Saturday, October 02, 2010

"what is your book about?"

I've wept. I've caterwauled. I've begged. I've pleaded.

Please please tell me what your book is about in the query letter.

A lot of you really don't seem to want to do that.

But here's yet another reason you really REALLY need to suck it up and figure it out: you'll use that pitch for things other than the query.

What fresh hell is this, you ask?  Tawna Fenske's blog post reveals all.


Livia Blackburne said...

My book is about love, life, death, growing up, attaining ultimate zen, pain, sacrifice, and the primacy of the human condition.

Does that work?

Josin L. McQuein said...

My book is about people who do stuff. They also say things and occasionally react. Oh, and someone dies.

Anonymous said...

Tawna's post was great, as always. She's very funny.

Alex Sokoloff has an excellent post explaining the need for and how to write a logline/one sentence pitch over on her blog. She gives some helpful examples:

If that wraps too much, here's a short link:

Her entire blog is a terrific resource. As is her book, Screenwriting Tricks for Writers, which every writer should buy and read. And read again.

Yes, I am shamelessly promoting others on your blog. Writers have a responsibility to share good sources of knowledge.

A3Writer said...

I've witnessed the various methods of how you've tried to entice authors into telling what the book is about both here and on Queryshark, and every single time the same event goes through my head.

In a creative writing class many moons ago, the TA asked, "Why do we write?" and I, in my idealistic mode simply replied, "to tell a story," and yet I was shouted down by those who insisted that the message, moral, and theme were the reason for writing.

I guess in some sort of bizarro world it makes sense when creative writers place all their emphasis on these ideas instead of the events of the story in which the themes and messages are housed. Wish I knew how to snap people out of this mode as even my composition students have trouble telling me what their essays are about.

So, I strongly empathize, and any time you want to go on a violent spree against the masses for this offense, count me in. Now where did I put my NERF gun?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Another use for those paragraphs in your query letter that talk about the book is blurb copy for publishers' online catalogs. I've seen several query letters that have been reproduced verbatim for this purpose.

Just another reason why getting it right is sooo important!

Margaret Yang said...

I remember that Sean Ferrell interview posted on your blog a few weeks ago. I was so impressed at how he neatly summed up his book in two sentences.

But it probably wasn't as off-the-cuff and effortless as it seemed, since he'd been doing it since the query letter.

My takeaway from all this? Get it right now so you can keep getting it right through the lifecycle of the book.

College Boy said...

After struggling with the query letter for my current project, I have decided to start drafting the query letter for my next project before I even start writing. Why? Because the query letter forces me to focus on what the book is about and what its central conflict is.

CNU said...

Trying to find a good query letter is like trying to tell the difference between arsenic and almonds...

(I'm sure that's a zen saying of sorts)

My book? I'll give you a hint, It's not a suspense novel.

(Damn I gave it all away.)

New book- Kid's book- Modern Aesop Fable-Interpretive- Shiny illustrations- Colored Pencils-

Sounds like a beatnick poem.

I still find it ironic that my query would probably be longer than this illustrated kid's book. I'm just more apathetic about this fact these days though. I think age is catching up with me or maybe just the bitterness is somehow blunted. In either event oh well.


PS- Attention Authors think of it this way: (Hypothetically) "If your book were adapted as a movie, could the announcer describe it in 2-3 minutes"? Would the audience want to see that movie? That should give you an idea of what the pitch should sound like. My pitch found above is half joking, don't do what I just did, I'm a professional smartass...

Jan Markley said...

Good post and link. It's true as an author you never stop pitching, whether it's to a conference, teacher, librarian, blogger, interviewer ... the list goes on!

Jaycee Adams said...

:grumbling: It's about too many things to be succinct, dag-nabbit!

Isn't the hallmark of a good book to have a lot going on? Can't I have multiple morals, multiple messages?

Well darn. Because every time I try to nail down what my stories are about, I get 3 or 4 different answers depending on how I'm feeling at any given moment. Which means, the old adage, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" also applies to my brain. "If you don't like the way I think, wait five minutes, it'll change."

Can't my book be about creating great characters and contriving several really cool situations, and then seeing what develops as I try to stitch them all together into an intense and emotional drama?


Okay, it's about two people from different worlds who fall in love and have to overcome all kinds of crazy obstacles and people, including their own preconceptions about what love really is, if they're going to forge a great love.

That's short, but is it interesting? Does it grab?

That's kinda what most of my stories are about lately.

Dave said...

(Sorry, major blooper on post 15 mins ago. This is the right one.)

Janet, how about setting up a simple web form for queries.

Instructions for first field:

In 250 words or less, tell me what your book is about. Include title, word count, and genre. Don't include your bio or any other extraneous material. Before you query, have a look around Query Shark. You'll see queries that drive me nuts and queries I like. Any reference to your book's theme could be fatal

Second field: Paste your first five pages here.

Third field: Your name.

Fourth field: Your email address.

At your end you can have 'one click' form rejections, requests for full, block sender, query stats, etc.

It's no big deal code-wise.


Awww, thanks for the mention! As much as querying authors often hatehatehate writing query letters, I have to say that it's one of the best skills I've honed in all the years I've been writing. My agent uses my words verbatim when she's pitching my stuff to editors, and I use it now when I'm talking to librarians and booksellers about my debut. There are different ways of phrasing things for different audiences, but bottom line, you need to know how to sell yourself and your book -- even if you have the most magnificent agent in the world.