I’m very excited to welcome back one of my favorite authors, KRISTAN HIGGINS! I’ve wrestled with the dreaded elevator pitch time and again, but it’s hard to condense a story into a sentence or two. Kristan has some great advice to help you talk about your book without (as I so often do) babbling.
Interviewer: Kristan, what’s your new book about?
KH: Okay, um, give me a sec here…so it’s a first love kind of thing? And the heroine’s a twin? Remember her? No? That’s okay. So the hero, he’s all messed up, except he’s really cool, too, and actually he’s pretty together. She’s the one with issues. No, he has some too, doesn’t everyone? Oh, wait, I forgot—she thinks she’s this awesome matchmaker, and she wants to fix everyone up. Speaking of that, have I told you about my mother? Oh, look, a pretty birdy!
Talking about your writing is, er, difficult for some of us. In the seven years I’ve been a published author, at the many conferences and book events I’ve attended, I’ve noticed something. Very few authors—myself most definitely included—can speak intelligibly about their books. We freeze in terrified silence; or we give a two-word answer that makes us seem angry and maladjusted; or we babble endlessly (see above), distantly noting the glazed eyes of those around us as we talk and talk and talk, yet somehow unable to rein in the old tongue.
Given my experiences at all of the above, I’ve come up with a few methods for how to talk about my books.
What’s a logline? It’s the TV Guide summary of your book. We writers have so much info in our heads that paring an entire novel down to one sentence seems nigh impossible. It’s not. Even the greatest books can be summarized if you work for TV Guide. For example…
Two cowboys struggle with loneliness, marriage and their romantic feelings for each other. (That would be Brokeback Mountain.)
A Southern woman struggles to survive a changing world when the Civil War strikes. (Gone with the Wind).
So in my case:
A self-proclaimed relationship expert can’t seem to get over her first love.
Now granted, I don’t go around spouting loglines, but it’s helpful in summarizing the plot, especially in the case of pitching or in those situations when you only have a couple seconds to explain your plot.
The 30-Second Description
In actual conversation, I might flesh that basic idea out a little bit, so I don’t sound like an android:
My latest book is about Colleen O’Rourke, a bartender and the local authority on men and self-appointed matchmaker, a female Hitch, if you will. The only person she can’t seem to fix up is herself—she’s never gotten over Lucas Campbell, her first love, and unfortunately for her, he’s back in town…and divorced from the woman he married instead of her.
Loglines and 30-second descriptions are really helpful during pitches, during elevator conversation, during a cocktail party when the CEO of your publishing company asks you what your book’s about.
One of the best ways to talk about your work is to understand why a reader will relate to the characters. Sure, we hope they will, but being able to define that quality makes it easier to discuss. This also opens up the conversation so it’s not just about your book; it’s about books with a certain theme or character type.
Think about starting off with this type of sentence:
What I love about this story is that we’ve all been…(overlooked, judged, in love with the wrong guy).
I love stories about…(proving yourself, arranged marriages, first love, unlikely heroes).
Another way to talk about your book is to start with the inspiration for this particular story.
I first came up with this idea when…(the couple sitting next to me in a movie theater starting getting it on, my boyfriend left me stranded in the middle of the South Bronx, I had a dream that Colin Firth and I were married).
Talking about your writing style
This question just killed me when I was a new writer. I had no idea what my style was. “Um…it’s, uh, I don’t know, did you ever hear Ellen Degeneres talk about…never mind…I couldn’t really…you know, it’s funny, I never…oh, look, a pretty birdy!”
Such soul-scarring experiences made me realize I had to do a little better. Now I might say, “It’s romantic comedy for smart people,” or maybe “Big, memorable love stories about regular people.” If I had to go into more depth, I might say, “I think my writing combines down-to-earth, intelligent humor and what I hope is some real emotional depth.” It feels pretentious to some of us to summarize our work this way, but it’s better than babbling (see above again).
Things not to say when asked about your work
I hate talking about it. Yeah, so what, sister? We’re all introverts pretending to be extroverts here! Get over it. ; )
It’s completely unique in the world. There are no words to describe it, but it’s amazing. So what you’re saying is, I can’t classify this work, have no context to put it in, and you’re kind of arrogant. I’ll probably pass on reading you.
