What’s your book about?

Part 4 in the series: How I found the snow path to Dingle

I never would have guessed that one of the hardest things about writing a book is being able to describe it to someone in a succinct and compelling way. And when the story is set in a period that most people don’t know? A nearly impossible nightmare. What was I thinking?

My publisher sent me some questions to help me prepare for a radio interview. Question 2: Summarize your book in one to three sentences. Here’s what I came up with:

Sharavogue is a novel set in the turbulent 1650s, in the time of Oliver Cromwell and his brutal domination of Ireland. This is the tale of one girl’s vow of revenge, her journey through the lawless lands of the West Indies as an indentured servant, and her struggle to return to England to confront her sworn enemy and claim her destiny.

It’s all true but I’m not sure compelling, and it doesn’t quite get at the fun and adventurous aspects of the book. To do this, I really like the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This book is aimed at screen writers but it is a fun, quick read, straight to the point and so helpful. You’ve got to be able to describe your book (screen play) in one sentence. “It’s about a guy/girl who _______” fill in the blank. Simple, right? If only!

One thing I really liked about this book is that I realized I had basically and instinctively followed Blake’s advice before I had even read it, in terms of the structure, the conflict, the beginning, middle and end. And I read the chapter on character development over and over again.

But mostly I liked the honesty and clarity about what works, what doesn’t, and reminding us that writing is just one aspect of the book business. If you want people to read what you’ve written, you’ve got to sell it. Selling books and selling screenplays is a business, so you have to think in terms of what your customers want and care about.

The book’s title refers to the idea that if you want readers to care about your main character, he or she can and should have flaws, but must also do something early on to win their hearts. Save the cat! In my case, my character tries to save her village. She fails, but hopefully by the time that happens the readers have already started to care about her and want to know what happens next, so they keep turning the pages.

Honestly, I still struggle with those one to three sentences. I’ve practiced saying them, described the book to many readers, and still there are times when I get a blank expression in return. Maybe one day I’ll write about a time that people can immediately relate to, and I’ll work in an irresistible cat.