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What’s Your Book About?

Uh, it’s about three hundred pages.


As authors, how many times have we been asked this simple, seemingly innocuous question? “What’s your book about?”

Oh my God!As much as we may hate it, the question is an important one. Yet, how can we boil down something we’ve suffered and agonized over for months — or even years — into one or two non-Faulkneresque sentences?

Let’s take some well-known books and ask the dreaded question.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

An abused orphan boy is summoned to a wizard academy, embarking on a journey to fulfill his destiny.

Charlotte’s Web

A story of true friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte, his spider savior.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

A family of four brothers and sisters step through a closet into a world where they must defeat an evil queen to save their friends and find their way home.

“But, Alan,” you say, “those books are so much more than that.”

Of course they are! And so is your book. But, here’s the thing: when someone asks you that question, it’s not an invitation for you to audition as the narrator for the audio version of your book. If you can’t give them some idea of the story in five seconds or less, their eyes are sure to glaze over while they internally berate themselves for ever asking you the question in the first place.

Here’s another one from a somewhat less famous book:

Jenni and her eighth-grade science class are sent to another world where they are transformed into magical creatures in order to battle an evil shapeshifter.

When parsing your own work, try to concentrate on three things: The characters (protagonist), the conflict (the antagonist), and one thing that makes your book a little different from most.

Middle Grade Fantasy, FREE for your ebook!

In my line above, for A Measure of Disorder, Jenni and her eighth-grade class are the protagonists, the evil shapeshifter supplies the conflict, and being changed into fantastical creatures is something that sets the story apart from many others. I could have chosen to highlight the ecological themes in the story, or the societal pressures the characters encounter within their own group and also in the new world they discover, but, seriously, who wouldn’t want to read a story where a bunch of kids get turned into dragons, fairies, and elemental spirits?

Actually, lots of people.

Here’s the part where it gets hard. (And you thought writing that logline/elevator pitch was the hard part!) Not everyone is going to like, or be interested in, your book. There. I said it. However, you shouldn’t let that fact discourage you, either in your writing or in your willingness to answer the question: What’s your book about?

One of the beauties of the world we live in is its diversity. Nothing is universally liked. Not even kittens or ice cream! (I know, right? But, it’s true.) And, as a result, not everyone is going to like your book. But that’s okay! Have you liked every book you’ve ever read? Chances are you haven’t. Did that make those books you didn’t like terrible trash that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, or the electrons used to display them on your ereader? Most likely not. Go read some of the negative reviews on books you loved. You’ll probably be shocked at some of the responses.

So, go and bravely craft your answer to the dreaded question! And don’t be discouraged if everyone you encounter doesn’t do backflips of excitement and joy upon hearing that answer. You’ll eventually find your audience.

One question at a time.


Alan Tucker, author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of DisorderA Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as the science fiction series, Tales of Uncertainty (Knot in Time, Abandon Hope, and the newly released Going Solo), is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

Visit the main website at for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

Engineering Exciting Excerpts…

The task of engineering exciting excerpts is actually easy for a writer. You’ve already written it.  Now you just have to find it. An excerpt is typically 500 words, and for a short story about 200-250 words. The advice I have is general—pick an excerpt from the first third of your book. Told you it was easy! Although very rarely does that mean that you need to copy and paste the first five hundred words of your story and call it a day. For a short story? Yes—that’s exactly what you do. But not a novel.

Why, you ask?  Well, that’s inherent in the differences between long and short fiction. A successful short story begins with a strong hook. In order to sell a short story, you have to pull the reader in from the very first sentence. With a novel, the creation of the story comes along with a more deliberate pace. With a novel, you want to select a scene that sets up the story and above all makes the reader want to read MORE.

In other words—a cliff hanger.

Say you’re writing a young adult romance novel. A good choice for any YA romance novel excerpt is a scene between the heroine and the hero. A first meeting, perhaps. A confrontation. The moment when the heroine first realizes that there’s something different about this guy.

Say you’re writing a middle grade fantasy novel. Pick a scene that jump starts the action. A fight. The moment when the hero realizes that he or she has a purpose to fulfill. The moment when everything changes.

Once you’ve decided on a scene, the real skill comes into play. You need to pick the moment of that scene where the reader absolutely has to know what happens next. And if the reader wants to know, what does he or she have to do? Buy the book. Which is, of course, the point.

