Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I hear from authors that writing a book proposal is, like, the worst part of looking for a slot on a traditional publisher’s author roster. (Coming in at a close second is writing a novel’s synopsis for submission to a publisher.) But, hey, guess what? I know something else authors struggle with: figuring out how to talk about their books.
Oh, sure, they can whip off the details of a specific scene they have in mind or explain to you what they hope the reader gains from the book. But don’t ask the author this seemingly straightforward question: Tell me what your book is about in one sentence.
I recently read an article, which you can check out here, in which a fellow novelist asked that very question of authors with new books. Here are their responses:
Daniel Dutton: It’s a little like “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” if Stephen were a woman living at a time when women weren’t allowed to be artists.
Kaitlyn Greenidge: My book is about language, family and the reverberations of the past.
Jon Methven: The immensity of the end—be it a career, or relationship, or faith, or mortgage, or life, or all of them—and then deciding to survive, no matter the obstacle. It’s a book about survival.
Karan Mahajan: Bombs.
Okay, our author friends could use a little help. When someone asks you that question, and they do all the time when they find out you’re an author, know what you want to say. Here are a few crucial elements to include:
- Give the listener an instant reference point: WWII Germany; 17th-century Sweden; dypstopian America in 2116. Or if you’re writing nonfiction: food memoir; historical biography; environmental degradation; faith and doubt.
- Mention what’s unique about your book. Daniel Dutton explained to us how he flipped a classic novel. I get where he’s going right away.
- Tell us what the central conflict is. Every book needs conflict to capture a potential reader’s imagination, even nonfiction. So when I mention “faith and doubt,” I’m telling you that we’re all struggling to counterbalance these two active agents in our spiritual lives.
Here’s a novel that I saw described recently that attempts to incorporate all three items you want to include in your description:
Jennifer Delamere’s THE CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER, set against the backdrop of Gilbert and Sullivan’s theater, featuring an orphaned young woman who dreams of a career on stage and the wounded soldier she falls in love with.
When might you need to give a single-sentence explanation of your book: when you’re being interviewed by the media, which loves sound bytes; when you’re having a book signing; when you pitch your idea to an editor or an agent; when you fill our your marketing information form for you publisher. That’s just for starters. Trust me; you need to be able to do this.
Rate on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the first four authors’ responses as well as Jennifer Delamere’s novel description. (Jennifer didn’t write the description, by the way.) Tell us why you gave your highest rating.
Now, tell us about your work-in-progess in one sentence.
By the way, here are the titles for the first four novelists: Danielle Dutton (“Margaret the First”), Kaitlyn Greenidge (“We Love You, Charlie Freeman”), Jon Methven (“Strange Boat”), Karan Mahajan (“The Association of Small Bombs”). And each novel has great hooks the authors could have used to talk about their books. Alas, they were not used.
Can you talk about your book in one sentence? Here’s why you need to. Click to tweet.
Who cares if you can talk about your book in a sentence? Pretty much everybody. Click to tweet.