A wise mentor gave me good advice when I published my first book, and that was to practice talking about my book as often as I could muster the patience. He said that to do your book justice, to honor all of your hard work, you owe it to yourself to be able to speak effectively about your subject, your inspiration, and any number of other things people might ask you. You know your material better than anyone else. You're the resident expert on your book, and often you will have to talk about it in the most unlikely of situations.
I have found this to be absolutely true. Because inevitably you will find yourself at a book group, a party, standing in line to pick up your children at camp, or answering an unexpected call from a newspaper or a magazine editor—and he or she will ask that question, "So what is your book about?"
You have exactly 30 seconds to sum up a 365-page novel.
I remember spending weeks working on my pitch for my first book The Language of Trees. It is a natural conundrum because, of course, our books are not just about one thing.
Preparation is key. Practicing your pitches by varying lengths and in varying amounts of detail can help you immensely. Use Photo Booth on your Mac. Record your pitches into a mic. Whittle them down until they're second nature and effortless. Friends and family can be enthusiastic audiences so ask them to listen (yes, you will owe them). Ask for feedback and promise not to take it personally.
Speaking naturally about your book will come with practice. It helps to have a few key phrases in your arsenal to use as jumping off points that will lead to longer conversations. Here are 5 different types of pitches and their purposes for my new book THE SALT GOD'S DAUGHTER:
Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God's Daughter (forthcoming from Counterpoint/Soft Skull 9-4-12) and The Language of Trees (HarperCollins 2010). She has written for the New York Times and CNN and teaches writing in Boston. You can connect with Ilie on Facebook and Twitter, or on her website: www.ilieruby.com.