The “What do you do?” conversation
It’s holiday party time. It’s the season where you attend several parties where you only know a few people. There you are, chatting away with total strangers when someone asks you what you do for a living.
“I write books. I just published my latest one,” you say.
“Wow, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”
Before you start on a blow by blow description of your plot that leave them looking around the room for somebody – anybody – to disrupt your narrative– PLEASE STOP.
You have just received an invitation to practice your Very Short Description Of What Your Book Is About. The purpose of the very short description is to keep the conversation going. Most authors feel they need to give you the entire plot when you ask “What is your book about?” That’s not what anybody really wants. We want a 1 or 2 sentence answer so we can respond and have a conversation.
What is Your Very Short Description?
Before you go to your next party, practice a 10 to 20 second description that will encourage the other person to respond and have a conversation, not leave them looking for an escape. It’s very natural for you to want to tell this person all about your book. But, please remember, this is a conversation, not a sales call.
What happens when you begin to describe everything in your plot? You shut the conversation down and the other person becomes a hostage to your narrative.
What would happen if you replied something like, “It’s a mystery novel set in a hospital.” This reply is short, concise, and encourages the other person to say something like, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book. How did you get started?” The conversation can continue to a natural conclusion. (Not with the other person suddenly seeing someone across the room they have to speak to.)
Here’s what could be in your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About:
- The genre (Is it mystery, detective, romance, etc.) and where does it take place?
- “It’s a historical novel set during the California Gold Rush.”
- Who’s your main character and what happens to him/her?
- “It’s set during the California Gold Rush. It’s about a sheriff who falls for the local madam in a mining camp.”
- If it’s nonfiction – what problem does it solve? Who is it for?
- “It’s a self help book for single fathers on how to start dating after divorce.”
- “It’s a diet book for people who don’t want to give up carbs.”
It’s tough to remember not to let our enthusiasm for our work overwhelm the conversation!
Less is more – great tips!
I like it!
This is helpful. Thanks Mary!
A friend who has dealt with Hollywood types says if you can’t sell it in three sentences no one listens. So I had to find three sentences. Hard work, but I came up with “Friendships change, love betrays, and the consequences of our actions are never what we anticipate”. Seems to work:)
Great pointers, Mary. Thank you.
A good example of KISS, leaving it open for the other party to pursue or not.
Thanks, Catherine! This goes for service providers like me, too. Keep it short and keep the conversation going.
This is helpful, Mary. Practical, the very stuff we deal with all the time, and your elevator speech description works for me! Thanks – this is smart work.
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