What Is Your Book About?

I’ve read umpteen articles about “The Pitch,” but when it comes to answering that five-word query—What is your book about?—my expertise on pitching vanishes. I stutter and stammer and gaze at the ceiling, while trying to compress the story of a captivating woman into a few scintillating sentences.

For I am a writer, after all, and not a pitchman.

I started out in advertising, but that was long ago, in the Mad Men era, and I turned to editing because that better suited my personality—not exactly shy and retiring, but tending to prefer solitary quiet pondering and paring, while leaving team efforts to the unruly.

As a magazine editor in a huge publishing company, I was classified as a “creative,” meaning I was paid less than execs who sold advertising. But I hobnobbed with the latter long enough to learn by osmosis how to pitch.

So why is that knowledge failing me now? Why does it not enter stage front when I am faced with those five little words (not facing, exactly—more aptly, evading), at book sales, when guests take me aside and ask what Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown is about:

315 pages, I joke, then get serious,
a woman coping with a catastrophic event,
the men she’s loved,
her experiences in a career that took her around the world,
her loyal friends and children

Now I’m cooking. Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown is about faith and the lack thereof, what kills faith, what restores faith. It proposes a dilemma: What would you do, dear reader, in similar circumstances?  It is about the joys of friendship and children and grandchildren, about love and failed love and failure to love, about loss and death.

“But is he really dead?” I am asked at book groups. “I wanted him to rescue her, marry her, carry her off on his muscular white steed to a land where they will live happily ever after.”

“That is a different book,” I suggest.

“A sequel!” someone shouts. A scattering of applause, big smiles.

“Perhaps,” I grant. “Perhaps I will call it, Brenda Corrigan Came Home.”

Perhaps that will be easier to pitch.