Sunday, 19 April 2009

So What's Your Book About, Exactly?

I’ve been in bed all week with a flu like virus. It was a nearly a completely unproductive week until the day before yesterday when I suddenly came up with an idea for a new book. I tried it out on my wife and daughters and they gave it a big thumbs up.

When I say I came up with of an idea for a book, I’m talking about the basic premise. I haven’t got any plot yet, except for the opening scene, and only a limited picture of the main characters. But I’m sure all of that can be summoned up in time. The main thing is that I know what the book is going to be about. The premise is as clear and as bright as a candle flame in a coal mine.

A couple of weeks ago I had to write an evaluation of the Apprenticeships In Fiction scheme which I’ve participated in for the last three years. The scheme is aimed at authors who have completed a full length manuscript and want help bringing it to the point where a publisher might find it attractive. It works like this: candidates submit their manuscripts; a panel selects the most promising; then each successful candidate is mentored by a professional writer for the next twelve months.

One thing that struck me forcibly when looking back over the last three years is how many aspiring authors face a major problem identifying the premise of their novels. You ask them what their novel is about and they start telling you the entire plot, or they tell you about four different competing premises, or they complain that their novel is much too complex to be summed up in a single sentence.

This last attitude strikes me as downright silly. If you want to sell your novel then you have to be able to say what it’s about – simply, clearly and in very few words. If you can’t do that, it suggests that either your novel is confused, or you are confused, or both.

In these difficult financial times, publishers want certainty. They’re moving away from the scatter-gun approach whereby they hope that a percentage of their output will hit the target and accept that some will not. Instead, they just want to back winners. For all authors therefore, and in particular new authors, this means that you need to have a really clear vision of your book, and you need to be able to communicate that vision with conviction.

To put it simply: if you can’t pitch it, ditch it.

1 comment:

Jarucia said...

Such true words. I suppose that's why here in the States agents and agency are running query contests via Twitter (pitch in 140 characters) or asking for it in a nutshell (3 sentences no more than 150 words).

This does not feel like a good time to be an edgy, trying to do something new writer.