What’s your book about?

We’ve all been there. We tell someone we’re writing a book and they ask what it’s about. I should be able to give the thirty-second pitch but I really struggle with it.

It’s not that I don’t know what my stories are about, it’s that I don’t know how much to reveal and that makes me over-cautious. I want all the surprises to be revealed in the story but nobody will read the story unless I make it sound interesting. I don’t want to speak in generalities, I want to get to the guts. I know I need to give something but I just don’t know which bits to give. I don’t want it to be the literary equivalent of an advertising jingle. I’ve looked at book jacket covers to see how the pros manage it, but all I determined from that exercise is that I feel a fraud for having done it (which I know is nonsense). I have spent the last two hours writing absolutely nothing at all about my current project. I want a little blurb to put on my Camp NaNoWriMo profile. Why is that so hard?

There is another problem though. I have a terrible attitude to writing. Now, I’m not saying I’ve never been complimented on my writing because I have, but somehow the positive never seems to stick quite as well as the negative. I’m working my way through it but years of comments have hit my brain, loud and clear, and they’re still there, clamouring for attention and making assumptions about why I write.

Anyone can write. You can’t write. Writing’s a waste of time. You’ll never make a living. You’re writing about vampires? How very mainstream. You’re writing a coming of age story? How pedestrian. You’re not writing an intellectual opus about the physical manifestation of the soul in trauma? How boring! Oh, you’re (insert anything you like here – politics/gender/race/religion)? Remind me to never read anything you write!

Yep, I’ve heard them all and it’s wearing. It’s why I keep my writing to myself. I love to write and I don’t want somebody shitting on it just because they feel entitled to have a say. To me, it’s the difference between being randomly attacked with opinions and inviting opinion because either a) you’ve specifically asked for it, or b) you’ve put it in the public domain by publishing it (fair game).

I don’t want to tell them what my book’s about because it will be assumed that I am inviting opinion. I’m not. See what I mean? It’s not a very healthy attitude, is it?

So, leaving my bad attitude aside, I really do want to get this blurb thing nailed, preferably without revealing all the twists and revelations. How do you do it? Is it just me or do you struggle too?

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11 thoughts on “What’s your book about?

  1. I was asked only yesterday, “what you writing” and something happened. My lips closed my eyelids drooped and I internally struggled. Eventually I said, I am not ready to say yet. So now they presume, I can’t write. ;-/

  2. “I don’t want to tell them what my book’s about because it will be assumed that I am inviting opinion. I’m not.”

    You have managed to nail what I have never figured out about why that question makes me so nervous! Definitely feel you!

    • I might start throwing out some nonsense sound bites. It’s about a sentient jack-in-the-box that eats nosy people. Or it’s about a writer who gets revenge on all those who mock her career choice by writing their deaths which then come true. Maybe not that. I’m starting to scare myself ;)

  3. Oooh, I hate this question. I can answer it (and do often), but I have to take a deep breath to collect myself.

    For me, the full synopsis was the hardest to write, then the back of the book, then the short blurb. The sound bite was easiest, but, no, it didn’t really capture the crux of the story.

    My agent found me via a Twitter pitch party last year. My tweet was something like, “YA contemp retelling of Snow White picks up where story ends & Prince Charming is anything but.” And I think that sounds interesting, but it barely scratches the surface–and that’s ok.

    What I’ve discovered is that sound bite is supposed to leave the listener/reader wanting more. So break it down to the most basic pieces. What’s the overall goal? Why does the character need it? What stands in her way?

    And yeah, I’m fully aware my Twitter pitch had none of that, so, really, who even knows? lol

    • Thank you. It’s one of those problems where I know the theory but just can’t seem to break it down into something that gets to the guts of the story but doesn’t reveal too much. I think I’ve actually nailed it, though it probably runs a little long at 235 words, including a first person quote from the protagonist. The story is told in first person so I figure it’s okay to do that and I really want to do that, but if I’m honest, I don’t think it adds much. I’ll probably post it later if I have some kind of fit of bravery.

      I think your Snow White pitch is great. It probably helps that everybody knows who she is so you can use your precious words on the rest. I just came up with this, based on your pitch. And I think I’m going to write it once I’m done with my current projects. If it’s ever published, I’ll be sure to thank you in the acknowledgements ;)

      When Dracula decides he wants his soul back and to go down in history as the good guy for a change, he inadvertently sets off World War 4.

      • OMG I love this pitch! When someone asks what your novel is about, this is exactly what you should say! =]

        (I like the sentient jack-in-the-box, too, though. LOL)

        I’m mentoring MG for Pitch Wars this year, but I like to help people hone their Twitter pitches for the PitMad after-parties. So if you’re ready this fall & feel like attempting that, keep me in mind! =]

  4. I can’t seem to reply specifically to your post E.M, but that sounds interesting. I only joined twitter three days ago! I’ve been resisting for a long time. Just found you on there, at least, I think it’s you. And I’m following :)

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