Excuse me while I dry-heave. I get it. You’re nervous. Me, too. Honest. Practice makes perfect, or at least avoids the dry-heaves.
Think Nora meets the Bible. (That is, don’t make bizarre pairings. If you must say this is X meets Y, have it make sense…but keep in mind that if you’re referencing other writers to describe your own style, you may sound less than original.)
Talking About Your Career
If you’re a published writer, I think there’s one quality that speaks to readers, fellow writers and industry professionals above all else, and that’s humility. You are where you are because of a combination of luck, timing and talent, and without any of those three things, you wouldn’t be where you are. There are many people who contribute to your success, from your early writing friends to the sales force at your publisher to your readers. If there is one sure way to turn off a reader or alienate a peer, it’s hubris. “Erhmagerd! I LOVE my latest book! It’s incredible!” Eesh. No. Love your latest book. Be proud of it. But don’t be a jerk. As I like to say to my teenage son, “The attitude is gratitude, mister.”
It’s great to have goals. It’s necessary and important to have goals! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a #1 New York Times bestselling author. But your goal isn’t really to hit that list, is it? It’s to write a book so good that a zillion people will want to read it. My goal in writing is the same now as it was when I started out: to write a book that readers will love.
So if you’re asked the question of where you want to be in five years, or what you hope for in your career, keep your answer focused on writing those books that people love. Do you hope to write three books a year? Fine. Do you hope to branch into another genre? Great! Would you like to expand your readership? Fantastic. Just keep in mind that those things will only happen because you’re writing books that people love to read…not just because you want to be a #1 New York Times bestselling author or make a million bucks before you’re forty. It always comes back to writing a book that readers will love.
And what about when things aren’t going so well? It’s okay to admit that writing is hard. If it weren’t, then everyone would be a published author, and we wouldn’t be the special snowflakes that we are. I’m always so relieved to hear that a hugely successful author struggles just like I do. But because I am the sunny child in my family, the apple of my mommy’s eye, I like to keep things positive, even when I’m wallowing in the pit of despair (how’s that for contradicting myself?). I might say to my editor or writing group or even my readers, “Well, this one’s a tough book for me, but I’m getting there.” Experience has shown me that most of my books have been hard to write, and hard does not mean impossible. Much, much more positive than saying, “I’m dead inside. I’ve got nothing. It’s over. Where’s the wine?” I mean sure. We’ve all felt that way. Hang in there. It passes (and recurs, and passes again).
A word about professional jealousy, envy or bitterness. There will always be people more successful than you. Learn from them. They tapped into something that appeals to a lot of people. Understand why.
In this wonderful day and age of publishing, there are many options for us writers—if you don’t like where you are, career-wise, take advantage of them. Self-publish. Switch publishers. Take a break. Write in a different genre. But stewing on what hasn’t happened for you yet, or the unfairness of the industry, or the irritation over another’s success is akin to tying cement blocks around your ankles when trying to make it to shore.
Be grateful. Be nice. Behave. You’ll feel really good. : )
And remember…it’s always nice NOT to talk about your books or career. You’re warmly invited to talk about other things, and ask about other things. Have you ever been to Cleveland before this conference? Do you have any kids? Did you try the cheesecake? It was fantastic! I was at a party thrown by my publisher a couple of years ago, and the CEO remembered that my sainted husband is a firefighter. She asked how he was, and I told her a story about how he’d revived a chicken at a barn fire that week. She has not forgotten that story. She may have forgotten the title of my last book, but she remembers the chicken resuscitation. We’re all humans, after all. It’s nice to remember that we’re not just writers.
Got any questions? I’ll certainly take a crack at answering them. And thanks for tuning in! I’m very grateful.
On Monday, author and RU co-founder TRACEY DEVLYN joins us!
Kristan Higgins is the New York Times bestselling author of ten books. Her latest, THE BEST MAN, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Visit her website at www.kristanhiggins.com or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/KristanHigginsBooks.
- Kristan Higgins Author Chat
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – April 8 – 12
- Working With Your Agent and Editor
- Loglines – A Must for Your Marketing Arsenal
- Kristan Higgins: Excerpt, MY ONE AND ONLY