Colossus narrates the struggle of four high-school seniors, Z, Witt, Monica, and Heather, attempting to cope and survive the month-long “sabbatical” of the man who calls himself Avery Rhodes.

I resolve the Phoenix issue by stating that the hostages know him as Rhodes, but it still sounds (at best) redundant and (at worst) clumsy.

And, just for fun, I came up with this one:

Avery Rhodes is hypnotic. His voice and manner command attention. His figure is flawless. Avery Rhodes is also a rapist and a murderer, unbeknownst to the four high-school seniors who mistakenly demanded his attention.

In fewer than 48 hours, the lives of Z, Witt, Monica, and Heather are shattered when they find themselves locked in closets and used as entertainment for Rhodes’s month-long “sabbatical.” The genius, the bully, the queen, and the martyr must navigate Rhodes’s appetites and temper in their own unique ways: submission, indulgence, subversion, and fighting.

And then one of my colleagues says, “Oh, that’s how they describe Christian Grey.”

9_9 OK, I’m not using that one. But it’s so much fun. Plus, although I have an aversion to summoning a Fifty Shades comparison, it’s unavoidable when speaking to people who have no concept of fetishism, and it invokes the idea of a commercial success (even if it is often described as bad writing).

If I had to use a comparison sentence I would say “It’s like Fifty Shades without the consent,” or “It’s like Fifty Shades meets Kiss the Girls.” HOWEVER, I had read that sentences like that are not only hackneyed and misleading, but also implies that the writer is derivative and unoriginal.

When I usually describe it to friends, I say, “It’s about rape and murder.” These people know me well and know that I can be dark and twisted and intimate, but they also know that they’re in for a good read – if that is their cup of tea (or even if it’s not; I have gotten “…and why cant i put this down? i dont read this kinda stuff normally“). If I’m speaking to someone I don’t know, or who may potentially be touchy on the subject of sexual assault, I don’t describe it like that.  I use the Fifty Shades line. Firstly, they are likely unfamiliar with Kiss the Girls (I thought this book/movie was a big deal, but when I mention it, no one knows what I’m talking about), and secondly, it will put the off the book. They don’t want to read it, and I don’t want to get into that debate (although, I acknowledge, I will have to if I get any kind of readership).

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