The first draft of this post started in Minneapolis, Minnesota at The Loft Writing Center's pitch conference. It's Friday morning.
I've managed to swill enough coffee to stop thinking about chewing on writers just for fun, but only barely. The hotel where I'm staying has a very fancy exotic coffee maker, and I of course ended up with some sort of oddly named, weirdly sized, steamed drink when all I wanted was a plain cup of joe. Turns out there are two coffee stations; I was at the exotic one. When I found the regular folks one, I may have hooked up an IV while no one was looking.
But the lesson here is when you just want coffee, you don't want fancy.
And that applies to you, writer fiends, when asked about your book.
I attended an event last night that was chockablock with writers, all of whom seemed to think I was someone they wanted to talk to. As you might imagine, I found the nearest isolated corner with a bench and squirreled myself away. Fortunately I was soon joined by a writer who felt the same way I did about crowds and noise (YUCK) and we had a lively conversation. Turns out she knew quite a few people there, so through her I met some other folks, all of whom had books in one stage or another.
One woman, whom we'll call Prepared, was able to entice me by simply telling me the title of her book. (I need to be discreet here about specifics.) We spent a bit more time talking about what the story was, rather than just what happens.
A man, whom we'll call Almost Published, when I asked him what his book was about, seemed pretty determined NOT to entice me to read it. It was very clear he was uncomfortable talking about himself or extolling himself in any way.
When you're published by a small press, and will be your own press agent, this is the kiss of death.
You simply MUST be prepared to tell people, in a compelling way, what your book is about.
And that's a whole lot easier said than done.
First thing to remember is start NOW. No matter where you are in the publishing cycle: querying, sold, pubbed, you need to be able to say what your book is about.
And it's not about what happened. It's about what changed.
The best way to tackle this is to write your way through it. You'll need 10,000 words to get 100. Write a lot, pare down.
Let it sit, pare down again.
Then tackle it word by word. Is this the best, most vivid word.
And the final task: can you say these words out loud?
And the acid test: when you're sitting with a sharkly agent who asks you what your book is about, and you tell her, does she say "oh gosh, I want to read that!"
This is REALLY hard to get right, so it's imperative you have enough time to revise and polish. Starting is better than not starting, even if you think you're too late.
Don't try to be fancy. Fancy does NOT work in pitches. A plain cup of joe, that's the ticket.