So that’s the kind of scene you want to choose for your excerpt.  And here’s another little hint, too—if you DON’T have a moment like this in your book, then you have some work to do. Every good story should have a moment like this—several in fact. That’s how you want to end a chapter, a POV section. That’s a real cliffhanger—the excerpt, the paragraph, the SENTENCE that forces the reader to turn the page. The moment that the reader thinks, “Well, one more chapter won’t hurt. I’ll just read a little while longer.” That moment is the holy grail for every story in existence. This is how writers should approach every excerpt they choose.

And one last thing—wait to pick your excerpt until an editor has gone through it with you and cleaned it up. The absolute worst thing that can happen here is for spelling and grammar errors to make it through to publication. Your excerpt, like your blurb is part of your sales strategy. You can’t sell a car if the engine doesn’t work, right?  Well, technique—grammar, spelling, structure—is the writer’s engine.  It doesn’t matter how great your story is, it’s not going to run unless those techniques are there and sharp.

Sharon Ledwith HeadshotSharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercise, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

Drowning Out the Siren’s Call

music-note-clip-art-musical-notes-clipart-cropped1Out on a lonely island sits a group of women. Their song is so heartbreakingly beautiful that the mere sound of it is enough to override basic survival instincts. The moment that song reaches mortal ears, the listener throws away all restraint and flings himself into the sea in a mad desire to reach the singers. Only too late do they who are stricken realize that the island cliff’s are unassailable. All who swim for the Sirens drown, accompanied by the beautiful music of their own seductive funeral dirge.

Odysseusand-thesirensbywaterhouseHow did one resist these singers? Well, Odysseus strapped himself to the mast and plugged all of his sailor’s’ ears with beeswax. Even still, he nearly tore the mast down in a desire to reach the strange birdlike women. The Argonauts? Jason recruited Orpheus. The skillful musician was able to drown out the Siren’s song with music equally beautiful from his lyre. Butes, however, heard the song and leapt into the sea. Only the divine intervention of Aphrodite kept him from becoming another victim.

The Sirens and their song have long been used as a teaching tool. Usually, we apply it internally. We ask ourselves “What is my Sirens’ song?” “What calls me away from productivity and forward momentum?” “What keeps me from moving forward and realizing my full potential?”

Those are all excellent questions, and it can take a lifetime to find the answers. However, that is a discussion for another day. Instead of thinking about our own Siren’s song, I would invite you to ponder the Siren’s call to others. In lieu of taking the Odysseus route and tempting fate by immersing ourselves in the seductive sound, let us consider Jason’s solution.

NES_controllerIf we are Jason and our readers are the Argonauts, what are the Siren’s songs? Video Games? Electronics? Toys? Sports? Social Media? Yep, I’d have to say that those are definitely things that I compete with to win and keep readers. Are there more? Of course. Those are simply the songs that hit closest to home.

lyreSo, now I ask, What can be my Orpheus? Well, to be frank, I haven’t found a permanent solution yet. In competing with video game/social media/one-click downloadable app market, I am losing horrendously. Honestly, since those Siren’s also sing to me, I can’t really blame the readers. More than ever before, we are flooded with cheap (and not so cheap) entertainment. It is easy to be enticed by the song of a quick game of Clash of Clans, a dip over to Netflix for a binge movie watching session, or a late night game-a-thon.

As parents and teachers, we can help influence young potential readers. If we want to make our own songs heard above the cacophony of sound, we have to start with those we can influence. I know that I am preaching to the choir here. It is because of people like you that pleasure reading has not already been completely drown out with the more mind-numbing Siren songs. I can still remember reading days and read-a-thons in schools.

Perhaps they are still happening, but kids don’t seem to rave about them the way they did in the past. Maybe if we encourage and support similar events in the schools and even our own homes, it will increase the chances of seeing a teenager flip open a book during ten minutes of downtime instead of plugging away on a phone to check Facebook, Text Messages, or the latest app. Who knows, maybe one of those books will even have been written by an Emblazoner.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read!
J.R. Simmons (Author of the Ragesong Saga)

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Inspiring Myths

My family and I sometimes volunteer to clean our local chapel before Sunday services. It isn’t a task my kids exactly relish, but we feel it’s an important lesson in service. A couple of weeks ago, as we began this task and the kids were moaning and groaning, I told them a story about Christmas spiders to inspire them to cheerfully clean.

christmas-spiderThe legend goes that a housewife was cleaning her home to prepare for Christmas day and dusting away all the cobwebs in the corners. That night, the spiders that had been chased away by her broom returned and saw a beautiful Christmas tree in the home. They were so filled with joy that they crawled all over it to examine it closely. But this left dusty cobwebs all over the tree.

