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?”
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.
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.
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 Disorder, A 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 AlanTucker.net for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!