This piece of advice may need to go without being said, but I’ll talk about it anyway. It deals with that simple question in the title. To most non-writer/non-artists, asking “What’s it about?!” may seem like the natural way of expressing interest in whatever the artists is doing. This may be true in concept. However, not everyone looks at the artwork of a five year-old the same. Crude analogy that may be when speaking to adults who are making a career out of this “artwork,” but that’s how I feel sometimes when speaking to people who ask “What’s it about?!”
I may be able to go on about this aspect of “What’s it about?!” and show more ways people use this question to belittle our ambitions to be writers. I will refrain from doing so as pretty much all my feeling are expressed in ‘Muggles Always Meddle.’ Instead, the rest of this post will be how else you can handle a question like this.
Being on the spectrum of introverts, writers approach social interaction as more of a necessity than an actual joy . . . with strangers that is. With friends — those we are comfortable with — we are open and relaxed. I always say it’s a mark of trust and honor when a writer does their work while you’re in the room with them (even bigger if they sit close enough so you could see the screen). They know when you eventually ask the question, you do it with sincerity. Yet even then, we tend to hold our works close to our chest, until we’re finished or think it’s time to show it to people. Yes this does happen. This caution is appropriate. You don’t want to confuse people — especially your Beta Readers (what I call my Small Council) — when you give them one draft and change things the next day, making their efforts to read and comment void. Dealing with that alternative method of handling “What’s it about?!” I’d like to talk about what to do when you’re further along the drafting process and not just starting out. When you’re starting to set your navigation to the stormy waters of querying and the greater ocean of the publishing marketplace itself.
Thinking of “What’s it about?!” not in terms of deflecting or giving some shallow response opens up a tremendous opportunity for writers. Again, ignore this, until you’re feeling more confident in your story. When friends and strangers alike ask about your work, this is a prime way of practicing your pitch when actual agents or editors sit down to hear your story. YOU CAN MAKE MISTAKES or play around with the pitch, synopsis, and hook when some Muggle asks you out of politeness. You don’t have this luxury when seated with somebody who holds the keys to your future career in publishing.
View this as a game. Which version of how I tell the story will provoke the greatest response? As reading is all subjective, you WILL get differing responses depending on whom you speak to. Just because one approach doesn’t work as well on one person as it did on the others before doesn’t mean it’s wrong or in need of changing. We’re not going to be able to appease every reader. If you try to, you’ll never finish. Learning this during your story-briefs is important. It will prepare you to be adaptable when evolving your career.
I got this idea when attending the third annual Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference, May 2018. Being around so many writers from different backgrounds and areas of the country — all of whom had published — gave me a new appreciation for “What’s it about?!” Because I got asked it A LOT. It got better towards the end of the conference. At the start, I was jarred and grew hot under the collar. I was intimidated by all these writers who were much older than me and far more experienced in the publishing industry. I did my best to summarize Project Stripes and found myself improving my pitch each time I was asked. Turns out not keeping the story hidden and practicing my summary allowed me to understand the story itself as well as how I will eventually present it to agents or editors. Who knew?!
All in all, at this stage of my career as a writer, I can’t afford to hold my baby back any more. Otherwise, what’s the point in getting him published if not to share him with the world? Understanding “What’s it about?!” as an opportunity to grow — like weights to muscle — is going to become a bigger part of my life as a writer.
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