It has occurred to me, SheWriters, that I haven’t even told you anything about my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. And this dovetails perfectly into my challenge for this week—How to talk about my book. It’s a tricky proposition. I want something punchy that people can remember, but I also want to do justice to my project. When someone asks me "What's Your Book About?" I could answer that a thousand different ways. It's almost as bad as "Tell me about yourself." I have no idea where to start.
Here’s what my publisher has written on the dust jacket:
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.
As you can imagine, I cannot go around speaking about myself in these terms. (I can just see myself saying “Think Toni Morrison…”) But exactly how does a person talk about her book? There's no avoiding it. It has to be done.
There was a time when I would say, “Silver Sparrow is about bigamy.” Then people would say, “Like Big Love?” So then I started saying, “It’s about bigamy, the lying, cheating kind, not the religious kind.” This gets more to the heart of the novel, but the tone is off. It wasn’t a description, it was a pitch. And while it’s an accurate characterization of the subject matter, it wasn’t a true portrayal.
What I have settled on is not a one-sentence summary. I worked five years on the novel and I feel that I owe it more than a five-second run-down. I have been told a million times that you have to be able to talk about your book in ten words or less. I think that so many guides to marketing forget the fact that these books are our babies in so many ways. A novel is not just an object to sell. I would even argue that when we start to talk about it as an object, people think of it as an object. But when we slow down and speak of it as a lovingly crafted work of art, others will treat it the same way.
I believe the best marketing tool is your own sincerity. We do interviews, tours, book club meetings, et cetera because we want to connect with readers. If we’re speaking in sound bytes and jingles we are not respecting ourselves, our work or our readers. And without respect, there is no connection.
Now, when someone asks me about my book, I say this—
Silver Sparrow is about two girls that have the same father. One knows, but the other lives in the shadows. It’s also about the wives, the acknowledged one, and the secret one. I wrote it because there are many people who live this way, and I really wanted to try and figure out how people can connect with each other and overcome the shame, anger and hurt in order to take responsibility for their own lives.
Just now, I timed myself saying that and it took twenty-one seconds. My book deserves at least that much.
Now, over to you, SheWriters-- are you comfortable talking about your own work? How do you describe your project?