“So What’s It About?” — How To Talk About Your Book
As any published author (or even one in the beginning of the publishing process) knows, writing the book is only one battle out of a long war. You also know that as soon as you mention that you’re writing a book, the first question anyone asks is “What’s it about?”
The more you do it, the easier writing gets, but this question never seems to get any less difficult. Your answer, though, can actually tell a lot about your writing—and I don’t just mean what you say your plot is. In this post I’m going to give you some pointers on how to answer this question concisely and leave your audience wanting to know more
1. First Things First
A good friend of mine recounted something his writing mentor said years ago about describing a book’s plot and it’s really stuck with me.
“For most fantasy or science-fiction novels, a person described in the novel to you would probably start by saying well, there is this magical sword on top of this mountain and it’s guarded by a dragon, or by saying well there is this race of aliens that invade Earth. However, I know that the book is going to be great if a person begins describing a fantasy or science-fiction novel by saying something like, well it’s about this woman, and when you first meet her, she seems sad, but you don’t know why. If that is how your story resonates, everything else will be good.”
Think back on how you’ve described your book in the past and whether you began with the character, versus the setting. There are a few reasons for describing a book setting- or object-first. One, you might not think your character is cool enough to get readers interested(see 2.). Two, you might have written setting-first, rather than character first. If is the case (and beta readers can tell you that) then you might want to go back to the revising board, because characters are a huge part of what hooks a reader, and they have to care about yours to read the book.
Look at the taglines on books that are doing well, and spend some time describing your favorite scenes in a single sentence. Practice describing your book in a few different ways. A beta-reader or critique partner is great help with this. Ask them to describe your book in a few sentences and see what resonates with them as readers.
2. Confidence Is Everything
Our books are close to our hearts and describing them to people whose opinions we value can be very nerve-wracking. It’s important to deliver a synopsis, blurb, or pitch with confidence when you enter the publishing world. After all, if an author doesn’t think their book is worth reading, why would the readers? Again, practice is key here. If you don’t feel ready or confident, ask yourself why? Maybe your book isn’t ready for it’s debut yet, and still has a lot of revising to go through. If you’re still working on it don’t be afraid to say that there are some kinks to work out. This also brings up putting your best foot forward. Make sure your book is edited, revised, and polished before you start marketing—knowing you’ve put out the best product possible will do a lot for your confidence.
There can definitely be too much of a good thing, however. Be excited, confident, and proud of your work, but don’t brag, try to raise your work up by putting another’s down, or claim it’s the best thing since _______. It’s probably not true and someone will disagree with you.
- Short And Sweet
I’ll write more about pitching, blurbing, and synopses (and the difference between the three) another time, but I’ll give you a quick run down now. A verbal description should be short. If your audience wants more than a few sentences, then they should read the book, right? Depending on the conversation I go by a one-liner or a three C’s rule when talking about my work in passing to family, friends, and co-workers: Character, conflict, comparison. A genre lead-in can help too. Here are examples for my two main series.
- Short And Sweet
- Nel Bently Books
One-liner: I’m working on a lite sci-fi series right now, bascially lesbian archaeologists in outer space.
Three C’s: Archaeologist Nel is finally running her own site in Chile when her work ends up being at the center of a 13,000 year old web of conspiracies and alien war. It’s lesbian Lara Croft meets the X-files.
- Nel Bently Books
One-liner: Smoke and Rain is an epic fantasy about a woman caught in the crossfire between the gods and the creatures that created them.
Three C’s: Alea is caught in the crossfire between the gods and the creatures that created them. War broke her, death reforged her, but the shape she takes could be a hero, or a monster. It’s The Book of Ash meets Crown Duel.
A description should give your readers a taste of your MCs, the danger or challenge, and a quick reference to help your reader know what to expect from the characters plot, world-building, or style. Have one or two go-to descriptions that you can rattle off with confidence.