Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's Your Book About?

The Famous Author guest blogs today on how writers must be prepared to describe their books. In a graph. In a sentence. In a single idea or pitch that resonates with strangers. Good luck! A.C.


BUFFALO, NY -- Desmond uses one of those sticky roller things to take the lint off my black sport coat. Tonight’s event, A Cavalcade of Authors, is about to start, and before leaving the recently refurbished Big Numbers World Tour bus, Desmond--my driver, assistant, PR consultant, and spiritual counselor--wants me to look and be my best.

“Have you thought of what you will say?” Desmond says.

“Not really. The usual. Something about the 600-pound live tuna. Or the stockbroker who needs money to win back his kids.”

“The program says each author will have four or five minutes to talk about himself and his book,” Desmond says. “Seems to me you should have some good lines written down on a note card--maybe even memorized.”

“I like to wing it. I think spontaneous is better than canned, you know.”

Desmond nods. “I agree, at least when you’re face-to-face with someone. But this is like a little speech. You should be prepared.”

Everybody’s full of advice these days. My agent. The PR department. My wife and kids. The family’s chocolate Lab. Desmond’s been on board what? Two months? Not even, and the former guru to the stars thinks he knows all there is to know about publishing.

“I’ve done this kind of thing a dozen times this year, Desmond. I’ll be fine.”

Inside the book store, I greet my fellow authors, including a few familiar faces, and then sit down behind the head table to begin our little forum. About twenty or twenty-five customers have gathered to hear us. One by one, we authors talk about our books.

The author is front of me is hilarious. Like a standup comic, this person makes the crowd giggle, laugh, and guffaw. I’ve heard the jokes before, this tale the author tells, but the delivery gets better each time, and the material that didn’t work last time has gotten tossed out. It’s now boiled down to a highlight reel.

The author finishes to loud applause.

I stand and stutter. Then a long silence as I forget which story I was going to tell. In desperation, I blurt out dumb stuff about my past, then try to switch to the book. My lead character sounds like a bad father when I forget certain facts.

I sit down after two minutes because I have no idea what I should say next, and because everything I DID say was disastrous.

Half an hour later, Desmond walks me back to the tour bus and begins to brew some herb tea. No more booze for me. “I saw you talking to people afterward,” Desmond says. “Did you sell any books?”

“Only one. But I talked to over twenty mystery readers.”

“How many books did that author who spoke just before you sell? He was very funny.”

“I don’t know. Seven or eight, I guess. I quit looking.”

Desmond’s eyes bore into mine.

“Okay, okay,” I say. “Next time I’ll write some stuff down on a note card.”

“In this situation, you are a performer,” he says. “You must have good material, and you must rehearse.”

“Should I sing and play the guitar?”

“Resist if you want to, boss, but this is what you have to do if you want new people to try your book. This is why you’re on this bus.”

Desmond’s probably right. But it’s times like these when a lonely garret looks good.

No comments: