Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Talk About Your Book Without Sounding Like a Freak

Viewminder / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
When I first started writing, I struggled to talk about my book. The reason, I believe, is because it was just too much. That first book was a giant pile of I didn't know what. It had interesting characters doing interesting things--but if you asked me, "So, what's your book about?" I really struggled to give a concise answer.

Because I didn't know.

"What is your book about?" Can be a deceptively difficult question for many writers. It is usually asked when we are least expecting it and then we're left driveling some barely comprehensible answer that ends with our audience looking around the cocktail party and sorry they bothered asking in the first place.

As writers, we need to be able to tell people, all kinds of people, what our books are about without freaking out. Over the years, I've come up with a few tricks that help me.

1. Actually know what your book is about. For me, this started to happen when I started planning my books out to some degree. They had more structure and I was able to better wrap my brain around what they were about.

2. Pretend you are talking about a book you've read, not a book you wrote. When I talk about other writers' books, I'm relaxed. I have very little emotional investment in the work beyond loving it, liking it, or hating it. When I talk about my own writing, my brain sometimes decides to take a rapid flight up Mount Anxiety and comprehensible verbal expression often goes along too. So take a breath, then pretend you're talking about just another book you've read. You'll stay more relaxed and your book will sound better.

3. Pretend you are talking about someone you know. When you're telling a true story to another person, you use a certain tone of voice, you have sympathetic inflections, you're not trying to SELL someone a story, you're just telling an engaging truth. You can also talk about your book's main character that way. I know you've spent (too much) time carefully crafting those short, medium, and long pitches, and those probably sound great--on paper. But they don't always translate that well into the rhythm of a natural conversation.

4. Talk about your main character up to the point where they encounter the inciting incident--STOP THERE. This is where it helps to know what your book is actually about AND what the exact event is that sets the bulk of the story on its way. Like when Dorothy gets caught in the tornado and lands in OZ--what event shoves your main character onto their journey? If you find yourself rambling about themes, twists, and secondary characters, you've probably gone too far.   

5. Get in and get out. Keep it brief--if and when your audience changes the subject, follow the change and don't keep trying to steer the conversation back to your book.

6. Relax, breathe, and don't forget your facial expressions and body language say much more than your words ever do. 


  1. Haha, this is good advice. I have the same problem and unfortunately had it at the RT convention book signing where people were looking to buy books, came up and asked me about mine, and I was like errrr, eeeee, uhhhh, so they kept walking.

    It's the same as having your query or log line or pitch. I could do all of that because it was in writing, but when asked in person I was a stammering doof.

  2. Great post! The pitch or summary might be good on paper but it always sounds awkward and formal when I say it. I'm going to bookmark this post for when I actually know what my book is about and then I'll be able to apply these tips. :)

  3. Fantastic advice to take the fear out of the whole thing. I like the idea of talking about it like it's just a book you read. You're right, we don't get all tongue-tied and emotionally invested in a book we've read, and therefore, are able to keep the explanation fairly simple. Good tips.