What’s your book about? If you’re an author, you probably get asked that question a ton. It helps to have a quick, catchy answer. I know because I didn’t for my first book, Gentlemen. I would either give half-answers that I thought might be enough (“It’s a mystery about a missing boy”) or just a description (“It’s a dark mystery”). Neither answer was quite right, but it’s a tough novel to summarize. What I wanted to say was, “I can tell you in approximately 58,000 words,” which is, not coincidentally, the length of the book.
Also no coincidence: The fact that, after being unable to answer the same simple question over and over again, my second novel has a quick, easy summary. It’s about seven kids trapped in their high school during a weeklong blizzard. In fact, the book can be summarized with just the title and the cover art:
I don’t think that makes it a less complicated or serious novel, but a year and a half after my first novel came out, I think I understand the process a little better. Word of mouth matters, and the book is pitched on every level (between very busy people). Publishers pitch booksellers and librarians who (ideally) pitch readers who (double ideally) pitch friends; authors pitch everyone, and a few lines of text has to get the job done online. In every case, the response to “You should check this out” is liable to be “Really, what’s it about?”
I still think it’s the quality of the book that matters most. If it’s not good, no one’s going to spend much energy recommending it. Once they do, though, good hooks and resonant ideas are a definite advantage. The examples are as endless as the number of children who would dearly love to attend a school for wizards. And while ideas (and execution) like that come along very rarely, here’s some incentive for the rest of us: Also endless? The number of people who will ask you “What’s your book about?”