The 8-Minute Book Query (That Landed an Agent in 8 Minutes Flat)

by John Robert Marlow
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In the last post, I wrote about How I Got an Agent in 8 Minutes, Over the Christmas Holiday, Without Asking to be Represented. What follows is the nonfiction book query that made that happen.

    Dear Agent X,

    Make Your Book a Movie
    Adapting Your Book or Story for Hollywood


    Humans have always been storytellers. Whether gathered around a campfire, painting on cave walls or, later, writing words on dead trees—it’s in our blood. A book is a noble undertaking, capable of reaching tens, even hundreds of thousands of people.

    But movies are the global campfires of our time. They reach millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of people, all over the world. On those few occasions where book sales reach this level, they do so with the aid of movies based on the books.

    For characters to truly come to life, for stories to touch the greatest number of people—that takes a movie. And every movie starts with a blueprint: the screenplay.

    This book will explain what Hollywood looks for in source material (stories to be adapted for film) and adapted screenplays, and how to think ahead by crafting your book or other story in a way that renders it more cinematic and, thus, more likely to attract film-side interest. For those with screenwriting aspirations, it will also offer advice on transforming your story (fiction or nonfiction) into a screenplay. (Booklist‘s review of my own first novel says, in part: “Reads like a big-budget summer blockbuster.”) Read more…

How I Got an Agent in 8 Minutes, Over the Christmas Holiday, Without Asking to be Represented

by John Robert Marlow
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In the interests of full disclosure, it might be fair to say the entire process took 48 hours—but the most important part took 8 minutes. (Besides, “How I Got an Agent in 8 Minutes” reads better.) Onward…


Breaking into Fortress Hollywood keeps you busy. There are archers and catapults to be avoided, boiling oil, barred gates—the works. It kept me so busy I hadn’t written a book for a few years. By the time I decided to writer another—nonfiction this time—I had no agent to help sell it. I’ll explain the reasons I wanted an agent (and why you should, too) in another post—but for now, suffice to say that agents generally sell things faster, and for more money.

I will get into one reason, though. My first book—Nano—had been a novel. This time I’d be writing nonfiction. And while I’d written scads of magazine and online articles in the past, I’d never done a book. When you “go out with” (try to sell) a novel, you write the whole thing up front, send the first chapter or three, and if they like it they read the rest and make an offer.

Nonfiction is different: generally, you write a few chapters, outline the rest of the book, include some additional material—and send a book proposal. So, really, you sell the book before most of it has been written… Read more…

Logline Workshop: Jurassic Park

by John Robert Marlow
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Let’s walk through the process from start to finish, working up a logline for a story that most people already know. Jurassic Park was a hugely successful novel that went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest hits. Keeping that logline mantra in mind—Who, Goal, Obstacle (see Building the Perfect Logline for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Story for more on this)—how do we build a logline for this story?

WHO (or perhaps What) is this story about?

Most of those new to loglines begin by saying something about dinosaurs. Many of those who don’t, start with the park itself. Still others kick things off with “An experiment” or “A scientist.” Let’s take those roads and see where they lead.

DINOSAURS. Okay, what do they do—what’s their goal? Run rampant, search for food, that kind of thing. What’s their obstacle? An absence of food-bearing park personnel caused, basically, by a hurricane coupled with a power failure. So:

Dinosaurs run rampant on an island resort, trying to feed themselves during a power outage caused by a hurricane.

What’s wrong with this? It is, after all, an accurate description of what happens. But replace “dinosaurs” with “tigers” and you’ve got a documentary. Besides, running rampant and eating each other is what dinosaurs do. There are no real stakes involved here, unless you’re a dinosaur. What’s their obstacle—high winds and rain? That doesn’t quite cut it. And what the hell are dinosaurs doing on an island resort? Read more…

Building the Perfect Logline for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Story

by John Robert Marlow
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When you’re selling a story (or trying to), there’s one thing everyone wants to know. To find out, they will ask you a simple question. And they will pre-judge your tale not on its merits, but on the answer you provide.

Before we get to the question itself, find a stopwatch. If you don’t have a “real” one (or a cool cell phone) handy, bring up a virtual stopwatch online. Either way, hit START the second you’ve finished reading the question below. Do not hit STOP until you’ve answered the question—out loud—to the best of your ability. (For a more accurate evaluation, have someone else ask the question and time your answer.) And here…we…go.

What’s your story about?

Ticktickticktick. Did your answer require more than 10 seconds? Did you hesitate or fumble? If so, you need a logline. Did you explain who your main character is, what he or she wants, and what keeps them from getting whatever-it-is they want? If not, you need a logline.

In fact—you need a logline, period. Everyone does. Because if you blow the answer to that question, nothing else matters: few (if any) industry professionals will read your story. This is so for several reasons. Read more…