If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent years writing your book.  The characters are so real in your imagination that they might as well be walking right beside you, in the flesh.  You’ve added sections, removed sections, rewritten sections so many times you could recite them from memory.  Your book encompasses love, hate, and that which makes us infallible humans…

… and then someone wants to you to simplify all that into a sentence. THE sentence. “What’s your book about?”

You want to scoff at them, tell them you can’t possibly diminish your life’s work to a level they could possibly understand.  But you’re not a pompous asshole, and you want them to actually read it. So what do you do?

You find an answer to life’s great question. You’ll have to answer it the rest of your life after you’re published, so you might as well have a well thought-out, rehearsed (but natural) answer for it. Not sure where to start?  Here are some ideas:

  • Setting. No, you don’t want a Don LaFontaine-esque “In a world where…” statement, but where your story takes place is a pretty big part of the story. If your story’s on a fictional planet incapable of sustaining life, that’s probably something the questioner wants to know about. If it’s just about a small town where escape seems impossible (like mine is), that’s just as crucial to the story.
  • Main character. Bottom line, if they don’t care about the main character, they’re not going to care about your story.
  • The central conflict. If you make your character’s world sound all hunky-dory, then the reader’s not going to see much point in reading a story about everyday life on planet Cilicol or the fun of growing up.

Avoid cliches. Don’t call it a coming of age story (guilty of this myself), a post-apocalyptic survival story, or a sardonic satire. Be unique.  If your elevator answer includes these three elements and steers clear of cliches, then it’ll probably be enough to catch their attention. Here’s one I’ve been kicking around…

It’s a collection of vignettes about a girl who grows up in a small town where everyone wants to get out, but few people actually do. Just as she gets used to life with her younger brother and sister in her father’s custody, her new stepmother comes along and she has to try and figure out how to keep her in her life, even with life around her isn’t so pleasant.

Keep it short. About 30 seconds. After awhile, you’ll get so good at it you’ll forget that it took you years and years to write your epic tome.