What the heck does that mean? You know when you pick up a book in a store and read the description either inside the book jacket’s flap or on the back of the book? The flap copy is that brief paragraph that sums up an entire novel in such a way that (hopefully) makes you want to read it.
You know how hard it is to sum up a whole book into a brief paragraph?
Personally, I’m horrible at it. Most writers are. Ask us the dreaded question, “So what’s your book about?” and we’re likely to stutter and stammer, “Well, it’s about a lot of things,” and give way too convoluted a summary including character histories and subplots. I have to practice this answer. No lie.
Ideally, any novel should be able to be summed up in ONE SENTENCE. I tell that to students in my fiction writing classes. It’s a really good exercise to try that with your own work in progress.
Obviously, there’s not a lot of room for nuance and development in a single sentence. But you should be able to capture the essence, the core story question of the plot. For example, Moby Dick becomes: “Captain Ahab obsessively searches for the whale who took his leg but fails to kill it.”
You boil it down to a concentrate.
So, my new novel, The Blessings of the Animals becomes: A veterinarian spends her first post-divorce year surrounded by a motley crew of rescue animals, but those animals actually end up rescuing her.
Fortunately, the flap copy can be a brief paragraph or two, which feels like an indulgent luxury after the one-sentence exercise. Still, it’s tough to pull off, and I’m grateful to the folks at HarperCollins who helped develop mine.
Here it is:
THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALSScreenwriters call it “the elevator pitch”—can you describe your project in an articulate, intriguing manner in the time it takes to share an elevator with someone for a couple floors?
From the author of THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS comes a wry, engrossing, and moving story of a veterinarian's journey through the aftermath of divorce—amid a motley crew of animals.
Shaken by her recent divorce, veterinarian Cami Anderson is on a quest to unravel the secret ingredient of a happy, long-lasting marriage. Cami's parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, yet her brother and his partner are legally blocked from marriage. Her best friend—and ex-sister-in-law—is newly engaged, but her teenaged daughter's romance has developed its own complications.
Surrounded by several couples approaching different milestones in their relationships, Cami reflects on the meaning of love and partnership, sharing her hopes and fears with damaged, frightened horse in her care. As she tends to the abused horse (and an escape artist goat and a three-legged cat), so, too, does Cami begin to heal herself. Coming to terms with her own divorce, she learns poignant lessons in forgiveness, flexibility, and happiness that help her master the art of simply moving on.
Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did the next time someone asks that seemingly simple question, “So, what’s your book about?”