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Your Two-Sentence Summary

So you are at a book signing. You are sitting at or standing by a table with your books on display and what’s this? Someone is looking over? What? She’s heading this way! She’s in front of the table! She asks, “What’s your book about?”

Now what? While you have put years into developing the book and you can go on for hours about the characters, the story, and the setting. Don’t. Just stay calm and give them your two sentence summary.

Two sentences? What? That does not even begin to describe the book! Yes, two sentences, quick and concise. This is also referred to as the “elevator pitch.”

Look at it this way, what can you say to someone who has just entered the same elevator you are on and pushes the button for the next floor. If they look at the book in your hand and ask, “What’s that about?” The elevator has now stopped and you do not have 15 minutes to completely describe the book. You need to be able to give them an interesting summary about what you have written.

The same holds true for the casual shopper in the bookstore. A quick summary, well done of course, can pique their interest. If so and they ask for more, then you have set the hook, so to speak, now all you have to do is reel them in.

If the summary did not catch their interest it could be they like police mysteries, not romance. Or prefer historical fiction over science fiction. But, if nobody is asking for more you may need to rework the summary.

How important is this? In June of 1984 Simon & Schuster’s editor-in-chief, Michael Korda, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying: If you can’t describe a book in one or two pithy sentences that would make you or my mother want to read it, then of course you can’t sell it.

This summary can be useful for not only the quick response but during the busy time at a bookstore signing you may not have the luxury to give details to a number of people milling about the area. If you are discussing the book with one and another comes up to the table you need to be able to accommodate them as well. Also, a well scripted summary can be used in your media kits, on your business cards, bookmarks, and other promotional pieces.

While coming up with 75,000 words, a dozen characters, a handful of settings, and a killer plotline, now the difficult part is to package that in two sentences that define the genre, the concept, an interesting feature and a call to action.

Consider two examples:
Stephen King’s epic novel, The Stand. An end-of-the-world battle between good and evil. It answers the question of how a handful of survivors can defeat the evil that wants to take over the world.

Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October. A top Russian submarine captain steals the pride of his country, a new generation of Russian submarine. It’s a cold war cat and mouse with heart-stopping action.

This summary should be one of the most prized possessions you have. Practice it until it becomes second nature. Ask people who have read the book if it make sense and generates interest. Even if your listener has time and interest, start off your dialog with this tidbit about your book. It will pique their interest and attention and, hopefully, they too will become one of your readers.