Writers’ Biggest Fears Revealed is a blog series where we commiserate about all the things that get writers tripped up, and I talk you through how to alleviate those fears so you can move on to the next one. Stick around to the end of the post to get your hands on a free tool to help you face your fears.
The Big Reveal
Allow me to paint a scene for you:
It’s mid-June in 2017. I’m at a conference for writers in St. Louis known as Gateway Con. I’m here because I’ve decided to get serious about writing. I love learning, but I’ve never been to a writer’s convention before. This one offers workshops, opportunities to pitch your novel to literary agents, a keynote speech, a gala dinner, a book fair, and plenty of opportunities to connect with and get to know other writers. I only sort of know what to expect. I’ve tried very hard to find someone else willing to put up a few hundred dollars to keep me from being alone, but there’s just not anyone else who can put that sort of money toward this sort of thing.
So I’ve spent my two-hundred bucks, and I’m at the conference. I find it’s actually not hard to just talk to people, and we’re all here because we’re serious about writing or getting published, so there’s one question that is guaranteed to get you an answer: What are you writing about?
Is anyone else’s skin crawling?
The truth is, this question is super easy to ask someone else. It’s so easy, that you can do it without thinking. You’re expressing genuine interest in another writer and looking to establish a connection with someone who must also be here to connect with people or else they wouldn’t have convened at the convention.
But have you ever had this question turned around on you?
Someone who’s had a book published might have this down already. They’ve already thought about how to talk about their book to other people. They probably had to query an agent or an editor, and they probably had to be good at it. They may even have written the copy on the back of the book meant to convert browsers to buyers to readers.
In 2017, this isn’t me. I have what I’ve approximated to be a third of one novel, and a handful of short stories. I know what my story’s about. I could spill all of the juicy details about the struggles my character is facing, but I keep changing my mind on who the antagonist is; I have no idea what happens throughout any of the middle of the book; and I very well know that whatever I have planned for the end could drastically change based on whatever middle I vomit out.
So when asked, “What’s your book about?”… What’s my answer?
The easy answer would be to say, “I don’t know.” It’s not quite accurate, but perhaps to some extent it’s true.
But if I—the author of this mess I’m daring to call a “book”— don’t know what I’m writing about, then why should anyone else care?
So the answer I give? I put on a big smile, a nervous laugh. I say, “That’s a good question!” (which doesn’t sell books), and then I go on to ramble about my main character and throw in a few other details as they pop into my mind (which also doesn’t really sell books), and then I only know I’m done talking when I can’t stand the lifted eyebrows bobbing up and down to the polite nods of my listeners anymore.
It’s sloppy, clumsy, and I just don’t feel like I’ve represented my story in the golden light I feel it deserves. Despite my terrible description of my own work, I’m proud of where my story is going, and the development my main character has undergone. It truly is my baby, and I let it down.
Confronting Your Fears
The good news about this fear is that all it takes to alleviate it is to be prepared! Putting a tiny bit of work into really understanding the story you want to tell is going to keep you from missing out on opportunities to connect to other writers or potential readers—or even potential agents or publishers! The truth is, if you’re serious about making your manuscript into a real live book and you want people to read it afterward, you need to put in the effort to truly understand how to talk about your work-in-progress or the book you’ve already published and wish to promote.
Here are the basic components you need to understand in order to have a simple, yet intriguing conversation about your own writing.
- You believe in your story or you wouldn’t be trying to write it. Be confident—be shameless!—when you describe it. The chances that someone is going to steal your idea and then go write the book themselves is slim to none, and even if they did poach the idea, they’re still not going to write your book. Be brave about sharing. No other person can believe in your book more than you look like you believe in it. Look confident. Be confident.
- What’s your genre? If you don’t have a specific genre in mind when you’re writing, you might want to take a moment to decide what that is. Genre is a complicated subject, and doing research on it might take you down a rabbit hole I don’t want to send you on just now, so for the purpose of answering the “What’s your book about?” question, decide which genre it fits into, or that you’re trying to make it into, and have that word prepared for when The Question gets asked again.
- What excites you about your story? Chances are, the things that get you amped about telling your story will be the things that readers will love most. If you have a unique character, a daring premise, or an alternate universe, jot them down! You’re going to need to be able to call on this information later.
- What is your story? I know. WHOA WHOA, SHAILO. CALM DOWN. THIS IS THE TRIGGER QUESTION. WHAT IS THAT DOING HERE?
Think about this for real, from the comfort of your own home, or on your commute to work, or while you’re doing the dishes. Break your story down to its most basic parts. What is it about? Do it in the privacy of your own mind, so you don’t look like me at a conference (lol). You want to be able to express your entire story in one sentence. No, I’m not joking. It is possible, and I can teach you how to get it down to less than 50 words. It’s a skill that’s useful for more than just talking about your book—it can even help you write it. Learn more about crafting a compelling logline.
OKAY, OKAY. We’ve decided on a genre. We’ve written down a few scenes and characters we’re excited to talk about, and we have a perfectly crafted logline. What now?
Great job! You have everything you need to survive The Question without sweating visibly or suffering so strongly from dry mouth that your lower jaw crumbles to ashes.
Conversations are always going to be unique, so you’re going to be ready to navigate them mostly on your own, but when it comes down to The Question, I’ve got you covered. Here’s how to use your newly developed weapons on the battlefield.
What’s Your Book About?
Start with the genre. “I write horror.” “I’m a romance writer.” “It’s a coming of age story.”
Continue with your logline. “The ghost of a meteorologist wakes up in the past, three days before the hurricane that killed him…and everyone else in New York City.”
Keep 2-3 interesting facts about your story on deck for answering follow-up questions. Use them or don’t use them. Just be familiar enough with a few that they’re there to pull from when you need them.
It’s that easy. Or at least you’ll be making it seem that way when you show up prepared to a conference or the next writers group you attend.
The best news of all: From here on out, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to just… not have an answer to a question. You have proven you have a command of where your story is headed overall, so you’re not going to look like a fool, you’re just having the same struggles all writers are—but also please let me know when you figure it out because your little spiel has got me all interested.
So if there’s something you haven’t thought about yet or that you can’t make a decision about, it’s okay to be honest and just say, “I don’t know.”
More than it being okay not to know, it’s also okay for you to just not share. If you’re not ready to talk about your story, please feel comfortable saying, “I’m not ready to say yet.” To keep it personable and to come off as more confident, even if maybe you’re not actually all that confident, drop a teaser. It doesn’t have to be much: “I’m not ready to say yet, but there’s definitely a dragon in it.” Fake it ’til you make it, Honey Bunches.
If all else fails, talk about what makes you excited about your story, and talk about it confidently. You deserve to be heard, and if you truly believe in your work-in-progress, your excitement is going to rub off on others.
Are you still uncertain about how to answer the question “What’s your book about”? Do you want to feel more confident about your story? Learning How to Craft a Logline That Hooks Your Audience, is a great place to start, and you can have it for free RIGHT NOW. What are you waiting for? Get your FREE DOWNLOAD.
You may have heard about my quest to become a vampire fiction aficionado. This month, I’m reading Dracula by Bram Stoker.
I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey. If you’ve been meaning to read this book, the time is now! If you’ve already read it, get prepared to chat about it. I’m going to be hosting #vampchat LIVE on Twitter on Wednesday, May 29 at 4PM CST.
Fangs for reading! See you next Satórday! And don’t leave without your FREE DOWNLOAD of How to Craft a Logline That Hooks Your Audience! You’re going to need it for more than just talking about your book.