“What’s your book about?”
Whether it’s still a work-in-progress or has just made its official debut, you probably get asked that question a lot. Depending on who your listener is, how much time you have, and what sort of call to action you want to create, you probably also have a short version and a long version of your answer.
How do you reply, though, if that question is asked by someone in the media; specifically, someone in a position to give your book some favorable publicity?
Unfortunately, authors typically make the mistake of rabbiting on ad nauseum about all of the wrong things. Giddy to be in the spotlight, they treat the question – and every interview – as a free commercial to aggressively push sales rather than a chance to calmly project credibility as an expert on the book’s core themes. By focusing entirely on the book rather than articulating why it will resonate with the media outlet’s target demographic, they ultimately miss an opportunity to become a recurring guest.
From a reporter’s perspective, a writer who can’t distill the scope and purpose of his/her book in a pitch that’s less than 25 words is likely to deliver a meandering monologue without any takeaway value.
I call this The Eugene Syndrome.
Throughout his adolescence, I used to take my nephew, Eugene, to San Francisco every Christmas break to go shopping, look at Alcatraz through the Pier 39 telescopes, and experience fine dining. He’d often use the occasion of the long car ride to tell me about the latest movie he had seen. In his zeal not to leave anything out, his summaries were generally longer than any of the actual films and, by the time we rolled back home, he had yet to reach the ending and refused to exit the car until he had finished. His recaps tended to flow like this:
“So it starts out with these horses and they’re wild and running around in this canyon that’s Wyoming or something and then there’s this girl who lives on a farm and this guy named Ned likes her but then there’s this other guy named Bob who likes her, too, and he and Ned don’t get along and Ned thinks Bob let Julie’s horses loose – Julie was the name of the girl – but meanwhile back in town everybody’s all mad because the Depression’s going on and nobody has any money and Julie goes to buy food to fix dinner for her father since her mother died when she was a little girl and…”
Whether you make your media pitch in an email, by phone or in person, brevity is critical in selling yourself as someone who not only respects the reporter’s time but also understands the needs/wants/interests of the readers, listeners and viewers the reporter is courting.
Can you describe your book in 25 words or less?
Please post your book description in the comments section below (make sure to keep it to the 25 word limit!). The best three will be showcased in my next column.