Friday 15 October 2010

What's it about?

Of course, the other question people ask (after - or sometimes before - they've found out what name you use) is what your book is about.

I find this question almost impossible to answer. Synopses are hugely difficult; the kind of mini-synopsis people are asking for is worse. Even trying to give a mini-synopsis of, say, Peter Rabbit would be bad enough ("well, there's this family of rabbits, and the baby rabbits are told not to go into someone's garden. No. Wait a minute. Their mother is going shopping, so they're on their own. She's a widow, because Mr. McGregor - he's the one whose garden they're not supposed to be going into - ate her husband" etc etc). To express the meaning/intent/plot of a WIP (or finished novel) is worse.

How do you sum up the plot of your WIP/finished novel? In a couple of sentences? Is there a knack? I'd love to know.


  1. I love writing blurbs and synopses. It calls upon my latent drive to work in advertising. lol

    My typical suggestion for people for a short pitch is:

    1) Establish by suggestion what kind of book it is.

    2) Establish by suggestion why your book is different from other books the reader might think are like it.

    3) Establish in brief the story and then make the reader want to find out what comes next.

    I haven't really honed these yet, but here's where mine are right now:

    Alec Smith is a business man and gambler who plays in the shadowy edges of the law. Grey Kinjou is an off-the-books federal investigator known as the Detangler, who who holds the Law as sacred. When a high-stakes gambling operation in Denver results in the bombing of a family home in Iowa City, business man and secret agent find themselves caught up in a battle of fanatics -- some of whom believe Smith to be their figurehead. Soon Smith realizes that he is no longer the master of every situation, and The Detangler must choose between Law and family. In the dark, a man named Jones smiles and laughs, hoping for their mutual destruction.

    Ennui and Malaise
    Kip is an ordinary man, bored with his job, who daydreams dark fantasies and prays to gods in whom he doesn't believe. He just wants his life to be more interesting. One day, though, one of those fanasies comes true, and a stranger dies. The next thing he knows, Kip has lost a year of his life and can no longer tell dream from reality. All he has are his confusion and his questions, the biggest of which is, did he really kill his own wife during the lost year? On the run with a fiance he cannot remember, Kip must sort out fantasy from actuality as he longs for a day when he can, once again, be bored.

  2. Very good, Nevets! Now condense them into a couple of sentences for a party conversation.

  3. "Sublimation, the novel I'm finishing up right now, is a psychological thriller about a shady businessman and a secret agent who get tangled up and tossed out of their element. The businessman is shaken because he's lost control, and the secret agent is forced to chose between law, morality, and family. Between one group of fanatics who almost worship the businessman and another group that want to kill him, nowhere is really safe."

    "Ennui and Malaise, the other novel I've been working on, is about a guy who daydreams that he's caught up in a thriller to make his work-a-day life less boring. One day, one of his daydreams comes true and a man is dead because of it. Suddenly, he can't tell truth from imagination. All he knows is that people want to kill him, and that he may have killed his own wife."

    Something like that, off the cuff. Need a bit better prep, but it's a start.

  4. I'm prone to irritate people by answering the verbal question "What's it about?" by saying, "About 350 pages."

    That, of course, isn't suitable for dealing with agents and publishers. But it's good enough for cocktail parties. In general I find that party people don't really want to know; they just want to tell you about some great idea they have for a book but don;t have time to write.

  5. Nevets - I'm impressed (although I'm still not sure I could do that!).

    David - that's a really good reply, and if you don't mind, I think I'll use it next time. It's also a polite way of telling people that you don't want to discuss the topic further (and usually, I don't).

  6. I had a similar thought to David's and would have said, "About fifteen quid from Amazon."
    Not that I get invited to many parties.

  7. Keith, fifteen quid from Amazon would buy you a very big book indeed. But your idea's worth trying...

  8. I've just sent off a synopsis to be critiqued and yes, it was difficult. Some say more difficult than writing the novel but I think that's going a bit far. Still, it felt good to hit send and blast it into the cyber world. I was sick of looking at it, so now someone else has to.

    Good post.

  9. I use a premise. Tell the requester what I hope they will get out of the book.

    Mine: Women who stay in abusive relationships do so out of family pressure.

    And then: It is about life choices, and one womans journey to discovering what those choices are for herself and her family.

    Hmm, I like Nevets second summary a lot better than my own.

    Its easier to describe an action/thriller than a journey of self discovery.

    I would think so anyway. Good job on your description Nevets; and thanks Frances for posing the question. Its a necessary evil, I suppose, in this business.


  10. @Donna - That's my trick, see. Really the book is about self-discovery or the failure to attain self-discovery, but the reader thinks they're reading a thriller until it's all over and then they're like, "Hey, wait a minute!"

    Kinda like gummy vitamins or V8-fusion or something. It's good for you, but it tastes like candy.

    That's my hope anyway. lol

  11. Nevet - I think you need to write my summary for me. How about I send you my book...??!!!
    I'm with Frances, on the whole, in hating this question, but I'm developing a niggling suspicion that I need to work on a snappy couple of sentences which make people slaver for my book. I mean, if I appear to find it boring and not worth talking about why should anybody both to buy it and read it?

  12. Hi, L'Aussie - I think what people may mean is that it's not so much more difficult as infintely more tedious writing a synopsis. After all, I think most of us write novels becasue we enjoy doing it. Not many people write synposes for pure pleasure.

    Donna - another good idea! But like Alis, I feel that in future I should defer to Nevets (but he'll have to read my books first. Come on, Nevets. I could do with a few more sales!).

  13. haha Frances, don't worry you and Alis are next up on my purchase list. Ordered Aliya's Light Reading this time and a fantasy novel by JS Chancellor, a new author with Rhemalda press, a small publisher in the states.

    @Alis - lol All joking aside, if you ever want help with a blurb or summary, I'm always happy to help out fellow authors.

  14. Actually, many of my crowd around here help each other with synopses and one-liners. It's far easier to sum up someone else's novel than one's own: too many trees and not enough forest when it's your work being described.