When They Say “What’s Your Book About?” You Say . . .

does this make my pants look big?90% of the folks who discover you’re a writer will find a quick escape route, or feign boredom. (I tell myself it’s feigned because that’s less painful.)

The few who don’t flee just might ask the one and only question a reader really cares about:

“What’s your book about?”

Just like the question “Do these pants make my backside look big?” this question has nothing to do with the actual factual answer, it is an emotional plea for reassurance.

The wrong answer is “It’s about a guy who’s not really a private eye but sometimes people ask him to help solve problems they don’t want publicized, and one of his clients ends up murdered so he solves that crime.”

My eyes glazed over writing that. I can only imagine your poor peepers trying to struggle through reading that bore-ness.

Readers don’t care what your book is about on any factual level. They’re asking, “When I read your book, how will it make me feel?

If you write non-fiction, they may mean some variation on that, like “What will I learn?” or “How will it make me a better person?” but in the end, they’re looking for the same answer as the folks who read your fiction: how will reading your book make me feel?

How about this instead?

A Long, Hard Look is a Chandleresque cozy about a struggling loner who is sucked into a disturbed family’s drama when one of them is killed, and his only way out is to choose between truth and love — unless he’s killed first.

Facts? Yeah, there’s a guy, and some other people, and a murder. Readers may have already guessed that about a murder mystery — which is another wrong answer: “It’s a murder mystery.” Too vague, and depends entirely on their past experience and personal perspective on what may or may not be a murder mystery. Do you mean it’s like The Cat Who Licked Its Paw? or do you mean it’s like The Side Dish of the Lamb?

This book is about a lonely guy trying not to be lonely any more. He’s smart, but he’s still sucked into someone else’s drama because he wants to belong. He has ethics (since “truth” is one of the choices) but maybe he’s bent, or at least bendable, if he’s looking at a choice between truth and love.

And then there’s always the anticipation of the intellectual and emotional race between the killer and the protagonist.

I like to include the “Chandleresque cozy” phrase because I plan to make it the descriptive phrase folks that makes folks recognize my writing. Feel free to skip that part if it doesn’t seem germane, but consider including your unique take on a known genre in your emotionally evocative description.

When they ask you what your book is about, answer what they’re really asking: “This is how it’ll make you feel.

The answer to “Do these pants make me look fat?” is “I love you.” Try it. If you don’t believe me, try offering a factual answer and see where that gets you. Only slightly related: outside the Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art in Boulder Colorado is a fantastic sculpture park. The sculpture pictured above is a life-sized burro, the hardy little beasts who carried the weight of the West on their backs. When I sat on it, my knees almost touched the ground. Of course, I had to ask Best Beloved, “Does this ass make my pants look big?”

3 thoughts on “When They Say “What’s Your Book About?” You Say . . .

  1. Ha, the slightly related story about the sculpture is hilarious!

    Now I have to try to figure out how my book would make people feel… I’m quite bad at finding an answer when people ask what my book is about. I usually just reply something like, uh, it’s a story about a dragon, and… uh, yeah.

  2. Myriam, maybe you and I could work through the process of discovering (via q & a) what you should say when folks ask what your book is about. We could chat by email, and when you think you have a good answer for next time, perhaps you’d let me post our conversation here so folks could see this process in action.

    What do you think?

Leave a Reply