Because I didn’t know.
“What is your book about?” Can be a deceptively difficult question for many writers. It is usually asked when we are least expecting it and then we’re left driveling some barely comprehensible answer that ends with our audience looking around the cocktail party and sorry they bothered asking in the first place.
As writers, we need to be able to tell people, all kinds of people, what our books are about without freaking out. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricks that help me.
1. Actually know what your book is about. For me, this started to happen when I started planning my books out to some degree. They had more structure and I was able to better wrap my brain around what they were about.
2. Pretend you are talking about a book you’ve read, not a book you wrote. When I talk about other writers’ books, I’m relaxed. I have very little emotional investment in the work beyond loving it, liking it, or hating it. When I talk about my own writing, my brain sometimes decides to take a rapid flight up Mount Anxiety and comprehensible verbal expression often goes along too. So take a breath, then pretend you’re talking about just another book you’ve read. You’ll stay more relaxed and your book will sound better.
3. Pretend you are talking about someone you know. When you’re telling a true story to another person, you use a certain tone of voice, you have sympathetic inflections, you’re not trying to SELL someone a story, you’re just telling an engaging truth. You can also talk about your book’s main character that way. I know you’ve spent (too much) time carefully crafting those short, medium, and long pitches, and those probably sound great–on paper. But they don’t always translate that well into the rhythm of a natural conversation.
4. Talk about your main character up to the point where they encounter the inciting incident–STOP THERE. This is where it helps to know what your book is actually about AND what the exact event is that sets the bulk of the story on its way. Like when Dorothy gets caught in the tornado and lands in OZ–what event shoves your main character onto their journey? If you find yourself rambling about themes, twists, and secondary characters, you’ve probably gone too far.
5. Get in and get out. Keep it brief–if and when your audience changes the subject, follow the change and don’t keep trying to steer the conversation back to your book.
6. Relax, breathe, and don’t forget your facial expressions and body language say much more than your words ever do.
How To Keep Writing Nelson Literary Agency Assistant