(~4 minutes read)
What is your story about? What makes your story unique?
This is called the PREMISE, and it can take many forms. Logline, tagline, elevator-pitch, blurb, query... all of them draw on the premise to make a stranger want to read your book. Your premise sums up your story in the least number of possible words. If you know your premise, you'll know what you're writing about, and a stranger at the busstop will as well, if he asks you, 'Hey cool, you're a writer! What are you writing?'
A premise is not the same as THEME. While a premise is necessary and intrinsic to a successful story, specific to your characters and their struggles within the plot, theme is not. It is the mood and moral that transcends plot and character struggles and overlies your story like mist which you only get aware of in retrospect. What matters so much to you that you'll spend rather a lot of hours writing this beast? This is your theme.
But when someone asks you what your story is about, they don't want to hear about your motivation. They want (in most cases) a bite-sized sentence. So tell me about your unique story in 27 words. These 27 words are called a LOGLINE, and when I encounter them I should know why I need to read your story before others. Start with the Who, What, When, Where, and Why? Or with the hero, situation, goal, villain, disaster. That there's no set formula makes life interesting.
Condense those 27 words into a TAGLINE that you can use at the backcover of your book. (e.g. Lord of the Rings: One ring to rule them all.) Remember the last bestseller? I bet it shows one sentence at the top of its backcover that made you think 'Yeah, I'll read that one', even before your eyes skim the rest of the backcover. A tagline will also come in handy when you want to market your book on social media or your author's webspace.
Points of note for the tagline: Be careful of negative phrasing. Don't mislead. Make it memorable. Express confidence: People want to read your book. They picked it out from all the other millions. They are just about to open the first page. You are a superstar!
While we're talking about the topic of social media and marketing, an AUTHOR TAGLINE is always a good idea. What kind of stories do you write? Humour? Fluffy Romance? Dark and twisted Fantasy? Brand yourself, and your following will know that you are their kind of author. The same rules as for a tagline apply to your brand as author. Readers may not remember your name, but hopefully they'll remember your tagline.
But we digress. Back to our story. Next, what's your story about in less than 20 words and words you'd actually use spoken aloud. This's called an ELEVATOR PITCH, and you have until the elevator reaches the next level to get the interest of the agent of your dreams. What about your book sticks in the agent's mind when he/she exits the elevator? Surely you're not going to tell him 'Well, it's complicated. You see, there's this girl who is really a werewolf in disguise but she has these issues...' and ping, the doors open and—the agent makes his escape. (Nothing against werewolves by the way. This is just an example of how not to go about pitching.)
With the elevator pitch, you might notice similarities to your logline, but you can and should craft them distinct from each other. Speaking is different than writing, and what looks lovely and compelling in written words, might sound awkward spoken aloud. Write the elevator pitch in words you actually would use, being stuck in an elevator. And then memorise them. Tomorrow, a stranger on the bus might ask you what you're writing. He might be an agent in disguise. What are you going to tell him?
Give me next a two-sentence introduction on a cover letter. Tell me what your story is about in two sentences (which might or might not be the same as what you wrote in the logline). Make it colourful and engaging. It might or might not be the premise of your story.
Make me impatient to read your book by a proper QUERY in less than 750 words. Three paragraphs. Should be manageable, right? Think of your query as an introduction to your book, though a query is not about what happens but about stakes. If you tell me the ending, why should I spend time to read your book? Don't give me solutions. I want to be curious. Depending on the complexity of your book, stop when the magnitude of your hero's task looms and the stakes are clear.
There's no set recipe to how to write your query, and if you are struggling, look to https://queryshark.blogspot.com/ or go to our query-critique section of WF https://www.writingforums.org/publisher/traditional/query-cover-letter-critique/ .
And then there's BACKBLURB, which's going to be on the backcover of your book. It's a query condensed, because you can't fit 750 words in. Keep the word count down, but the tension high.
And finally we come to something every author I know hates because it's not creative writing at all: A two-page SYNOPSIS, which is a dull, blow-by-blow factual account of what happens. Keep out all the fluff. Resist the temptation to write for a reaction. The synopsis shows the agent (and editor. and yourself.) if you have a proper story arc. Condensed into two pages, it's easy to see if your story has meat and bone and if it's worth being taken on. Outliners should be familiar with the concept, but even for pantsers like me it helps to keep all the threads of my story in mind. Really. You can actually do it while writing your story; as you're finishing a chapter, each time write down what happens. Copy+paste them all together, and you have your synopsis.
On you go. I hope you're not confused anymore.
Have you finished your book, or are you still writing? If the latter... happy blurb writing, next time you procrastinate.