What to say when someone asks you about your book

Recently I was on a radio show to promote a murder mystery series I’m a part of (which you can check out HERE – Sonoma Squares Red Harvest, I wrote chapter 8). The interview was with myself and three other writers, and we shared our parts in this murder mystery and the writing process that takes place in a collaborative piece like this.

I had prided myself on, so far, not getting so nervous I threw up over everyone. Don’t laugh, the thought crossed my mind at least once. I hate public speaking. Somehow I had managed to continue talking despite the butterflies swarming in my stomach and my tongue threatening to swell up and take over my entire mouth. I chattered away easily with the other writers and the host of the show, and breathed a sigh of relief each time I successfully answered a question thrown at me.

And then it happened. He asked me about my book.

I know the story of my book inside and out. I know every feeling the characters are grappling with, the twists that lead to different turns, the heartache that leads to evolution, the evolution that leads to heartache… I know every single part of my story. But ask me point blank what my story is about in 1-2 sentences, and suddenly I turn into a Dodo bird.


I ended up going on a long-winded explanation that ended up being a generic description and shared NOTHING about what the book was about. As the words were falling out of my mouth, inside my head I was screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???” I could almost sense the listeners turning the dial from the radio station, or at least adding my book to the “Do Not Read” list. Here I was with a really cool opportunity to share my book with the masses, and I was letting it slip through my fingers. By my own description of my book, even I wouldn’t buy it.

Luckily, the interviewer sensed my tongue-tiedness, and he helped me to fumble towards a recovery so I could at least get a decent explanation out there. But I kicked myself for the rest of the day at this missed opportunity.

You can hear the entire interview by CLICKING HERE. The interview should be available sometime Friday (7/5) night. It’s the July 3 episode with Word by Word. I start talking at 23:50 where I share my chapter for the Sonoma Squares serial, again at 30:30 when I talk about problems I had in the writing, at 41:00 with challenges, and 45:06 on blind writing. Then at 51:57 is the dreaded talk about my book. Cringe.

I hadn’t actually gone in there unprepared. I had been rehearsing that question all day long in my head, thinking of the different things I would say when inevitably asked about my own novel. I hadn’t come up with anything concrete, but I had a sense of what I would say. But once I was asked, the right words just up and left, leaving me scrambling for something, anything. All I got was a big fat nothing.

But I did come away with a huge lesson learned – Create a 2-3 sentence description of your novel, and then MEMORIZE IT. Write it down and read it aloud every day. If you have to, tattoo it to the inside of your eyelids. Do whatever it takes to remember a short description of what your novel is about, because that’s going to be the question asked of you by everyone who finds out you’ve written a novel.

“What’s your book about?”

My book is about a woman who goes on a spiritual journey through the afterlife. Following her death, she finds herself in an internal tug-of-war between staying near those she loved on Earth, and finding her son who died with her. The story shares the struggle of the process of letting go and rising above tragedy to find hope.

Now, see? I would read that book.

If the listener is interested, they’ll ask you more questions that will lead to your long-winded explanation of why your character did this or that, etc. But always start with a strong opening statement that neatly wraps up the entire plot in a matter of seconds.

It also helps to have an even shorter description to share on the fly, a one-sentence synopsis that still intrigues.

My book is about a woman in the afterlife who struggles to hold on to all she loved on Earth, and the journey towards being able to let go and discover her own strength.

The best time to have this description ready? Before you’ve told anyone you’ve finished the rough draft of your novel. But if you’re like me and already 4 months into publication, it’s never really too late. Start the process of creating a synopsis and memorizing it now.

And just to make sure you’ve got it down, go ahead and share it in the comments below. Links to your novel encouraged. 🙂


Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

11 thoughts on “What to say when someone asks you about your book”

  1. I really need to do that! I mean, I have the “elevator pitch” but … I don’t feel that really captures the essence of the story. Let me show you — here’s the teaser blurb for my book, Imminent Danger:

    Abducted by aliens and stranded light-years from home, a teenage girl is rescued by a handsome mercenary who puts her planet, her life, and her heart in the clutches of imminent danger.

    I mean, it gets the basics across — space, aliens, romance, danger — but … a big part of the book is the humor and the one-liners and the generally ridiculous situations the characters get into. But I don’t know how to convey that in a 1-2 sentence summary! Ack!

    1. I guess it’s just about practicing what it would be like to say to a person face to face. It’s easy to write it down, but a bit harder to say it so that it comes out natural, as if you we’re describing the plot to a book you hadn’t written. Your book sounds great, though!

      1. Thanks 🙂 Yeah, I can memorize that sentence until the proverbial cows come home, but as soon as you stick a living, breathing human in front of me … it turns into “It’s about a girl who gets abducted by aliens and then flies around in space and has adventures.” Not the most exciting pitch in the world, lol.

  2. Great post Crissi, and something I think many writers struggle with.

    The book description/teaser are my least favorite tasks in the writing process. I’m sure I spend
    way too long over them and still don’t end up with something I’m completely happy about. And even if I do memorize it, that’s no guarantee that my mind won’t go completely blank when someone asks “what’s your book about?” Hopefully practice will help!

    Here’s my (current) one-liner for my novel ‘Ulterior Motives’:
    Kidnapped while on vacation in the Philippines, an American expatriate’s struggle to survive is complicated by his wife’s chilling silence to the ransom note and an outrageous new demand from his captors.

  3. This is a common problem. First, your goal isn’t to tell the story. It’s to get them interested and engage…asking more questions. Once you think you have that short pitch down, test in on others. When you’ve perfected it, record yourself saying it. Then, re-record yourself saying it until you’ve perfected the audio version, which should be different — more conversational — than the written version. Then, listen to it over and over and, well, you get the picture. It becomes muscle memory. Hope this helps.

    Saw your book in Bean Affair in Healdsburg last week. Congrats! Looking forward to reading it.

    1. This is really great advice. Thanks Cindy!

      I didn’t know my book was going to be in Healdsburg! I know I have a few here in Petaluma. That’s pretty awesome it’s there too!

  4. Great post, Crissi, as always…. How much do you charge for these free consultations??? 🙂

    The only point I would add to the book descriptions above, is that you might want to convert them to a “conversational tone” as Cindy mentions above also, so that it sounds like the answer to a question, rather than you are reading from the book flap. Nothing wrong with that either, I guess. Gonna go work on mine now… Be back later!

  5. First, I carry a journal with me. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But when someone asks me what I write in it? “Um… made-up… stories?” Just like that. *eye roll* I always get flustered and awkward. Anyway. The memorizing thing is a good idea, I think I’ll do that. Saves me the embarrassment. *shudder*

    A paranormal investigator tries to track down half breeds of an unknown nature. Meanwhile, a cambion and a nephilim hide from her, which is hard when they don’t always act human.

  6. I sooo need to do this, like now! I’m in the first month of publication, but I still get asked that A LOT! My answer ends up being something like “Um… it’s about people that…. do things.” It’s almost like I know my characters so well, like friends, that I don’t want to not do them justice by explaining it wrongly. So, here it goes… Hopefully this sounds better. My book is about a teenage girl who moves in with her very young, very single teacher. and finds that there is where her true home is. Eh? 😉

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