“What is your book about?”
It’s the first question every agent, editor, and potential future reader asks an author, and yet it’s a question that many authors have great difficulty answering. Why? Learning how to impress and answer this question without missing a beat is the topic of today’s post.
WHY IS SUCH A SIMPLE QUESTION SO HARD TO ANSWER
If someone asks you “What is your book about?” and you struggle to answer it, then it’s probably because of one or more of the following problems:
ISSUE #1 YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT
This is not me being cute. When an aspiring author, or even a published author, has trouble articulating what their book is about it’s usually because the author hasn’t figured it out for themselves yet. Your next logical question might be, “Hey Brian, how can an author not know what their book is about if the book is written? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.” My answer to this is, “You’d be surprised.”
Lots of people write a book without having fully fleshed out the fundamentals of plot and character. We’ve all read books like this—books where the story starts heading in one direction, then randomly goes in another. Or the book seems to be about one character only to later abandon that character for another, or another, or another. In my opinion, if an author struggles to succinctly tell you in three sentences who is the main character and what challenge they are facing, then it means the novel is not ready. It needs a strong developmental edit to reign in all the tangents and irrelevancies gumming up the works.
ISSUE #2 – YOU HAVEN’T PREPARED
Another possibility is that you could succinctly articulate what your book is about, but you haven’t spent the time with the necessary tools to do so. The best way to summarize your novel is to use the same tools you’d use to pitch the book to an agent or editor. On this site, we have some really great articles that teach you how to write log lines & identify comps, use “What if” statements to create an interesting hook, and how to craft an elevator pitch. By using these tools, you’ll be able to easily answer the question “What is your book about?”
Here are the links to those posts:
ISSUE #3 – YOU HAVEN’T PRACTICED
Maybe you know what your book is about and you’ve prepared, but you haven’t practiced saying it out loud. I run into this a lot with new writers at conferences. You ask them what their book is about and the combination of pride, nervousness, and unpreparedness results in a meandering, convoluted “I’ll get to my point eventually” explanation of the book.
If you meet a Big Five editor at a cocktail party and she asks you what’s your latest book about, your answer better not be “Well, first this happens, then my character does this, and then she does this, and then this happens…yada yada yada.” Because if it is, I promise despite the polite smile on her face, that editor has is tuned out. You need to verbally practice answering the question at least a half dozen times, preferably more. The answer needs to flow out of your mouth without having to think about it, and the only way that can happen is with practice. Practice with a friend, a family member, or in front of a mirror, but whatever you do, please please please practice.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, DO THIS
If you’ve tried writing log lines, worked on your elevator pitch, and tried to create a hook with a what if question and you’re still struggling, then I have one more tool in the toolbox to share. Consider trying the following formula:
“My book, (title), is the story of (main character’s defining trait and name) journey to (verb relaying accomplishment) while (overcoming relevant challenge or adversity).“
Here are some examples based on my own work:
- “Dark Intercept, is the story of a former Navy SEAL Jedidiah Johnson’s journey to rediscover his faith while rescuing the kidnapped daughter of his estranged and former love.”
- “The Sandbox, is the story of homicide detective Valerie Mark’s journey to solve the world’s first murder case which she is convinced was carried out by an artificial intelligence.”
- “Tier One is the story of Navy SEAL John Dempsey’s journey from door kicking operator to America’s most lethal spy, while trying to bring vengeance to the terrorist mastermind who killed his SEAL brothers in a terrorist attack.”
This formula has never failed me and is a “plug and play” tool you can try if you feel overwhelmed. The result is a short, succinct summary of your book that answers the question “What is your book about?” while giving the listener the book title, the protagonist’s name, a memorable trait, and their main objective in the story.
I hope this article was helpful, and if you have any questions, please post to Facebook or email us at Career Authors!