When Saint Nicolas arrived, he saw the joy the spiders found in the beautiful tree, but he knew the housewife would be dismayed to find her tree covered in dingy cobwebs. So, he turned the webs to gold and silver. That’s why we use tinsel on our Christmas tree.

Well, my story worked, and the kids were excited to chase after the church’s cobwebs with their dusters that day.

In thinking about this post, I remembered that Christmas legend, and realized how much I use folktales, myths, and legends to inspire my own writing.

I’ve enjoyed reading about old stories since I was a child and got hold of my dad’s elementary reader with the old-fashioned illustrations and the brittle pages. My favorites are the lesser-known stories from obscure cultures. I think I’ve crammed my head so full of stories over the course of my life that when I sit down to write, elements of those stories get woven in without me even consciously realizing it.

Legends and myths offer a gold mine of ideas for the studious writer. Not only do they often teach important life lessons, but they are full of colorful characters and enchanting situations that can capture the interest of young and old alike. Besides all that, they’re just plain fun to read.

I want to wish all of our readers, and my fellow Emblazoners, a very Merry Christmas and joyful New Year! I hope you and your family feel the spirit of love and peace that make this my favorite season of the year.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Christmas story to write.

“It was a cold, drafty day in the cottage as Bernard wrapped up the fly he’d just caught in his web to save for Christmas dinner …”

Woof vs. Meow: The Battle of the Book

In the world of real things, cats win—at least by the numbers. According to the Humane Society, the US has 86 million purrfect domestic kitties but only 78 million tail waggin‘ doggies. But in the world of fictional characters (books, cartoons, movies, etc.) the situation isn’t just reversed, it’s tipped over onto its adorable, swivel-eared head. Sure, you can find examples of beloved dog and cat characters aplenty, but keep trying to name them, and you’ll run out of cat characters long before you run out of the Fido’s of fictiondom, the Cujo’s of crime, or the Lassie’s of late night.

unnamed-2On Wikipedia’s pages about fictional animal characters, the cat and dog lists are broken down into literature, comics, film, and television. The cat list offers twenty-six, including such dew-clawed notables as Garfield, the Cheshire Cat, the Cat in the Hat, Puss in Boots, Sylvester the Cat, Tom & Jerry, The Aristocats, and the cats in Stuart Little and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. They are huggable, cantankerous, acrobatic, crafty, conceited and aloof, reflecting all of the complicated feelings we have about our feline companions.


unnamed-1But hold onto your leashes, folks, because the dog list has two hundred and eight-five, including such well-bred personalities as Snowy from Tintin, 101 Dalmations, Bolt, Old Yeller, Snoopy, Marmaduke, Toto, the Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Scooby Doo, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Martha from Martha Speaks, Hank the Cowdog, Underdog, Einstein, Timbuktu, and on and on and on and (Down, boy!) on!  They are loyal, courageous, and food obsessed, mirroring the simpler feelings we have toward dogs.


But if there are so many cat lovers on this planet (and as evidence I present to you: The Internet, which is actually made of cats), why aren’t cats at least equally reflected in our most beloved forms of entertainment?  I suspect there are two main reasons:

  1. WTFPortability. Dogs love cars and walks and travel. They are at their happiest when they are on an adventure with their humans. Cats not so much. If you are featuring a cat in your book or movie, for the most part it will need to take place inside a house or within a relatively small geographical area. That’s limiting for a storyteller.
  1. Expressiveness. While cats experience emotions just as intensely as dogs, they don’t express them as clearly. A cat’s emotional signs are subtle – an ear twitch, lowered eyelids, a tail snap, sitting down with their backside guilty-dogtoward you, or planting themselves in the center of whatever is currently occupying your attention (instead of them!).  Meanwhile, dogs broadcast their feelings on hi-def with every furry inch of their being—eyes, mouth, feet, tails, head tilts, sounds—they have a visual language of emotion so expressive that we humans are known to adopt their communication methods in order to better express our own mood states. Dogs are SO expressive it feels as if they are talking to us, a fact that probably explains the plethora of talking dog characters in books and movies.

Talking dogs is something I’m a bit of an expert on because, wKT front cover 2014 with gold awardhile I am technically (full disclosure) a cat person, my award winning humorous fiction series, Kibble Talk, features a talking dog. Readers also get to hear what a cat has to say, but the main focus is on Dinky, an enormous and cantankerous Great Dane.  That earned the book a 1-star review from an avid cat-lover, but on the bright side, fans tell me they will never be able to look at their dog quite the same way again.  That’s music to my swively ears.

Where do you fall on the cat–dog continuum?  Got any fave cats or dogs of literature that I’ve missed?