• Frederike Schmitz

How to write a catchy logline for your story

Updated: Jun 18


Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

By chance I was browsing through social media and eventually jumped from website to website when I found the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

And not only was I super happy to have found this society, but I was also just in time to register for their annual children’s book conference.

Luckily it was online this time. Like so many of the conferences in 2020 and 2021. And who knows, maybe being able to stream an ongoing conference remotely from your laptop is something that’s here to stay? I would definitely be in favor of this.

Because this conference generally takes place in NYC, US. And I don’t think I would have spent a ton of money for the conference and the ticket and the hotel to do join.

Now, of course it meant that I needed to stay up until 2 AM in the morning because of the time differences.

But yeah, considering the other obstacles I mentioned above, I think this is a reasonable sacrifice to make.


As part of the package to attend this virtual conference, one could also submit a teaser of your own writing. They claimed that editors could then browse through these submissions and if they find it interesting could contact you.

Of course, I wanted to make use of this opportunity.

So, the first thing they asked for was a catchy logline.

Catchy.

And short.

Hmm, not that trivial to write.


Maybe you have heard the quote “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter.”?

I must admit by searching the internet for the famous person who has said or written this fantastic quote it seems not clearly traceable to one specific person.

But this quote is so true and very often I encounter my colleagues and friends not knowing how much work it can be to distill the essence of what one wants to say in a few words. Often, it’s easier to just write more.

Have you gotten a similar comment from a colleague of friend before?

Something like “Well, it’s only a few words that you need to write, how difficult can that be?”

More difficult than having to write a whole essay. Let me tell you!


So, catchy logline, here I come.

How does one even write a catchy logline?

On the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators's website it says one should find the answers to these essential questions first:

  • What is the setting?

  • Who is in the story?

  • When (which problems happen)?

  • What happens then?

  • Why? (What’s the goal?)

The setting? The lungs.

Who is the main character? Didi, a dendritic cell- an immune cell in the lungs.

The main character should also be an easy one. I mean when you’re writing a story you should know who the main character is, right?

But then it states:

“Your adjectives should hint at your character’s emotional arc. For instance, an orphaned girl’s arc will most likely involve finding a sense of family. A selfish bear will learn to think about others and a shy teen might become more outgoing. Using a single adjective to describe your main character is a highly efficient way of describing your emotional arc so the rest of the log line can describe the narrative arc (AKA the plot!).”

Yeah, the emotional arc. Sounds deeply philosophical.

What is the emotional arc in my story?


Looking at all the answers to these questions which I have noted down on a piece of paper, I tried to find the right adjectives describing Didi.


Brave.

Hesitant at first.

Curious.

She starts alone but soon realizes that certain things can only be achieved together, as a whole. Ha, so much for adjectives.


But by thinking about it in such a way, I realized what the emotional arc of my story is. It starts with a single character and ends as a collaboration effort. That’s an arc.

Individual <--> Collaboration.

Funny, how I realized how systematic and analyzing one can be about writing. I guess I could have figured this out before writing and then wrote the story. Yet, I basically just wrote the story first and analyzed it afterwards.

Not sure what the better approach is, though.

Any thoughts on this?

When you write something creative, do you analyze up front what you want to convey and how, and then write it? Or do you simply write and then think about these things later?


My, hopefully somewhat catchy logline went as follows:

Deep inside your lung, a brave little immune cell learns that only together with her family she can defeat the vicious virus.


Yet, unfortunately I never got contacted by any editor.


You know, when you’re a scientist (or were one, can I still call myself a scientist?) I guess dealing with disappointment is maybe the one thing you learn very well during your career.

So fortunately, that kind of stuff doesn’t make me want to give up.


But the conference itself I found very useful.

It was good to see how books are acquired, edited, processed and ultimately end up in bookstores. Book publishing used to be such a black box to me. Now it still is a bit, but less so.

However, book writing is still a bizarre business to me. It seems that everybody involved makes more money with it than the one who writes the book.

It’s a bit like the scientific enterprise.

The scientists spend hours in the lab, on the computer or out in the field, putting all their time, effort, money and heart into it. Often too much of it. Then they need to analyze the results, often with proprietary software (hence, you pay for it) pretty much in your spare time (because you work more hours than the week has). Once you’re done with that and you have read all the literature you can about it, you write it all up. A tedious couple month and 100 or so revisions later you send it to a journal where you pay money and hope that they (the editors) consider it.

And then IF you’re lucky it gets send off to experts in the field who review it (ah, hmm for free).

If you’re lucky enough that the journal publishes your study, you lose all your rights to your own work and others might even have to pay to access your work, as the study is published behind a paywall.

Sounds absurd? Yes, it is.

Fortunately, that’s slowly changing with Open Science initiatives.


I guess the Open Science equivalent for book publishing is Crowdfunding and Self-publishing.

That could be a valid alternative to traditional publishing. A route to follow. More on that in another blog though.


Another fun fact I learned at the children’s writers winter conference is the genre under which my story about Didi falls.


I was debating for a while which category it could fit in. Could it be fiction or non-fiction?

After all, it’s a mix of the two.

Is it more fiction than non-fiction? Probably. After all, the whole story is imagined. The cells don’t actually exist, as the characters they are.


Is it science fiction then? Well, when I look at science fiction books, I don’t see any books that look similar to the one I’m writing.

So quite early into the conference program I learned about the genre: information fiction or fact-based fiction. How cool is that?

It’s not necessarily nice to have a label to put on your book, but it definitely helps to sell it and to maybe contact a literary agent at one point.

Nonfiction kids author Melissa Steward describes informational fiction already in 2016 in this blog post as "books that share a significant amount of true, documentable information, but also have some made up parts"


By the judge of it, information fiction is still very much a niche.


Books in this category include “Zeus the mighty”, “Flower talk”, “Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years”, just to name a few.

“Flower talk” is described as “cantankerous talking cactus as a narrator, revealing to readers the significance of different colors of flowers”. Wow, that’s cool.

“Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years”. Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself.

Now, we’re talking. From the perspective of the object itself. Be it our planet earth or the plant which wants to tell you why it does what it does.

Check out the section informational fiction on good reads for more inspiration.

At the conference they mentioned the book series “Magic School Bus” as an example of information fiction. Described as “Science and adventure combine as Ms. Frizzle takes her class on some amazing field trips!”


What a great combination: Science and adventures! They should always come together.

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