Who Are You and What Do You Write?

By Victoria Purman

Part of being a writer is talking about yourself and your writing. I know, I know, that idea scares the proverbial out of some people. If you write purely Who-are-you for yourself, to experience the joys and heartbreaks and deliciousness of assembling words on the page just because you like the writing, all power to you. But most authors are aiming for a book deal, publication, readers and, fingers crossed, a community of people who love their writing.

If you are one of those hopefuls, there will inevitably come a time when you will have to tear yourself away from the keyboard, the office or the kitchen table, and explain yourself. To actually talk about what you’re writing.

You might be describing your passion to close friends and family who have been wondering what you’ve been doing hunched over the computer for all those months or years. Or, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be talking to readers or perhaps even being interviewed in the media. My question to you is: are you prepared with answers that will make sense to a potential reader?

As soon as you mention out loud, in public, that you are a…gulp… writer, as soon as you come out of the literary closet and hang your shingle out that says “hopeful,” “emerging”, “about to be published,” some one is going to ask you that question: ‘What’s your book about?’

I’ve answered it hundreds of times now. When you tell people you’re having a book published, especially if they haven’t known that you were writing one, they’ll be curious. Is it a non-fiction text on bird-watching or the next fifty shades of “you know what”? People ask because they are thinking, ‘would I like it?’

So, are you ready to answer? Have you honed your elevator pitch?

To some writers, the idea of talking about what you do is painful and scary. You might be talking to someone who has no idea that there is a massive readership for sci-fi, for instance, and you know they aren’t going to get what you do. That doesn’t matter. Be proud of your work.

Here’s a tip on what not to say:

‘My book is really hard to define. It’s kind of a psychological drama, no wait, more like a thriller, but with elements of dark humour, featuring a shape-shifting goat and…’ When you see their eyes glaze over, you’ve lost the chance of a reader and a potential book champion.

Even if you’re emerging and a total pantser and still not quite sure how your book will turn out, it’s easy to give people an idea. Perhaps you’re writing an Australian political thriller, in a Scandinavian style. Maybe it’s steam punk with a vampire twist. Love poems. Or sci-fi adventures for kids. I’ve settled on “coastal romance” for my particular brand of contemporary romance fiction.

Why is it important to sort this out for yourself? Because you never know who you might meet. You might find out that the person handing over the loaf of bread at the bakery adores tortured detective heroes. Voila! A potential reader. You might be lucky enough to meet someone else who writes in your genre who would make a fantastic writing partner. Or you might meet a romance reader who devours books and who has been waiting for a book just like yours.

I know someone who met a publisher in a lift at a conference. She pitched her book – she was prepared with her “elevator pitch”  – and won a contract. Totally true story!

My point is – don’t waste the chance to define yourself and start finding your audience. If you’re lucky enough to catch the attention of the media, these shorthand ways of describing your work will come in very handy.

Journalists need a short, precise way to describe you and your writing. There are only so many words in an article and they want to catch the attention of their readers and listeners, too.

Any time you talk to someone about your book you have a chance to create interest in it. Don’t waste that chance!

Victoria Purman was our most recent Writer in Residence and is a contemporary Australian romance author. She has signed a three book contract with Harlequin Australia and the first book in her Boys of Summer trilogy – entitled Nobody But Him – will be on the shelves and on reading devices in October

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